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Analysis: Cardinal Marx’s next step on the German synodal path

Vatican City, Sep 18, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- This week, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German bishops’ conference, travels to Rome. There he will meet with Cardinal Marc Ouellet, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, to clear up some “misunderstandings” about the German bishops’ intended synodal process.

The stakes of the closed-door meeting are high. 

The German bishops seem poised to press ahead with plans for a “synodal assembly,” despite criticism of the plan from Curial offices and the pope himself. The matter seems likely to escalate into an open conflict between the Apostolic See and one of the most influential bishops’ conferences in the global Church.

Marx first announced the “binding synodal path” earlier this year. In addition to creating a new Synodal Assembly in partnership with the Central Committee of German Catholics, the bishops intend – indeed have already begun – a review of universal Church teaching and discipline on a range of sensitive matters, including sexual morality, the role of women in offices and ministry, and clerical celibacy.

Critics say the German plan disregards, or defies, the universality of teaching and discipline that makes the Catholic Church catholic. 

In June, Pope Francis wrote a letter to Germany Catholics offering a corrective to their bishops’ plans. He warned against a “new Pelagianism” and the temptation to “adapt” the Church “to the spirit of the age.”

Most specifically, the pope warned the German bishops against striking out on their own. Communion with the whole Church, he said, and respect for the hierarchy, are vital to any authentic understanding of synodality.

“Every time an ecclesial community tried to resolve its problems alone, trusting and focusing exclusively on its forces or its methods, its intelligence, its will or prestige, it ended up increasing and perpetuating the evils it tried to solve,” he told the Germans.

Cardinal Walter Kasper summarized recently the pope’s effect on the German bishops: “In Germany, the Pope's letter was much praised, but then put aside and [the process] continued as previously planned.”

On Sept. 4, Ouellet wrote to the German bishops, presenting an official assessment of the German plans from the Pontifical Commission for Legislative Texts, which concluded that the synod’s proposed structures were “not ecclesiologically valid” and that its proposed subject matter “cannot be the object of the deliberations or decisions of a particular Church without contravening what is expressed by the Holy Father in his letter.”

Marx has insisted that the Vatican’s critique is based on an old draft of their plans, and that the current version renders them moot. But, as CNA reported, the most recent version effectively retained the provisions and themes opposed by Rome, and Vatican officials were already in possession of the new draft by the time Ouellet’s letter was sent – to the point that Ouellet’s letter even noted that he had seen the minutes of the August 19 executive session.

One official at the Congregation told CNA that there is a sense in Rome that Cardinal Marx wants to deflect criticism onto past documents in the hopes of keeping the synodal process moving faster than Rome can keep up.

“We see this happening: the Germans say we have already made the changes you want, and by the time there can be a response saying “no, the concerns remain,” the next step is already made,” an official at the Congregation for Bishops told CNA.

“If we come to [the point where] the Holy Father [is] saying ‘stop, do not begin the synod,’ they will reply ‘we already began – now we must finish!’”

Any official account of this week’s meeting between Marx and Ouellet is highly unlikely – the Congregation for Bishops has a long track record of declining to comment on its work, even on the most internationally pressing issues. Whatever account Marx offers will likely be his own impression, and may not be shared by the congregation.

The first tangible indication of whether an understanding has actually been reached will likely come next week, when the German bishops are scheduled to vote on the draft statues for the Synodal Assembly.

If the bishops pass an unaltered text from the one adopted by their executive committee last month, it will indicate either that the Vatican has acquiesced to the German plans, or that Ouellet’s letter has been “put aside,” as was the pope’s in June.

If the German bishops proceed with their plans over Vatican objections, the pope could be expected to address the matter during the upcoming Amazon synod. 

Thus far, the language of Rome to Germany has been couched in terms of “concern” and “guidance.” But should the Germans ignore a further, perhaps even explicit, instruction by Francis to halt the synodal plans, it will raise serious questions – first about the legitimacy of the entire enterprise, and then about the relationship of the Church in Germany to the Apostolic See.

Sources close to the German bishops’ conference have told CNA that Marx sees the German synodal plans as the means of reshaping the global Church. “The cardinal believes it is the German Church’s duty to lead on the path for others to follow on these matters,” one senior German Church official said.

“There is no question of wishing to break the communion with the universal Church, but to remake it for a more modern Church.”

Some officials in Rome have told CNA they suspect that Marx simply does not believe the pope is willing to act decisively to halt the German plans.

“They [the German bishops] do not ask permission to begin, or listen to the instructions given. They just continue, continue, and then – what?” one senior official at the Pontifical Commission or Legislative Texts told CNA.

“In the end, the idea of schism is unthinkable for everyone. But if no one thinks it can happen, you can do anything you like - the Holy Father says no, but a cardinal can say yes.”

The official at the Congregation for Bishops agreed, telling CNA that the German bishops’ continued action appeared calculated.

“Dialogue in communion means you listen to what the pope says,” he said. “If you don’t listen, there is no communion.”


Through sin and scandal, God's Church remains, Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Sep 18, 2019 / 04:34 am (CNA).- Because of sinfulness, human projects will always fail, but the Church remains steadfast, even in times of scandal, because she is sustained by the Holy Spirit, Pope Francis said Wednesday.

“Let us think of the history of Christians, including the history of the Church, with so many sins, with so many scandals, with so many bad things in these two millennia. And why did it not collapse? Because God is there,” the pope said Sept. 18.

“We are sinners, and so often we even give scandal. But God is with us,” he added. “But the Lord always saves. Strength is ‘God with us.’”

In contrast, human projects always fail, Pope Francis noted, pointing to the many political projects of history, including the empires and dictatorships of the last century.

“They felt very powerful, they thought they dominated the world. And then they all collapsed,” he stated. “Even today, think of today’s empires: they will collapse, if God is not with them, because the strength that men have in themselves is not lasting. Only the strength of God endures.”

During his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis continued his catechesis on the Acts of the Apostles with a reflection on the importance of the Holy Spirit.

In the fifth chapter of Acts, the Apostles are facing opposition from Jews, but they “respond with courage,” showing they possess the “obedience of faith,” Francis said.

They have this courage, he said, because from Pentecost they are no longer alone, but the Holy Spirit is working through them.

“They feel they cannot say, ‘I’ alone,” he added. “Strengthened by this covenant, the Apostles do not let themselves be intimidated by anyone. They had an impressive courage!”

Pope Francis noted that at Jesus’ arrest, the disciples ran away like cowards. “But, from cowards they have become so brave. Why? Because the Holy Spirit was with them.”

“The same happens to us: if we have the Holy Spirit inside, we will have the courage to move forward, the courage to win many struggles, not for ourselves but for the Spirit that is with us,” he said, pointing to the martyrs, who gave their lives and never hid their Christian identity.

The pope recalled, in particular, the Coptic Orthodox Christians who were killed in Libya in 2015. “But the last word they said was, ‘Jesus, Jesus.’ They were filled with the Holy Spirit,” he said.

In Acts, the Apostles are living like “megaphones” of the Holy Spirit, and this “makes the Jewish ‘religious system’ tremble,” feel threatened and respond with violence and death threats, Francis explained.

However, the pope said, one Pharisee in the Sanhedrin, Gamaliel, tries to stem this reaction, showing how to practice discernment. He shows that what is of God will last while human projects may first succeed but then become “shipwrecked.”

“Gamaliel concludes that, if the disciples of Jesus of Nazareth believed an impostor, they are destined to disappear into thin air; if instead they follow one who comes from God, it is better to give up fighting them; and warns: ‘Do not happen to find yourself even fighting against God’ (Acts 5:39). He teaches us to make this discernment,” he stated.

Gamaliel’s reasoned words teach people to “recognize the tree by its fruits.”

“We ask the Holy Spirit to act in us so that, both personally and as a community, we can acquire the habitus of discernment,” Francis concluded.


Vatican City prosecutor asks that Italian priest be charged with sexual abuse during seminary

Vatican City, Sep 17, 2019 / 11:55 am (CNA).- The Vatican announced Tuesday that the Vatican City State’s Promoter of Justice has requested the indictment two Italian priests -- Fr. Gabriele Martinelli on charges of sexual abuse and Fr. Enrico Radice for “aiding and abetting.”

In 2012, Martinelli was accused of having, over a period of five years, sexually molested his roommate at the Vatican’s St. Pius X minor seminary, in which, in addition to seminarians, also live boys who altar serve for papal liturgical celebrations in St. Peter’s Basilica.

That allegation was reported by the Associated Press in 2018, and by Italian journalists in 2017. The initial handling of the case by the Vatican was severely criticized -- Kamil Jarzembowski, the former student who had made the allegation, was dismissed from the seminary while the alleged abuser, Martinelli, was ordained a priest in 2017.

Charges are also being brought against Fr. Enrico Radice, who was rector of the minor seminary at the time of the alleged abuse, for alleged “aiding and abetting.”

According to the Vatican statement, an investigation into the accusations was begun in November 2017, following media reports, but, according to the statement, the Vatican City State’s operative law at the time prevented a trial from taking place without a complaint from the alleged victim within one year of the alleged abuse.

The statement says the charges may now be brought forward because on June 29, Pope Francis made a special provision that would allow the case to proceed.

Martinelli, 26, is a priest in the Diocese of Como, in northern Italy and a member of the “Opera don Folci,” a religious association centered on the formation of priests. He is still listed on the diocesan website, but a parish is not indicated.

Italian media reported in early August that the prosecutor’s office in Rome is also close to indicting Martinelli on charges of abuse with the aggravating circumstance of abuse of power.

In comments published in early July, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano criticized the Vatican's handling of two cases of alleged sexual abuse, including the case of Martinelli.

Vigano claimed the case was “immediately covered up by the then-bishop of Como, Diego Coletti, together with Cardinal Angelo Comastri, Vicar General of Pope Francis for Vatican City.  In addition, Cardinal Coccopalmerio, then president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, who was consulted by Don Stabellini, strongly admonished him to stop the investigation.”

The former nuncio did not mention that the Church had since launched a new canonical investigation into the allegations. That investigation was triggered when the alleged victim came forward to make a complaint himself, according to a July 2018 AP report.

 

Ed. note: This story has been updated to clarify that the promoter of justice has requested the indictment of the two priests.

 


Archbishop Gomez to present conclusions of V Encuentro to Pope Francis

Vatican City, Sep 17, 2019 / 11:19 am (CNA).- A delegation from the U.S., including Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, will present the conclusions and proceedings of the National V Encuentro of Hispanic and Latino Ministry to Pope Francis Wednesday.

The Encuentro was a September 2018 meeting of around 3,000 Hispanic and Latino Catholics on issues such as the accompaniment of immigrants, access to higher education, lay leadership formation, community outreach, and evangelization.

The four-day meeting was a culmination of four years of consultation and workshops at the parish, diocesan, and regional levels of the Church in the U.S. The theme was “Missionary Disciples: Witnesses of the love of God”.

Archbishop Gomez told CNA that the Encuentro helped “Latinos to understand that they really belong in the United States and they are bringing their gifts to our society.”

“I think it was beautiful to see their participation and the reality that we need them to be leaders in our community,” he said. “They are totally committed to the life, society in the United States and making a contribution to every single aspect of life in the United States and especially the values of the Gospel.”

He added that the Latino community bring with them a commitment to Christian values that are at the foundation of their own countries.

Gomez also urged U.S. Catholics to pray more for the government to reach a solution on comprehensive immigration reform.

The archbishop comes with a delegation of 12 people, including Bishops Nelson Pérez of Cleveland and Arturo Cepeda, an auxiliary bishop of Detroit, who will meet Pope Francis after the Sept. 18 General Audience.

The group has also had meetings with Vatican offices and dicasteries during their visit Sept. 13-18.

Pope Francis sent a video message at the start of the Encuentro last year, and Gomez said, “the first thing” he would like to do is thank the pope “for the assistance he sent and also for his support during this time.”

Gomez, who is vice president of the U.S. bishops’ conference and a Mexico native, said the group will present to Francis a document summarizing what different people experienced at the meeting and practical ways to follow-up the process.

“The Encuentro has been a beautiful process, that’s what we want to share with [Pope Francis] and everybody else,” Gomez said.

“It’s been a beautiful exercise of how to especially get the Latino community involved in the life of the Church. So that’s what we want to share with him.”

Bishop Perez is chairman of the USCCB Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church. He told CNA that some of the fruit of Encuentro has been the “emerging leadership, in so many ways, of the next generation of leaders and pastoral lay leaders in the church in the United States.”

On the parish level, he said, 3,000 parishes and 350,000 Catholics participated in the Encuentro process over the last several years.

He said the emergence of new leadership, especially young adults, was immediately apparent. “That was really promising and very hopeful.”

Junuee Castro, the director of youth and young adult ministry in the Diocese of Salt Lake City, seconded this. She told CNA the diocesan Encuentro meetings were very meaningful for her and that “young people have raised their hands and said yes, I am willing to go forward, I am willing to commit; I definitely want to see them in leadership roles.”

Bishop Perez also noted that 250 U.S. parishes started Spanish pastoral outreach and began holding Spanish Masses as a result of the V Encuentro. He added that they have also seen several dioceses establish and staff offices with new lay leaders.

“The V Encuentro is really in so many ways the implementation of the joy of the Gospel. So the whole process, the spirit, the mysticism of the spirituality revolves all around the joy of the Gospel,” Perez said.

He pointed to Pope Francis’ description, in Evangelii gaudium, of the Church “as a community of missionary disciples that takes initiative, that accompanies, that is engaged, that is fruitful, that is joyful.”

“This is the spirit of the V Encuentro,” he said.

Noting that deportations have taken place in his diocese, Perez said one of the blessings of the V Encuentro was that “it comes at a time of that uncertainty and fear and became, in so many ways, a soothing balm where people would come together and support each other, accompany each other and strengthen each other in a very tumultuous time.”

The delegation meeting with Pope Francis includes lay USCCB staff, members of the National V Encuentro Team, and other delegates with experience in diocesan and parish ministry.

Castro said, “what the Church can do is what the Encuentro process has done for us. They have paused and listened to us.”

“They have listened to us, which is key to anything we want to do as a Church; the mode of listening and accompaniment definitely. Being accompanied and being mentored by those who have been in ministerial roles we need their advice and we are willing to walk with them and them with us.”

Delegates and married couple Mario and Paola Martinez are co-directors of the marriage and family life ministry in the Diocese of San Bernardino. They said they serve a range of people in their work, and it has been critical for them to see way in which mothers and fathers seek help for themselves and their families.

“They have this desire for their families to be healthy, for their families to find this peace and they just want the best for their families. That’s what we see, that passion for family life among our Hispanic community. They have a love for their families and for their traditions and their cultures and you can just feel that in the communities that we serve,” Paola said.


Analysis: The Amazon and Germany - A tale of two synods

Vatican City, Sep 16, 2019 / 04:48 pm (CNA).- For the next two months, most of the ink spilled by Catholic journalists will be dedicated to the Amazon, and especially the three-week Rome meeting of bishops in October that will discuss the region. But while the Amazon synod of bishops holds popular attention, some astute Church-watchers wll be more attentive to the emerging controversy surrounding a different synod, to be held in Germany.

The pan-Amazonian synod has become the latest battleground in the long series of internecine conflicts that have plagued the Church in recent years. Conservative figures have decried the synod’s preparatory documents as pantheistic heterodoxy, while progressive Churchmen have cast the meeting as the occasion of some kind of new beginning for the Church, after which, at least one bishop has said, “nothing will be the same.”

At issue, at least theoretically, are two loaded topics in the Church’s life: the possibility of ordaining married men to the priesthood, and the quagmire surrounding questions of “inculturation,” which ask how the Gospel can be expressed in diverse cultural settings.

The topic of ordaining married men is on the table because the remoteness of some Amazon villages, which almost never see a priest, has led to the suggestion that ordained “viri probati,” older, married men, could make it possible for more Catholics to have access to the sacramental life.

But some bishops are concerned that considering the possibility of married priests in the Amazon region, where priests are few, will lead to widespread adoption of the practice, and the loss of the custom of clerical celibacy. There is also concern that a broadly applied dispensation from the obligation of priestly celibacy will stir up the simmering debate over ordaining women to the diaconate, and even the officially settled argument over ordaining women as priests.

While most proponents of the possibility say their sights are fixed only on the problems of Amazonia, critics are skeptical. Among advocacy groups, intellectuals, and even a few bishops, heated rhetoric has begun to fly.

As the synod grows closer, the rhetoric will grow only more intense, from all corners of the Church.

Rome will host an entire cottage industry of pundits in the weeks preceding the synod, and “experts,” from both the left and the right, will hold symposia and conferences, trying to make the case that the synod matters, that their opponents are wrong and that, whatever their viewpoint, it is the only legitimately Catholic perspective on the matters at hand.

The pan-Amazonian synod, in short, is likely to follow the playbook that has characterized the two most recent synods in Rome, beginning with the 2015 Synod on the Family. After that meeting, which is best remembered for a fracas over divorce and communion, a 2018 synod on youth and young people was similarly polemical.

The conflicts surrounding synods are unfortunate, for at least two reasons. In the first place, they distract from the sincere and earnest conversation that might take place among bishops about critical issues.

Synods are supposed to be conversations, and the topics discussed are usually ones about which many people in Church leadership or pastoral ministry have something to contribute, or something to learn. The Amazon region, in which Pentecostalism is overtaking Catholicism, in which child labor and human trafficking are serious issues, and deforestation threatens whole communities, is in need of the Church’s leadership and pastoral presence. A conversation, rather than a debate, over the issues in the Amazon would be of real benefit to the Church there. But conflict over hot-button issues, and a sense that the synod is a gladiatorial contest between warring sides, is likely to blunt that conversation.

Conflict over synods of bishops is unfortunate mostly because there is very little to be gained from it. Synod assemblies are low-stakes affairs: synods have no power, they can not make policies or declare doctrine or do anything, except publish documents to be reviewed by the pope as he formulates his thoughts on the topic under discussion. Synods are consultative conversations. They do not bind the pope, or instruct him. They just offer the advice of a usually diverse-thinking assembly of leaders.

Synods have grown contentious because Pope Francis used his 2016 post-synodal document Amoris laetitia to signal an openness to the possibility that divorced and remarried people could, under certain circumstances, receive the Eucharist while remaining in a sexual relationship. That suggestion has been divisive, and because it is associated with the family synod of 2015, at least some bishops have begun to treat synods as though they are convened to legislate for the Church.

They are not convened for that purpose.

And the pope could have introduced his ideas about divorce, remarriage, and the Eucharist in any way he chose. He happened to do it in a post-synodal document, but not because the synod in some way freed him to do so, or mandated that he do so. It is sometimes suggested that the synod gave him some political cover, but since the idea did not have full-throated support from the synod’s participants, the hypothesis seems flimsy.

In short, nothing about the synod compelled, authorized, or permitted the pope to teach as he did. But because of Amoris laetitia, and the controversial synod of 2015, pundits seem now to characterize each synod not as an exchange of ideas, but as a battle for the pope's endorsement.

While the stakes of the pan-Amazonian synod are far lower than they’re usually perceived, the stakes of a showdown over a synod in German are much higher than has likely been realized by many Catholics.

The German bishop are planning a two-year “synodal pathway” in the country. The idea is to bring bishops together with lay people, especially those associated with the Central Committee of German Catholics, to pass “binding resolutions,” on controversial topics, including sexual morality and clerical leadership.

The planned synod in Germany is not intended to be a conversation. It is intended to redefine the course of Christianity in Germany, even while giving new consideration to long-established points of Christian doctrine.

The Vatican has warned the German bishops not to continue with their plans, noting that a synod of the type planned by the Germans would disrupt the Church’s life, and could cause a catastrophe by denying the Church’s doctrinal teaching.

But the German bishops, under the leadership of Cardinal Reinhard Marx, have insisted that the synod will proceed, and that the Vatican simply doesn’t understand what’s at stake.

Marx will meet with Vatican officials this week. The cardinal hopes to persuade the Vatican to allow him to proceed with his plans. He is not in a position to back down, because he has assured the Central Committee of German Catholics, which includes advocates of same-sex marriage, that they will have a deliberative voice in the future of the German Church. Relenting, for Marx, would likely mean losing his support among secular German figures, and, by admitting that the Vatican was right, falling out of favor among the Churchmen who support him.

Cardinal Marx, by some estimates, seems to be playing a kind of ecclesiastical game of chicken with the Vatican, and betting that the pope’s Curia will back down before he does.

But if the Vatican does not relent, and the Germans push forward, a great deal is at stake: some experts have suggested that if the Germans proceed with their synodal path in defiance of instructions from Pope Francis and the Vatican, they run the risk of being declared in schism.

At the moment, Marx seems unintimidated by efforts from two different Vatican offices to rein in Germany’s planned synodal process. He might be persuaded, if at all, only by a direct and personal intervention from Pope Francis.

Marx is said to be persuasive with Pope Francis, but sources tell CNA that the pope is growing impatient with the cardinal’s approach to the German synod. If Francis has to intervene, and Marx does not accept the pope’s direction, the result would be a serious crisis for the Church in Germany.

The situation is still developing.

The pan-Amazonian synod will provide plenty of fodder for debate this autumn. But a serious ecclesiological crisis is unfolding in Germany, and how it will be resolved remains to be seen.


Pope Francis: Life imprisonment forgoes the ‘right to start over’

Vatican City, Sep 16, 2019 / 08:48 am (CNA).- In an audience with penitentiary staff and prison chaplains, Pope Francis said Saturday that sentencing prisoners to life imprisonment diminishes their “right to hope.”

“It is up to every society … to ensure that the penalty does not compromise the right to hope, that prospects for reconciliation and reintegration are guaranteed,” Pope Francis said Sept. 14 in St. Peter’s Square.

“Life imprisonment is not the solution to problems - I repeat: life imprisonment is not the solution to problems, but a problem to be solved,” the pope said.

Pope Francis explained that he believes that during the penitentiary process of rectifying mistakes, hope for the future should not be eliminated.

“Because if hope is closed in a cell, there is no future for society,” he said. “Never deprive one of the right to start over.”

Directing his message toward all prisoners, Pope Francis said: “Never let yourself be imprisoned in the dark cell of a hopeless heart; do not give in to resignation. God is greater than any problem and is waiting for you to love you.”

“Stand before the Crucifix, in the gaze of Jesus, in front of Him with simplicity and sincerity,” the pope told prisoners. “From there, from the humble courage that belongs to those who do not lie to themselves, peace is reborn with the trust of being loved, and the strength to go on flourishes again.”

“You who are detained are important to God, who wants to do wonders in you,” he said. “Have courage because you are in the heart of God; you are precious in his eyes, and even if you feel lost and unworthy, do not lose heart.”

“God is greater than our hearts,” the pope encouraged, quoting 1 John 3:20.

Pope Francis also thanked prison chaplains and volunteers for being “the bearers of the Gospel within the walls of prisons.”

He encouraged them to continue to “enter the most difficult situations with the sole strength of a smile and a heart that listens” and to carry others in prayer.

In his audience with the Italian Penitentiary Police, the law enforcement agency dedicated to the country’s prison security, inmate safety and transportation, Pope Francis encouraged the penitentiary staff to always recognize the “irrepressible dignity” in the face of “wounded and often devastated humanity.”

“Lay the foundations for a more respectful coexistence and therefore for a safer society,” he told the police and administrative staff.

 

 


Prince Charles to attend Newman’s canonization in Rome

Vatican City, Sep 16, 2019 / 05:00 am (CNA).- Prince Charles will attend the canonization of Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman next month.

The heir to the British throne will travel to Rome to witness the canonization Mass of the first non-martyr English saint since the Reformation.

After the Mass in St. Peter’s Square Oct. 13, the Prince of Wales will attend a reception at the Pontifical Urban College, where Newman studied to become a Catholic priest, the prince’s office announced.

“We are delighted that HRH The Prince of Wales will lead the UK delegation for the canonisation of Cardinal Newman,” the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, said after the announcement Sept. 12.

“Cardinal Newman’s exploration of faith, depth of personal courage, intellectual clarity and cultural sensitivity make him a deeply admired follower of Christ. His ministry, especially among the poor, is a permanent sign of the Church’s pastoral compassion and a challenge to us all today,” Nichols said.

Newman was a 19th century theologian, poet, Catholic priest and cardinal. Originally an Anglican priest, he converted to Catholicism in 1845 and his writings are considered among some of the most important Church-writings in recent centuries.

Tens of thousands of people attended Newman’s beatification in Birmingham, England in Sept. 2010. At the beatification Mass, Pope Benedict XVI said that Newman’s “insights into the relationship between faith and reason, into the vital place of revealed religion in civilized society, and into the need for a broadly-based and wide-ranging approach to education were not only of profound importance for Victorian England, but continue today to inspire and enlighten many all over the world.”

Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, met Pope Francis in April 2017 during a visit to the Vatican. The Prince of Wales previously met Pope Benedict XVI in 2009 and St. John Paul II in 1985 with his first wife, Princess Diana.


Pope Francis: God forgets our sins after confession

Vatican City, Sep 15, 2019 / 07:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said Sunday that God forgets sins absolved within the confessional.

“How do you defeat evil? Accepting God's forgiveness … It happens every time we go to confession; there we receive the love of the Father who overcomes our sin. It is no longer there, God forgets it,” Pope Francis said in his Angelus message Sept. 15.

“God, when He forgives, loses His memory. He forgets our sins, forgets. God is so good with us,” he added in a departure from his prepared remarks.

In the sacrament of confession, God completely erases the evil confessed, making one new inside, reborn in joy, Pope Francis explained.

“Brothers and sisters, have courage. With God, no sin has the last word,” the pope said.

Pope Francis reflected upon Sunday’s Gospel from Luke in which the Pharisees complain that Jesus “welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

“Jesus 'welcomes sinners and eats with them.' This is what happens to us, in every Mass, in every church: Jesus is happy to welcome us to his table, where he offers Himself for us,” Pope Francis said.

“It is a phrase that we could write on the doors of our churches: 'Here Jesus welcomes sinners and invites them to his table,’” he added.

The pope focused on the lessons of God’s mercy and justice contained within Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. He said that the elder brother’s rejection of the father’s mercy for the prodigal son contains an important warning.

“The eldest son, who does not accept the mercy of his father ... makes a worse mistake: he is presumed to be just … and judges everything on the basis of his thought of justice,” he said. “It is also a risk for us: to believe in a more rigorous than merciful god, a god who defeats evil with power rather than forgiveness.”

“We are also wrong when we believe ourselves to be right, when we think that the bad ones are the others. Let us not believe ourselves good because alone, without the help of God who is good, we do not know how to overcome evil,” Pope Francis said.

“Our Lady, who unties the knots of life, frees us from the pretense of believing we are righteous and makes us feel the need to go to the Lord, who is always waiting for us to embrace us, to forgive us,” he said.

After praying the Angelus, Pope Francis expressed his joy because of two beatifications this weekend. Benedetta Bianchi Porro, an Italian laywoman, who died in 1964 of a lifelong illness at the age of 28, was declared blessed on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

At her beatification Sept. 14, Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu called Porro a shining example of “what the cross can and must be for us Christians.”

On Sept. 15, Father Richard Henkes will be beatified in Limburg, Germany. Henkes was a Pallottine priest, who died a prisoner in the Nazi concentration camp in Dachau in 1945 while caring for sick prisoners in the camp.

“The example of these two brave disciples of Christ also supports our journey to holiness,” Pope Francis said.

“Don't be afraid: God loves you, loves you as you are,” the pope said. “Only His love can change your life.”


Pope Francis: Tradition is ‘the guarantee of the future’

Vatican City, Sep 13, 2019 / 01:11 pm (CNA).- Fidelity to tradition ensures a fruitful future, Pope Francis said in a meeting Thursday with a contemplative-missionary community rooted in the spirituality of St. Augustine.

“To be modern, some believe that it is necessary to break away from the roots. And this is their ruin, because the roots, the tradition, are the guarantee of the future,” Pope Francis said Sept. 12.

In an audience with nearly 200 members of the General Chapter of the Discalced Augustinians, the pope explained that “true tradition” is like the roots that bring a tree sap that allows it to grow, flourish, and bear fruit.

“Never break away from your roots to be modern, that's suicide,” Francis told the Augustinians.

The Order of the Discalced Augustinians (OAD) was founded 1610 as a reform movement of the Order of St. Augustine (OSA), which dates back to 1244.

“In this long religious tradition begun by St. Augustine, you Discalced Augustinians have your roots,” the pope said. “I encourage you to love and deepen your roots again and again.”

“St. Augustine is one of those figures who make us feel fascinated with God, who attracts us to Jesus Christ and attracts us to the Word of God,” he said.

In addition to the normal vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, the contemplative-missionary order based on the Rule of St. Augustine takes a fourth vow of humility, which the order has chosen to emphasize and reflect upon this year with their motto: “Happy to serve the Most High in a spirit of humility.”

Pope Francis said that he is enthusiastic about their decision to focus on humility this year.

“Humility is a ‘key’, a key that opens the heart of God and the hearts of men,” he said.

“And, first of all, it opens your own hearts to be faithful to your original charism, to always feel yourselves disciple-missionaries, available to God's call,” he added.

Pope Francis said we are living in an age in which the mission ad gentes is being renewed, necessitating docility to the Holy Spirit.

“We must always be attentive and docile to the voice of the Spirit: He is the protagonist, it is He who makes the Church grow! Not us, Him. The Holy Spirit is the wind that blows and keeps the Church going with that great strength of evangelization,” he said.


Search for God should be 'first apostolate', Pope Francis tells Augustinians

Vatican City, Sep 13, 2019 / 11:47 am (CNA).- Pope Francis told members of a men’s religious order Friday that the first goal personally and in their apostolates should be an orientation of their hearts toward God, who is Love.

“Your hearts always reaching out to God. Always! Each member of the community should be oriented, as the first ‘holy purpose’ of every day, to the search for God,” the pope told about 150 members of the Order of Saint Augustine Sept. 13.

“This ‘direction’ should be declared, confessed, witnessed among you without false modesty,” he continued.

“The search for God cannot be obscured by other purposes, although generous and apostolic. Because that is your first apostolate. We are here – you should be able to say among yourselves every day – because we walk towards God. And because God is Love, we walk towards Him in love.”

Members of the Order of Saint Augustine, also referred to as Augustinians, live as mendicants directed by the Rule of St. Augustine. The order was gathered in Rome this week for its general chapter.

In the order’s audience with Pope Francis, he noted a writing of Fr. Agostino Trapè, now deceased, who was prior general of the Augustinians from 1965 to 1971.

Fr. Trapè wrote that according to the Rule of St. Augustine, “charity is not only the end and means of religious life, but it is also its center: from charity it must proceed and charity must be oriented, with a perennial movement of circular causality, every thought, every affection, every attitude, every action.”

Pope Francis advised thinking on a meditation St. Augustine once gave on the Church as “‘mater charitas,’ a mother who cries for the division of children and calls and calls for unity of charity.”

St. Augustine wrote to St. Jerome about the experience of charity in community, the pope noted. St. Augustine said he finds it “very natural to abandon myself entirely to the affection of such people, especially when I am oppressed by the scandals of the world: in their hearts I find rest free of concern, being convinced that there is God in it.”

“Dear brothers, this is also the challenge and responsibility for you today,” the pope urged, “to live in your communities in such a way as to make the experience of God together and be able to show it alive to the world!”

He explained that this is a big responsibility and asked them to focus on living their community life well, so that they can show God to the outside world “in a clear, courageous way, without compromise or hesitation.”

“You Augustinians have been called to bear witness to that warm, living, visible, contagious charity of the Church, through a life of community that clearly shows the presence of the Risen One and his Spirit,” he said.

He quoted his 2018 apostolic exhortation on the call to holiness in today's world, Gaudete et exsultate, saying, “Community life ... is made up of many small daily details ... The community that preserves the small details of love, where the members take care of each other and constitute an open and evangelizing space, is the place of the presence of the Risen One who is sanctifying it according to the plan of the Father.”


German bishops respond to Vatican intervention, but documents indicate ongoing disagreement

Vatican City, Sep 13, 2019 / 10:38 am (CNA).- The German bishops’ conference has responded to the Vatican’s intervention in preparations for a binding synodal process to be held in that country beginning in Advent. The conference said Friday that detailed criticisms from the Vatican’s legal department concerned older draft documents, and did not take into account changes made to the German plans.

But a review of conference documents indicates that issues flagged by the Vatican remained unaddressed by the German bishops’ draft statutes, provisionally approved Aug. 19, and still unchanged Aug. 30, 5 days before the Vatican’s intervention.

On Sept. 4, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, wrote to Cardinal Marx as head of the German bishops’ conference, expressing concerns at the German plans to form a Synodal Assembly as part of the “binding process” announced by Marx earlier this year.

CNA reported that the letter, and an accompanying four-page legal assessment of the German plans by the Pontifical Commission for Legislative Texts, expressed reservations about the German plans, especially the intention to consider and pass binding resolutions on matters of universal Church teaching and discipline.

On Sept. 13, the German bishops’ conference published both Ouellet’s letter and the accompanying legal assessment, but rejected the concerns expressed in them, saying the Vatican’s critique was not based on the current version of German plans.

“The opinion of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts addresses the draft version of the Statutes as of June 2019 and does not take into account the version updated July and after the Permanent Council meeting in August, which already no longer contains some passages to which the opinion refers,” a statement from the conference released said Friday.

Cardinal Marx will travel to Rome next week to meet with Ouellette and to “dispel any misunderstandings” about the German plans, the German bishops’ conference said Sept. 13.

Several key “misunderstandings” which could be addressed in that meeting appear to be reflected in the version of the synodal plan approved by the German bishops’ executive committee on Aug. 19.

That document, obtained by CNA, shows that nearly all provisions flagged as problematic by the PCLT assessment remain a part of the German bishops’ plans. 

The Vatican’s legal critique, dated Aug. 1, explained that both proposed content areas and the method proposed for addressing them exceed the German bishops’ authority.

The analysis draws attention to the intention that the Synodal Assembly pass resolutions on four areas concerning universal Church teaching and governance: “authority, participation, and separation of powers,” “sexual morality,” “the form of priestly life,” and “women in Church ministries and offices.” 
All four subject areas remain intact in the August version, passed by the executive committee.

The Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts' assessment also responded to the proposal that the synod would have deliberative power, saying that the German plan seemed to convene a particular council “but without using this term.”
 
“How can a particular Church deliberate in a binding way if the topics dealt with affect the whole Church?” asked Archbishop Filippo Iannone, head of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts.

“The episcopal conference cannot give legal effect to resolutions, this is beyond its competence,” his analysis said.

Despite the German bishops’ insistence that the Vatican had critiqued an earlier version of the proposed statutes, the version passed by the executive committee in August provides, in Article 3, that “The Synodal Assembly is the superior body and has deliberative power. Members of the synodal assembly have an equal right to vote in decision-making matters.”

Also retained in the August draft were provisions for the co-equal representation in the assembly for the German bishops' conference and the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK).

Iannone’s analysis said this particular arrangement would not be acceptable.

“There is an impression that the Episcopal Conference and ZdK are equal to each other: they send an equal number of participants, belong with equal rights to the presidency [of the Assembly], have a deliberative vote, and so on.”

“This parity between bishops and laity is not ecclesiologically valid,” Iannone concluded.

Another key point of concern in the Vatican’s assessment is the lack of Vatican involvement in ratifying any resolutions presented.

“Article 12, 2, determines with respect to the publication of decisions, that those which concern issues that are reserved to the Universal Church are to be transmitted to the Apostolic See. As has already been said, the aforementioned topics exceed the competence of a particular Church,” Iannone wrote, before drawing particular attention to the intent to “transmit” the decisions to Rome.

“One asks: what does it mean, ‘transmit’? Is it only a matter of making the deliberations known, or is it a request for the recognitio [formal approval] as foreseen for the decrees of a particular Council? The draft of the statutes leaves many open questions.”

In the revised draft, approved by the executive committee of the German bishops on Aug. 19, Article 11, 2, states that “Resolutions that concern issues that fall under the authority of the Universal Church will additionally be transmitted to the Apostolic See.”

The Friday statement from the German bishops’ conference said that PLCT concerns are largely moot after revisions made to the synodal statutes in “July and after the Permanent Council meeting in August.” But internal documents of the German bishops’ conference, obtained by CNA, say the most recent version of the statutes was “drafted Aug.1, 2019” with “no changes through Aug. 30, 2019.”

It is not known whether relevant changes were made between Aug. 31 and Sept. 4, when Ouellet sent his letter to Cardinal Marx.


Pope Francis explains decision to give relics of St. Peter to Orthodox

Vatican City, Sep 13, 2019 / 05:11 am (CNA).- In a letter to Bartholomew I of Constantinople, Pope Francis has explained the unexpected gifting of a relic of St. Peter to the leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church in June, a gesture which generated controversy among some Catholics.

The pope wrote to the ecumenical patriarch Aug. 30, saying the decision to give the relic was born out of prayer and intended as a sign of the ongoing work and prayer toward visible communion between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.

Pope Francis gave the relic to a member of a delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, which attended a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica for the feast of Saints Peter and Paul June 29.

After the Mass, Pope Francis brought Eastern Orthodox Archbishop Job to a chapel in the papal apartments and offered the chapel’s reliquary as a gift. The bronze box contains nine fragments from what are believed to be the bones of St. Peter in the necropolis beneath St. Peter’s Basilica.

The box bears the inscription, “From the bones found in the hypogeum of the Vatican Basilica, which are believed to be of Blessed Peter the Apostle.”

When Pope St. Paul VI discovered St. Peter’s relics during excavations in 1939, he had the fragments removed to keep in the private chapel of the papal apartments.

“This gesture is intended to be a confirmation of the journey that our Churches have made in drawing closer to one another: a journey at times demanding and difficult, yet one accompanied by evident signs of God’s grace,” Francis wrote to Bartholomew Aug. 30.

“I sensed that this thought came to me from the Holy Spirit, who in so many ways prompts Christians to regain that full communion for which our Lord Jesus Christ prayed on the eve of his glorious Passion.”

Pope Francis said he was reflecting on the “mutual determination to advance together towards full communion,” and thought of a gift Patriarch Athenagoras gave to St. Paul VI of an icon of Saints Peter and Andrew embracing.

This icon, he said, “has become for us a prophetic sign of the restoration of that visible communion between our Churches to which we aspire and for which we fervently pray and work.”

“Hence, in the peace born of prayer, I sensed that it would be highly significant were some fragments of the relics of the Apostle Peter to be placed beside the relics of the Apostle Andrew, who is venerated as the heavenly patron of the Church of Constantinople.”

The Orthodox delegation brought the reliquary to Istanbul, where Monsignor Andrea Palmieri, undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, personally gave it to Bartholomew.

Bartholomew, as patriarch of Constantinople, is regarded as “first among equals” within the Orthodox communion and is seen by many as the worldwide leader of Orthodoxy.

Orthodox Archbishop Job called the gesture “another gigantic step towards concrete unity.”

Pope Francis wrote that the joining of the relics of Andrew and Peter can serve “as a constant reminder and encouragement that, on this continuing journey, our divergences will no longer stand in the way of our common witness and our evangelizing mission in the service of a human family that today is tempted to build a purely secular future, a future without God.”


Pope Francis to visit Thailand and Japan in November

Vatican City, Sep 13, 2019 / 03:40 am (CNA).- The Vatican confirmed Friday that Pope Francis will travel to Thailand and Japan in November with stops scheduled in Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Pope Francis will visit Thailand Nov. 20-23 in commemoration of the 350th anniversary of the Vatican Mission to Siam in 1669. The pope will then travel Nov. 23-26 to Japan, where the theme of his visit is “Protect all life.”

In recent years, the Church has been working in Japan to respond to life issues and protect the most vulnerable. The Holy See Press Office said that the trip’s motto “protect all life” not only applies to respect for all human dignity, but also extends to the environment.

“In Japan today as well there are a pile of problems related to life and peace, in addition to the issues of economy, environment and relations with neighboring countries. Moreover, recovery from natural catastrophes and nuclear plant accidents remain as persisting problems,” according to the Vatican statement.

The papal trip to Japan has been much anticipated after Pope Francis told journalists in January he was planning to travel to the country. AP reported Sept. 13 that Pope Francis will meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the Japanese Emperor Naruhito during his visit to the country.

Catholics in Japan make up less than 0.5% of the country’s population. Christianity was first introduced to Japan in the 16th century by Catholic missionaries, most notably St. Francis Xavier. In the years that followed the Catholics in Japan suffered many waves of fierce persecutions with hundreds martyred, including 26 canonized saints who were executed by crucifixion in 1597 in Nagasaki.

In Thailand, the small Catholic community -- representing less than 0.5% of the mostly Buddhist population --  has been celebrating the 350th anniversary of the Vatican Mission to Siam with events throughout 2019.

In May, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, the prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, celebrated Mass with four thousand Thai people in Sampran, outside of Bangkok.

“Asia is a sector of humanity rich in cultures and organized religions but with more than 85% of its members un-baptized,” Filoni said at the opening ceremony of the anniversary celebration.

“Asia is the missionary continent par excellence. The universal Church requests your willing cooperation for missionary activities in this vast continent,” he said.

“We need to reflect that our mission as baptized persons in Asia, is indeed a true mission...when the witnessing of our faith brings us into confrontation with the multitude of non-baptized persons, with their mentality and lifestyle, if not, at times, contrasting with the Gospel and the dignity of the person,” Filoni added.

Pope Francis will be the second pope to visit both Japan and Thailand. St. John Paul II visited Thailand in 1984 and Japan in 1981. During his visit to Japan, St. John Paul II visited Tokyo,  Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, including a stop in the town of the Immaculata established by St. Maximilian Kolbe.

In 2019, Pope Francis has already visited nine other countries outside of Italy, including Panama, Morocco, Madagascar, Romania, and the United Arab Emirates.

On the return flight from his trip to Mozambique, Madagascar, and Mauritius in Africa earlier this week, the pope told journalists that he does plan to visit more European countries, but he will prioritize visits to smaller countries within Europe.


Pope Francis urges new bishops to draw close to God and His people

Vatican City, Sep 12, 2019 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- As Pope Francis met Thursday with bishops ordained in the past year, he urged them to make time for an intimate relationship with God and for pastoral visits to people they serve.

“We need bishops capable of feeling the heartbeat of their communities and their priests, even from a distance: feel the pulse,” Pope Francis advised Sept. 12.

The pope urged “real availability” in the life of a bishop, pointing to the example of the Good Samaritan, who saw a need and did not look the other way.

“Stay in contact with people. Dedicate time to them more than at the desk. Don't fear contact with reality,” he said.

“In particular, I would like to encourage regular pastoral visits: to visit frequently, to meet people and pastors,” he said. “Visit, following the example of Mary, who wasted no time and got up to go quickly to her cousin. The Mother of God shows us that to visit is to bring near Him who makes one jump with joy, is to bring the comfort of the Lord who does great things among the humble.”

The new bishops are in Rome to participate in a formation course organized by the Congregation for Bishops and the Congregation for the Eastern Churches.

“Every day, sparing no time, we must stand before Jesus and bring Him people, situations, like channels always open between Him and our people,” Pope Francis said.

“‘This is my Body offered for you’, we say at the highest moment of the Eucharistic offering for our people. Our life springs from here and leads us to become broken loaves for the life of the world,” he said.

Pope Francis said that without a close connection to Christ, it is easy to slip into the pessimistic mentality of those who say “everything is bad.”'

“Without this personal trust, without this intimacy cultivated every day in prayer, even and especially in the hours of desolation and aridity, the core of our episcopal mission crumbles,” he said.

“Only by being with Jesus we are preserved from the Pelagian presumption that good derives from our skill,” he added. “Only by staying with Jesus does the profound peace that our brothers and sisters seek from us reach our hearts.”

Pope Francis advised that living a simple life as a bishop serves as a witness that Christ is enough.

“The thermometer of closeness is attention to the least, to the poor, which is already an announcement of the Kingdom,” Francis said, noting “not the poor in the abstract with data and social categories, but concrete persons, whose dignity it is entrusted to us as their fathers.”

He said that bishops should be “apostles of listening,” listening even to what is not pleasant to hear. Francis advised the new bishops not to surround themselves with “yes men” or “climbing priests.”

“Please do not let fear of the risks of the ministry prevail, by turning away and keeping your distance,” he advised.

“God surprises us and often loves to upset our agenda: be prepared for this without fear,” Pope Francis added.


Pope Francis announces ‘global village’ alliance for education, environment

Vatican City, Sep 12, 2019 / 09:25 am (CNA).- Pope Francis announced Thursday his newest initiative to form an international and interreligious alliance, which he described as “global village” to educate each child and promote care for the earth.

“Never before has there been such need to unite our efforts in a broad educational alliance, to form mature individuals capable of overcoming division and antagonism, and to restore the fabric of relationships for the sake of a more fraternal humanity,” Pope Francis said in a video message announcing the educational initiative Sept. 12.

“I renew my invitation to dialogue on how we are shaping the future of our planet and the need to employ the talents of all, since all change requires an educational process aimed at developing a new universal solidarity and a more welcoming society,” he said.

The focal point of this initiative will be an international event hosted at the Vatican on May 14, 2020 on “Reinventing the Global Educational Alliance,” which “the most significant personalities of the political, cultural and religious world” will be invited to attend.

Pope Francis said that he chose May 2020 to mark the fifth anniversary of his environmental encyclical “Laudato si,” dated May 24, 2015 and later published on June 18 of that year.

The pope called for “an alliance … between the earth’s inhabitants and our ‘common home’, which we are bound to care for and respect. An alliance that generates peace, justice and hospitality among all peoples of the human family, as well as dialogue between religions.”

“According to an African proverb, ‘it takes a whole village to educate a child.’ We have to create such a village before we can educate,” Francis said.

“In this kind of village it is easier to find global agreement about an education that integrates and respects all aspects of the person, uniting studies and everyday life, teachers, students and their families, and civil society in its intellectual, scientific, artistic, athletic, political, business and charitable dimensions,” he said.

Pope Francis said that “the ground must be cleared of discrimination” to allow human fraternity to flourish in this “shared journey as an educating village.” He outlined several principles to reach these global objectives, including placing the human person at the center of a sound anthropology and training young people to readily offer themselves in service to the community.

The goal of the initiative is “to raise awareness and a wave of responsibility for the common good of humanity, starting from the young and reaching all men of good will,” according to the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education spearheading the 2020 event.

The congregation said that Pope Francis’ proposal continues the tradition of Catholic commitment to education in schools and universities, as well as to intercultural and interreligious dialogue.

“Education reaches its goal if it can form people capable of walking together on the paths of encounter, dialogue and sharing, in respect, in esteem and in mutual acceptance,” states an explanatory note published by the Congregation for Catholic Education Sept. 12.

“Education is a formidable tool for consolidating a process of inclusion that extends to the entire human family,” it concludes.

The congregation describes how education should foster “ecological citizenship” ensuring that a greater “awareness of the gravity of the cultural and ecological crisis” will be “translated into new habits.”

The Congregation for Catholic Education will host a series of seminars leading up to the May 2020 educational alliance event. The first will take place Sept. 16-17 on “Democracy: An educational urgency in multi-cultural and multi-religious contexts.”

“I invite everyone to work for this alliance and to be committed, individually and within our communities, to nurturing the dream of a humanism rooted in solidarity and responsive both to humanity’s aspirations and to God’s plan,” Pope Francis said.