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  • Cardinal Mueller's "manifesto"

    Saying church leaders have allowed the spread of “doctrinal confusion,” German Cardinal Gerhard Mueller has published a “manifesto of faith” that reasserts traditional church teaching on several issues, including a ban on Communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics.

    Although Mueller does not specifically mention Pope Francis, the text is clearly aimed at the more flexible stance taken by the pope and some progressive bishops. Two years ago, Mueller was let go by Francis as head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

    The document was issued in multiple languages through conservative Catholic media, which have themselves been critical of the pope, saying his teachings and pronouncements on pastoral mercy have left Catholics confused. Mueller said he had taken the step at the request of “many” bishops, priests, religious and lay people.

    On the question of Communion for divorced Catholics, Mueller said that “civilly remarried divorcees, whose sacramental marriage exists before God, as well as those Christians who are not in full communion with the Catholic faith and the church, just as all who are not properly disposed, cannot receive the Holy Eucharist fruitfully because it does not bring them to salvation. To point this out corresponds to the spiritual works of mercy.”

    The cardinal said this clearly follows from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states: “Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of reconciliation before coming to Communion.”

    In his post-synodal document “Amoris Laetitia” in 2016, Pope Francis appeared to open the door to reception of Communion by Catholics who have divorced and civilly remarried, through pastoral accompaniment on a case-by-case basis.

    Cardinal Mueller said the task of the church’s teaching authority is to “preserve God’s people from deviations and defections” so they can profess the faith without error.

    Mueller’s text is essentially a string of citations of the Catechism, published in 1992 as a way to firm up doctrinal understanding among Catholics. (In contrast, it quotes from the Gospel only a handful of times.)

    The remarkable thing is not the content, but the fact that a formerly high-ranking Vatican cardinal has allowed himself to be used by a conservative faction in opposition to a reigning pope. The implicit accusation is that when it comes to defense of doctrine, Mueller is filling a leadership void left by Pope Francis.

  • Pope Francis adding frequent flyer miles at record pace

    When he was elected in 2013 at the age of 76, Pope Francis was not expected to be a globe-trotting pope. After all, this was a man who, as archbishop of Buenos Aires, traveled infrequently to Rome because he considered such trips an extravagance.

    But in Panama last week, the pope logged his 26th foreign trip – and he shows no sign of slowing down. He plans to make four more trips before the middle of this year, including a February visit to the United Arab Emirates, the first by a pope to the Arab peninsula.

    In the second half of 2019, the pope is said to be considering trips to Uganda, Mozambique and Japan.

    Francis is putting on miles at a rate faster than any pope in history. Even Pope John Paul II, whose international travels turned the papacy into a global ministry, didn’t reach his 30th foreign trip until nearly eight years in office.

    Most of Pope Francis’ trips have been outside Europe – meaning long-distance flights, jet lag and plenty of time for airborne press conferences.

    Speaking to reporters on his first such trip in 2013, Francis seemed to accept international travel as part of the modern papal job description. He said John Paul II had made it clear that the pope must first of all be a “great missionary.”

    “He was a missionary, a man who carried the Gospel everywhere, as you know better than I. How many trips did he make? But he went! He felt this fire of carrying forth the Word of the Lord. He was like Paul, like Saint Paul, he was such a man; for me this is something great,” Francis said.

  • Pope says no to wholesale change on priestly celibacy, but sees room for exceptions

    Pope Francis has offered some clarity about how far he’ll go on the issue of married priests.

    Speaking to reporters aboard his flight from Panama to Rome Jan. 27, the pope said he did not agree with those who want to make priestly celibacy “optional” throughout the Latin-rite church.

    The pope was asked whether he could envision the Catholic Church adopting the practice of Orthodox Churches, in which priestly candidates can choose whether to marry or remain celibate – a choice made before they are ordained as deacons.

    “My decision is: optional celibacy before the diaconate, no,” the pope said. “That is what I think. I will not do it and this remains clear. Am I closed minded? Perhaps, but I don’t feel that I can make this decision before God.”

    But he left the door open to ordaining married men as an exception to the celibacy rule, in local areas of great pastoral need.

    “I think the question should be open in places where there is a pastoral problem because of the lack of priests. I’m not saying that we have to do it, because I have not reflected and prayed about this sufficiently, but theologians have to study this,” he said.

    He said that for local church communities, the essential question is access to Mass and the sacraments. “Where there is not the Eucharist … who will make the Eucharist?” he said.

    The issue is expected to be raised during a regional Synod of Bishops from the Amazon region, to be held at the Vatican in October. The region faces a severe shortage of priests, and a preparatory document for the synod has called for “courageous, daring and fearless” proposals to deal with pastoral challenges.

    If such an exception is granted in the Amazon region, many believe it will place the church on a path of change regarding the overall celibacy rule.

    The Catholic Church already has married priests. Generally, Catholic Eastern churches allow married men to be ordained. Celibacy in the Latin-rite church – to which the vast majority of Catholics belong – has been a tradition for many centuries, and a topic of increasing theological debate for decades.

  • New role of laity is key issue in sex abuse summit

    There are signs that Vatican officials preparing the February summit on sex abuse hope the event will launch a new role for Catholic laity.

    That would be a significant development in a scandal that, as Pope Francis himself has said, has been perpetuated by clericalism.

    At first glance, the Feb. 21-24 summit looks like another “bishops monitoring the bishops” event. But planners have quietly taken steps to involve lay experts, and are signaling a more open approach to lay authority and supervision when it comes to dealing with accusations of clerical sex abuse.

    In a recent interview with America magazine, Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna, one of the meeting’s organizers, said the need for transparency and accountability on sex abuse requires bishops to “empower the lay people”:

    “We bishops need to approach the issue of the sexual abuse of minors together as churches, and we also need to adopt what Pope Francis is calling ‘a synodal approach,’ that is we cannot do it alone in our community, we need also to empower the lay people, the laity, in order to help us be good stewards.”

    Scicluna repeated the point for emphasis: “Synodality means that we appreciate the different charisms and gifts of the laity, their expertise, and that we empower them to join bishops in the role of stewardship.”

    As if to anticipate the objections of conservatives, the archbishop added: “It’s not a question of (the laity) having control over the hierarchy, it is the hierarchy empowering and facilitating the sharing of charisms which the Spirit also gives to the laity, because there are gifts there that will help issues of prevention and safeguarding that we need to bring on board, and we need to facilitate as bishops.”

    What that means in terms of practical responsibility and authority remains to be seen. Pope Francis did name two Vatican lay women to help prepare the summit: Dr. Gabriella Gambino and Dr. Linda Ghisoni, both undersecretaries in the Vatican’s office for Laity, Family and Life.

    A key question is whether the pope’s “synodality” vision will trump the more legalistic approach of Vatican canon lawyers when it comes to lay responsibility regarding bishops’ decision-making and accountability.

    It was Archbishop Scicluna who, in an address to canon lawyers in 2013, pointed out that under church law bishops can lose their office for abuse or negligence in ministry, and in this sense are seen as accountable to their faithful.

    Over the last year, “more involvement by the laity” has been a popular phrase in the church’s discussion of sexual abuse, and it’s come from all quarters – the pope, U.S. bishops, victims’ advocacy groups and leading Catholics. Now it needs to be translated into meaningful measures.

  • Tweets, clicks and photostreams

    Pope Francis’ love-hate relationship with social media was on display this month.

    On Jan. 20, appearing before pilgrims at his weekly blessing, he tapped a tablet to launch a “Click to Pray” app that allows people to share prayer intentions and (virtually) pray with each other. The pope called social networks “a resource of our time” that gives people a way to “share values and projects.”

    But a few days later, the 82-year-old pope sounded a different tune in his annual message for World Communications Day. He said social media too often tend to divide people and encourage a worrisome trend toward narcissism:

    Moreover, in the social web identity is too often based on opposition to the other, the person outside the group: we define ourselves starting with what divides us rather than with what unites us, giving rise to suspicion and to the venting of every kind of prejudice (ethnic, sexual, religious and other). This tendency encourages groups that exclude diversity, that even in the digital environment nourish unbridled individualism which sometimes ends up fomenting spirals of hatred. In this way, what ought to be a window on the world becomes a showcase for exhibiting personal narcissism.

    It's the Catch-22 that many people, the famous and not-so-famous, experience when using social media: they see the negative effects of social networking, but in this day and age they feel obliged to have a presence on digital platforms.

    To understand why the pope can’t even consider withdrawing from social media, read this story by Catholic News Service. It outlines the incredible digital reach enjoyed by Pope Francis:

    According to Twipu, a site that tracks Twitter statistics, each of Pope Francis' tweets generates an average of 935 replies, 7,998 retweets and 36,750 likes.

    In an early December article, the Twiplomacy website listed Pope Francis as No. 4 on the list of the "most followed world leaders on Instagram." He came behind Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Indonesian President Joko Widodo and U.S. President Donald Trump.

    More importantly from the point of view of his Communications Day focus on community, Pope Francis is also in fourth place on world leaders' Instagram interactions. Each photo or video posted by the Vatican, the site said, garners an average of 198,432 interactions.

    Pope Francis is on Instagram here:

    You'll find him on Twitter @Pontifex.

  • Vatican official says pope's outreach to divorced Catholics well-received

    A leading Vatican official says opposition to Pope Francis’ outreach to divorced and remarried Catholics comes from a minority that is tied to a vision of the church that “never existed.”

    Cardinal Kevin J. Farrell, prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life, made the comments in an interview published in the British magazine The Tablet Jan. 25. It offers an interesting look at how the debate over Communion for divorced Catholics is seen inside the pope’s own “cabinet” of Vatican advisors.

    Based on information received from bishops and lay groups involved in marriage and family life around the world, Bishop Farrell said, the pope’s pastoral initiative has been “overwhelmingly well received.”

    “There are some elements in the United States, on the continent of Africa, and some here in Europe - but not very strong - where they have a vision of going back to a Church that I believe never existed,” he says. “Deep down this is an ideological conflict.”

    Following two sessions of the Synod of Bishops, Pope Francis in his 2016 document “Amoris Laetitia” opened the door to reception of Communion by Catholics who have divorced and civilly remarried, prompting public criticism by a handful of cardinals and rumblings among the Catholic hierarchy.

    Cardinal Farrell’s office is charged in part with implementing “Amoris Laetitia.” In the interview, he made the rather surprising observation that his own Vatican department could be run by an non-ordained man or woman – reflecting, he said, the pope’s efforts to involve lay people more deeply in leadership roles in the church.

  • Transparency must be tackled at Vatican abuse summit, moderator says

    The moderator of the Vatican’s upcoming summit on sex abuse has underlined several crucial themes for the four-day meeting, including the need for greater accountability and transparency by bishops.

    Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the former Vatican spokesman tapped by Pope Francis to chair the Feb. 21-24 summit, said past cover-ups by church officials have been the cause of “evil and tragedy.”

    He made the comments in an article published in late January by “La Civiltà Cattolica,” a Jesuit journal that reflects Vatican thinking.

    Father Lombardi said it was not enough for bishops to put procedures in place and deal quietly with sexual abuse cases. They need to communicate openly and quickly with everyone involved, he said.

    “Sincerity and honesty in communications, the commitment to facilitate access to information, and to welcome outside help to improve the protection of minors are obviously behaviors that go in the opposite direction to the tendency to hide and cover up,” he said.

    “This was one of the causes of so much evil and tragedy in the past,” he said.

    Father Lombardi said the church’s approach to abuse by clerics must include a change in outlook and attitude, and not only new procedures to deal with accused priests. In that regard, his article praised a document published by the bishops of Canada in 2018, titled “Protecting Minors from Sexual Abuse.”

    Meanwhile, another organizer of the summit, Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, said one expected outcome of the meeting will be establishment of a task force with teams of child protection experts working on every continent.

    It would appear that the task force’s purpose will be to make sure that there is practical follow-up to the summit, especially in places where there has been reluctance to face the problem.

  • A night to remember

    Five years ago...

  • Food for thought in pope's speech to diplomats

    Pope Francis this week delivered his annual “state of the world” talk to the diplomatic corps at the Vatican. It was one of his more far-ranging speeches, and his comments touched on several topics of particular interest to the United States:

    -- North Korea. The pope repeated his call to settle any international disputes by negotiation and agreement, not by recourse to arms, and added:

    "In this regard, it is of paramount importance to support every effort at dialogue on the Korean peninsula, in order to find new ways of overcoming the current disputes, increasing mutual trust and ensuring a peaceful future for the Korean people and the entire world."

    -- War and peace. More generally, the pope endorsed the church’s longstanding position that peace is not built through fear and intimidation, but through a dialogue in which “nations can discuss matters on equal terms.” A corollary, he said, is that multilateral diplomacy (i.e., engaging the international community) should have a key role in disputes between two countries.

    -- Weapons production and sales. The pope denounced the weapons industry and said the proliferation of arms has made modern conflicts more deadly. Citing Pope John XXIII's encyclical Pacem in Terris, he reiterated the Vatican’s full support for a ban on nuclear weapons:

    "The stockpiles of armaments which have been built up in various countries must be reduced all round and simultaneously by the parties concerned. Nuclear weapons must be banned. Indeed, even if it is difficult to believe that anyone would dare to assume responsibility for initiating the appalling slaughter and destruction that war would bring in its wake, there is no denying that the conflagration could be started by some chance and unforeseen circumstance.”

    -- Jerusalem. The pope called for respect of the status quo for Jerusalem, which puts him at odds with the Trump administration and its recent recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. The pope noted that the Vatican position is in conformity with United Nations resolutions. On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the pope added: “Seventy years of confrontation make more urgent than ever the need for a political solution that allows the presence in the region of two independent states within internationally recognized borders.”

    -- Climate change. Once again, Pope Francis stated unequivocally that the global rise in temperatures and their “devastating effects” are a consequence of human activity. He called for nations to respect the 2015 Paris agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Trump administration has announced it will withdraw from the agreement.

    -- Globalization. The pope in this speech focused on two worrisome aspects of globalization. One was economic:

    "On the one hand, we note an inequitable distribution of the work opportunities, while on the other, a tendency to demand of laborers an ever more pressing pace. The demands of profit, dictated by globalization, have led to a progressive reduction of times and days of rest, with the result that a fundamental dimension of life has been lost – that of rest – which serves to regenerate persons not only physically but also spiritually."

    The pope’s other concern was about a form of colonization by the world’s richer nations, particularly in areas where “debatable notions” of human rights have been advanced that are at odds with the culture of many countries”:

    "(These countries) feel that they are not respected in their social and cultural traditions, and instead neglected with regard to the real needs they have to face. Somewhat paradoxically, there is a risk that, in the very name of human rights, we will see the rise of modern forms of ideological colonization by the stronger and the wealthier, to the detriment of the poorer and the most vulnerable."

    The full text of the pope's speech is available here.

  • Pope Francis and nuclear deterrence

    As 2017 drew to a close, the potential for nuclear destruction was clearly on the mind of Pope Francis.

    During the Christmas season, the Vatican circulated a card reproducing a dramatic photo from the aftermath of the U.S. bombing of Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945. Taken by Marine photographer Joseph O’Donnell, it showed a boy carrying his dead brother on his back as he waited in line at a crematorium.

    On the reverse of the card is the phrase “The fruits of war” and the pope’s signature.

    The image reflected a deep concern that the pope has expressed on numerous occasions since his election in 2013: that nuclear deterrence, once seen as a necessary evil, may in fact be a path to global disaster.

    In November, addressing a Vatican-sponsored symposium on disarmament, the pope condemned not only the use or threatened use of nuclear weapons, but also their possession:

    Nor can we fail to be genuinely concerned by the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental effects of any employment of nuclear devices. If we also take into account the risk of an accidental detonation as a result of error of any kind, the threat of their use, as well as their very possession, is to be firmly condemned. For they exist in the service of a mentality of fear that affects not only the parties in conflict but the entire human race. International relations cannot be held captive to military force, mutual intimidation, and the parading of stockpiles of arms. Weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, create nothing but a false sense of security. They cannot constitute the basis for peaceful coexistence between members of the human family, which must rather be inspired by an ethics of solidarity.

    This was a significant development in the church’s position on nuclear weapons. Reporters asked the pope about it in early December, and while characterizing it as his “opinion” and not a change in official church teaching, Francis said nuclear deterrence was “at the limit of what’s licit”:

    In 34 years, nuclear [development] has gone further and further and further. Today we are at the limit. This can be argued; it is my opinion, but my staunch opinion: I am convinced of it. We are the limit of what’s licit in regard to having and using nuclear weapons. Why? Because today, with so sophisticated a nuclear arsenal, we risk the destruction of humanity, or at least of a large part of humanity. For this reason I refer to Laudato Si’. What has changed? This. The development of nuclear weaponry. What has also changed.... They are sophisticated and also cruel [weaponry]; they are also capable of destroying people without touching the structures.... We are at the limit, and since we are, I ask myself this question – not as papal Magisterium, but it is the question a Pope asks – today is it licit to maintain nuclear arsenals, as they are, or today, to save creation, to save humanity, is it not necessary to go back? … We are reaching a point at which man has in hand, with this culture, the capacity to create another form of lack of culture: let’s think of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And this was 60, 70 years ago. Destruction. And this also happens with atomic energy when we aren’t able to have complete control: think about the incidents in Ukraine. For this, getting back to weapons, which are to win by destroying, I say that we are at the limit of what’s licit.

    This is not an issue that will go away soon, and it’s one that raises an implicit challenge in U.S.-Vatican relations – particularly with a U.S. president who has said he wants a big increase in the country’s nuclear arsenal. 

    It was Pope Francis who, when addressing the United Nations in 2015, called on nations to work for a “complete prohibition” on nuclear weapons, a line that drew applause and was quickly forgotten.

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