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.