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  • Pope Francis returns authority over liturgical translations to local bishops

    Pope Francis has issued a document that effectively returns to local bishops' conferences the leading role in liturgical translations.

    The move, which involved a modification of church law, reverses years of Vatican efforts to exert centralized control on the thorny issue of language in the liturgy. It is bound to set off a new round of criticism by conservative Catholics who fear that Francis is slowly undoing the legacy of his two predecessors.

    The pope's decision also underscored just how irrelevant the major Roman Curia departments have become under Pope Francis. In this case, the Congregation for Divine Worship (still headed by Cardinal Robert Sarah, one of the more conservative voices at the Vatican) was apparently sidelined. Instead, the pope appointed a commission to study the question and then issued his own document motu proprio ("on his own initiative"), a formula that the pope has used before to bypass internal Vatican resistance.

    Here is an English-language text of the pope's apostolic letter and a commentary by Archbishop Arthur Roche, secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments:

    APOSTOLIC LETTER ISSUED MOTU PROPRIO OF THE SUPREME PONTIFF FRANCIS 

    MAGNUM PRINCIPIUM

    BY WHICH CAN. 838 OF THE CODE OF CANON LAW IS MODIFIED 

    The great principle, established by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, according to which liturgical prayer be accommodated to the comprehension of the people so that it might be understood, required the weighty task of introducing the vernacular language into the liturgy and of preparing and approving the versions of the liturgical books, a charge that was entrusted to the Bishops. 

    The Latin Church was aware of the attendant sacrifice involved in the partial loss of liturgical Latin, which had been in use throughout the world over the course of centuries. However it willingly opened the door so that these versions, as part of the rites themselves, might become the voice of the Church celebrating the divine mysteries along with the Latin language. 

    At the same time, especially given the various clearly expressed views of the Council Fathers with regard to the use of the vernacular language in the liturgy, the Church was aware of the difficulties that might present themselves in this regard. On the one hand it was necessary to unite the good of the faithful of a given time and culture and their right to a conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations with the substantial unity of the Roman Rite. On the other hand the vernacular languages themselves, often only in a progressive manner, would be able to become liturgical languages, standing out in a not dissimilar way to liturgical Latin for their elegance of style and the profundity of their concepts with the aim of nourishing the faith. 

    This was the aim of various Liturgical Laws, Instructions, Circular Letters, indications and confirmations of liturgical books in the various vernacular languages issued by the Apostolic See from the time of the Council which was true both before as well as after the laws established by the Code of Canon Law. 

    The criteria indicated were and remain at the level of general guidelines and, as far as possible, must be followed by Liturgical Commissions as the most suitable instruments so that, across the great variety of languages, the liturgical community can arrive at an expressive style suitable and appropriate to the individual parts, maintaining integrity and accurate faithfulness especially in translating some texts of major importance in each liturgical book. 

    Because the liturgical text is a ritual sign it is a means of oral communication. However, for the believers who celebrate the sacred rites the word is also a mystery. Indeed when words are uttered, in particular when the Sacred Scriptures are read, God speaks to us. In the Gospel Christ himself speaks to his people who respond either themselves or through the celebrant by prayer to the Lord in the Holy Spirit. 

    The goal of the translation of liturgical texts and of biblical texts for the Liturgy of the Word is to announce the word of salvation to the faithful in obedience to the faith and to express the prayer of the Church to the Lord. For this purpose it is necessary to communicate to a given people using its own language all that the Church intended to communicate to other people through the Latin language. While fidelity cannot always be judged by individual words but must be sought in the context of the whole communicative act and according to its literary genre, nevertheless some particular terms must also be considered in the context of the entire Catholic faith because each translation of texts must be congruent with sound doctrine. 

    It is no surprise that difficulties have arisen between the Episcopal Conferences and the Apostolic See in the course of this long passage of work. In order that the decisions of the Council about the use of vernacular languages in the liturgy can also be of value in the future a vigilant and creative collaboration full of reciprocal trust between the Episcopal Conferences and the Dicastery of the Apostolic See that exercises the task of promoting the Sacred Liturgy, i.e. the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, is absolutely necessary. For this reason, in order that the renewal of the whole liturgical life might continue, it seemed opportune that some principles handed on since the time of the Council should be more clearly reaffirmed and put into practice. 

    Without doubt, attention must be paid to the benefit and good of the faithful, nor must the right and duty of Episcopal Conferences be forgotten who, together with Episcopal Conferences from regions sharing the same language and with the Apostolic See, must ensure and establish that, while the character of each language is safeguarded, the sense of the original text is fully and faithfully rendered and that even after adaptations the translated liturgical books always illuminate the unity of the Roman Rite. 

    To make collaboration in this service to the faithful between the Apostolic See and Episcopal Conferences easier and more fruitful, and having listened to the advice of the Commission of Bishops and Experts that I established, I order, with the authority entrusted to me, that the canonical discipline currently in force in can. 838 of the C.I.C. be made clearer so that, according to what is stated in the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, in particular in articles 36 §§3.4, 40 and 63, and in the Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio Sacram Liturgiam, n. IX, the competency of the Apostolic See surrounding the translation of liturgical books and the more radical adaptations established and approved by Episcopal Conferences be made clearer, among which can also be numbered eventual new texts to be inserted into these books. 

    Therefore, in the future can. 838 will read as follows: 

    Can. 838 - §1. The ordering and guidance of the sacred liturgy depends solely upon the authority of the Church, namely, that of the Apostolic See and, as provided by law, that of the diocesan Bishop. 

    §2. It is for the Apostolic See to order the sacred liturgy of the universal Church, publish liturgical books, recognise adaptations approved by the Episcopal Conference according to the norm of law, and exercise vigilance that liturgical regulations are observed faithfully everywhere. 

    §3. It pertains to the Episcopal Conferences to faithfully prepare versions of the liturgical books in vernacular languages, suitably accommodated within defined limits, and to approve and publish the liturgical books for the regions for which they are responsible after the confirmation of the Apostolic See

    §4. Within the limits of his competence, it belongs to the diocesan Bishop to lay down in the Church entrusted to his care, liturgical regulations which are binding on all. 

    Consequently this is how art. 64 §3 of the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus as well as other laws are to be interpreted, particularly those contained in the liturgical books concerning their revision. Likewise I order that the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments modify its own “Regulations” on the basis of the new discipline and help the Episcopal Conferences to fulfil their task as well as working to promote ever more the liturgical life of the Latin Church. 

    Everything that I have decreed in this Apostolic Letter issued Motu Proprio must be observed in all its parts, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, even if it be worthy of particular mention, and I hereby set forth and I dispose that it be promulgated by publication in the daily newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, that it enter into force on 1 October 2017, and thereafter be published in Acta Apostolicae Sedis

    Given in Rome, at St. Peter’s, on 3 September of the year 2017, the fifth of my Pontificate 

    FRANCISCUS PP. 


    CONCILIAR AND POST CONCILIAR SOURCES

    On the occasion of the publication of the Motu Proprio Magnum principium, by which Pope Francis makes variations to can. 838 §§2 & 3 of the C.I.C., the Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments offers, in the following note, a commentary on the underlying sources of these paragraphs, taking into consideration the formulation in force until now as well as the new formulation. 

    The current text 

    Until now can. 838 §§2 & 3 read as follows: 

    §2. Apostolicae Sedis est sacram liturgiam Ecclesiae universae ordinare, libros liturgicos edere eorumque versiones in linguas vernaculas recognoscere, necnon advigilare ut ordinationes liturgicae ubique fideliter observentur. 

    §3. Ad Episcoporum conferentias spectat versiones librorum liturgicorum in linguas vernaculas, convenienter intra limites in ipsis libris liturgicis definitos aptatas, parare, easque edere, praevia recognitione Sanctae Sedis.1

    CANON 838 

    The references for §2 are the Instruction Inter Oecumenici (26 Sept 1964), n.21 and can. 1257 of the 1917 C.I.C. 

    For §3 they are Sacrosanctum concilium n.22 §2 and n.36 §§3-4; S. Congr. Pro Sacramentis et Cultu Divino, Epist. Decem iam annos (5 June 1976); S. Congr. Pro Doctrina Fidei, Ecclesiae pastorum (19 March 1975), art. 3. 

    Although the sources have a merely indicative value and are not exhaustive it is possible to make some remarks in their regard. 

    This is so above all regarding can. 838 §2. Inter Oecumenici n.21 is found in cap. I,VI. De competenti auctoritate in re liturgica (ad Const. art. 22) and reads as follows: “Apostolicae Sedis est tum libros liturgicos generales instaurare atque approbare, tum sacram Liturgiam in iis quae universam Ecclesiam respiciunt ordinare, tum Acta et deliberationes auctoritatis territorialis probare seu confirmare, tum eiusdem auctoritatis territorialis propositiones et petitiones accipere”.2 A clear presupposed equivalence appears between the verb “recognoscere” used in can. 838 §2 and the expression “probare seu confirmare” used in Inter Oecumenici. This latter expression was desired by the Liturgical Commission of the Second Vatican Council to substitute the terminology derived from the verb “recognoscere” (“actis recognitis”), referring to can. 250 §4 (cf. can. 304 §2) of the 1917 C.I.C., as was explained to the Council Fathers in the Relatio and voted on by them in Sacrosanctum concilium n.36 §3 in the form “actis ab Apostolica Sede probatis seu confirmatis”. It is also possible to note that Inter Oecumenici n.21 covers all acts of the territorial authorities, while the Code applies it specifically to the “interpretationes textum liturgicorum”, material that Inter Oecumenici n.40 deals with explicitly. 

    Regarding can. 838 §3 the reference to Sacrosanctum concilium n.22 §2 is pertinent. By referring to Sacrosanctum concilium n.36 §§3-4 (§3 deals with “de usu et modo linguae vernaculae statuere, actis ab Apostolica Sede probatis seu confirmatis” and §4 deals with “conversio textus latini in linguam vernaculam in Liturgia adhibenda, a competenti auctoritate ecclesiastica territoriali, de qua supra, approbari debet”) it is clear how, for translations, neither a probatio seu confirmatio nor a recognitio in the strict juridical sense of can. 455 §2 is required. 

    The story of the Apostolic Letter issued Motu Proprio Sacram Liturgiam n. IX (25 Jan 1964), which had to be corrected in Acta Apostolicae Sedis because of the reaction of the Council Fathers, seems not to have been adequately taken into consideration. When Sacram Liturgiam appeared in L’Osservatore Romano on 29 January 1964 it read: “...populares interpretationes, a competente auctoritate ecclesiastica territoriali propositas,3 ab Apostolica Sede esse rite recognoscendas4 atque probandas”5. However in Acta Apostolicae Sedis the conciliar terminology was adopted: “...populares interpretationes, a competente auctoritate ecclesiastica territoriali conficiendas et approbandas esse, ad normam art. 36, §§3 et 4; acta vero huius auctoritatis, ad normam eiusdem art. 36, §3, ab Apostolica Sede esse rite probanda seu confirmanda”6. Thus the Motu Proprio Sacram Liturgiam distinguished the approval of translations as such on the part of territorial authorities with a decree that rendered them obligatory, and the fact that such an act had to be “probatus seu confirmatus” by the Apostolic See. Moreover, one must note that Sacram Liturgiam adds: “Quod ut semper servetur praescribimus, quoties liturgicus quidam textus latinus a legitima, quam diximus, auctoritate in linguam vernaculam convertetur”.7 This ordinance regards both of these distinct moments, namely the conficere et approbare of a translation and the act of making it obligatory with the publication of the book that contains it. 

    The reference to the Epist. Decem iam annos (5 June 1976) of the S. Congr. Pro Sacramentis et Cultu Divino is relevant but it must be noted that it never uses the term “recognoscere” but only “probare, confirmare, confirmatio”. 

    Turning to Ecclesiae pastorum of the S. Congr. Pro Doctrina Fidei, art.3 (made up of three numbers), only n.1 is relevant to our material. It reads: “1. Libri liturgici itemque eorum versions in linguam vernaculam eorumve partes ne edantur nisi de mandato Episcoporum Conferentiae atque sub eiusdem vigilantia, praevia confirmatione Apostolicae Sedis”.8 N. 2 concerns reissues and n. 3 prayer books. However it must be noted that the oversight and the mandate are attributed to the Episcopal Conferences while the “praevia confirmatio”, concerning the book that is published, is attributed to the Apostolic See. This is not precisely a “recognitio” of the version like that found in can. 838. 

    The new text

    With the changes decided by the Motu Proprio Magnum principium can. 838 §§2 & 3 read as follows: 

    §2. Apostolicae Sedis est sacram liturgiam Ecclesiae universae ordinare, libros liturgicos edere, aptationes, ad normam iuris a conferentia Episcoporum approbatas, recognoscere, necnon advigiliare ut ordinationes liturgicae ubique fideliter observentur. 

    § 3. Ad Episcoporum Conferentias spectat versions librorum liturgicorum in linguas vernaculas fideliter et convenienter intra limites definitos accommodatas parare et approbare atquae libros liturgicos, pro regionibus ad quas pertinent, post confirmationem Apostolicae Sedis edere.9 

    §2 now relates to the “aptationes” (“versiones” are no longer mentioned, such material is dealt with in §3), namely the texts and elements that do not form part of the editio typica latina, as well as the “profundiores aptationes” foreseen by Sacrosanctum concilium n.40 which are regulated by the Instruction Varietates legitimae on the Roman Liturgy and Inculturation (25 January 1994); after approval by the Episcopal Conference the “aptationes” must have the “recognitio” of the Apostolic See. The reference here is to Sacrosanctum concilium n.36 §3. The adjustment to §2 maintains can. 1257 of the 1917 C.I.C. among its sources, and adds the reference to the Instruction Varietates legitimae which deals with the application of nn.39 & 40 of Sacrosanctum concilium for which a full “recognitio” is required. 

    §3 relates to the “versiones” of the liturgical texts, which it more clearly specifies must be done “fideliter” and approved by the Episcopal Conferences. The reference is to Sacrosanctum concilium n.36 §4 and analogously to can. 825 §1 concerning the version of Scared Scripture. These versions are published in liturgical books after receiving the “confirmatio” of the Apostolic See, as laid down by the Motu Proprio Sacram Liturgiam, n. IX. 

    The previous formulation of can. 838 §3 “intra limites in ipsis libris liturgicis definitos aptatas”, comes from Sacrosanctum concilium n.39 (“Intra limites in editionibus typicis librorum liturgicorum statutos...aptationes definire”), concerning the “aptationes” and not the “versiones” which are now dealt with by this paragraph so it is now rendered with the expression “intra limites definitos accommodatas”, drawing on the terminology of the Istitutio Generalis Missalis Romani n.392; this allows an opportune distinction to be made in respect of the “aptationes” mentioned in §2. 

    Therefore, the readjusted §3 continues to be founded on Sacrosanctum concilium n.22 §2; n.36 §§3-4; S. Congr. Pro Sacramentis et Cultu Divino, Epist. Decem iam annos (5 iun. 1976); S. Congr. Pro Doctrina Fidei, Ecclesiae pastorum (19 mart. 1975), art. 3, with the addition of the reference to the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani (ed. typica tertia) nn.391 & 392, avoiding, however, the term “recognoscere, recognitis” in such a way that the act of Apostolic See relative to the versions prepared by the Episcopal Conferences with particular fidelity to the Latin text (see the addition of the word fideliter) cannot be equated to the discipline of can. 455, but once again forms part of the action of a confirmatio (as expressed in both Decem iam annos and Ecclesiae pastorum, art.3). 

    The “confirmatio” is an authoritative act by which the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments ratifies the approval of the Bishops, leaving the responsibility of translation, understood to be faithful, to the doctrinal and pastoral munus of the Conferences of Bishops. In brief, the “confirmatio”, ordinarily granted based on trust and confidence, supposes a positive evaluation of the faithfulness and congruence of the texts produced with respect to the typical Latin text, above all taking account of the texts of greatest importance (e.g. the sacramental formulae, which require the approval of the Holy Father, the Order of Mass, the Eucharistic Prayers and the Prayers of Ordination, which all require a detailed review). 

    As the Muto Proprio Magnum principium itself recalls the changes to can. 838, §§2 & 3 have consequences for the Apostolic Constitution Pastor bonus art. 64 §3 as well as for the Istitutio Generalis Missalis Romani and for the Praenotanda of the liturgical books in the places that touch on material related to translation and adaptations. 

    __________________________________________________

    1 §2. It is for the Apostolic See to order the sacred liturgy of the universal Church, publish liturgical books and recognise their translations in vernacular languages, and exercise vigilance that liturgical regulations are observed faithfully everywhere.

    §3. It pertains to the conferences of bishops to prepare and publish, after the prior review of the Holy See, translations of liturgical books in vernacular languages, adapted appropriately within the limits defined in the liturgical books themselves. 

    2 “The Holy See has the authority to reform and approve the general liturgical books; to regulate the liturgy in matters affecting the universal Church; to approve or confirm the acta and decisions of the territorial authorities; and to accede to their proposals and requests.”
    3 Art. 36 §4 of SC uses the verb “approbare”. 

    4 Art 36 §3 of SC says: “actis ab Apostolica Sede probatis seu confirmatis”. “enactments approved, that is, confirmed, by the Holy See.”

    5 L’Osservatore Romano 29 January 1964, 1. “...vernacular versions proposed by the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority must always be recognised and approved by the Holy See.” 

    6 Cf. AAS 56 (1964), 143. “...vernacular versions must be drawn up and approved by the competent, territorial ecclesiastical authority, as provided in art. 36 §§3 & 4; and that, as provided in art. 36 §3, the acts of this authority require due approval, that is, confirmation, of the Holy See.”

    7 Cf. ibidem. “This is the course to be taken whenever any Latin liturgical text is translated into the vernacular by the authority already mentioned.” 

    8 “1. Liturgical books, including vernacular translations or parts thereof, are to be published only by mandate of the Conference of Bishops and under its supervision, after confirmation by the Holy See.”

    9 §2. It is for the Apostolic See to order the sacred liturgy of the universal Church, publish liturgical books, recognise adaptations approved by Conferences of Bishops according to the norm of law, and exercise vigilance that liturgical regulations are observed faithfully everywhere. 

    §3. It pertains to the Conferences of Bishops to faithfully prepare versions of the liturgical books in vernacular languages, suitably accommodated within defined limits, and to approve and publish the liturgical books for the regions for which they are responsible after the confirmation of the Apostolic See

    A key to reading the motu proprio “Magnum principium”

    The new Motu Proprio Magnum principium has altered the formulation of some norms of the Codex iuris canonici regarding the translation of liturgical books into modern languages. 

    Pope Francis has introduced some modifications to the text of canon 838 in this Motu Proprio, dated 3 September 2017 and entering into force from 1st October 2017. The reason for these changes is explained in the papal text itself, which recalls and explicates the principles which underlie translations of the Latin typical editions as well as the delicacy required by those who undertake such work. Because the Liturgy is the prayer of the Church it is regulated by ecclesial authority. 

    Given the importance of this work, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council had already considered the question of the roles of both the Apostolic See and the Episcopal Conferences in this regard (cf. Sacrosanctum concilium, nn.36, 40 & 36). In effect the great task of providing for liturgical translations was guided by norms and by specific Instructions from the competent Dicastery, in particular Comme le prévoit (25 January 1969) and then, after the Codex iuris canonici of 1983, by Liturgiam authenticam (28 March 2001), both published at different stages with the goal of responding to concrete problems which had become evident over the course of time and which had arisen as a result of the complex work that is involved in the translation of liturgical texts. The material relating to the whole field of inculturation was, on the other hand, regulated by the Instruction Varietates legitimae (25 January 1994). 

    Taking into account the experience of these years, the Pope writes that now “it seemed opportune that some principles handed on since the time of the Council should be more clearly reaffirmed and put into practice”. Thus, taking account of the experience during the course of these years and with an eye to the future based on the liturgical constitution of Vatican II, Sacrosanctum concilium, the Pope intends to clarify the current discipline by introducing some changes to canon 838 of the Codex iuris canonici

    The object of the changes is to define better the roles of the Apostolic See and the Conferences of Bishops in respect to their proper competencies which are different yet remain complementary. They are called to work in a spirit of dialogue regarding the translation of the typical Latin books as well as for any eventual adaptations that could touch on rites and texts. All of this is at the service of the Liturgical Prayer of the People of God. 

    In particular, in the new formulation of the said canon, there is a more adequate distinction, as far as the role of the Apostolic See is concerned, between the scope of the recognitio and that of the confirmatio in respect of what belongs to the Episcopal Conferences, taking account of their pastoral and doctrinal responsibility as well as the limits to their actions. 

    The recognitio, mentioned in canon 838 §2, implies the process of recognising on the part of the Apostolic See legitimate liturgical adaptations, including those that are “more radical” (Sacrosanctum concilium 40), which the Episcopal Conferences can establish and approve for their territories within defined limits. In the encounter between liturgy and culture the Apostolic See is called to recognoscere, that is, to review and evaluate such adaptations in order to safeguard the substantial unity of the Roman Rite: the references for this material are Sacrosanctum concilium nn. 39-40; and its application, when indicated in the liturgical books and elsewhere, is regulated by the Instruction Varietates legitimae

    The confirmatio – terminology already adopted in the motu proprio Sacram Liturgiam n. IX (25 January 1964) – pertains instead to the translations of liturgical texts which, on the basis of Sacrosanctum concilium (n.36, §4), are within the competency of the Episcopal Conferences to prepare and approve; canon 838 §3 clarifies that the translations must be completed fideliter according to the original texts, thus acknowledging the principal preoccupation of the Instruction Liturgiam authenticam. Indeed, recalling the right, and the grave responsibility of translation entrusted to the Episcopal Conferences, the motu proprio also points out that the Conferences “must ensure and establish that, while the character of each language is safeguarded, the sense of the original text should be rendered fully and faithfully”. 

    The confirmatio of the Apostolic See is therefore not to be considered as an alternative intervention in the process of translation, but rather as an authoritative act by which the competent Dicastery ratifies the approval of the bishops. Obviously, this presupposes a positive evaluation of the fidelity and congruence of the texts produced in respect to the typical editions on which the unity of the Rite is founded, and, above all, taking account of the texts of greatest importance, in particular the Sacramental formulae, the Eucharistic Prayers, the prayers of Ordination, the Order of Mass and so on. 

    Naturally, this modification to the Codex iuris canonici entails an adjustment to the Apostolic Constitution Pastor bonus n.64 §3, as well as to the norms surrounding translations. This means, for example, that it will be necessary to readjust some numbers of the Institutio generalis missalis Romani and of the Praenotanda of the liturgical books. The Instruction Liturgiam authenticam itself, which is to be appreciated for the attention it brings to bear on this complicated work and its implications, must be interpreted in the light of the new formulation of canon 838 when it speaks about seeking the recognitio. Finally, the motu proprio provides that the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments will also “modify its own Regolamento on the basis of the new discipline and help the Episcopal Conferences to fulfil their task”. 

    +Arthur Roche 

    Archbishop Secretary Congregation for Divine Worship & the Discipline of the Sacraments.

  • Pope calls for World Day of the Poor at close of mercy jubilee

    In a document closing the jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis called for an annual “World Day of the Poor” to underline the church’s solidarity with the world’s suffering, and extended special faculties to forgive the sin of abortion.

    The pope’s document, Misericordia et Misera (Mercy and Misery), proposed ways to keep the spirit of mercy alive in all aspects of the church’s life, from the confessional to its social programs.

    The World Day of the Poor would be celebrated in November (on the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time in the church’s liturgical year.) Pope Francis said it would help Catholics “reflect on how poverty is at the very heart of the Gospel” and recall that God will judge people on their works of mercy toward the poor.

    The pope cautioned against merely theorizing about mercy instead of sharing in the lives of the poor. By “hand-crafting” works of mercy and engaging with others, the church can lead a “cultural revolution, beginning with simple gestures capable of reaching body and spirit, people’s very lives,” he said.

    “There is no alibi to justify not engaging with the poor when Jesus has identified himself with each of them,” he said. While acts of mercy depend on individuals, they have an “immense positive influence” as a social value, and can help restore dignity to millions of people, he said.

    In one of the final papal encounters of the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis celebrated Mass Nov. 11 in St. Peter's Basilica for about 6,000 poor and homeless. At that time, he spoke about making it an annual day dedicated to the poor.

    In his document, the pope said he was extending the faculty, granted to all priests during the Holy Year, to absolve those confessing the sin of abortion. Normally this is something reserved to bishops and priests designated by bishops, but the pope said he wanted to underline that while abortion is always a “grave sin” because it puts an end to innocent life, “there is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart.”

    The pope also extended “until further provisions are made” the right of faithful to validly confess to priests of the traditionalist group, the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X, with which the Vatican has conducted a long and painful dialogue aimed at reconciliation.

    The pope said he was also extending the pastoral program of the “Missionaries of Mercy,” priests appointed by the pope to preach and confess in various parts of the world.

    It was important, the pope said, that mercy not be seen as “a mere parenthesis in the life of the church.”

    He emphasized a point he has made again and again during the jubilee year: that “forgiveness is the most visible sign of the Father’s love.”

    “Nothing of what a repentant sinner places before God’s mercy can be excluded from the embrace of his forgiveness. For this reason, none of us has the right to make forgiveness conditional,” he said.

  • The pope's plea against an 'epidemic of animosity and violence'

    Pope Francis created 17 new cardinals Saturday and urged them to counter the “epidemic of animosity and violence” that is spreading in the world.

    The pope’s message reflected his vision of a church that is more merciful than judgmental, but it also appeared to be aimed at a wider audience – including the United States. In particular, the pope described how easy it is for immigrants to be marginalized and turned into the “enemy.”

    “Little by little, out differences turn into symptoms of hostility, threats and violence,” he said.

    “In God’s heart there are no enemies. God only has sons and daughters. We are the ones who raise walls, build barriers and label people.

    The pope emphasized that the church is not immune from this "virus of polarization and animosity." Church leaders, he said, need to be vigilant "lest such attitudes find a place in our hearts."

    A key passage of the pope's homily is worth reading in full (my emphases):

    Ours is an age of grave global problems and issues. We live at a time in which polarization and exclusion are burgeoning and considered the only way to resolve conflicts. We see, for example, how quickly those among us with the status of a stranger, an immigrant, or a refugee, become a threat, take on the status of an enemy. An enemy because they come from a distant country or have different customs. An enemy because of the color of their skin, their language or their social class. An enemy because they think differently or even have a different faith. An enemy because… And, without our realizing it, this way of thinking becomes part of the way we live and act. Everything and everyone then begins to savor of animosity. Little by little, our differences turn into symptoms of hostility, threats and violence. How many wounds grow deeper due to this epidemic of animosity and violence, which leaves its mark on the flesh of many of the defenseless, because their voice is weak and silenced by this pathology of indifference! How many situations of uncertainty and suffering are sown by this growing animosity between peoples, between us!

    Yes, between us, within our communities, our priests, our meetings. The virus of polarization and animosity permeates our way of thinking, feeling and acting. We are not immune from this and we need to take care lest such attitudes find a place in our hearts, because this would be contrary to the richness and universality of the Church, which is tangibly evident in the College of Cardinals. We come from distant lands; we have different traditions, skin color, languages and social backgrounds; we think differently and we celebrate our faith in a variety of rites. None of this makes us enemies; instead, it is one of our greatest riches.

    It’s significant that one of those receiving his red hat was Cardinal Joseph Tobin, who as archbishop of Indiana denied a request by Indiana Governor – now Vice President-elect – Mike Pence to put a halt to Catholic Charities’ resettlement of a Syrian refugee family. A federal court later blocked Pence’s move, saying it was discriminatory.

    The pope's words came the same week that President-elect Donald Trump confirmed his intention of deporting up to three million undocumented immigrants from the United States and his plan of building a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border.

  • Pope calls out critics on pastoral mercy, ecumenism

    Another day, another interview with Pope Francis. This one, in the Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire, focused on ecumenism, and the pope took the opportunity to defend his bridge-building efforts with other Christian churches.

    He also delivered a rebuke to those who have recently critiqued his document, Amoris Laetizia, for its opening on the question of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. Critics, he said, don’t really understand the church’s role in the world.

    “The church exists only as an instrument for communicating to people the merciful design of God,” he said. That was clearly enunciated by the Second Vatican Council in its document on the nature of the church, he said.

    “This moves the axis of Christian understanding away from a certain legalism, which can be ideological, to the person of God who made himself merciful in the incarnation of the Son,” he said.

    “Some – consider certain replies to Amoris Laetitia – continue to not understand, (to see) either white or black, even though it is in the flow of life that one must discern,” the pope said. He added that this teaching of Vatican II will probably take a century to be “well absorbed” by the body of the church.

    “We’re at the halfway point,” he said.

    The pope’s reproach of those who want a “white or black” judgment of pastoral situations plainly referred to a small group of cardinals who this week published a letter to the pontiff, challenging him to clarify supposed “doubts” about Amoris Laetitia, the pope’s post-synodal document published in April. The cardinals have questioned whether some sections of the document could be read as contradicting traditional church teaching on marriage.

     In the interview, Francis said seeking Christian unity was a perennial task of any pope, and he described it as primarily a work of encounter and prayer, not negotiation. He said his recent meetings did not represent an “acceleration” of this process. It’s simply a matter of following the path of the Second Vatican Council, and the impetus comes from “the path, not me,” he said.

    At one point the interviewer noted that some conservative critics have accused the pope of “selling out doctrine” in order to promote ecumenical relations, and in effect “Protestantizing” the Catholic Church.

    “I’m not losing any sleep over that,” the pope replied. He added that the value of criticism depended on “the spirit behind it.” Authentic criticism can help the church, but sometimes it’s obvious that the criticisms “are not honest, and are made with a bad spirit in order to foment divisions, he said.”

    The pope said he was convinced that certain “rigorous” positions among critics are born from “a shortcoming, a desire to hide one’s own sad disappointment behind a type of armor.”

    On the issue of proselytism, there was this exchange:

    Pope Francis: "The church never grows through proselytism but by attraction, as Benedict XVI wrote. Therefore proselytism between Christians is in itself a grave sin."

    Interviewer: "Why?"

    Pope Francis: "Because it contradicts the very dynamic of how one becomes and remains a Christian. The church is not a soccer team in search of fans."

  • New cardinals and a soon-to-be octogenarian pope

    This week Pope Francis is creating 17 new cardinals, including 13 under the age of 80 and therefore eligible to vote in the next conclave.

    Next month, the pope celebrates his 80th birthday.

    The 80-year mark has sometimes been floated as a default age for papal retirement, but there is certainly no sign that the Argentine pope has any intention of resigning his office. Francis has said he doesn’t like the idea of an age limit for the papacy, which he believes enjoys a “special grace.” At the same time, he has said Pope Benedict’s resignation in 2013 (at the age of 85) should not be considered an exception in the modern church.

    It’s become increasingly clear that in choosing new cardinals, Francis is looking for prelates who share his vision of the church as a “field hospital,” less concerned with doctrinal rules and more involved with people in their daily lives. The pope needs their support today and, in a certain sense, his legacy will one day rest in their hands.

    The three U.S. churchmen receiving their red hats this week endorse the pope’s fresh approach, which features flexibility on pastoral issues – including but not limited to the question of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. The three are Cardinal-designates Blase J. Cupich of Chicago, Joseph W. Tobin of Indianapolis (just appointed to head the Newark archdiocese), and Kevin J. Farrell, who will head the new Vatican office for Laity, Family and Life.

    If Pope Francis has a strategy in his cardinal selections, it might be called “break the mold.” He has chosen bishops from several diocese and countries that have never had a cardinal before, part of his push to include the voices of the church’s “periphery.”

    The idea of protecting his legacy may not be the first thing on his mind, but these cardinals are, after all, the ones who will one day elect his successor. The next conclave, whenever it occurs, will test the level of hierarchical support for the changes adopted by this pope. As the past week has demonstrated, not all cardinals are on the pope’s wavelength: four eminences saw fit to publicly challenge Francis’ opening on the issue of Communion for divorced and remarried.

    This week’s consistory will alter the population a bit among the 120 voting-age cardinals (121 until Nov. 28.) Let’s look at a few numbers:

    -- With the new appointments, Pope Francis will have named about 37 percent of the potential cardinal-electors. That’s significant after only three and a half years in office. However, it may well take the pope another three years – from now until October 2019 – to reach the 50 percent mark of cardinal-electors. That’s because relatively fewer cardinals will turn 80 during that period.

    For now, the rest of the would-be voters in a conclave are made up of cardinals appointed by Pope Benedict XVI (46 percent) and Pope John Paul II (17 percent).

    -- If the pope remains in office another five years, he will have the opportunity to name at least an additional 32 cardinals. As a result, by his 85th birthday he may well have appointed 58 percent of the cardinals eligible to vote in a conclave. But that’s a long way from today.

    By way of contrast, when Pope John Paul II died at the age of 84 (after a pontificate of more than 26 years), he had appointed all but two of the 115 cardinals who voted in the conclave to elect his successor.

    -- The geographical balance of cardinal-electors is slowly shifting under Pope Francis. After Saturday’s consistory, Europeans will represent 44.6 percent of voting-age cardinals, down from 52 percent three and a half years ago. The percentage of electors from North America has dropped slightly, to 10.7 percent, and gone up a bit for Latin Americans, to 17.4 percent. The biggest gains have come among cardinals from Africa (now 12.4 percent of total electors), Asia (11.6 percent) and Oceania (3.3 percent).

    -- The influence of the Roman Curia in a future conclave is declining somewhat but remains strong. About 27 percent of potential cardinal-electors today are active or retired Rome-based Vatican officials, and that goes up to 34 percent when one includes archbishops in other places who once worked in the Roman Curia.

    The Curia cardinals, in my opinion, are the closest thing to a “bloc” in a future conclave. Traditionally, this group has had great influence in the selection of a new pope – these cardinals operate at the center of the universal church, have frequent contact with other cardinals and local bishops, and are more experienced in ecclesial politics. The conclave of 2013 was an exception to this rule, a moment when the world’s cardinals took issue with Roman Curia missteps and infighting, and elected a true outsider to the papacy.

  • Pope Francis on Martin Luther and ecumenism ahead of Sweden trip


                    Pope Francis

    Pope Francis travels to Sweden next week, in one of the most important ecumenical journeys of his pontificate. Among the events is a commemoration service with Lutherans marking the beginning of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, which began when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg in 1517.

    Today, the Jesuit journal La Civiltà Cattolica published an interview with the pope on the themes of the visit. Francis being Francis, the interview also ranged to unrelated topics. Among other things, the pope said that proselytizing was a sin, that war in the name of religion was "satanic," and that gossip could be seen as a form of terrorism.

    The exchange about Martin Luther was revealing, with Francis offering a hint at the atmosphere inside the conclave that elected him in 2013. The pope was asked what the Catholic Church could learn from the Lutheran tradition. He responded: 

    "Two words come to my mind: «reform» and «Scripture». I will try to explain. The first is the word «reform». At the beginning, Luther’s was a gesture of reform in a difficult time for the Church. Luther wanted to remedy a complex situation. Then this gesture—also because of the political situations, we think also of the cuius regio eius religio (whose realm, his religion) —became a «state» of separation, and not a process of reform of the whole Church, which is fundamental, because the Church is semper reformanda (always reforming). The second word is «Scripture», the Word of God. Luther took a great step by putting the Word of God into the hands of the people. Reform and Scripture are two things that we can deepen by looking at the Lutheran tradition. The General Congregations before the Conclave comes to mind and how the request for a reform was alive in our discussions."

  • An evening with a 'Pope Francis cardinal'


    Cardinal-designate Joseph W. Tobin

    Minnesotans got a glimpse this week of what a “Pope Francis cardinal” looks and sounds like, and it was a refreshing change from the “princes of the church” figure of the past.

    Archbishop Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis delivered a talk on immigration at the University of St. Thomas Oct. 24. Titled “Welcoming the Stranger While Challenging the Fear,” it pulled no punches when it came to the demands of the Gospel on an issue that has become a political football.

    Archbishop Tobin cited comments by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has denounced refugee resettlement programs, including those sponsored by the Catholic Church, and claimed they raise the threat of terrorism in the United States. Trump recently called efforts to resettle refugees from Syria “the great Trojan horse of all time.”

    Tobin pointed out that three days after Trump’s comments, made Oct. 9, Pope Francis issued a clear call for greater global efforts to welcome refugees and immigrants on the part of states, institutions and church agencies. The same week, the pope said Christians who close their doors to refugees are “hypocrites.”

    “The positions of Mr. Trump and Pope Francis regarding the resettlement of refugees, particularly those fleeing the carnage in Syria, are well-known and diametrically opposed,” Tobin said.

    Two weeks ago, Archbishop Tobin was a surprise choice when Pope Francis announced his list of 17 new cardinals, to be created next month in Rome. This pope has broken the mold when handing out the cardinal’s red hat, skipping over more prominent churchmen and often choosing those who share his pastoral outlook.

    Tobin, like many of Francis’ choices, also shares the pope’s willingness to push social and political policies – even when it might lead to the age-old accusation of the church “meddling in politics.”

    Tobin made headlines late last year when he denied Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s request to put a halt to Catholic Charities’ resettlement of a Syrian refugee family. The family is now living in Indianapolis and Pence, of course, is Trump’s running mate. Just three weeks ago, a federal court blocked Pence’s attempt to block Syrian refugees, saying it was discriminatory.

    In his presentation, Archbishop Tobin reviewed the history of immigration in the United States, which is essentially the history of the country. He noted that Catholic Charities last year resettled about one-third of the 70,000 refugees who came to the United States. That is consistent with a faith that professes to see Jesus in the stranger, he said.

    “This welcome is an essential part of our Catholic identity,” he said.

    At the same time, Tobin examined some of the causes of anti-immigrant sentiment. The actual threats made by terror groups are one factor, he said, even though many refugees are themselves victims of terrorism. He also cited the tendency by for-profit major media to run fear-based stories about refugees, with scrolling headlines like, “Taking refugees could open the door to jihadists.”

    Another cause, Tobin said, was a backlash to globalization among people who fear that the country or their culture is losing its identity. He noted, however, that immigration is the most embodied form of globalization and the most regulated, while financial dealings, the most unembodied aspect, are the least regulated.

    Tobin told a couple of amusing stories about Pope Francis.

    During a meeting of church leaders in Rome, Francis listened as one bishop “got in his face” over the pope’s inclination to ignore security concerns. For example, during a general audience in St. Peter’s Square, a group of Latin American pilgrims handed the pope a gourd full of mate, a traditional tea, and he took a sip – to the alarm of the Vatican gendarmes. (The pope was said to have told his security people, presumably in jest, “But they were Argentinians, they weren’t cardinals.”) When the bishop kept pressing the security issue at the Rome meeting, the pope finally replied: “Giving my life for Jesus and his kingdom wouldn't be the worst thing that could happen to me – or to you.” At that, the bishop let the matter drop.

    On another topic, Archbishop Tobin said that several months after his visit to the United States last fall, Pope Francis told him he had been “amazed” by the country.

    What impressed him?

    “He told me, ‘I never realized how affectionate Americans are. The second thing was, I didn't know they took their faith so seriously.’ So even the Holy Father needs an encounter to do away with stereotypes. Maybe he saw a lot of Rambo movies when he was a kid.”

  • Pope Francis issues norms for removal of bishops for negligence in sex abuse cases


    Pope Francis

     In a landmark move toward accountability, Pope Francis has established new norms that provide for the dismissal of bishops when they demonstrate "lack of diligence" in protecting minors or vulnerable adults from the sexual abuse of priests.

    The norms say a bishop does not need to have "grave morally culpability" in order to be removed; serious negligence by the bishop is enough.

    Current church law provides for removal of bishops for "very grave cause." The new norms state that in the cases of sexual abuse, removal can be for "grave cause." This slight wording change is considered significant. According to Vatican Radio, it effectively lowers the standard needed for a bishop to be removed from office in such cases. It certainly puts bishops on notice that their actions or lack of them will receive greater scrutiny in Rome.

    The pope can decide to remove bishops on his own. But the new norms provide for a college of jurists to assist him in these cases. It will be made up of bishops and cardinals, presumably appointed by the pope.

    Vatican Radio said that according to Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, the question of retroactivity "does not apply" because the pope's apostolic letter concerns new procedural norms. It will be interesting to see if that holds true. There have been many accusations of negligence against bishops who allegedly failed to protect children and who continue to hold office.

    The pope's apostolic letter in Italian is here. The English-language Vatican Radio report on the new norms is here.

     

     

     

  • Pope's document opens door to pastoral flexibility on family issues


                               Pope Francis

    Pope Francis’ document on the family avoids issuing directives or a “final word” on debatable questions. Instead, it argues for pastoral flexibility and recognition of the complex relationship between the human conscience, sin and the state of grace.

    That alone makes this text remarkable. Rather than announcing new practices or decisions from Rome, the pope is opening a discussion that involves bishops, priests, theologians and lay Catholics.

    Titled “Amoris Laetitia, on Love and the Family,” the 260-page document reflects on the results of the Synod of Bishops, convened in two sessions in 2014 and 2015.

    I won’t attempt to summarize its contents here. In large part, it expands on points that were made in the synod’s final relatio last fall.

    The synod saw unusually sharp debate on a number of issues, including the thorny question of how the church treats people in “irregular” unions. Whether divorced Catholics should be allowed to receive Communion was a particularly divisive matter.

    Pope Francis opened his post-synodal document by stating clearly that he was not going to pronounce a verdict on all these issues. In fact, he added, “not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium.” He suggested that different ways of interpreting church teaching can co-exist in the church, with allowances for local needs and traditions in various countries or regions.

    That appears to reverse an approach that’s dominated at the Vatican for the past forty years or so: that any pastoral innovation needs to be run through Rome.

    When addressing the various problems faced by modern families, the pope pretty much adopted the synod’s laundry list of challenges, from excessive individualism to economic burdens on young couples.

    But in a typical “Francis touch,” he added strong words of self-criticism, saying that the church has “helped contribute to today’s problematic situation.” Church leaders, he said, have “often been on the defensive, wasting pastoral energy on denouncing a decadent world without being proactive in proposing ways of finding true happiness.”

    We often present marriage in such a way that its unitive meaning, its call to grow in love and its ideal of mutual assistance are overshadowed by an almost exclusive insistence on the duty of procreation. Nor have we always provided solid guidance to young married couples, understanding their timetables, their way of thinking and their concrete concerns. At times we have also proposed a far too abstract and almost artificial theological ideal of marriage, far removed from the concrete situations and practical possibilities of real families. This excessive idealization, especially when we have failed to inspire trust in God’s grace, has not helped to make marriage more desirable and attractive, but quite the opposite.

    The pope added:

    We also find it hard to make room for the consciences of the faithful, who very often respond as best they can to the Gospel amid their limitations, and are capable of carrying out their own discernment in complex situations. We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them.

    The pope expanded on that last point in a chapter intriguingly titled: “Accompanying, Discerning and Integrating Weakness.”

    He argued that when dealing with people in “irregular” unions, pastors need to show careful discernment, and not simply impose a set of rules, recognizing that the degree of individual responsibility varies with circumstances and that “no easy recipes exist.”

    “The divorced who have entered a new union, for example, can find themselves in a variety of situations, which should not be pigeonholed or fit into overly rigid classifications,” he said:

    One thing is a second union consolidated over time, with new children, proven fidelity, generous self giving, Christian commitment, a consciousness of its irregularity and of the great difficulty of going back without feeling in conscience that one would fall into new sins. The Church acknowledges situations “where, for serious reasons, such as the children’s upbringing, a man and woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate.” There are also the cases of those who made every effort to save their first marriage and were unjustly abandoned, or of “those who have entered into a second union for the sake of the children’s upbringing, and are sometimes subjectively certain in conscience that their previous and irreparably broken marriage had never been valid.”

    The pope made it clear that he did not intend to lay down new general rules that would allow Catholics who have divorced and remarried without an annulment to receive Communion. But he appeared to open the door to such a possibility when he said that pastoral accompaniment should include an “examination of conscience through moments of reflection and repentance,” recognizing that “since the degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases, the consequences or effects of a rule need not necessarily always be the same.”

    Significantly, he footnoted that passage and added: “This is also the case with regard to sacramental discipline, since discernment can recognize that in a particular situation no grave fault exists.”

    The pope’s framework for all this, of course, is mercy.

    “No one can be condemned forever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel! Here I am not speaking only of the divorced and remarried, but of everyone, in whatever situation they find themselves,” he said.

    There is much, much more in this document, including praise for the women's movement and feminism, a call to include women and families in the seminary experience, and a long and fascinating chapter on love in marriage.





























  • Blackstone audio book: The Vatican Prophecies

    The audible version of my new book, The Vatican Prophecies, is available in a 9-CD format from Blackstone. Here's a sample: 

    Vatican_Prophecies.m4a

     

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