‘Devout’ Catholic thrill alert!

If you live in the Washington, D.C., area and follow things Catholic, you probably know that the shepherd of the nation’s capital — Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl — just became a member of the College of Cardinals, thus becoming one of the “princes” of the church.

If you want to read a very straightforward, dry account of the rites in Rome, by all means click here to read the Associated Press report — as published in The Washington Post. Here’s a sample of this extra-normal story:

Inside the basilica, the more than 400 members of Wuerl’s entourage — family, friends and ordinary Catholics who traveled here to support him — cheered as he walked up, bare-headed, to the altar and knelt before the pope. He was given a red zucchetto, or skullcap, by a papal aide before Benedict placed the biretta on his head.

The just-elevated Cardinal Wuerl smiled slightly as he stood and bowed before the pope. When the last of the new cardinals had been called, they greeted and congratulated one another. An evidently joyous Wuerl offered greetings to his new colleagues, including Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, prefect of the Vatican’s highest court and the only other American elevated in this consistory.

Both Wuerl and Burke, like the others elevated Saturday, share the pope’s devotion to the church’s traditional teachings on a range of social issues.

It certainly appears that the Post did not have one of its own scribes at the Vatican to cover this event — thus, leading to prominent use of the AP text. Times are hard, even at our nation’s major newspapers.

Thus, the newspaper’s biggest story focused on the events on this side of the Atlantic that led up to the event, with special emphasis on the precise nature of the soon-to-be cardinal’s entourage and what ahead for them in Rome. This lighthearted and in many ways delightful story raised lots of Catholic eyebrows and, for traditionalists, one overarching question.

See if you can spot the key descriptive word in the top of the report by Godbeat veteran Michelle Boorstein:

The archbishop’s two brothers will be there. So will a rabbi he knows from Pittsburgh, the D.C. barber who cuts his hair and the fast-talking (and devoutly Catholic) television commentator Chris Matthews.

When Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl heads to Rome … for the elaborate ceremony that will make him a cardinal, he will be trailed by a horde of family members, friends, priests and ordinary
Catholics eager to watch him join the ranks of the church’s most powerful men. Wuerl’s entourage numbers 405 — admiring participants who signed up for a pilgrimage that is part transcendent religious experience and part Catholic fiesta.

“In secular terms, it’s like your team is going to the Super Bowl,” explained Rocco Palmo, who blogs about insider Catholic Church issues.

And like the Super Bowl, attendance requires serious cash. Almost all the pilgrims are shelling out $2,200 to $5,300 of their own money to witness Wuerl’s elevation Saturday to the elite College of Cardinals.

The rest of the story focuses on all the colorful details. Lots of incense? Check. Red Prada shoes? Check. Big-money donors? Check. Baseball caps with scroll “W” logos? Check. Obligatory question about Vatican bathrooms? Check. New greeting cards for Wuerl that have his new logo with red tassels? Check. A schedule that includes lots of shopping and a chance to go to confession? Check.

But here’s the big question that conservative Catholic insiders are devoutly asking, with special emphasis on the word “devout,” as in the ever-vague term “devout Catholic.”

Will Matthews feel that special thrill up his leg if and when he meets the pope?

And then there is this related question: How, precisely, did Matthews — a hot-button Catholic personality if there ever was one — end up in the entourage of this particular prince of the church?

Stay tuned. Anyone want to bet that Matthews ends up writing or broadcasting about this experience, perhaps at the Post‘s “On Faith” section? But wait, would it be proper to let a devout Catholic cover this event? Then again, MSNBC is not exactly a normal journalistic operation these days.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    Chris Matthews is a “devout” Catholic?

    Who knew?!

  • Martha

    That “thrill up the leg” quote never gets old. Never.

  • http://platytera.blogspot.com/ Christian

    Oh man, as a lifelong Catholic, I always get the impression that “devout” means “credulous to the point of superstition” as opposed to say “serious and informed.”

  • Julia

    Methinks the press gets a kick out of the word “elevate”. In just the clips from the WashPo in this blogpost, a version of the word is used FOUR times. It’s correctly used, but I’ve noticed its excessive use in many news stories.

    Adding to the exoticism is another word/phrase that seems to be fun to use: “prince of the church”. This is not a real title. It’s like saying Tiger Woods is the Crown Prince of golf. Back in the olden days when almost all countries were ruled by monarchies, it was probably an apt comparison, but it’s never been a real title. And the Pope is not really an absolute monarch. And Popes can and rarely have been elected from outside the College of Cardinals.

    I’m guessing Cardinals came to be called “Princes” of the Church in English due to inaccurate translation. The title Cardinal is the equivalent of principalis which means leader or excellent, not prince. They were originally the head priests of the major parishes in Rome. The Latin word for prince is regulus.


  • Julia


    “Devout” always brings to my mind the folks who never forget to say their nightly prayers and grace before meals, who pray the rosary routinely, attend novenas, and close their eyes and hold their hands in a prayerful position after lighting candles in church. In other words – the uber-devotional types.

    I still haven’t quite figured out what newspapers mean by a “devout” Catholic. But Matthews definitely doesn’t fit what most Catholics mean by that term.

  • Cathy

    “Devout” means devoted. Serious. Intentional. Committed. It may come in a variety of styles. I never attend novenas and say the rosary occasionally. But, I would say I am ‘devout.’ (I’ve worked for the church for more than 30 years. Hopefully I am.)

    Obviously, Matthews doesn’t work for the church. But, at the end of the JP II funeral coverage, he put up a five minute montage/reflection that I happened to catch. It was actually the best piece of evangelization I have ever seen on TV. I haven’t ever seen a clip of it since. If it hadn’t been on MSNBC, I would have thought that our diocesan media folks had finally ‘got it’ and produced it. (Alas, no….)

    So, faith, even devout faith, comes in many forms. “Judge not….”

    And, from what I understand about pilgrimage packages when a Cardinal is elevated, you get in the group by giving your money to the tour operator. That is what happened here when our Cardinal made the big time. My guess is that Matthews knows Wuerl and wanted to be there, so he ponied up. No huge whup. Anyone can go.

  • Julia


    I meant no disrespect regarding “devout”. My beloved father was both “devout” and a champion apologist with many conversions to his credit. We had discussions at table about what St Paul meant by this or that and quizzing about the difference between Albigensians and Jansenists. I was in the Legion of Mary in high school, now sing in a parish choir and a cathedral schola, last fall sang the “Dies Irae” in an old-fashioned requiem Mass for the benefit of some seminarians, and am looking forward to participating in an honest-to-goodness Vespers in a few weeks with a chanted Magnificat.

    The press probably means “observant”. But for Catholics “devout” goes beyond regular Sunday Mass attendance. Reporters are probably impressed with anybody who goes to church at all these days.

  • mary stone

    I especially liked Chris Matthews’ reminding Bishop Dolan that the Church is expecting American law to be the enforcer of its moral position on abortion through legislation.
    I am sure the bishop is not used to being spoken to this way.

  • Rick

    I’m not so sure the Church expects the law to enforce Catholic moral positions, but it does expect Catholic voters and politicians to think and act as Christians in the world.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt


    But that isn’t what the Communion wars were about. The action of whether a PROFESSED Catholic can be disciplined is a matter of church discipline — not legislation.

    This is especially interesting in that there is no evidence that the church has attempted in any way to sacramentally disciple Catholics who have done the best they could to achieve COMPROMISES on abortion. This action has been reserved for those who unequivocally support abortion rights or even abortion on demand.

  • ed

    I Remember Matthews interviewing Cardinal Rigali on a roof overlooking the Vatican conclave electing BXVI. Matthews obviously did not know how stiff Rigali was and would be. Matthews starts with I’M a Philly guy too’ Rigali ignores all questions and lofts platitudes left and right. Matthews looks around for help get this stiff off the roof.

  • Jon in the Nati

    The press probably means “observant”. But for Catholics “devout” goes beyond regular Sunday Mass attendance.

    I get why TMATT and the other GR-ers don’t like the ‘devout’ thing. To me, though, devout would come closer to ‘observant’, suggesting a layperson with a level of personal observance and piety beyond that of the average pew-warmer.

    Although, yeah, to a lot of non-religious folk, anyone that sets foot in a church other than for weddings and funerals is probably considered ‘devout’.

  • Jimmy Mac

    Some of the comments here remind me of this old bit of uber-”Christian” doggerel:

    Jesus loves me,
    I am best,
    I am better than the rest.

  • Julia

    a layperson with a level of personal observance and piety beyond that of the average pew-warmer.

    That’s pretty much what I meant by “devout” – substantially more than observance of the minimum; if you mean the average pew-warmer goes to Mass every Sunday.

  • Julia

    Jimmy Mac:

    “Devout” people are not necessarily holier than thou, figuratively or actually.

  • Designduo08

    If Chris Matthews is a “devout” Catholic, I’m a layman “Prince of the Church.”