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 Washington Notebook

June 9, 2004
Vol. 1, No. 22

Joe Feuerherd, NCR Washington correspondent


Reagan ceremonies; Handicapping the 'special assembly'

By Joe Feuerherd

In death, Ronald Reagan has achieved what he couldn't in eight years as president. He's brought Washington to a halt. The three-day event is a security and logistical nightmare.

On Friday, the capitol's largest employer, the Federal Government, will be closed. Gridlock will reign on the city's streets.

"It's like putting a giant canal through the city," a D.C. government spokesman told the Washington Post. "If you are on one side, you'll have a hell of a time getting to the other side." The official state funeral will take place June 9 in the Capitol Rotunda, followed by a public viewing. The city is running shuttle buses from Robert F. Kennedy stadium to the Capitol to accommodate the transportation needs of the thousands who will line up to pay their respects to the 40th president.

The private funeral (meaning that it is by invitation only) will be held June 11 in the National Cathedral in the upper Northwest quadrant of the city. It will be an ecumenical and interreligious event. Episcopal minister, former Republic Senator, and prospective U.N. Ambassador John Danforth will preside; Cardinal Theodore McCarrick will read the Gospel; and Rabbi Harold Kusher and Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor will give readings.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican Secretary of State, will attend the National Cathedral ceremony as the pope's "personal representative," and not as a member of the diplomatic corps. It's unclear precisely what that means, other than that Sodano gets to occupy a seat in the chancel (near the altar), rather than in the pews with the rest of his diplomatic colleagues.

Vatican ambassador James Nicholson will attend.

In addition, McCarrick will celebrate a Mass in remembrance of Reagan on the morning of the 11th at the Cathedral of St. Matthew. In Los Angeles, Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony will celebrate a memorial mass on Friday at noon.

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Among church leaders offering condolences to the Reagan family were Cardinals Justin Rigali of Philadelphia and Adam Maida of Detroit.

"My service to the Holy See during the Presidency of Ronald Reagan brought me into contact with him," said Rigali. "I share with millions of people in the United States great respect for him and for the many upright goals he pursued in the service of our nation and the world. I recall his personal esteem for Pope John Paul II and his great admiration for the activity of the Holy See in the cause of justice and peace."

Said Maida: "Along with the Holy Father, President Reagan was instrumental in the deconstruction of Communism and the restoration of religious freedoms in Russia and Eastern Europe. For his devout patriotism, his steady moral compass, and his loyal friendship to the Catholic church, may Ronald Reagan enjoy eternal peace with the Lord."

Meanwhile, Washington archdiocesan schools were to let out for the summer on June 11. But McCarrick, recognizing the National Day of Mourning declared by President Bush, decided to close schools that day. So the kids, none of whom have any recollection of Reagan as president, get an early start on their vacation.

Something, one imagines, that might have pleased Ronald Reagan.


There's a fair amount of speculation, and not a whole lot of information, concerning the upcoming six-day "special assembly" the U.S. bishops will hold beginning next week in Englewood, Colorado.

Every five years, instead of a spring business meeting, the bishops hold such a gathering, which, according to a June 3 press release, "allows them an extended period of time for prayer and reflection."

The special assembly is closed to the press and public.

The press release, however, provides some tidbits related to a business agenda that might intrude on the bishops gathering. Among them:

  • "Some specific steps related to the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and the annual report on its implementation by dioceses will be discussed." Translation: We will find out if the full body of bishops agrees with the National Review Board and the Bishops Ad Hoc Committee on sex abuse that audits of diocesan child protection programs should be conducted this year. A number of bishops (See Washington Notebook, April 7.) would prefer to forgo the audits.
  • "The Task Force on Catholics in Public Life, set to report at the November general meeting of the USCCB, will make a progress report." Questions: Will the bishops, or their task force, decide to clarify their collective opinion on pro-choice Catholic politicians receiving communion? Or will they, as originally planned, wait until after the election to issue a statement?
  • Not mentioned in the release is another area reportedly up for discussion: Whether the bishops should convene a "plenary council," a gathering at which a majority of bishops, subject to Vatican approval, could enact "particular law for the U.S. church."

    The idea was first floated two years ago by conservative bishops who view such a gathering as a mechanism to purify the church after the sex abuse scandals. More than 100 bishops subsequently indicated their support for the concept.

    Last year, at their meeting in St. Louis, the bishops met privately for a day to discuss whether to hold such a meeting. Among the issues identified for possible discussion at a plenary council: the identity and spiritual life of priests and bishops, the need for catechesis, the role of the laity, and concern about decline in participation "in the sacramental life of the church."

    The press will certainly be present in Colorado when the bishops meet, though it's not certain who, if anyone, will be talking.

    "Any further news or information that develops on these items during the special assembly will be posted on the USCCB Web site," says the press release.

    The e-mail address for Joe Feuerherd is

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