Pope Francis Meets with Cardinal Sarah

Pope Francis met with Cardinal Sarah at 10:30 am this morning Roman time, Pray Tell has learned.

Cardinal Sarah has recently made news for portraying the difference between receiving Communion on the tongue and in the hand as a battle between the angels and Lucifer. Pray Tell’s Rita Ferrone commented on the cardinals’ statement at Commonweal: “Cardinal Sarah Does It Again.

It is not known what the topic of the meeting was. Pray Tell will report more news as it emerges.


  1. “Pray Tell will report more news as it emerges.”
    Perhaps check out the “rinunce e nomine” in tomorrow’s Bollettino?

  2. Maybe Benedict had whispered, “I’ll go, but you gotta keep Sarah for five years.” The alarm just went off.

    1. Actually not. Benedict made three requests of Pope Francis very early on:

      (a) Please keep Gorgeous George as Prefect of the Pontifical Household.
      (b) Please allow X (name not recorded) to continue working for the CDF.
      (c) Please on no account allow Piero Marini to become Prefect of CDWDS.

      Francis was gracious enough to grant all of three of Benedict’s wishes.

      (a) was a problem, and continues to be so, because Georg controls access to the Pope. However, he only works in the mornings. Anyone that Francis wants to see who Georg will not allow him to see is scheduled by Francis for the afternoon when Georg is working for Benedict….

      (c) was a problem because Francis had already seen Marini and asked him to take on CDWDS. After Benedict made his request (his rationale was that he thought the appointment would split the Church), Francis needed another solution. Marini was gracious enough to stand aside, and Sarah had just been moved out of his previous position at Cor Unum and needed a job. It seems that Francis did not realize that another fundamentalist African prefect of CDWDS would prove to be a bad idea. He certainly does now.

      1. I have a reliable Roman source who wishes to remain anonymous who confirmed that Piero Marini was to be named prefect by Francis but he did not out of deference to Benedict. I trust that Paul Inwood has his informed sources as well.

      2. Could we stop calling other Catholics fundamentalist? There is a difference between being a conservative and being a fundamentalist, and I see no evidence that Cardinal Sarah is anything other than a conservative (unless believing that the devil is something more than mere myth puts one in that category). And, frankly, when it’s joined to “African” is sounds vaguely racist. I don’t think that was the intent, but we really need to be careful about how our words sound.

      3. Benedict’s requesting Archbishop Marini not to be head of the CDW was a reasonable request and Marini’s graciousness in stepping aside is a credit to his character. It is just that Francis picked Cardinal Sarah, who despite is virtues and past service, was not appropriate for the role under Francis (and probably not under JP2 or Benedict either). My money is on Archbishop Roche as the next head.

      4. Fritz,

        Gerald Arbuckle’s recent book, Fundamentalism At Home and Abroad, may be helpful in sorting this out. He makes it clear that biblical fundamentalism is not the only kind, and that fundamentalism arises in response to what he calls “cultural trauma.”

        He further quotes Pope Francis in saying that fundamentalism is found in all religions. It is a widespread phenomenon, and certainly includes Catholics.

        “Fundamentalists are people who are outraged when they see the world around them abandoning the religious values they hold dear” Arbuckle writes. “They are fighting back in the cause of what they consider truth. They are reacting to threats to their identity in militant ways, whether in the use of words and ideas or ballots or, in extreme cases, bullets and bombs. The responses to these threats are simplistic and those who question them are branded intolerantly as enemies of the truth.”

        My concern is about what Paul meant by “another.” IMHO, for all that I disagreed with Cardinal Arinze, and I presume that is who Paul meant, I did not see fundamentalism in his statements. Certainly many other African prelates are untouched by fundamentalism: Cardinals Turkson and Onaiyekan spring to mind, not to mention Zerbo, Kutwa, or Ouédraogo.

      5. I’m curious, what is specifically African about Cardinal Sarah’s alleged fundamentalism?
        Though, I have to say, I do see what is gorgeous about Georg.

      6. I think the key to both Arinze and Sarah lies in Arbuckle’s phrase, quoted by Rita: “The responses to these threats are simplistic”. Both of them have lashed out at what they see as abuses that are symptoms of a crumbling Church.

        To give just one example of a different kind of simplistic response: when the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales went to Rome on one of their Ad Limina visits, they asked Arinze what was the reason for the emphasis on the priest not leaving the sanctuary at the Sign of Peace, which was viewed as an unpastoral addition to the revised GIRM, especially on occasions such as funerals. Arinze’s reply: “Oh, it wouldn’t be right to leave Jesus all alone on the altar.”

        Simplistic, fundamentalist, childish, naive… whatever label fits best. The reality appears to be the same.

        I would be the first to affirm that other African prelates do not seem to display these tendencies at all, and that they do not agree with those who do. The purpose of the word “African” was not intended as a pejorative racist epithet, merely a convenient geographical descriptor. I apologize if I used it too loosely. The same “fundamentalism” can of course be found in some bishops and cardinals from other continents, too.

      7. You do realise that terms such as childish naive simplistic have been staples of colonialist rhetoric for generations. Convenient how your evidence is an anecdote that was not publcily recorded. Also, the fact tthat youre also dismissive of nonAfricans makes your comment look worse not better.

      8. Rita,
        I don’t know Arbuckle’s book, but maybe I’ll take a look at it. I don’t find the bit you quoted completely convincing, since it seems that “fundamentalist” ends up meaning any religious person who thinks their religion is threatened by the modern world and undertakes to combat that threat by means ranging from words to bombs. By that definition, Newman would be a fundamentalist.

        I suppose the qualifier “simplistic” might exonerate Newman, but one person’s “simplistic” is another person’s “simple.” For example, Paul’s anecdote about Arinze doesn’t suggest to me that he has a simplistic eucharistic theology, but wanted to make his point simply. I think one could do a sophisticated semiotic analysis of the ritual around the sign of peace that would end up with much the same conclusion (e.g. having in the eucharistic prayer just made the eucharistic species the focus of intense ritual attention, to dissipate that ritual energy by a subsequent ritual in which the species of bread and wine on the altar are not simply not the sole focus but are, ritually-speaking, ignored undermines the signifying work accomplished by the preceding ritual). It’s simpler to say, “It wouldn’t be right to leave Jesus all alone on the altar,” but not necessarily simplistic.

      9. Fritz, thanks for your reply.

        I don’t see Newman at all in the bit I quoted, nor do I see you or other thoughtful conservatives I have known.

        Outrage, militant reactions, simplistic responses, branding others as enemies of truth — I would be very surprised if you were to put everyone or no one into this mold. This thumbnail summary does describe behaviors of some of our fellow Catholics, hence my point: fundamentalism is a real thing, and it exists in our religious group as well as in the other world religions. It’s a violent response to real problems, just as postmodernism is.

        Arbuckle is a cultural anthropologist. He has written a lot about health care. May not be your cup of tea. The reference to words in this quote is given context, for me, by the book he wrote about bullying, and his other book about violence, to which this is a sequel. When he speaks of words here I take it to mean words used to dehumanize or bully others. If you’ve ever been cornered by a biblical fundamentalist, you know that words play a role and it’s not good.

      10. Fr. Forte,

        No. What you are calling “the spirit of Vatican II crowd” is not fundamentalism. It is the use of an interpretive tool for viewing events. You may not agree with the interpretation, but that doesn’t make it fundamentalism. The alternatives to this view are not necessarily fundamentalist either, as I tried to explain above.

        If you look at the book Violence, Society, and Church, you’ll see that Arbuckle describes forms of violence generated by anti-order responses to the crisis of culture in the postmodern world. Fundamentalism is one of the pro-order responses that generates violence. Some examples of anti-order responses are radical liberalism and individualism, the distrust of meta-narratives, and a fluid identity. These are violent, but in different ways. It is not the same thing as fundamentalism, and can’t be cured in the same way.

        When an idea is used simplistically, and militantly, to fight for a threatened identity, and when those who disagree branded as pure evil, this idea is being used in a fundamentalist manner.

        I hope this helps to clear this up.

      11. Rita,

        Things are not as black and white as you would have them. You give Arbuckle’s description of fundamentalists as thus:

        “Fundamentalists are people who are outraged when they see the world around them abandoning the religious values they hold dear. They are fighting back in the cause of what they consider truth. They are reacting to threats to their identity in militant ways, whether in the use of words and ideas or ballots or, in extreme cases, bullets and bombs. The responses to these threats are simplistic and those who question them are branded intolerantly as enemies of the truth.”

        This description could be applied to many who are attempting to defend the post-Vatican II order. You make a distinction between the response of those whom you label as pro-order and those whom you label as anti-order. But the order that one is trying to defend need not be two thousand years old as it is with those attempting to defend traditional Catholic teaching and practices. The advocates of a radical Spirit of Vatican II have created they their own new order: a novus ordo, if you will. They see the rise of younger Catholics committed to a more traditional Church as a threat to this new order and often respond in the manner that Arbuckle describes.

        Furthermore, whereas much of the response of Traditionalist is rhetorical, that of the advocates of a radical Spirit of Vatican II is often institutional. The possibility of a traditional form even of the new Mass has been brutally suppressed and those who would advocated for it have often been driven out of ministry. I would recommend that you read Michael Rose’s book Goodbye, Good Men to understand the lived experience of many traditionally minded Catholics. Can you not also see the intolerance and vitriol that is often directed at those who advocate a more traditional understanding of the Vatican II, such as Cardinal Sarah? No, fundamentalists do indeed exist among those who are defending there own new order of the Spirit of Vatican II.

      12. Fr. Forte,

        Thanks for your reply. I quite agree that there are fundamentalist responses on the left, seen primarily in the militancy of identity politics (radical feminism, and other extreme positions). I would not call this the spirit of Vatican II, however. The appeal to spirit is a way of interpreting the Council, just as emphasis on texts is another interpretation.

        Correct me if I am wrong, but as I read your comment, I suspect you are not really interested in fundamentalism. You are simply trying to put the shoe on the other foot. Which is too bad, because there is plenty to criticize on all sides. However, it’s important to find the right terms for critique, as I see it. And that is not at all simple. I would condemn vitriol too, my point is that this is not the spirit of Vatican II.

      13. “Gorgeous George”? It is neither necessary or charitable to refer to Archbishop Georg Gänswein in that manner.

  3. Personally, I would hope nobody has to lose a job like this without a serious alternate discernment to a viable, joyful, and fruitful place in the Church’s mission. Troubling as his public statements may be, I take no heart from Cardinal Sarah being bounced from the CDWDS. I have seen far too many friends and colleagues fired from fruitful parish and diocesan ministries, and myself been the target of a few pink-slip campaigns. I no longer have the stomach to cheer for things like that.

    1. Yes, but Cardinal Sarah has continually and publicly displayed his hostility to both Vatican II and the spirit and programs of HIS BOSS. There’s no behind a door innuendo here, Sarah has publicly staked out positions inimical to him continuing to be part of the pope’s cabinet. I surely hope the meeting was to tell Sarah of his dismissal.

      1. I don’t disagree he’s been a distraction, ill-educated and imprudent. But everybody needs a job. If the HF has something else in mind for him, great–I’ll cheer that.

      2. I must take issue with the idea that Cardinal Sarah has shown any hostility to Vatican II. When read in continuity with the entirety of Church teaching and practice, rather than through the lens of rapture, Vatican II is hardly revolutionary. Equating critiques against a particular reading of Vatican II with a rejection of the council itself is dishonest and unjust; it is nothing more than an attempt to muzzle contrary opinions and stop debate.

      3. OK, we’re not gonna do Vatican II and rupture and all that yet again!

        The extent to which there is continuity and rupture at Vatican II remains a disputed point. The extent to which the reformed liturgy is both in continuity with the past and a rupture with it is also disputed. I think we’ll all have to keep looking closely at the texts themselves, do the best possible analysis, to try to arrive eventually at more consensus on this point.

        I think it is most helpful to start with the texts and derive ones theory of continuity/rupture therefrom. I find it unhelpful to start with a general theory (“Rupture is a good thing” or “There can only be continuity, not rupture!”) and then fit the document texts into our a priori theory.

        Those who strongly critique Sarah (I’m one of them) think that his starting point is an a priori theory and does not do justice to the texts at hand. Others look at it differently. (Sarah did himself no favors when he proposed inserting the pre-Vatican II penitential rite into the reformed liturgy as an option – there was no penitential rite in the unreformed liturgy.)


    1. I believe the Cardinal is taking a stance on Eucharistic piety as received, and without a deep survey of it’s history. Frankly, I think the Commonweal editorial was harsh. He is trying to encourage, and because he is curial, even enforce pastoral measures to increase reverence for Christ’s true presence. If only it could be forced, but of course it is voluntary. We learn from the Fathers that reception of the sacred host in the hand is not just valid, but that it also has, as Rita Ferrone’s research shows, depths of mystagogical piety we are just beginning to rediscover. But. Is anyone going to pretend that parishes teach the mysteries that we partake of in a deep way? Is the study of our liturgy not still in its infancy? In the mean time, while we should be digging deep to bring the riches of scripture and the prayers of the Church to our understanding of the Mass of Paul VI, we should also avoid finding fault with those, like Sarah, who see the project as too onerous to justify in the face of a Catholic Church which seems to have forgotten that if you can’t teach profoundly, you should at least teach simply, or you won’t be teaching at all. Genuflection is, of course, a recent development, certainly when compared to the Pope’s nod to the pyxes about to journey through the parishes of Rome in the 9th century. It is, however, immediately understandable as a gesture of extraordinary reverence. I am a Usus Recentior man, so i bow from the waist in the communion line. But I sympathize with Cardinal Sarah’s anxieties.

      1. Thank you for this comment. You have accurately assessed the situation when you say that reverence cannot be legislated. Likewise things like quality in the liturgy: excellent homilies, music, and art. Legislators might like to try and think they can succeed. But really, the best, though slowest way, is through good example and life’s witness.

        The writer’s motto seems especially apt in this situation: show, not tell. I find it deeply applicable to many areas of liturgical ministry. I don’t tell servers to bow; I show them how it is done. I avoid musical explanations to singers, I demonstrate with my own voice what I’d like to hear. I don’t teach about a theology of the crucifix; I find dozens examples of art to illustrate what Christians have believed.

        The world lectures enough at our parishioners: what products to buy, for whom to vote, how to get rich and healthy, etc.. If Catholic leaders were able to break through the noise, I suspect they would need some counter-cultural way. With reference fo Cardinal Sarah, we don’t need him to teach. We need him to be a spiritual mentor.

      2. And, to be fair to Cdl Sarah, it appears he goes much further in being an exemplum of spiritual practice than many would otherwise expect from a curial prefect.

      3. Daniel, thanks for your thoughtful comments. I’d like to respond to three of your points.

        First of all, I don’t think my essay was even remotely as harsh as Cardinal Sarah’s original remarks denigrating communion in the hand. I am not sure why it doesn’t seem troubling to you to hear him say that a common Communion practice is diabolically inspired and prideful, but I — and many other people, judging from their remarks — found this harsh indeed.

        I’d like to quote from a letter that someone shared at the America website, addressed to Cardinal Sarah, that touched me very much. He writes: “Patricia, my dear wife for 62 years, has borne six children and is grandmother to eight. Her hands – how many caresses have they bestowed, fevered brows soothed, skinned knees and elbows cleaned and dressed, tears wiped away, meals lovingly prepared, floors scrubbed. Think of your own mother, and all the mothers of all time who have lived lives of care and compassion. Why would you say that their hands are unworthy to touch the Body of our dear Lord Jesus, and indeed that He is saying “When you touch Me you are in league with Satan”?”

        This man’s letter is an example of “eucharistic piety as it is received” and lived, by real people. I don’t know about you, but I have seen a lot of this among our people in parishes, and I take off my shoes before their sincere and simple Eucharistic faith, because this is holy ground.

        Second, you say that Cardinal Sarah did not make a deep study of the history. Now, admittedly I mentioned an obscure source. That’s because I wanted to wake people up with a fresh and unfamiliar text. But it really doesn’t take any study at all to realize that the apostles gave communion in the hand. I am sure that Cardinal Sarah knows that Cyril of Jerusalem told us to make a throne of our hands to receive the king. Or that John Chrysostom told us to make a cross with our hands, to receive the crucified Lord in the Eucharist…

      4. (continued) It doesn’t take study, it just takes attention. If he had prefaced his remarks by acknowledging the venerable history of this practice, and then said people today are not living up to this example, I could have understood and accepted it as an admonition. What he did was something different: he took aim at the practice itself. In doing so, he didn’t just miss the mark. He hit Mrs. Murphy.

        Third, you ask “Is the study of our liturgy not still in it’s infancy?” To this I would say, well, no. We are a century beyond Lambert Beauduin and the Malines conference that historians regard as the start of the liturgical movement. The rediscovery of the sources and the renewal of our understanding of our rites began in the nineteenth century. But you are right to ask about the catechetical movement. The question of a deeper liturgical catechesis is one that the General Directory for Catechesis asked, and which is posed by the question of mystagogy in RCIA. I happen to believe there is a sincere effort underway to cultivate this, but the enemy is a mechanical attitude toward the sacraments, and the idolatry of efficiency.

  4. For nearly a thousand years Catholic Tradition has spoken of the real and substantial presence of Christ in the most holy sacrament of the altar almost to the exclusion of other ways in which Christ keeps his promise to remain with us until the end of the age. I contend that the reference in SC to a fourfold presence of Christ in the Eucharistic liturgy may be at the root of traditionalist objections to the NO. Is he not really (actually) present in the priestly people gathered for worship; in his word proclaimed; and in the ministry of the bishop/priest? There can be no doubt that the preeminence given to his substantial presence in the Eucharistic species expresses most fully his teaching in John 6 and in the accounts of the last supper, but surely not for the purpose of regarding the sacramental presence as an end in itself. He is present in this particular way so that he may bind himself to the members of his body so that living within us we can change ourselves and others—becoming holy even as God is holy. I celebrate Mass with great reverence and receive communion reverently, and distribute it reverently, and thus the people approach to take and eat, take and drink with reverence. Virtually all bow and make of their hands a throne to hold the Lord, some receive it on their tongues. One or two choose to kneel. I believe that those who receive on their hand never do so thinking their way is more reverent or superior. I wish I could say the same for all who receive on the tongue.

    1. Well said, Jack. I agree that the trad crowd risks an impoverished understanding of the True Presence if they reject the presence of Christ in the baptized soul by grace, in the scriptures proclaimed in liturgy, and in the ordained minister. There is the possibility that trads are participating, unconsciously, in a developing schism if they believe that reverence with a bow and reception of the host in the hand are intrinsically deficient. And of course, that is the root of the problem with Sarah’s comments. Was the interview with the Cardinal done by a trad blog which delights in winding up pious old men? If so, his culpability is less.
      I grew up in Vatican II, or NO, or Usus Recentior parishes whose pastors managed, amid all of their other tasks, to have a respect for the liturgy that was not merely rubrical, though they followed them. But this is America, which has always had a problem with giving prayer and contemplation their pride of place. We like doers, not lovers. So some priests don’t see any big deal about the liturgy- and what some Trads forget is that they never did, maybe especially with the Mass in Latin. We all have to school ourselves in reverence and the mystagogy of it. But we need a practical set of attitudes, aspirations, postures, etc in order to make the mystagogy leave the classroom, so to speak, and be one ours. Sarah is lamenting the loss of this practical, as opposed to elite, understanding of our Eucharist.

    2. “I wish I could say the same for all who receive on the tongue”. Ouch! I suspect there is much more under the surface woven into that comment.

    1. Liturgiam authenticam was issued on 28 March 2001, and signed by the then prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estevez. Cardinal Medina retired on 1 October 2002, and was succeeded by Cardinal Francis Arinze.

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