Biden’s gift to Francis: the insulting chasuble

I find almost everything about this disgusting.  It is about the chasuble that Biden gave Francis during their recent – curiously prolonged and extenuated – meeting.

From Catholic News Service:

A Jesuit, papal connection from the past in pope’s gift from Washington

WASHINGTON (CNS) — While waiting for parishioners to arrive at a cemetery for an All Souls’ Day event Nov. 2, the pastor of a Washington parish grabbed the attention of his spiritual flock with a story about how a rarely seen object from their sacristy, possibly worn by a previous pope, had days earlier ended up in the hands of Pope Francis.

Jesuit Father Kevin Gillespie, pastor of Washington’s Holy Trinity Church, a place that some high-ranking Catholic members of the U.S. government, including President Joe Biden, frequent when in Washington, told the crowd that it all began with a phone call.

“So, what occurred was, the first week of September we got a call from the White House,” Father Gillespie said.

He explained that Thomas Favret, Trinity’s managing director of parish operations, who had in the past worked for the State Department, got a call from “a buddy of his,” saying that “a very important American diplomat” was meeting with “a high Vatican official” at the end of October.

“I need something from your parish,” the caller said, according to Father Gillespie.

It was understood they were talking about Biden and Pope Francis.

“So, we were thinking of a little piece of baptistry from the 19th century, a little marble … a pew?” Father Gillespie recalled with a laugh.

But someone else suggested the parish, run by Jesuits, the pope’s religious order, was in possession of a chasuble that was likely worn in 1936 by Italian Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli during a visit to the U.S. when he stayed with Genevieve and Nicholas Brady, wealthy benefactors of the Society of Jesus.  [This is where the hackles start to rise.  You see, some one, long ago, paid for that chasuble and it became the patrimony of the parish, not the plaything of the priest to be disposed of on a whim.]

About three years later, in 1939, Cardinal Pacelli became Pope Pius XII.  [More hackles.  Take something that, from another story we learned, was made in Rome at Gammarelli back to Rome and give to to a guy who is a) inescapably surrounded by things worn by and used by Popes and b) about which he not only doesn’t give a Jesuit (being a Jesuit), but probably represents something that he loathes, so that it will never see the light of day again.  Great.  Gifts to Popes… think of the warehouse at the end of Indiana Jones.]

The future pope was close to the couple, who gifted the grounds and buildings for a Jesuit novitiate in Wernersville, Pennsylvania, and he visited what was called the Novitiate of St. Isaac Jogues when Jesuit Father Thomas P. Gavigan was the novitiate director there. Father Gavigan later served as pastor of Holy Trinity.

“He’s the one that brought it (the chasuble) to Holy Trinity,” Father Gillespie recalled.

The Jesuit past, the papal link — they were “the connections, the dots” when it came time to choosing a gift for Pope Francis from the parish, he added.

When Biden met with Pope Francis Oct. 29 at the Vatican, the chasuble, worn as the outermost layer of a priest’s liturgical vestments, was placed in a custom-made frame crafted with” historic marble and White House wood,” the White House said.  [In a frame.]

But it’s unlikely that the vestment is remembered by most Holy Trinity parishioners.

It was stuffed way back in the sacristy,” Father Gillespie  said.  [So, they gave him something that they didn’t give a damn about.]

What a sad and, frankly insulting, waste.

On the other hand, as I mused the other day, perhaps this was devout Joe Biden’s way of protesting Traditionis custodes.

A chasuble U.S. President Joe Biden gifted to Pope Francis during their Oct. 29, 2021, meeting is pictured at the Vatican. The vestment is believed to have been worn by Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli — the future Pope Pius XII — during a U.S. visit. (CNS photo/Holy See Press Office)

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Pingback: Biden’s gift to Francis: the insulting chasuble | Fr. Z’s Blog – The Old Roman

  2. That is an utterly gorgeous chasuble… too bad it has ended up like an undisplayed museum piece. What other treasures might possibly be hiding in that sacristy? Imagine if a young priest interested in the Latin Mass was floundering around and was suddenly confronted by that Chasuble…
    But nope, we have to build back better!

  3. PostCatholic says:

    What would have been a more appropriate piece of American Jesuit history to offer?

    Tangentially: If you can find it, a priest of the Washington Archdiocese wrote a short book about the English Civil War in the then-Catholic colony of southern Maryland, and there is a lot of interesting Jesuit history in that episode. I may have the subtitle a bit wrong, but it’s “The Plundering Time: The Hardships of Southern Maryland Catholics During Colonial Times” by Rev. Paul Liston. He passed away a few years ago; he was an amateur historian and the late great Msgr John Tracy Ellis introduced me to him when I was considering entering seminary.

    (I’m doing this from memory. I’ll dig around tonight and see if I can figure out where on my shelves this lives. Perhaps I can send you a scan if you would like it; I’m sure the booklet is long out of print.)

    [Perhaps a book on how they owned slaves. Or maybe the study that was done to determine if the Jesuits were Catholic or really something else.]

  4. Some rescue team should surveil the local dumpsters, where so many beautiful vestments have ended up before now.

  5. This is absolutely infuriating, let me illustrate:

    – Canon law, and local law in my diocese at least, is crystal-clear about the pastor’s duties to protect the physical and financial assets of the parish, as well as those that may not have a large dollar value, but are precious for other reasons. (We’re not all about the money, although money, especially that of parishioners, isn’t nothing.)

    – Simply put, I’m NOT ALLOWED to alienate items above a certain value. I have to seek consultation, at least, if not permission, from the pastoral advisory council, and perhaps the Archbishop.

    – If I do so, that is a moral crime, and perhaps an explicit violation of relevant church laws. It could easily be a crime under civil law as well.

    – It seems to me we have a name for a situation when clergy make decisions without ever considering the rights and interests of the laity. Hmm, what is that word, I keep hearing it all the time…it begins with a “c”: “Cler…something, help me out here…

    – If anyone who is a member of that parish were interested (perhaps reading these words?), s/he would ABSOLUTELY be within his/her rights to contact the pastor, with the following questions:

    > Did anyone establish the dollar value of this chasuble before alienating it from the parish?

    > If so, how much?

    > What is the dollar threshold under relevant church laws, beyond which the pastor is not able to alienate property without consultation and/or permission?

    > What consultation and permission was sought?

    It’s certainly possible that they did this “by the book.” But I suspect not. And I realize those responsible may stonewall and dismiss and no actual penalty may come of it; however, the process is the penalty. At least make them own up to their arrogance and contempt for the laity, whose chasuble that really is. Right? Whose parish is that?

  6. magister63 says:

    Where’s the rest of it? Looks like just a section.
    [Probably folded because they were too cheap to show the whole thing. Or… maybe they were afraid to show the whole thing.]

  7. swisswiss says:

    As a sign of the times … the Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth in Wernersville, PA, mentioned above, closed August 15, 2021. The Rev. James J. Martin, SJ, writer and editor-at-large of America, was the homilist (see: … he reflects on Janice Farnham, R.J.M., and the decline of her order in the U.S. along with “other women’s orders that seem to be, for want of a better word, dying out.”

  8. Kenneth Wolfe says:

    Examples like this are why I believe it is morally permissible to rescue any traditional vestment or book from an otherwise worthless parish like Holy Trinity in Georgetown. Were someone to rescue the absolutely beautiful chasuble “stuffed way back in the sacristy” decades ago it would have been worn for numerous traditional Latin Masses in the region.

    [We did that in seminary when the heresiarch soon-to-be ex-priest told us to dumpsterize all sorts of vestments, including many matching dalmatics and chasubles used when they were ordained a 20 at a time. We took them to the dumpster, as required, and then divided them up. They wanted to trash chalices… altar stones… you name it. And then they jackhammered the gorgeous Carrara marble altar. It was hard.]

  9. redneckpride4ever says:

    Is it possible that Sleepy Joe is a Traditional Modernist?

    Maybe he taught the Holy Father the Latin lyrics to ‘On Eagle’s Wings’ during his visit.

  10. pcg says:

    The weekend I brought my son down to start college at Georgetown, I went to Mass at Holy Trinity……I’m not sure there was a final blessing after Mass, but everyone broke out into “Happy Birthday” for someone present- This was one of those times when leaving Mass after Communion was a good idea!

  11. Son of Saint Alphonsus says:

    Mr. Wolfe, I cannot tell you how many sacred vessels, vestments, hand carved altar appurtenances, etc., I saw taken to the dump on the orders of a seminary rector. Some were of substantial monetary value—thousands of dollars. No consultation with the house council, provincial, or Prefectus Ecclesiae. I wasn’t terribly surprised. The man is a troglodyte. I saved what I could, which wasn’t much. Had it been known I’d have been sent packing. The only other thing I could do is pray for him.

  12. PostCatholic says:

    I don’t know—a book on the ownership of slaves by the Georgetown community of Jesuits seems more deliberately insulting to me.

    I am confident a dollar value of the chasuble had to be accepted by the government before it became Departure of State property to be used as a diplomatic gift. There’s a unit at State called the Protocol Gift Office that records such stuff in byzantine (no pun intended) detail, gifts given and received. They used to publish most details on their website but that was discontinued under the last administration; I can’t find a page where the Biden administration has reestablished that practice.

    Thank you to Rev. Fox for describing the process of how things like this should go.

  13. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Rhina Guidos in writing “a chasuble that was likely worn in 1936 by Italian Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli during a visit to the U.S. when he stayed with Genevieve and Nicholas Brady” seems to have done less homework than the contributers to the Wikipedia articles “Nicholas Frederic Brady” and “Genevieve Garvan Brady” who note that Duke Nicholas died on March 27, 1930, and that it was his widow, Duchess Genevieve, who “entertained Cardinal Secretary of State Eugenio Pacelli, later Pope Pius XII, on his American tour in 1936” at the Brady estate, Inisfada, in Long Island. Speaking of depredations, she left Inisfada to the New York Province of the Jesuits in her will, who used it as a seminary and thereafter “as The St. Ignatius Jesuit Retreat House before it was controversially sold and demolished in 2013” in the words of the Duke’s Wikipedia article. The “Inisfada” article notes, “The property was sold in May 2013 for $36.5 million to the Manhasset Bay Group, a consortium of four Hong Kong-based development companies.” I presume Duke Nicholas is still safely “buried in a crypt beneath an altar in the main chapel at the Jesuit Novitiate, St. Isaac Jogues, at Wernersville, Pennsylvania”, despite its closure as noted by Swisswiss.

    By the way, are kraters with arrowsmith cupidines characteristic of Jesuit chasubles of the 1930s?

  14. iamlucky13 says:

    Some interesting points are being made. When I read about the chasuble being given to the Pope, I had only wondered briefly whether President Biden even cared what a chasuble is, and whether Pope Francis cared for showy gifts. It did not occur to me to wonder how either Joseph Biden personally, or perhaps the government of the United States (I’m unclear which) came to be in possession of a Catholic liturgical vestment.

    Fr. Martin Fox, yes that “c” word does come to mind, doesn’t it.

    Of course, there are people who know how to play both sides of this sort of concern. They would likely counter that it would be selfish of the parish to claim ownership of an item with such a history, rather than allowing it to become part of the treasures of the Church (displayed in inspiring fashion in a warehouse, no doubt, as Father Z suggested). How dare they think their parish’s personal link to one of the successors of St. Peter is more important than allowing a politician to use it as a prop for a few minutes in a photo opportunity…uhh…I mean as an instrument to facilitate dialog between world leaders.

  15. Suburbanbanshee says:

    One of the English holy men who never got officially canonized, but who was very popular before the Reformation, was Brother Thomas Hales, of Dover. His tomb was the site of many miracles, and his intercession averted many shipwrecks.

    He was deemed a martyr, because when he stayed sick in bed in the monastery when the French raided Dover in 1295, he refused under threat of torture and death to reveal where the monastery kept its valuables and church vessels.

    I understand that people are eager to be helpful, especially to “old buddies.” But surely a more suitable gift could have been found.

    And the eagerness to send off bits and pieces of the parish is just… weird. Your own stuff, sure. Your artist buddy’s stuff, sure. Not your parish’s history.

  16. TRW says:

    This business of priests treating the parish as if it’s their property really hits home. My home parish had a new pastor come in recently and make all kinds of drastic changes. Even the the corpus was removed from the “resurrectifix”. Now we have a plain wooden cross. The large statue of the parish’s namesake was removed citing “health and safety concerns “. I could go on. These things were paid for by the parishioners. The display of hubris is stunning. Clericalism indeed. In regard to Fr. Z’s comment about the removal of marble altars, the church attached to my children’s catholic school still has the steps leading up to what was the old altar at the back of the sanctuary. There’s something so sad(and wrong) about seeing those steps leading to nowhere. I’ve never seen any photos of the original altar. Would love to know what it looked like. It’s dreadful to think that someone would have come in and broken up the old one and carried it out in pieces like trash. What madness.

  17. TonyO says:

    Is it just me, or does the right side of this look washed out compared to the left – almost as if bleached by sun or something? I probably have that wrong, but it just strikes me as an unusual color pattern to intend to make.

    Meanwhile, in other news: Coal miners in West Virginia, on a visit to Newcastle, England for a Coal Convention, as a gift to the city, brought a shovel full of old coal recently found in an old, defunct steam shovel, which had been made in England for coal mining in 1905. The West Virginia miners were widely praised (with snickers behind their backs) for bring coals to Newcastle.

  18. summorumpontificum777 says:

    Obama’s idea of a meaningful gift was an iPod preloaded with his own speeches and audiobook-versions of his tomes. And that was very “on brand” for Obama. A more suitable, “on brand” gift from Biden to the Holy Father would have been one of Hunter Biden’s half-million-dollar paintings. Surely, one or another tired old Titian or Fra Angelico, embodiments of outdated forms of the past, could be moth-balled to make way for a genuine Biden.

  19. summorumpontificum777 says:

    Some of the details of the story don’t quite add up. Cardinal Pacelli did visit the U.S. in 1936, but the story alleges that he stayed with Nicholas and Genevieve Brady. That’s partly wrong, as that particular Nicholas Brady (great-uncle and namesake of a later treasury secretary) died in 1930. Doing a bit of Googling, it does appear that the widowed Genevieve Brady did indeed host Cardinal Pacelli at Inisfada, her Long Island mansion, for a few days in October 1936 and then again on his last night in the U.S. on November 6, 1936. It’s not impossible, I suppose, that Mrs. Brady acquired and/or purchased the chasuble, and that Cardinal Pacelli used it on that visit, and that Mrs. Brady gave it to the Jesuits, and that one of the Jesuits later brought it to D.C., but it all seems a little … dubious.

  20. Not says:

    Over the years we have seen the cavalier distribution of everything Catholic. One of our priest, now departed, told us of a bar in Paris that purchased or given a traditional altar with tabernacle. Parish in NH had an altar rail donated by famous singer for his Catholic wife removed. How many beautiful stain glass windows paid for by families in memory of families are seen hanging in celebrity homes in Architectural Digest? Some years ago my diocese leased a Catholic school to the city. We were building walls in what was the chapel, (Altar still intact) I found the key to the tabernacle and open it. Blessed Sacrament was still there. Called the Bishop’s office and Priest came and respectfully removed.
    One of the TLM’s we attend is diocesan. Why do these priest feel they must bring up Vatican II? I have read the books and gone to classes on Vatican II. I have heard the arguments that it started good but was hijacked. We need a Pope who will rip it up branch and root.

  21. MarianneF says:

    What is the best way for the laity to rescue sacred vessels, vestments, etc. from parishes that we suspect may have them hidden in attics someplace? My hometown is filled with gorgeous churches that are closing (diocese of Syracuse, NY). These are the kind of churches that will never be built again. I have witnessed liturgical abuse in some of these churches, and there must be treasures that need rescuing. Any tips on how to do this? I would be glad to find holy priests in my area (the diocese of Arlington, VA) who would gladly take them. The TLM is surging here. My brother, a priest, would also love them and knows others who would use them with reverence.

  22. Thomas says:

    Brandon must have had to pay the parish a pretty penny for that! \s

  23. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Inis + fada = Long Island.

    Hahaha! That’s a good one!

    And of course the current Jesuits sold it to someone who’d tear it down. Of course they did.

  24. PostCatholic says:

    Oileán Fada is “Long Island.”

    Inis is a somewhat archaic, nonspecific way of saying either “Island” or “Riverside” or generally nearby water. Lots of places are Inis-, Ennis-, or Inch- but you sorry out the translation via knowledge of the geography. Still, Inisfada definitely makes for a more poetic house name.

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  26. Semper Gumby says:

    “What a sad and, frankly insulting, waste.”

    Yes. There are abundant tales of the faithful early last century chipping in dimes and quarters for years to purchase vestments and build beautiful churches. Today’s thugs, clergy and laity, are thieves.

    “On the other hand, as I mused the other day, perhaps this was devout Joe Biden’s way of protesting Traditionis custodes.”

    *chuckle* That would be great. More likely, Biden, who enjoys screaming at reporters and Americans, and Bergoglio, who enjoys screaming at Christians, are counting coup and hanging that vestment on the wall as if it were a scalp. This is really getting interesting- and they really should repent.

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