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Vilnius, Lithuania, Sep 22, 2018 / 02:36 pm (CNA).- Traveling Saturday to Lithuania, Pope Francis joked that, in the eyes of some, Pope St. John Paul II is considered a saint while he himself is considered “a devil.” The pope’s joke came amidst a Sept. 22 conversation with journalists, the Associated Press reported, during which he was presented a book about Pope St. John Paul II, written by long-time papal photographer Grzegorz Galazka. Francis joked as he examined the book, reportedly telling reporters “[John Paul II] was a saint, I am a devil.” “No, you are both saints!” Galazka responded. The pope has shown a similar penchant for self-deprecating humor in the past. Talking with reporters in August, he said his role in securing Italy’s reception of controversial controversial migrants had been that of “the devil’s paw.” In January, Francis joked with cloistered nuns in Peru that they had come to hear him speak only “to get out of the convent a bit to take a stroll.” In 2015, Pope Francis reportedly joked with then-Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa. After a visit, Correa tweeted that Pope Francis had made a joke based on stereotypes about Argentine vanity. “Being Argentine, they thought I would call myself Jesus II,” Francis reportedly told Correa. The pope’s trip to Lithuania is the start of a four-day trip through the Baltic states, during which Pope Francis will visit Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, before returning to Rome Sept. 25.
Vatican City, Sep 22, 2018 / 06:22 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After the signing Saturday of a provisional Vatican-China deal on the nomination of bishops, the Vatican announced Pope Francis’ recognition of seven illicitly ordained Chinese bishops. The decision was made “with a view to sustaining the proclamation of the Gospel in China,” according to a Sept. 22 Vatican press brief. Those bishops who will now be admitted to full communion with the Church are Bishop Joseph Guo Jincai of Rehe; Bishop Joseph Huang Bingzhang of Shantou; Bishop Paul Lei Shiyin of Jiading; Bishop Joseph Liu Xinhong of Wuhu; Metropolitan Archishop Joseph Ma Yinglin of Kunming; Bishop Joseph Yue Fusheng, apostolic administrator of Harbin; and Bishop Vincent Zhan Silu of Funing. The pope also recognized Bishop Anthony Tu Shihua, who died on Jan. 4, 2017, but, according to the press release, “had expressed the desire to be reconciled with the Apostolic See” before his death. The statement expressed Francis’ hope that the decision to recognize the bishops, who were ordained by the Chinese government without permission from Rome, would begin a new process “that will allow the wounds of the past to be overcome, leading to the full communion of all Chinese Catholics.” The Catholic Community in China “is called to live a more fraternal collaboration, in order to promote with renewed commitment, the proclamation of the Gospel,” he continued. “In fact, the Church exists to give witness to Jesus Christ and to the forgiving and salvific love of the Father.” Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, sent a statement commenting on the provisional agreement between the Vatican and China, saying, “today, for the first time all the Bishops in China are in communion with the Bishop of Rome, with the Successor of Peter.” “Pope Francis, like his immediate Predecessors, looks with particular care to the Chinese People,” he noted. “What is required now is unity, is trust and a new impetus; to have good Pastors, recognized by the Successor of Peter – by the Pope – and by the legitimate civil Authorities.” Addressing the Catholic community in China, including priests, bishops, religious, and laity, he said the pope asks, “above all, the commitment to make concrete fraternal gestures of reconciliation among themselves, and so to overcome past misunderstandings, past tensions, even the recent ones.” Parolin said the objective of the deal is pastoral and meant to create greater freedom and autonomy for the Church in China, to aid its mission of spreading the Gospel. Signing the agreement is “of great importance, especially for the life of the Church in China,” he said. It was also announced Sept. 22 that Pope Francis has established a new diocese in China, “the Diocese of Chengde,” as a suffragan diocese of the See of Beijing, for “the pastoral care of the Lord’s flock and to attend with greater efficacy to is spiritual good.” Its cathedral will be the church of Jesus the Good Shepherd, which is situated in the administrative division of Shuangluan, “Chengde City.” According to the statement the diocese's territory will be defined by the civil boundaries of "Chengde City" and will require the modification of the dioceses of Jehol/Jinzhou and Chifeng, as a portion of each will become part of the new diocese. The new diocese will be composed of roughly 15,000 square miles with a population of around 3.7 million. There are estimated to be around 25,000 Catholics in 12 parishes served by seven priests.
Beijing, China, Sep 22, 2018 / 04:39 am (CNA/EWTN News).- An expected agreement between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China on the appointment of bishops was signed Saturday in Beijing, the Vatican announced. A Sept. 22 communique said that a meeting was held in which a “Provisional Agreement” was signed concerning “the nomination of Bishops, a question of great importance for the life of the Church,” and creating “the conditions for greater collaboration at the bilateral level.” Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said the deal is the beginning, not the end, of a process of dialogue between people from “very different standpoints.” He said the objective of the accord is “not political but pastoral” and will allow “the faithful to have bishops who are communion with Rome but at the same time recognized by Chinese authorities.” It was signed by the heads of the Vatican and Chinese delegations: the Vatican undersecretary for Relations with States, Mons. Antoine Camilleri; and Wang Chao, the deputy minister for foreign affairs of the People’s Republic of China. The announcement did not provide details on the content of the agreement but said it “is the fruit of a gradual and reciprocal rapprochement, has been agreed following a long process of careful negotiation, and foresees the possibility of periodic reviews of its application.” “The shared hope,” it continued, “is that this agreement may favor a fruitful and forward-looking process of institutional dialogue and may contribute positively to the life of the Catholic Church in China, to the common good of the Chinese people and to peace in the world.” Earlier this week, the Global Times (a newspaper tied to the Chinese Communist Party) reported that Chinese government sources have “stressed that the ongoing negotiations [between the Vatican and China] will stay on the religious level, and will not touch on any diplomatic issue such as the establishment of diplomatic ties between Beijing and the Vatican.” Past reports on the deal have indicated the substance could be to give the Chinese government some power over episcopal appointments in exchange for bringing the underground Church above ground, ending the split with the state-sanctioned Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. The Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association is under the day-to-day direct supervision of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) due to a major change in March 2018 in which the Chinese government shifted direct control of religious affairs to the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department (UFWD). Some of the bishops appointed by the Chinese government in the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association also serve as members of the Chinese Communist Party’s National People’s Congress. New regulations on religious practice in China went into effect in February 2018 that codify the increased scrutiny and pressure on religious activities in China. On September 10, the Chinese government placed further restrictions on evangelization, making it illegal for any religious prayers, catechesis or preaching to be published online. This is being enforced via the country’s extensive internet censorship.
Vilnius, Lithuania, Sep 21, 2018 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis will arrive in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Sept. 22. During his first day in the city, the pope will take a walk in the streets of the Old City, and he will head toward the Gate of Dawn, one of the ancient points of access to the Lithuanian capital. There, he will pray the Rosary and deliver a speech before an icon of Mary Mother of Mercy. The speech and the rosary were not initially part of the pope’s schedule in Vilnius. They were a last minute addition to program, and a very meaningful one. Inessa Caukaskien, a member of the Vilnius pilgrimage center, told CNA that “the Gate of Dawn is one of the most ancient and important place of pilgrimage in Lithuania.” The Icon of Mary Mother of Mercy is a significant object of devotion. One of the few icons of the Blessed Virgin Mary without the infant Jesus in her arms, it was painted between 1620 and 1630, and dressed and crowned of silver in the 18th century. The painter is unknown, but the pilgrimage center records more than 8,000 graces obtained thanks to the prayers offered in front of the icon. It was first known as the painting of the Madonna of the Gate of Dawn Chapel. It was Pope Pius XI who decreed that the name of the icon would become the Icon of the Holy Mother of Mercy. St. Faustina Kowalska lived briefly in 1929 at the convent of the Congregation of Our Lady of Mercy in Vilnius, attracted by this veneration. It was in Vilnius that St. Faustina envisioned for the first time her devotion to Divine Mercy. Archbishop Gintaras Grusas of Vilnius told CNA that “Sr. Faustina and the image of Divine Mercy are tangibly put together with the Holy Mother of Mercy icon by the fact that the shrine was the first place where the original image of Divine Mercy was exposed for a public veneration.” He added that “the strong tie with the image of Divine Mercy and the Mother of Mercy Chapel continues to this day, marking Vilnius very much as a City of Mercy.” “When Saint John Paul II canonized St. Faustina, Grusas continued, “he mentioned the cities where she has been, and among them was Vilnius. He gave a mandate of being apostles of mercy and to continue to spread that message, which is what we are continuing to try to do. This is the city where through St. Faustina, with the help of Bl. Sopocko, we spread around the world the message of mercy, we continue to proclaim that message today.” St. John Paul II was linked to the Holy Mother of Mercy, too. There is a reproduction of the Icon in the Lithuanian chapel in St. Peter’s Basilica. “That image,” Grusas told CNA, “is very much beloved by St. John Paul II. As a matter of fact, when he was elected pope, he went to the Lithuanian Chapel to pray in front of the reproduction of the icon. There, he prayed for his papacy. When he came to Vilnius, he also brought his cardinal’s zucchetto here, to fulfill a promise he had made to the Blessed Virgin Mary. So, we have in the sacrity both Cardinal Wojtyla’s zucchetto and also his papal zucchetto, which he left as well.” John Paul II kicked off his Sep. 4, 1993 visit to Lithuania with the rosary in the Chapel of the Gate of Dawn. Pope Francis, then, will do the same. The pope is also scheduled to go to the Shrine of Divine Mercy, where the original image of Merciful Jesus painted under St. Faustina indications is exposed and where perpetual Eucharistic adoration take place. In this way, Pope Francis will honor his visit to the “city of mercy.”
Newark, N.J., Sep 21, 2018 / 09:21 am (CNA).- The Archbishop of Newark has announced that he will not attend an October gathering of bishops slated to discuss young adults and vocational discernment. The archbishop cited his pastoral obligations in the archdiocese amid the U.S. Church’s ongoing sexual abuse crisis. “This Synod is a uniquely important moment in the life of the Church, and I was honored to have been named by the Holy Father as a member of this special gathering whose topic, Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment, is of vital concern to the Church today and in the future,” Cardinal Joseph Tobin wrote in a Sept. 21 letter to Newark’s Catholics. “However, as you are aware, the Archdiocese of Newark suffers greatly as a result of the crisis that continues to unfold. After the revelations of the past summer, I could not see myself absent for a month from our archdiocese and from you, the people entrusted to my care. After prayer and consultation, I wrote to Pope Francis, asking that he dispense me from attending, but assuring him that I strongly support the objectives of the Synod and that I would obey whatever he decided.” “The Holy Father responded the next day with a beautiful pastoral and compassionate message. He told me that he understands why I need to stay close to home, and he released me from the obligation to attend the Synod next month,” Tobin added. Tobin was a personal appointment of Pope Francis for attendance at the synod of bishops, which will take place Oct. 3-28 in Rome. Other U.S. bishops who will attend are Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, who was also appointed by Pope Francis to attend, along with Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Archbishop José H. Gomez, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano, and Bishop Robert E. Barron, who were elected as delegates by the U.S. bishops’ conference, and Archbishop William Skurla, leader of the Ruthenian Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh, who will participate as an ex officio member of the synod. On Sept. 19, Dutch Bishop Rob Mutsaerts, elected by his country's episcopal conference, also announced that he would not attend the synod. According to a statement from the Dutch bishops' conference, Mutsaerts "informed Pope Francis that he does not find the time right to keep a synod about young people, in view of the investigations and the news about sexual abuse that has been brought out in America, among others. He therefore chooses not to participate." Tobin’s Archdiocese of Newark has been the subject of controversy in recent months. In June, retired Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, formerly of Newark, was revealed to have been credibly accused of serially sexually abusing a teenage boy in the 1970s. McCarrick was subsequently accused of serially sexually abusing another teenage boy, and of sexually coercing and assaulting numerous priests and seminarians for decades. Tobin told a journalist in late August that he had heard rumors shortly after his 2017 arrival in the Archdiocese of Newark about McCarrick's sexual misconduct. He said he did not investigate those rumors because he found them unbelievable. In August, after reports emerged about homosexual behavior among some Newark priests, and allegations were made public regarding the conduct of a former seminary administrator, Tobin told Newark priests that no priest had “ever spoken to me about a gay subculture in the Archdiocese of Newark.” Later that month, Seton Hall University announced an independent investigation into allegations of misconduct at Newark’s Immaculate Conception Seminary, which is connected to the university. In his Sept. 21 letter, Tobin said that during a Sept. 14 prayer service at Newark’s cathedral, “I promised that we will act decisively to address the sins and injustices that have been committed against our most vulnerable sisters and brothers and to ensure that victims receive justice. I also acknowledged that rebuilding trust in the leadership of our Church at all levels will require authentic and measurable change.” “I am keenly aware that words alone are not enough. We must show by our actions that justice will be done. Never again will we permit the horrific abuses that occurred here and in too many other places in our Church. Never again will we return to ‘business as usual,’ allowing human wickedness, sin or hypocrisy to blind us from the truth or prevent us from doing God’s work.” Tobin asked that Newark’s Catholics pray for Pope Francis and the synod, saying that “during the month of October, and throughout the months and years ahead, I will do everything in my power to lead this Archdiocese through processes of renewal and change that break down structures and systems that permit or foster abuse in any form.” “I will work for justice, healing and compassion for all.” Ed. note: This story is developing and has been updated.
Vatican City, Sep 20, 2018 / 05:21 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- All people have a responsibility to fight new forms of racism in the modern world, Pope Francis told more than 200 participants at a Rome-based conference this week. “We are living in times in which feelings that many thought had passed are taking new life and spreading,” the pope said Sept. 20. The international conference on “Xenophobia, Racism and Populist Nationalism in the Context of Global Migration” concluded Thursday. It had been promoted by the Vatican's Dicastery for Integral Human Development, the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity. Addressing those present, Pope Francis warned that the modern world appears to be seeing an increase in “feelings of suspicion, fear, contempt and even hatred towards individuals or groups judged for their ethnic, national or religious identity.” These individuals are “considered not sufficiently worthy of being fully part of society's life,” and such sentiments “all too often inspire real acts of intolerance, discrimination or exclusion,” he said. Exclusion of foreigners can also become enshrined in political policy, as some lawmakers exploit fears and misgivings for political gain, he said. Faced with these social changes, “we are all called, in our respective roles, to cultivate and promote respect for the intrinsic dignity of every human person,” the pope said. He emphasized the role of religious leaders, educators, and media in this endeavor to promote a culture that respects human life and dignity. Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, secretary general of the World Council of Churches, told Vatican News that the conference was intended to show a strong ecumenical commitment to addressing the global issues of racism and xenophobia, to hear from voices across the globe about the issue, and to create common text that can be used as the basis of further efforts. He stressed the importance of supporting politicians who are standing up for the human rights of migrants, and emphasized the role of religious leaders in upholding human dignity in public discussions surrounding migration. “There is no easy political answer to all of this: it is a very complex political situation, but we believe that the churches, with our values but also with our networks, our communities, as human beings and as people of faith, can contribute a lot,” he said.
New York City, N.Y., Sep 20, 2018 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- The Archbishop of New York said Thursday that while he has confidence in the way Pope Francis is handling the Church’s ongoing sexual abuse crisis, he has grown “impatient” while awaiting a decision from the pope on a request made by U.S. bishops more than one month ago. Speaking at a press conference Sept. 21, Cardinal Timothy Dolan called for a formal investigation- an apostolic visitation- of the Church in the United States in response to allegations that have surfaced in recent months regarding decades of sexual immorality on the part of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick. “Part of my people saying ‘we're beginning to lose trust in bishops’ is their legitimate question as to how could a man continue to rise in the Church with a background like that?’ And that’s a darn good question, that I share. We have got to get to the bottom of that.” “How [that happens] is an ongoing question. I think particularly an apostolic visitation from the Holy See that included lay professionals would be a particularly effective way to do that. We’ve proposed that to the Holy See and we wait.” An apostolic visitation was formally proposed to the Vatican in an Aug. 16 statement from Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference. It has since been reiterated by several U.S. bishops. While DiNardo and other leaders of the bishops’ conference met with Pope Francis Sept. 13, there has not yet been any announcement from the Vatican regarding an apostolic visitation. Within the Church, only the Vatican has the authority to order an investigation into the conduct of those bishops who stand accused of covering up the sexual coercion and assault McCarrick is alleged to have committed. Dolan said that if an apostolic visitation “doesn’t happen, there has to be an equally effective way” to investigate the circumstances surrounding the ecclesiastical career of Archbishop McCarrick, though he did not offer particular suggestions. Asked by a reporter why approval for an apostolic visitation had not been forthcoming, Dolan answered: “I tend to get as impatient as you obviously are, so I don’t know the answer to that.” The cardinal was also asked if the pope is doing enough to address concerns about sexual abuse and misconduct in the Church in the United States. “So far,” Dolan said in response. “I mean, you won’t be surprised that I love him and trust him very much and know that he’s on our side. So I think...I mean he has a beautiful posture of reflection, of ‘let’s not act impetuously,’ you know- he’s spoken with prophetic fire in condemning this. “I trust that he’s going to come through,” Dolan said. “But I don’t mind admitting that I get a little impatient too.”
Vatican City, Sep 20, 2018 / 12:01 pm (CNA).- A coalition of secular and dissenting Catholic LGBT groups aims to influence the Church’s upcoming Synod on Young People by rallying the like-minded to write to the synod to contend that the “rules” of the Catholic Church are causing “damage” to those who self-identify as LGBT. But this effort misunderstands the more profound Catholic approach to human nature and identity, commentators have said. Ann Schneible, communications director for the Courage apostolate, said Catholic teaching insists that everyone has the fundamental identity “to be the creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life.” “Seen from this perspective, it becomes clear that the Church’s approach provides the most compassionate response to people, including youth and young adults, who experience same sex attractions,” Schneible told CNA. “Far from being a misfortune or a disappointment, their identity as sons and daughters of God – who are made in his image and likeness, and have received divine grace and a call to holiness – is a profound and life-giving joy.” Those who experience same-sex attraction deserve compassionate outreach from Catholics, she said, adding, “we do so in the belief and hope that following God's plan will always lead one to happiness and ultimate fulfillment.” Schneible spoke in response to a messaging effort from the Equal Future website, launched Aug. 22 at an event held parallel to the World Meeting of Families in Dublin. It is soliciting Catholics and non-Catholics to send messages to their regions’ delegates to the Synod of Bishops on Young People, the Faith and the Discernment of Vocations, to be held Oct. 3-28. The default text for the message alleges that there is “damage done to children when they are given the sense that to be LGBT would be a misfortune or disappointment.” The website instructions ask writers to “respectfully explain why you feel children are still getting that sense, and the role played by the rules of the Catholic Church and/or of other organizations in society.” It says letters to the delegates should ask them to consider the letter-writer’s story at the synod, and should ask for a reply. The letter submission form asks whether the writer was baptized Catholic. Answers include “prefer not to say.” Daniel Mattson, a Catholic speaker and author of “Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay,” reflected on the Equal Future campaign. “I think the Church needs to do a much better job in reaching out to those who identify as LGBT. As one who used to see myself as a gay man, I’ve come to realize how empty the promises of the LGBT movement are,” he told CNA. According to Mattson, the Church must proclaim her teachings as “truly good news, even when we fear that truth might be offensive.” He cited Christ's encounter with the rich young man, in which Christ's response made the young man go away sad. “For a time, I went away sad, but I’m grateful no one in my life who truly loved me ever told me that the life I was living was morally acceptable! We never love anyone by not inviting them to live a moral life. Not all will go away sad, either.” Mattson stressed the need for a “call to conversion” and to remember, “we can never be more compassionate than Jesus.” He also warned against “the willful refusal to speak about the health damages of living out a life of active homosexuality, particularly among men.” “In nearly every area of both mental and physical health, the LGBT community suffers more profoundly than their heterosexual counterparts,” he said. At least 60 groups from around the world are backing the Equal Future campaign. These include secular groups such as the Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, GLSEN, Music4Children.org, and ALL OUT. The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics, the U.S.-based New Ways Ministry, and Dignity USA are also named as backers of the project. Catholic authorities including the late Cardinal Francis George of Chicago have rejected New Ways Ministry’s self-identification as a Catholic group. The director of the Equal Future campaign is Tiernan Brady of Ireland, who was director of the successful referenda in Ireland and Australia to give legal recognition to gay marriage. He told the Financial Times that his campaign targeting the Catholic Church will draw on practices from the Irish and Australian campaigns. “I think one of the things we’ve found in all these campaigns is we can talk about rights all we want, but it’s human stories that people understand and that appeal to people’s humanity,” Brady said. He said the initial inclusion of same-sex couples’ photos in literature for the World Meeting of Families suggested that there was already sympathy for such couples at the Vatican, even though the photos were later removed. Brady argued the Church will end up campaigning “against the sons and daughters of the men and women in your pews,” and churchgoers won’t understand it. For Schneible, it is important to let each person tell their story. “But we do not stop there,” she said. “As Catholic Christians, we believe that we must always seek to understand our own stories in light of the Gospel, the story of salvation” The wider discussion often ignores people who have same-sex attractions and embrace chastity, she said. “Too often they are dismissed by members of the LGBT community as being dishonest, or self-hating, or deluded,” Schneible continued. “On the contrary, these courageous men and women testify that, as much happiness and pleasure as they seemed to have when they were pursuing same sex relationships, they have found a deeper joy, peace and freedom by embracing the call to chastity. They make many sacrifices in order to remain faithful, but many of them speak of the closeness they have found with Christ as they walk this path to holiness.” One backer of the Equal Future campaign, Dignity USA, has taken several six figure grants from Jon Stryker’s Arcus Foundation to support the Equally Blessed Coalition, which includes New Ways Ministry. A 2014 grant targeted the Synod on the Family and World Youth Day, aiming “to support pro-LGBT faith advocates to influence and counter the narrative of the Catholic Church and its ultra-conservative affiliates.” The foundation has given more than $390,000 to the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups for several activities, including advocacy related to the Synod on the Family. These activities include the forum’s response to “homophobic Catholic church family synod decisions” and efforts to “pursue its successful strategy of shifting traditional views.” The grants also fund the drafting, testing, and use of “a counter-narrative to traditional values,” according to the forum’s annual report and grant announcements from the U.S.-based foundation. The foundation is also a grant maker to the Catholics United Education Fund, Catholics for Choice, and the Center for American Progress. It funded groups in ecclesial communities, including Episcopalian groups amid the breakup of the Anglican Communion over issues such as ecclesial authority and homosexuality. The working document for the 2018 synod discusses increasing cultural instability and violent conflicts, but also that many young people, both inside and outside of the Church, are divided when it comes to topics related to sexuality, the role of women, and the need to be more welcoming to members of the LGBT community. The document only briefly addresses the issue of homosexuality and related topics, saying that some LGBT youth who offered contributions to the synod’s general secretariat said they want to experience “greater closeness and greater care on the part of the Church.” In their responses, bishops’ conferences also questioned how to respond to young people who have chosen to live a homosexual lifestyle, but who also want “to be close to the Church.” Lisbeth Melendez Rivera, the Human Rights Campaign’s director of faith outreach and training, writing June 29 at the campaign’s website, has contended that aligned Catholics and LGBT activists “oscillate between hope and frustration” under Pope Francis. She said they have found some of his comments to be hurtful, such as the nature of the family as based on the union of man and woman. At the same time, she welcomed Father James Martin, S.J.’s appearance at a workshop on LGBT bridge-building held at the World Meeting of Families in Dublin, which was organized by Cardinal Kevin Farrell. For Rivera, the addition of “LGBT” as a descriptor in the working document for the upcoming Synod on Youth was “perhaps the most important development in recent weeks.”
Vatican City, Sep 20, 2018 / 09:35 am (ACI Prensa).- In newly-surfaced letters from Benedict XVI, the pope emeritus has defended his abdication, and warned that continued anger at his decision risked undermining the papal office. The private correspondence, excerpts from which were carried in a German newspaper, was reportedly addressed to Cardinal Walter Brandmüller. According to the letters, Benedict said he understood “the deep-seated pain” the end of his papacy caused the cardinal and others. At the same time, the pope emeritus wrote, he recognized that for some people the pain had “turned into an anger that no longer merely concerns my resignation, but increasingly also my person and my papacy as a whole.” German newspaper Bild carried the excerpts in a story published Sept. 20. The letters were originally sent in November, 2017. Bild did not name the recipient but referred to him only as “a German cardinal” who had made critical comments about Benedict’s resignation in an interview. On the same day, The New York Times reported that it had received a copy of the two letters in their entirety from Bild, and named Cardinal Brandmüller as the recipient. Addressing the ongoing dissatisfaction some individuals had with both his resignation and his subsequent life as “pope emeritus” - a title not previously used - Benedict cautioned that these sentiments were undermining the effectiveness of the petrine ministry. “In this way the pontificate itself is being devalued and conflated with the sadness about the situation of the Church today,” he wrote. According to Bild, Benedict defended his decision, writing that if the cardinal knew “a better way” for him to have acted, “and therefore think that you can judge the one chosen by me, please tell me.” In an interview with a German newspaper in October of last year, Brandmüller expressed dismay over the idea of a “pope emeritus,” which he said, “does not exist in the entire history of the Church.” “The fact that a pope comes along and topples a 2,000-year-old tradition bowled over not just us cardinals,” he said. The two private letters from Benedict have been reported to be a response to these comments. In the first, sent Nov. 9, 2017, Benedict wrote “you said that with ‘pope emeritus,’ I had created a figure that had not existed in the whole history of the Church. You know very well, of course, that popes have abdicated, albeit very rarely. What were they afterward? Pope emeritus? Or what else?” Benedict alo cited the example of Pope Pius XII, who considered stepping down in 1944 in the event of his arrest by the Nazis authorities then occupying Italy. Pope Pius had considered returning to the rank of a cardinal in the event of his resignation. Benedict wrote that, unlike Pius XII’s situation, “it would certainly have not been sensible” for him to return to being a cardinal as he would have been “constantly exposed to the media as a cardinal is – even more so because people would have seen in me the former pope.” The pope emeritus added that “whether on purpose or not, this could have had difficult consequences, especially in the context of the current situation.” Benedict explained that he was concerned with avoiding the impression that there were two popes, with his comments being sought on the ministry and decisions of his eventual successor. “With ‘pope emeritus,’ I tried to create a situation in which I am absolutely not accessible to the media and in which it is completely clear that there is only one pope.” In the second letter, dated Nov. 23, 2017, Benedict wrote that he was concerned by the conclusion of Cardinal Brandmüller’s interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, given the previous month. The pope emeritus said that it could promote the sort of agitation which had inspired “the Abdication,” a book by Fabrizio Grasso which argued that having emeritus popes could destroy papal authority. Cardinal Brandmüller is one of four cardinals to have submitted five formal questions or “dubia” to Pope Francis, asking the pope to clarify some points of Church teaching in the wake of differing interpretations of Amoris laetitia, Francis’ 2016 post-synodal apostolic exhortation. The letters from Benedict were reported by Bild two years and one day after the dubia were sent. Brandmüller submitted the questions, together with Cardinal Raymond Burke, Cardinal Joachim Meisner, and Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, on Sept. 19, 2016.
Washington D.C., Sep 19, 2018 / 01:10 pm (CNA).- The moral credibility of the U.S. Catholic hierarchy is under serious scrutiny, both by the faithful and the wider world. Something must be done - this is the consensus of cardinals, bishops, priests, and laity as the Church continues to grapple with the fallout of the sexual abuse crisis. What, exactly, will be done remains to be seen. Calls for transparency and accountability in the wake of the sexual abuse scandals strike many of the faithful as reasonable and obvious - yet neither of those words seems easily translatable into the curial language and culture of Romanitas. Amid an impetus for urgent reform, the Church faces the challenge of taking action that is effective, rather than merely dramatic. What has been proposed? And what effect might it have? -- In recent months, many bishops and lay leaders have called for new canonical structures and procedures in response to the various crises erupting in the Church. Some have suggested creating another “new” process for accusing and trying bishops in a canon law court, others have floated the idea of a network of regional or national tribunals tasked with handling the existing backlog of clerical sex-abuse cases. Much of what has been proposed so far, however, has already been tried. Apart from the USCCB’s own Essential Norms, adopted in the wake of the 2002 sexual abuse crisis, Pope Francis has made a number of significant canonical reforms over the last five years. Most significantly, 2016’s Come una madre amorivole created an entirely new legal mechanism for charging and trying a bishop accused of mishandling allegations of abuse, or of abusing his office in some other way. Yet despite the publicity surrounding the announcement of those structures, they have yet to be put into action, and are unlikely even to be tried. When asked recently about particular cases involving bishops, Pope Francis said he had decided that his own reforms were not “practical” or “convenient” and that he was instead trying to preserve their “spirit” in the way he handled individual cases. Many canonists, including those working in the Curia, have expressed frustration at the possibility that more reforms will be promulgated on paper, while few of them take hold at the practical level. In the meantime, they say, cases are being handled in an increasingly ad hoc manner. In the case of McCarrick, for example, it has been hard for canonists to parse exactly what procedure is being followed. Following the announcement by the Archdiocese of New York that it had received an allegation against McCarrick and deemed it credible, the then-cardinal was removed from public ministry. In July, the Holy Father accepted his resignation from the College of Cardinals – itself an historic event – and at the same time ordered McCarrick to live a life of prayer and penance pending the outcome of a “canonical process.” Canon lawyers have noted that this seemed to be, for good or ill, the imposition of a legal penalty before the legal process had concluded - or perhaps even begun. There has been no announcement about what kind of “process” will be followed in resolving McCarrick’s case. Nor has the Holy See clarified what charges, exactly, he will face. It seems unclear how a new legal structure could bring clarity to that situation, rather than more confusion. -- Another proposal made in recent months has been the establishment of regional commissions and tribunals for handling abuse cases, something which has been suggested before. Baroness Sheila Hollins, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, has been among the most recent voices to suggest that this might serve to clear the languishing backlog of abuse cases clogging the courts at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The problem she identifies is a serious one. Following his election in 2013, one of Pope Francis’ first curial reforms was to decree a Vatican-wide hiring freeze, which is still in effect. Since then, the pope has ordered the dismissal of three American priests working on abuse cases in the CDF, with a fourth leaving for personal reasons earlier this year. Those working within and alongside of the CDF all report that there is simply not enough manpower to process the workload, something that Fr. Robert Geisinger, the CDF’s in house prosecutor, has lamented more than once. As a result, more than one U.S. bishop has resorted to flying to Rome to personally petition that cases waiting for adjudication be moved to the top of the pile. But the proposed regional tribunals would not solve the problem of a backlog, at least not in the short term. New courts would take years to come online, and even longer to prove effective. In the meantime, the structural and procedural upheaval needed to create them could cause chaos in a system that is already badly stretched. Marie Collins, a former member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and herself a survivor of abuse, has been a critic of this proposal for a more straightforward reason. She has observed that the call for regional tribunals does not address the fact that the underlying problem is a lack of resources. During her time on the PCPM, Collins spoke openly of her frustration at the pace of change. She specifically singled out the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which handles abuse cases, for criticism. Since then, she has become an outspoken skeptic of further canonical reform, and pointed to the fact that few resources are actually devoted to making the current system work. “The argument for going to local tribunals...is because the CDF is under resourced and understaffed, and so [is] unable to cope with all the abuse cases coming in from around the world: the question should be why is the CDF under resourced and understaffed?” One curial official who has worked with the CDF told CNA that some staffers also have the impression that there is little practical commitment to the kind of real reform that would involve the addition of more qualified personnel to handle abuse cases. “If ‘where your treasure is there will your heart be too,’ then by that measure Rome’s heart isn’t in this,” the official told CNA. -- Back in the United States, several ideas for reform have been floated. One is a third-party reporting mechanism for accusations against bishops, through which people would present allegations directly to the apostolic nuncio in Washington. But any new third-party reporting system instituted by the U.S. bishops cannot guarantee Roman action, nor does recent evidence indicate that such action could be counted upon. In the case of Archbishop McCarrick, it has emerged that in 2000 Fr. Boniface Ramsey presented a written account of accusations of McCarrick sharing a bed with seminarians to the nuncio. A 2006 letter from the Vatican Secretariat of State confirms that some of Ramsey’s concerns made it to Rome, but no action was apparently taken until years later. It has also been suggested that a new lay-led review board could review complaints made against bishops. This idea is not without precedent. In 2002, the USCCB called for lay-led review boards in every diocese. The U.S. bishops also created a National Review Board comprised of lay experts, to advise the USCCB on dealing with the problem of sexual abuse. Those bodies have had considerable effect on the life and culture of the Church in the United States. The idea of creating more lay-led boards now is, in some senses, an appealing option. But it is not clear whether new boards would actually address the current problems. The National Review Board itself has seemed skeptical. In August, the board issued a statement denouncing “a loss of moral leadership and an abuse of power that led to a culture of silence” in the face of abuse. Action is needed, the board said, but the “evil” which had come to light “will not be stemmed simply by the creation of new committees, policies, or procedures.” Both U.S. proposals would also appear to effectively insulate American bishops from being required to act upon allegations made against their peers. The reticence of bishops to act in such circumstances is widely considered to have been a major contributing factor in the recent scandals, especially in the case of McCarrick. But through systems that would largely exempt bishops from investigating or addressing claims of episcopal misconduct, U.S. Church authorities run the risk of seeming to distance themselves further from the kind of personal moral leadership called for by the National Review Board and others. “What needs to happen is a genuine change in the Church’s culture, specifically among the bishops themselves,” the National Review Board’s August statement said. Cultural change is more difficult than procedural reform. Absent the release of confidential files or sweeping changes in personnel, it will be hard to demonstrate in the short term. But it also seems to be the most pressing call made by ordinarily lay Catholics. -- On Sept. 13, following a meeting between Pope Francis and the leaders of the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo released a statement as president of the USCCB. In it, he said that he and the other American bishops looked forward to “actively continuing our discernment together, identifying the most effective next steps.” What these steps will be, and when the Church will take them, remain to be seen. But the bishops may find that by themselves, they are not enough to satisfy the skepticism shared by lay Catholics and a growing number of rank-and-file priests and religious. The call has been for leadership. To satisfy it, bishops will likely need to show a commitment to change that is personal, not institutional.