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Popes, evolution and the Big Bang

Pope Francis recently said evolution and the Big Bang theory can be compatible with faith in God – a statement that was hardly new, but predictably made news. The idea that evolution and a divine creator are not mutually exclusive has long been found in the teachings of popes, beginning with Pope Pius XII and his 1950 encyclical, “Humani Generis.” Even so, the mere mention of the word “evolution” by a pope can set off alarm bells. I remember that when Pope John Paul II said in 1996 that evolution was “more than a hypothesis” and had been widely accepted by scientists, some Catholics simply couldn’t believe it. Perhaps the most complete treatment of evolution came in a 2004 document published

Open talk, frank debate at the Vatican — from way back

The archbishop minced no words in criticizing the draft document: I must speak plainly. This document is going to dash the hopes of everyone who has been awaiting it. Its authors do not seem to realize even to whom the message should be directed. Here is an example of their way of writing: “Christians,” they say, “are ready to engage in a dialogue with all men of good will.” But surely this is a pointless thing to say. We must protect the authority of the teaching Church. It is of no avail to talk about a college of bishops if specialists in articles, books and speeches contradict and pour scorn on what a body of bishops teaches. No, this is not a leaked intervention from the recent Synod of

Vatican condemns terrorism of Islamic State, rejects war as solution

The Vatican summit today on the Middle East heard a strong call to protect Christian minorities, but also a strong rejection of war as a solution to the situation in Syria and Iraq. Pope Francis denounced what he called “terrorism on a scale that previously was unimaginable.” The Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, was more specific, condemning Islamic State fundamentalists for “unprecedented atrocities.” He also said Muslim leaders have a responsibility to publicly denounce the goals and activities of the so-called Islamic State. More broadly, Parolin said the separation of religion and state was an idea that should be developed in the Muslim world. Parolin directly address

A few more thoughts on a synod that hasn't ended

Looking more broadly on what happened here at the Vatican over the last two weeks, it’s important to keep in mind the short-term vs. long-term results. The short-term result making headlines is that in the concluding report, the more conservative members of the Synod of Bishops on the family managed to pull back some of the amazingly open language regarding those living in “irregular” unions, including gays. But I think the long-term results are more significant. Chief among them is that Pope Francis clearly placed the church on a new path, toward an evangelizing style that is less focused on doctrine and more willing to invite people in, no matter what their “status.” The pope himself recla

Synod ends on a cautious note; Pope Francis says church must open its doors

In a final document, the Synod of Bishops clearly backtracked on a proposed opening to homosexuals. That’s going to be the story line in a lot of newspapers. At the same time, the synod retained its call for the church to adopt patient dialogue and accompaniment, and not simply insist on rules, when faced with problematic unions and relationships. At the close of the assembly, Pope Francis took the floor and delivered a heartfelt thanks for what was undoubtedly one of the most open and tense sessions in recent Vatican history. The pope said he was glad the disagreements were aired, and that they did not mean the church was divided in an internal battle. To many, what will stand out in the sy

Synod's "message" thanks families for witness of faith in face of problems

The Synod of Bishops today issued its final “message,” a three-page text that warned of crises in the modern family, including “failures” and problematic new relationships, and encouraged Christians to remain faithful to the authentic family values of the church. The message made a point of thanking Christian families for their daily witness of “fidelity, faith, hope and love.” It also said the church must “be a house with doors always open to welcome everyone.” But the text avoided any detailed discussion of some of the hot-button issues at this synod, including the law of graduality, outreach to cohabitating couples, homosexuality, and readmission of divorced and remarried Catholics to the

A synod text that explains why the church as 'field hospital' is more than a poetic image

As the Synod of Bishops winds down, several participants are choosing to publish the texts of their speeches to the assembly. Among them are Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, the director of the journal La Civiltà Cattolica, who is considered a close collaborator of Pope Francis. Spadaro’s talk not only strongly defended the pope’s new pastoral directions, but did so in language aimed at convincing the more traditional-minded critics in the synod hall – who have certainly let their voices be heard. Pope Francis has listened to the proceedings in silence, but Spadaro’s text certainly reflect the pope’s thinking on some key issues. Among other things, Spadaro called for a reconsideration of the c

A modest proposal as the synod winds down

The Synod of Bishops has entered the crucial, final 48 hours of its assembly, a time to produce results and deliver them to the pope and to the world. From the outside, this synod is looking more and more like an amazingly candid exchange of ideas, with two different pastoral perspectives locked in a line-by-line, word-by-word debate over the final text. The perspective emphasizing mercy, welcome and accompaniment was expressed in Monday’s remarkable midterm relatio, which proposed, among other things, that modern evangelization should begin by finding “positive elements” in unions and relationships that the church had always considered sinful or “irregular.” This is Pope Francis’ line, and

Synod group reports want more doctrinal context, 'prophetic' language in final document

Reports from the 10 discussion groups of the Synod of Bishops are in, and many of them reflect serious challenges to a midterm report that only three days ago seemed to launch a new chapter of outreach to cohabitating, divorced and gay couples. These reports, taken as a whole, represent a real test for Pope Francis’ Gospel of “mercy,” because they not only articulate the desire for doctrinal qualifications in the synod’s document but also critique what one group called the “search for a facile populism that silences and muffles” what the church teaches about marriage and the family. More than one person here read that “facile populism” line as perhaps directed in part at Pope Francis himself

The African factor and consensus-building at the synod

As this session of the Synod of Bishops moves toward its conclusion, the heated discussion inside the hall has highlighted a fault line that runs through Africa. Two interviews over the last 24 hours outline the issue. (UPDATE below, Pope names South African Cardinal Napier to commission preparing final synod relatio.) (SECOND UPDATE: Cardinal Kasper has now denied making the remarks reported below, and says he is “shocked” that they are being attributed to him. The link to the news agency Zenit’s article now gives an error message; apparently they’ve removed the article. This raises serious issues about manipulation of information at this synod, especially considering that Cardinal Mueller

Yes, this synod really is big news

The Synod of Bishops has become a dynamic event, with sharp debate over new pastoral directions in the Catholic Church. That’s to the credit of Pope Francis, who demanded honest and open discussion, but it may also present him with a dilemma. Will the synod conclude with a clear endorsement of the pope’s call for a more merciful, patient style of evangelization, building on – as stated in the synod’s midterm relatio – the “positive elements” that can be found even in relationships and unions the church considers “irregular”? Or will it adjust and qualify that document with the kind of doctrinal declarations aimed at reassuring Catholics – and above all, some of the bishops – that there’s no

And now, the aftershocks…

The synod’s ground-breaking relatio yesterday, which displayed a new pastoral tone and remarkable openness to cohabitating, divorced and gay couples, was met by praise in many quarters but also by a series of objections and criticisms, both inside and outside the synod hall. (UPDATE BELOW: Cardinal Napier says relatio needs to be reorganized, put into context.) Today’s synod bulletin summarizes the reaction among synod participants during a two-hour debate yesterday. On one hand, it said, there was acclaim for the way the document managed to accurately reflect the speeches at the assembly and its general theme of “welcoming” as a key to evangelization. The synod should have the “watchful gaz

A pastoral earthquake at the synod

In pastoral terms, the document published today by the Synod of Bishops represents an earthquake, the “big one” that hit after months of smaller tremors. The relatio post disceptationem read aloud in the synod hall, while defending fundamental doctrine, calls for the church to build on positive values in unions that the church has always considered “irregular,” including cohabitating couples, second marriages undertaken without annulments and even homosexual unions. Regarding homosexuals, it went so far as to pose the question whether the church could accept and value their sexual orientation without compromising Catholic doctrine. (See UPDATE below, calls for clarification already coming fr

Archbishop Martin says church needs to deal better with the ‘gray areas’ of pastoral lif

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin had some interesting things to say at today’s press briefing for the Synod of Bishops on the family. Archbishop Martin was present at the 1980 synod on the family (and at synods after that), and he reflected on what has changed – notably, the very open debate at this session, and the willingness to look at new approaches. “On some of the subjects, the theological debate has been going on for years, and I don’t expect this synod is going to bring that to a conclusion. But this synod cannot simply repeat what was said twenty years ago. It has to find new language, to show that there can be development of doctrine, and that there has been a willingness to li

Pope Francis makes an important move at the synod

UPDATE: This post is amended to reflect the fact that the six papal nominees will be helping write the synod’s final relatio, which will be handed to the pope at the end of the assembly. The Vatican just announced that Pope Francis has named six additional prelates to help write the final relatio for the Synod of Bishops. At the risk of oversimplifying, they all seem to be on the pope’s wavelength when it comes to promoting pastoral mercy. They will assist Cardinal Peter Erdo, the primary drafter of the relatio, and two other synod officials, in the task of summing up the spirited synod debate in a document that will form the basis for future discussion. Sources in Rome view the relatio as t

‘Penitential path’ for divorced and remarried gets synod hearing

Last February, at Pope Francis’ invitation, Cardinal Walter Kasper outlined a possible way for the church to admit divorced and remarried Catholics to Communion. He called it a “penitential path” that would, in effect, recognize the Eucharist as a healing sacrament for those most in need. During the current Synod of Bishops, the proposal seemed to have disappeared – until last night, when several bishops expressed support for the idea and outlined how it might work. It was envisioned as an in-depth examination of conscience, with guided reflection on how the person’s divorce may have harmed others, including the original spouse and children. Repentance and the sacrament of reconciliation is

A stern message on birth control at the Synod of Bishops

Delivering a stern pastoral message against contraception at the Synod of Bishops, a French cardinal lamented that Catholic couples who use birth control often fail to recognize that it’s a grave sin that needs to be confessed before they take Communion. Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois of Paris made the remarks in introducing the theme of “knowledge and acceptance of the Magisterium on the openness to life,” a focus of the synod’s fourth day of deliberations. Many Catholics fail to distinguish between contraception and methods of natural fertility regulation, the cardinal told the synod. He said the cause was to be found in the clash between the Christian understanding of anthropology and that of

A top Vatican canonist argues for pastoral flexibility

It sounds like the Synod of Bishops on the family has let loose with some of the “frank and open” talk encouraged by Pope Francis. Over the last two days, reports from the inside speak of spirited, impassioned at even at times confrontational discussion, with bishops answering bishops directly on the synod floor. In its discussion of “irregular” and difficult family situations, the Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said there were two general lines of argument: one emphasizing a need to defend the church’s traditional teachings, and the other focusing more on finding pastoral solutions for estranged Catholics. That’s not surprising, and Lombardi said it was impossible to say which

Two colorful cardinals, two takes on the synod

It was soundbite city in Rome last night, as two participants in the Synod of Bishops offered somewhat different takes on how mercy, language and doctrine apply to family and marriage issues. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Australian Cardinal George Pell talked at a Rome launch of Crux, the Boston Globe’s online project that focuses on Catholic news. Both have a reputation for speaking their minds. Guess who said this: “The thing I’ve taken from the first three days is the level of trouble we’re in, right around the world, with marriage and the family. There are very, very few societies where the trend is running in the direction of strengthened family life.” And who said this: “Even

Cutback of information makes this synod harder to read

Getting a read on any Synod of Bishops is not easy, at least from the outside. This synod is proving especially difficult for reporters because of the lack of raw material provided to the media. Granted, it’s only Day 3 of the synod, which is discussing marriage and family issues. But already, more than 100 short speeches have been given on the synod floor. No texts or summaries have been published, unlike previous years, except for the opening working document and a few talks delivered by lay couples who are attending as auditors. Moreover, the Vatican press briefings, while checklisting some of the themes raised by bishops, are carefully avoiding detailed accounts of the interventions and

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