Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Religion in India bubbles over into politics

Tim Sullivan
Associated Press
December 30, 2014

In small-town northern India, Muslims are offered food and money to convert to Hinduism. If that doesn’t suffice, they say they’re threatened. Across the country, the Christmas holiday is canceled for hundreds of government servants who spend the day publicly extolling the policies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Powerful Hindu nationalist leaders — some with close ties to Modi’s government — say they intend to ensure India becomes a completely Hindu nation. But Modi himself? He has remained silent as nationalist demands have bubbled over into day-to-day politics, and amid growing fears among minority religious groups of creeping efforts to shunt them aside.

“We told him we feel insecure and fearful,” said the Rev. Dominic Emmanuel, a Roman Catholic priest who was in a delegation of religious leaders who met a few days ago with Modi. “We told him, ‘If there were just two words from your side, prime minister, we would feel so much better.’ ”

But according to Emmanuel, Modi dismissed the fears as media exaggeration and told the group it wasn’t his role to weigh in on every issue.

A largely Hindu country that has long proclaimed its multicultural character, India has a sizable Muslim minority, a small Christian community, and even smaller pockets of other religions from Judaism to Zoroastrianism.

It’s a country where barely 2 percent of people celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, but where the day has long been set aside by families and friends — no matter their religion — for eating, drinking, and gift-giving. It has been a day off from school and work as long as anyone can remember.

So when a top Modi official suggested that students come in on Christmas for lessons on “Good Governance” — a key Modi platform — anger welled up quickly. While that plan was quietly shelved, hundreds of civil servants held high-profile activities across the country on Dec. 25 to herald Modi’s governance policies.

If there was no outright anti-Christian message in these gatherings, Emmanuel says the subtext was loud and clear.

“It’s not merely undermining the festival of Christmas, but it is trying to segregate a community and its festival,” he said.

Nonsense, said Tarun Vijay, a writer, longtime supporter of Hindu causes, and member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP. The government activities on Christmas, he insisted, were to honor the birthday of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the last BJP prime minister.

“Was it his mistake being born on 25th December?” he asked. “Is it sacrilegious for us to celebrate his birthday on 25th December?”

Instead, Vijay accuses some of Modi’s opponents of politicizing Christmas, calling them “hate groups.”

“These are the people who are doing harm to Christianity,” he said.

The rancor is rarely just about God. Instead, it’s a complex interplay of religion and politics, as the dreams of Hindu nationalist voters combine with the after-effects of Modi’s sweeping electoral victory earlier this year.

Modi was catapulted to power on promises to develop India’s economy and root out the corruption and incompetence that had crippled the previous government.

But he had launched his political career in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a militant Hindu group that combines religious education with self-defense exercises, and the parent organization of the ruling party. The RSS has long been accused of stoking religious hatred against Muslims.

While Modi played down religious issues during the campaign, wary of alienating voters with his and his party’s reputations for Hindu nationalism, nationalist voters turned out for him in droves.

So when Modi was elected, nationalist leaders who had spent years in India’s political wilderness began pressing the government to adopt its agenda.

Just how much Modi actually supports that sprawling agenda — which includes everything from demands to rewrite school textbooks to, at the most extreme end, the expulsion of non-Hindus from India — remains unclear.

Certainly, he is sympathetic to parts of it.

In an October speech to medical professionals, for example, Modi traced parts of modern medicine back to ancient India, noting that Ganesh — the Hindu god with the head of an elephant but the body of a person — is proof that plastic surgery began in India.

“We can feel proud of what our country achieved in medical science at one point in time,” he said.

India, with its population of some 1.3 billion, is about 81 percent Hindu, 13 percent Muslim and a little over 2 percent Christian. The Muslim community, in particular, has long feared Modi. In 2002, when he was the top official in the western state of Gujarat, anti-Muslim riots ripped through the region, killing at least 1,000 people. Muslim leaders and human rights groups said Modi did little to stop the violence, a charge he denies. India’s Supreme Court has said it found no evidence to prosecute him for the violence.

In the early months of Modi’s tenure as prime minister, religion rarely intruded into politics.

But in early December, right-wing Hindu groups allied with the BJP conducted a series of ceremonies to convert Christians and Muslims to Hinduism. The events are called “homecomings,” with organizers saying they were reconverting people whose ancestors had once been Hindu.

Some of the Muslims, though, later said they’d either been paid to convert or threatened with violence if they did not. Quickly, the simmering religious issues boiled over into Parliament, with opposition lawmakers all but shutting down the legislature over charges that the prime minister had done little to stop the ceremonies.

A few days later, the government’s Christmas plans came into focus.

Amid the political fracas, major economic legislation stopped cold. That has alienated many who supported Modi for his economic agenda, and who worry that jobs and development will be pushed aside by the demands of the Hindu right.

“The ‘cultural right’ is too extreme for the middle-of-the-road voter,” Gurcharan Das, a writer and former businessman, wrote in Monday’s Times of India. “Modi has his work cut out — he must assuage the anxieties of the cultural extremists while pursuing his jobs agenda.”

Belgian bishop advocates church recognition of gay relationships

John A. Dick
National Catholic Reporter
December 30, 2014

Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp, Belgium, has called for ecclesiastical recognition of gay relationships, according to an interview published in De Morgen, a Belgian newspaper, on Dec. 27.

The official teaching that the Catholic church can recognize only male-female committed relationships has to change, Bonny said.

"There should be recognition of a diversity of forms," he said. "We have to look inside the church for a formal recognition of the kind of interpersonal relationship that is also present in many gay couples. Just as there are a variety of legal frameworks for partners in civil society, one must arrive at a diversity of forms in the church. … The intrinsic values are more important to me than the institutional question. The Christian ethic is based on lasting relationships where exclusivity, loyalty, and care are central to each other."

Bonny made headlines in September when he issued a letter to the Vatican in preparation for the Synod on the family in October. At that time, Bonny stressed that the church urgently needs to connect with contemporary society, showing more respect for homosexuality, divorced people and modern kinds of relationships.

“In his or her life,” he said, “everyone has to deal with relationships, friendship, family, and children's education. We should not deny that dealing with these issues within the church has brought injuries and traumas. Too many people were excluded for a long time."

Bonny said the open-minded spirit and pastoral focus of Pope Francis have given him the courage to speak out about issues that are important and pressing for today’s believers.

Will the church at some point give its blessing for gay and lesbian couples?

“Personally, I find that in the church more space must be given to acknowledge the actual quality of gay and lesbian couples; and such a form of shared-life should meet the same criteria as found in an ecclesiastical marriage,” Bonny said. “… And we have to acknowledge that such criteria can be found in a diversity of relationships and one needs to search for various models to give form to those relationships.”

Bonny stressed that the man-woman relationship has a special place in the Christian tradition.

“This relationship will continue to retain its own particular sacramental character and liturgical form,” Bonny said. “But this particularity does not have to be exclusive nor does it have to close the door on a diversity of relationships whose inner qualities the church can acknowledge.”

“Indeed, we need to seek a formal recognition of the kind of relationship that exists between many gay and lesbian couples,” he said. “Does that recognition have to be a sacramental marriage? Perhaps the church could much better reflect on a diversity of forms of relationships. One has the same kind of discussion about civil marriages. In Belgium the same model (for civil marriages) exists for man-woman relations as well as for same-sex relations.”

Later in his interview, Bonny stressed openness, the need for further reflection and the danger of getting wrapped up in a complex ideological discussion. He stressed as well that he is a strong advocate for recognizing a diversity of relationships that arise from serious reflection on practical pastoral realities.

Professor Rik Torfs, canon law expert and rector of the Catholic University of Leuven, warned that one should not minimize Bonny’s approach.

"Do not underestimate the significance of this,” he said. “Bonny advocates a change from principles long held as unshakable, something no bishop could have done under the dogmatic pontificates of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI."

Bonny has a doctorate in theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. In 1997, Cardinal Godfried Danneels and the Belgian bishops appointed him rector of the Belgian College in Rome; and in 2008 he was appointed the Bishop of Antwerp. Most observers see him becoming the next archbishop (and cardinal) of the Malines-Brussels archdiocese, when the incumbent, Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, offers the pope his letter of retirement, at age 75, in May.

[John A. Dick is a historical theologian. He is retired from the Catholic University of Leuven and currently is a visiting professor of religion and values in American society at the University of Ghent.]

Monday, December 29, 2014

Remarried divorcees issue a test case for church's credibility, German bishops convinced

Christa Pongratz-Lippitt
National Catholic Reporter
December 29, 2014

A large majority of German bishops favor Cardinal Walter Kasper’s solution for remarried divorcees which would allow them to receive the sacraments under certain circumstances. Only a small minority think present church teaching is theologically correct and pastorally appropriate.

As most German bishops are convinced that the pastoral approach to remarried divorcees is a test case for the church’s credibility, the bishops’ conference published the findings Dec. 22 of a working group which has been researching the subject for two years. They presented these findings as guidelines to the ongoing preparatory discussions for the coming Synod of Bishops in October 2015.

“The search for a theologically responsible and pastorally appropriate accompaniment for Catholics whose marriages have broken down and who have married again in a registry office is a pressing challenge for the church worldwide as divorce and remarriage are often the beginning of a process of alienation from the church,” said Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German bishops’ conference, when he presented the new guidelines on Dec. 22.

The majority of German bishops find that the present guidelines regarding pastoral work with remarried divorcees are “fraught with problems that bishops and priests find almost impossible to overcome.”

Not only remarried divorcees, but also many happily married Catholic couples view the present pastoral rulings for remarried divorcees as “incomprehensible and unmerciful,” particularly their exclusion from the sacraments of reconciliation and Communion, and even many priests find the present rulings “anything but helpful,” the bishops said.

“For many practicing, committed Catholics in Germany, the pastoral approach to remarried divorcees is the test case for an evangelizing church which is not only for special groups of faithful but which also welcomes those whose life projects have failed. It has become the touchstone of whether the joy of the Gospel also holds good for remarried divorcees and their families,” the bishops stated.

Very few remarried divorcees see annulment as a solution as most do not think that their first marriage simply never existed. The possibility of an annulment is therefore “only practicable for a small minority. It does not solve the problem,” the bishops said.

“The assurance that remarried divorcees continue to be part of the church community stands in strong contrast to the ban on them ever receiving the sacraments, which is seen as an exclusion and a sign that their situation is irreconcilable,” the bishops stated.

Tension reaches a climax when remarried divorcees are invited to celebrate the Eucharist “purely spiritually.” Such an invitation is seen by practicing Catholics who take an active part in parish life as an “imposition.” The Eucharist is not a reward for the perfect but a magnanimous remedy and nourishment for the weak, the bishops said.

Many priests are at a loss as they cannot see – or show those in their care – a way out of such situations which can be accepted in good conscience and also conform to present church teaching. A not inconsiderable number of priests therefore ignore church instructions which leads to tension in the church between the priests and bishops, and among the priests themselves.

The obvious gulf between the church’s proclamation and the religious and moral convictions of a great majority of the faithful is seen by a large majority of Catholics as “exceedingly problematic,” the bishops stated.

“When the present pastoral approach to remarried divorcees is perceived as a scandal by committed, practicing Catholics who are involved in their parishes, one must seriously ask whether scripture and tradition really reveal no other way,” the bishops underlined.

The bishops said the concern expressed by Pope John Paul II in his 1981 apostolic exhortation Familiaris consortio has gone into reverse. John Paul feared that “allowing remarried divorcees to receive communion would confuse the faithful regarding the church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage.” But now “not allowing remarried divorcees to receive communion is seen as obscuring the proclamation of mercy,” the bishops said.

Many committed Catholics want to know whether “all theological implications and consequences have really been adequately considered” as far as the possibility of remarried divorcees receiving the sacraments is concerned. From the German bishops’ point of view, it would not be right to allow all the faithful whose marriages have broken down and who have remarried to receive the sacraments without distinction. Based on their pastoral experiences and theological reflections, most German bishops favor differentiated solutions which would do justice to individual cases and make it possible to receive the sacraments under certain circumstances.

Most bishops espouse Kasper’s question, which he posed at the consistory of Feb. 21:

But if a divorced and remarried person is truly sorry that he or she failed in the first marriage, if the commitments from the first marriage are clarified and a return is definitively out of the question, if he or she cannot undo the commitments that were assumed in the second civil marriage without new guilt, if he or she strives to the best of his or her abilities to live out the second civil marriage on the basis of faith and to raise their children in the faith, if he or she longs for the Sacraments as a source of strength in his or her situation, do we then have to refuse or can we refuse him or her the sacrament of penance and Communion, after a period of reorienation?’

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Editorial: Diseased hierarchy

Philippine Daily Inquirer
December 28, 2014

Pope Francis continues to shock and astound. The first Latin American pontiff, who has shaken up the Vatican and the worldwide Catholic congregation with the refreshingly casual, forthright approach he has brought to his centuries-old office, made headlines anew this week with a broadside that must have left many in his intended audience squirming in their chasubles.

The recipients of his strong words were not the usual bête noires of the Church he leads—the gays, divorcees, practitioners of contraception, peoples of other faiths and moral relativists of the world—but men closer to his backyard. His colleagues, in fact, in the Vatican, the august cardinals who run the Roman Curia, the governing body of the Catholic Church. To them, Pope Francis spoke not in the pious felicitations that had heretofore characterized the traditional pre-Christmas meeting between the Vatican bureaucrats and the Pope, but in words that clearly intended to cut through the banalities to get to the point.

In a stinging rundown of “15 diseases” that he said were eating away at the top hierarchy of the Church, the outspoken Pope outdid himself with a speech that brimmed with strikingly vivid, unapologetically straightforward language. The Curia—long the subject of scrutiny for its widely reported penchant for intrigue, infighting and disreputable activities, from the careerism of its officials to the irregularities attending its finances—was in danger of bringing the Church down not only with its internal rot, but also by its inability to recognize its errors, he warned. “A Curia that does not practice self-criticism, does not keep up to date, does not try to better itself, is an infirm body.”

Too often, he said, the powerful men at the top of the Church have become so used to their lofty, influential positions that they now inhabit “a parallel world, where they disregard all that they sternly teach to others, and they start living a life that is secret and often dissolute.” That “pathology of power,” which derives “from a narcissism that views one’s own image passionately and not that of God impressed on others, especially the weak and the needy,” often leads to so-called servants of God behaving as if they are “immortal or essential.” Governed now by “worldly profit and exhibitionism,” by “rivalry and vainglory,” they have lost “their memory of their personal encounter with the Lord…” and “depend on their passions, whims and obsessions” while living “in a state of absolute dependence on their, often imagined, views.”

Fighting words. But he wasn’t through yet.

He denounced the “existential schizophrenia” afflicting many of his colleagues—“the disease of those who live a double life, a result of the hypocrisy typical of mediocre people and of advancing spiritual emptiness.” Settling for bureaucratic advancement instead of genuine pastoral work has made many of his co-churchmen “lose touch with reality, with concrete people.” That hollow, close-minded existence spawns, in turn, the evils of “chatter and gossip,” with the people who practice them in hallowed Vatican corridors nothing less than “cold-blooded assassins” and “cowards who don’t have the courage to speak directly so they talk behind people’s backs.”

And from a Pope who had immediately endeared himself to the world with his disarming smile and common touch came the admonition for his colleagues to lighten up, to make their evangelizing work a joyous experience for the faithful, rather than a cold, censorious one. “They think that to be serious you need to paint your expression with severity, and treat others—especially those believed to be inferior—with rigidity, toughness and arrogance,” he said. “But this theatrical severity and sterile pessimism are just symptoms of fear and insecurity.”

In case that still wasn’t clear enough, he added for good measure that a good pastor must be “polite, serene, enthusiastic and joyful,” with a healthy sense of “humor and self-irony.”

Think about it—when was the last time you heard the leader of an institution steeped in often stultifying tradition and insularity exhort his Church to savor the liberating effects of humor, good cheer, irony and self-reflection—the very same qualities, come to think about it, that he has employed in his revolutionary campaign to transform and renew it?

We can’t wait to hear what the good Pope has to say to the Filipino bishops once he’s in town, just three weeks from now. We’re betting some of them are having anxious nights, with Francis’ words ringing true, perhaps even more so, here.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Lajolo on the speech to the curia: nothing like this has ever happened before

Giacomo Galeazzi
Vatican Insider
December 23, 2014

'To be honest, nothing like this has ever happened before'. Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, the former Vatican governor and foreign minister, does not hide his surprise. 'It is the first time this has happened; never before had a Pope set us in the Curia a series of pathologies that we must examine ourselves on.' All along, says the cardinal who has been head of some of the most important offices of the Holy See for many years, 'the exchange of Christmas wishes has been a customary occasion, that follows a usual pattern'.

What did you expect from Pope Francis' speech?

'On this occasion, his predecessors would usually say nothing but the most relevant events of the past year. They summed up the principal events in the Church and in their apostolic activity. So you could have expected Francis to talk about his travels to the Holy See and Turkey, instead he said nothing about them. Maybe he will refer to these in his speech to the ambassadors to the Vatican.'

How did you welcome the Pope's warning?

'It is the request of an examination of conscience, of an end-of-the-year confession. For the first time a Pope asks the Curia to examine itself on a number of problematic issues. For instance, on the basis of my experiences of the Curia, I believe that a simplification of procedures would diminish scandals.'

Why does the Pope implicate cardinals and bishops?

'The seven deadly sins are within all of us. Even the Pope often calls himself a sinner. And if he is a sinner, never mind us. Scandals will continue to exist as long as the world exists. The Gospel says that it is necessary for scandals to take place, but those who cause them will be sorry. It is the word of Christ, which is unquestionable for us.'

So you cannot avoid scandals?

'It is the duty of the superiors in the Curia to make sure these things do not happen. And since he holds the most responsibility, the Pope is the first one to deal with them. Reforming institutions is necessary but it is not enough. We need a conversion of the hearts. The Church needs constant reformations, and the Roman Curia in particular, which gathers the tensions and issues of the local Churches throughout the whole world.

Will the reforms under way at the moment be enough?

'it is useful for ecclesiastical institutions to become simpler and more efficient but there are men whose hearts are known to be a mess within them. Tacitus' question is extremely current; what do we need good laws for, if we do not have good values? Honest conduct is not established by law. Francis asks us to carefully reflect on our behaviour and our weaknesses, thinking of the evil that we do. Starting from gossip, that can kill.'

Monday, December 22, 2014

Pope Francis delivers blistering Christmas message to Vatican Curia

Nicole Winfield
December 22, 2014

VATICAN CITY (AP) — To the Catholic Church's "seven deadly sins," Pope Francis has added the "15 ailments of the Curia."

Francis issued a blistering indictment of the Vatican bureaucracy Monday, accusing the cardinals, bishops and priests who serve him of using their Vatican careers to grab power and wealth, of living "hypocritical" double lives and forgetting that they're supposed to be joyful men of God.

Francis turned the traditional, genteel exchange of Christmas greetings into a public dressing down of the Curia, the central administration of the Holy See which governs the 1.2-billion strong Catholic Church. He made clear that his plans for a radical reform of the structures of church power must be accompanied by an even more radical spiritual reform of the men involved.

Ticking off 15 "ailments of the Curia" one by one, Francis urged the prelates sitting stone-faced before him in the marbled Sala Clementina to use the Christmas season to repent and atone and make the church a healthier, holier place in 2015.

Vatican watchers said they had never heard such a powerful, violent speech from a pope and suggested that it was informed by the results of a secret investigation ordered up by Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI in the aftermath of the 2012 leaks of his papers.

Benedict tasked three trusted cardinals to probe deep into the Vatican's back-stabbing culture to root out what would have prompted a papal butler to steal incriminating documents and leak them to a journalist. Their report is known only to the two popes.

Francis had some zingers: How the "terrorism of gossip" can "kill the reputation of our colleagues and brothers in cold blood." How cliques can "enslave their members and become a cancer that threatens the harmony of the body" and eventually kill it off by "friendly fire." How some suffer from "spiritual Alzheimer's," forgetting what drew them to the priesthood in the first place.

"The Curia is called on to always improve itself and grow in communion, holiness and knowledge to fulfill its mission," Francis said. "But even it, as any human body, can suffer from ailments, dysfunctions, illnesses."

Francis, who is the first Latin American pope and never worked in the Italian-dominated Curia before he was elected, has not shied from complaining about the gossiping, careerism and bureaucratic power intrigues that afflict the Holy See. His 2013 Christmas address cast a spotlight on such sins.

But a year into his reform agenda, Francis seemed even more emboldened to make clear to the prelates themselves that superficial displays of change aren't what he is looking for.

"This is a speech without historic precedent," church historian Alberto Melloni, a contributor to Italian daily Corriere della Sera, said in a telephone interview. "If the pope uses this tone, it's because he knows it's necessary."

Melloni noted that until Francis was elected, the Vatican bureaucracy largely answered to no one, saying "an entire generation of the Curia ran it as if they were pope." St. John Paul II was too busy travelling the world, and later too sick, to pay attention to administrative details, and Benedict left the minutiae of running a government to his deputy, later determined to have been part of the problem.

The Rev. Robert Wister, a church historian at Seton Hall University, said Francis was essentially asking the Curia to undergo an examination of conscience, asking them to reflect on how they had sinned before God before going to confession.

"Perhaps he believes that only a severe rebuke can help turn things around," he said.

The cardinals were not amused. Few smiled as Francis spoke, and at the end they offered only tepid applause to a speech that was so carefully prepared it had footnotes and Bibilical references. Francis greeted each one, but there was little Christmas cheer in the room.

It is, to be fair, a difficult time for the Curia. Francis and his nine key cardinal advisers are drawing up plans to revamp the whole bureaucratic structure, merging offices to make them more efficient and responsive.

Francis has said though that while this structural reform is moving ahead, what is taking much longer is the "spiritual reform" of the people involved.

The Vatican's finances are also in the midst of an overhaul, with Francis' finance czar, Cardinal George Pell, imposing new accounting and budget measures on traditionally independent congregations not used to having their books inspected.

Francis started off his list with the "ailment of feeling immortal, immune or even indispensable."

Then one by one he went on: Being rivals and boasting. Wanting to accumulate things. Having a "hardened heart." Wooing superiors for personal gain. Having a "funereal face" and being too "rigid, tough and arrogant," especially toward underlings — a possible reference to the recently relieved Swiss Guard commander said to have been too tough on his recruits for Francis' tastes.

Some critiques could have been seen as worthy of praise: working too hard and planning too much ahead. But even those traits came in for criticism as Francis noted that people who don't take time off to be with family are overly stressed, and those who plan everything to a "T'' don't allow themselves to be surprised by the "freshness, fantasy and novelty" of the Holy Spirit.

At the end of the speech, Francis asked the prelates to pray that the "wounds of the sins that each one of us carries are healed" and that the Church and Curia itself are made healthy.

Pope Francis sharply criticizes Vatican bureaucracy

December 22, 2014

Pope Francis has sharply criticised the Vatican bureaucracy in a pre-Christmas address to cardinals, complaining of "spiritual Alzheimer's" and "the terrorism of gossip".

He said the Curia - the administrative pinnacle of the Roman Catholic Church - was suffering from 15 "ailments", which he wanted cured in the New Year.

Pope Francis - the first Latin American pontiff - also criticised "those who look obsessively at their own image".

He has demanded reform of the Curia.

There was silence at the end of the Pope's speech.

Bigger say

Addressing the Curia on Monday, Pope Francis said some power-hungry clerics were guilty of "cold-bloodedly killing the reputation of their own colleagues and brothers".

The Pope says the Church elite must reach out to poor and vulnerable worshippers.

He compared the performance of the church's civil servants to that of an orchestra playing "out of tune" because they fail to collaborate and have no team spirit.

Clearly Pope Francis is meeting opposition among the nearly 3,000 strong staff of the Italian-dominated Curia.

He had never worked in Rome before his election as pope last year, and - as a Vatican outsider from the other end of the world - is clearly frustrated by the slow-moving and creaking Vatican bureaucracy.

He is trying to reform it with the help of a new group of cardinal advisers he has called in from every continent to draw up a new Vatican constitution.

Before his election in March 2013, the pontiff encountered internal opposition to some of the reforms he wants to carry out.

He has set up a series of specialist bodies to fight corruption and poor management, appointing a team of advisers.

The Pope also launched a clean-up of the Vatican Bank, officially known as the Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR). The IOR has long had a poor reputation, after a succession of scandals.

Pope Francis has also suggested that the Curia's power - concentrated in Rome for centuries - could be diluted to some extent by giving Catholic bishops around the world a bigger say in Church doctrine.

The pontiff himself did not work in the Curia before he was elected.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Concern mounts in India over persecution of religious minorities

Matters India
December 20, 2014

New Delhi – The rise in attacks by Hindu radicals against members of minority religions in India, primarily Christians and Muslims, is drawing concern across the country, with many calling for more concrete government action.

Since May, there have been a “recorded 34 cases of physical and structural violence against the Christian community (among a) total of about 600 cases reported by the media, most of them against Muslims,” Dr. John Dayal told CNA Dec. 12.

“The violence has increased exponentially since then. The government has admitted in parliament that there have been more than 560 cases of violence against religious minorities this year, in which at least 110 persons have been killed,” he said, noting that there have probably been more cases which have gone unreported.

Dayal, a member of the Indian government’s National Integration Council and former National President of the India Catholic Union, said most of the violence has been incited by the radical Hindu group Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, also referred to as the RSS, or the “the Sangh.”

The group, which Dayal referred to as an “extremely fundamentalist and often violent political organization,” sits on the right-wing and has no official, legal registration in India. However they maintain strong ties with India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

BBC News reports that the RSS, established in 1925 with the goal of establishing “Hindutva,” or “Hindu-ness,” has been banned three times in post-independence India, with all three bans eventually being lifted.

The agency states that the group’s critics often refer to them as a sectarian, militant group, who believe in the supremacy of Hindus, and that “preaches hate” against Muslim and Christian minorities.

Among the violent acts carried out against minorities are the barring of Christians from entering certain Hindu villages in India’s Chhattisgarh state, attacks against persons and church property, and the forced conversion of Muslims and Christians to Hinduism.

When Christians of the Madota village were summoned by local officials to an October meeting in order to discuss the resolution of the bans in their district, none of the officials showed up, the Christian Daily reports.

After waiting some time, a group of Hindu extremists entered the village and started to beat 15 of the persons gathered, sending 12 to the hospital, seven of whom had serious injuries.

Reports were also made of an arson on a Catholic church in the Indian capital of Dehli.

Concern has arisen that the increasing number of attacks enacted by the RSS are on the rise due to the May election of Narendra Modi as India’s Prime Minister. Having been a full-time worker with the group, many are concerned that Modi is giving them a free pass.

Although Modi has been informed of the incidents on numerous occasions, he “has given no indication by word or deed that he means to curb these elements and non-state actors and their hostility toward religious minorities,” Dayal explained.

“Despite our several appeals to him in recent weeks, (Mr. Modi) has remained silent on attacks in churches in Delhi and Chhattisgarh (and) the forcible conversion of Muslims in several villages of the state of Uttar Pradesh by members of the RSS group,” he said, noting that the “conversions” were taped, and have dominated local and national news outlets.

Earlier this week, police in Uttar Pradesh stated they would not allow Hindu nationalists to hold a conversion ceremony which had been planned for Dec. 25.

The ceremony was to be held in Aligarh, which is located within 60 miles of Agra, where last week more than 50 impoverished Muslim families were “converted” to Hinduism. Many of them told the BBC they were promised food ration cards for attending the ceremony, and they did not realize it was a conversion ceremony.

While Hindus are a majority in India (80 percent), the country is not a Hindu state, Dayal observed, noting that often times laws are spun in order to protect the actions of radical groups.

The RSS, he said, “thinks it is all powerful, and that the government will not act against them.” When it comes to punishing their crimes, Dayal noted that police never seem to find the evidence necessary to penalize them in court.

“Witnesses are coerced. And forensic science is given a go by. The State just does not seem to want to act against them.”

In order to maintain an inter-religious society that respects the rights of its minorities a strong rule of law is needed, Dayal said, explaining that this includes giving minorities greater representation in police forces, courts and higher bureaucratic positions.

“The government must not, by word or deed, give an impression that it supports these Hindu groups. There indeed must be a zero tolerance policy against religious targeted violence and hate speech.”

Friday, December 19, 2014

Association of Catholic Priests writes to Pope Francis about Fr. Tony Flannery

Sarah McDonald
Catholic Ireland
December 20, 2014

The Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland has written to Pope Francis asking him to intervene in the case of Fr Tony Flannery, a co-founder of their group, which now numbers over 1,000 Irish priests.

Letters released by the ACP last week show that the five-member leadership wrote to the Pontiff in September outlining a series of criticisms of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith’s (CDF) treatment of the Redemptorist priest who was censured in 2012.

The ACP also to wrote to Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, who is head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as well as Archbishop Eamon Martin, who is head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, to express their concern for Fr Flannery’s plight.

In their letter to the Pope, the ACP remind the Pontiff that Fr Flannery’s Redemptorist superior general was ordered by the CDF to remove him from priestly ministry and was advised that he can only be restored on condition that he signs and publishes certain statements.

“Fr Flannery is unable, for reasons of conscience, to sign such statements and could only do so if he were to tell lies,” the ACP leaders state.

They also explain that since his ordination in 1974, Fr Flannery has worked in the demanding ministry of Parish Missions for 40 years, touching the lives of countless ‘broken’ people and countless ‘lost sheep’.

“In the view of a great many Catholics in Ireland he has given a lifetime of service to the People of God,” they state.

Elsewhere in their letter, the ACP leadership cite Pope Francis’ own comment that in the event of receiving a reprimanding letter from the CDF priests should read it, put it aside and continue with their daily ministry.

However, the ACP highlight, Fr Flannery’s Redemptorist superiors have not allowed him to do this.

“It is also significant that the CDF has never communicated directly with Fr Flannery or afforded him an opportunity to explain his position and put the statements that the CDF objected to in the context in which they were written,” the five priests highlight.

They also tell the Pope that the highly respected Irish Augustinian theologian, Fr Gabriel Daly, has recently written that Fr Flannery’s views are “both historically and theologically unobjectionable”.

Saying they believe that the treatment of Fr Flannery at the hands of the CDF and the manner in which the CDF acted has “caused further disillusionment among Irish Catholics and have made the work of priests even more difficult”, they add “It is viewed as yet another example of a Church that is more concerned with doctrinal orthodoxy than with the compassion of Jesus Christ.”

The ACP leadership conclude by “respectfully” requesting the Pope to give attention to this matter and reverse the judgement of the CDF.

The letter is signed by Seamus Ahearne, OSA; Gerard Alwill, PP; Brendan Hoban, PP; Seán McDonagh, SSC; and Gerry O’Connor, CSsR.

Speaking to CatholicIreland.net, Fr Brendan Hoban said the ACP believes that the present structure of engagement with the CDF is “clearly not working”.

“It does not meet minimal demands of fairness or respect,” he said and added that “Unease with the CDF and its working procedures is not confined to the ACP or to Ireland.”

The Co Mayo-based parish priest said the ACP is not arguing against the importance of doctrinal orthodoxy or objecting to procedures to monitor it.

“What we are suggesting is that the present procedures are not fit for purpose. There are other ways of dealing with such issues including, as Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has suggested, doing so at national level.”

He said the problem lay in the present norms and procedures and the way they’re being implemented, disallowing (among other things) the kind of fair procedures people have come to expect in civil society.

“The procedures are demonstrably creating more problems than they’re solving,” he warned.

He said the Irish bishops need to proactively raise this matter with Rome at the highest level, indicating the unfairness of the procedures and the collateral damage to the Irish Church.

Head of Lithuanian church warns of Russian threat to his country

Jonathan Luxmoore
The Tablet
December 19, 2014

The head of Lithuania's Catholic Church has warned that Russia may be preparing to attack his country, using "new forms of warfare".

"We're members of NATO - and it's a visible and appreciated sign of solidarity that there are US boots on the ground here", said Archbishop Gintaras Grusas of Vilnius, the Bishops’ Conference president.

"But Russia has shown aggression against Ukraine and other countries, and we're expecting the same here. There's a high degree of tension, and everybody knows from past history how dangerous the situation could become".

The 53-year-old church leader was speaking as Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia announced plans to increase defence spending by a third in 2015, and the United States confirmed new funds for NATO deployments under a European Reassurance Initiative.

In a Tablet interview, he said the "propaganda war" which preceded Moscow's involvement in Ukraine was now also under way against the Baltic States, which have invested heavily this year in anti-tank defences and are debating the reintroduction of military service. He added that recent Baltic border incidents appeared to signal "new forms of warfare and indirect aggression". Lithuania's Defence Ministry has reported irregular Russian air and naval movements this autumn in the Baltic Sea, where NATO fighters were scrambled seven times in the first week of December.

In October, the country's Chief of Staff, General Jonas Zukas, announced a 2,500-strong rapid deployment force to counter "hybrid warfare", involving "manipulating national minorities, provocations, attacks by non-state armed groups, illegal border crossings and breaches in military transit procedures".

A Vilnius University military historian, Deividas Slekys, told The Tablet the Catholic Church could play a key role in fostering community bonds and encouraging Lithuanians abroad to speak up in defence of their country. He added that Catholic parishes could be called on to help organise civil defence against a Russian attack, and said the Church was likely to become "intentionally or not, a focus of national resistance".

Catholics make up 79 per cent of Lithuania's 3.7 million inhabitants, according to official data. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991, and joined NATO and the European Union in 2004, gaining protection under the alliance's Article 5 collective defence guarantee.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Vatican offers olive branch to US nuns

Nicole Winfield
Associated Press
December 16, 2014

A sweeping Vatican investigation of Roman Catholic sisters in the United States that began five years ago amid criticism they had become secular and overly feminist ended up mostly praising nuns for their contributions to the church, a sign of the shift in tone under Pope Francis.

The report released Tuesday praised the sisters, thanked them for their selfless work caring for the poor and promised to value their "feminine genius" more, while gently suggesting ways to survive amid a steep drop in their numbers.

Given the criticism of American religious life that prompted the Vatican under Pope Benedict XVI to launch the investigation in 2008, the final report was most remarkable for what it didn't say.

There was no critique of the nuns, no demands that they shift their focus from social justice issues to emphasize Catholic teaching on abortion, no condemnation that a feminist, secular mentality had taken hold in their ranks.

Rather, while offering a sobering assessment of the difficult state of American congregations, the report praised the sisters' dedication and reaffirmed their calling in a reflection of the pastoral and encouraging tone characteristic of the first Jesuit pope.

It was a radically different message, in both tone and content, from that of another Vatican office investigating an umbrella group of their leaders.

That investigation, conducted by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, resulted in a Vatican takeover of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in 2012. The doctrine office determined that the LCWR, which represents the leaders of 80 percent of U.S. sisters, took positions that undermined church teaching and promoted "radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith."

The Vatican's congregation for religious orders has long sought to distinguish its broad investigation into the quality of life of American sisters from the more narrow doctrinal assessment carried out by the orthodoxy office, and its report Tuesday made clear that two very different messages are coming from the Holy See.

Both investigations were initiated within months of one another in in 2008 and resulted in tremendous feelings of betrayal and insult from the sisters, some of whom refused to cooperate fully.

The probes also prompted an outpouring of support from rank and file Catholics who viewed the investigations as a crackdown by a misogynistic, heavy-handed, all-male Vatican hierarchy against the underpaid, underappreciated women who do the lion's share of the church's work running Catholic hospitals, schools and services for the poor.

Theological conservatives have long complained that in the years after the revolutionizing reforms of the 1960s Second Vatican Council, women's congregations in the U.S. became secular and political while abandoning traditional prayer life and faith. The nuns insisted that prayer and Christ were central to their work.

Tuesday's overwhelmingly positive report was cheered by the sisters themselves, dozens of whom swarmed the Vatican news conference announcing the results in a rare moment of women outnumbering men at the Vatican.

Sister Sharon Holland, who currently heads the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, acknowledged that the investigation was initially met with apprehension and distrust, particularly among elderly sisters who "felt that their whole lives had been judged and found wanting."

But she said the results showed that the Vatican had listened and heard what the sisters had to say.

"There is an encouraging and realistic tone in this report," she told the news conference. "Challenges are understood, but it is not a document of blame, or of simplistic solutions. One can read the text and feel appreciated and trusted to carry on."

Asked if the change in tone from the start of the process to the end was a reflection of Francis' leadership, Holland said "I'm willing to give him all sorts of credit."

"I don't know how to assess entirely his influence in all of this, but he's been a great encouragement and hope to a lot of us," she said.

The report outlined the bleak reality facing American women's congregations today: The current number of 50,000 U.S. sisters represents a fraction of the 125,000 in the mid-1960s, though the report noted that that high was an atypical spike in the history of the U.S. church.

The average age of U.S. nuns today is mid-to-late 70s. They are facing dwindling finances to care for their sisters as they age and haven't had much success in finding new vocations. The report asked the sisters ? gently ? to make sure their training programs reflect church teaching and ensure their members pray and focus on Christ.

It stressed appreciation for their work and expressed hope that they take "this present moment as an opportunity to transform uncertainty and hesitancy into collaborative trust" with the church hierarchy.

It noted that many sisters complained that their work often went unrecognized by priests and requested improved dialogue with bishops to clarify their role in the church and give them greater voice in decisions that affect them or in areas where they have experience.

The report noted that Francis, who has pledged to bring more women into decision-making positions in the church, has recently asked the Vatican to update a key document outlining the relationship between bishops and religious orders ? male and female ? amid tensions that sometimes exist.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Is Spain's Catholic church on its knees?

Jacqueline Fanchini and Tom Powell
The Olive Press (Spain)
December 13, 2014

“THE truth is the truth, and we must not hide it,” the Pope ruled, just days before a judge in Granada filed preliminary charges against three priests and a religious teacher for the sexual abuse of a former altar boy.

With up to a dozen more under investigation – and new victims coming out by the week – it has been dubbed the ‘gravest sexual abuse scandal’ in the history of the Catholic church in Spain.

The gravity of the situation certainly became apparent, with Pope Francis himself feeling the need to step into the scandal, after a victim contacted him personally.

Since the court launched its investigation a fortnight ago, at least one more victim has gone public with a similar litany of abuses. There are believed to be many more victims.

Either way, the scandal has now led to the most extraordinarily unprecedented display of humility from religious men, who normally like to pontificate from on high.

In a bizarre picture opportunity, the Archbishop of Granada and other clerics prostrated themselves at the city’s cathedral during Mass, ‘asking forgiveness for the sins of the Church, for all of the scandals that have, or might have, occurred among us’. The solemn scene raised yet more damning questions for an institution facing allegations that constitute an appalling perversion of power.

Catholicism and its age-old traditions are as much ingrained in the fabric of Spain as flamenco and bullfighting.

The most famous Catholic pilgrimage in the world leads to its doorstep, at the venerated door of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, in Galicia. Other famous pilgrimages go to Covadonga in Asturias and El Rocio in Huelva.

But just as Spain’s corridors of political power have been besmirched by corruption, its ecumenical institutions are being stained by scandals that may never be wiped clean.

And while Spain’s religious leaders stand firm in the face of accusations that have rocked the world, it will be hard for the Church to fully regain its respect.

The facts are that the Spanish are already losing their faith. The national average attendance of Mass in 2010 was 14.4% but many priests have hinted that the figure is now much lower.

And is it any wonder with the suspicion that priests up and down the country may be involved in paedophilia.

The current ‘altar boy case’ has thrown Spain into the centre of a global debate on the Church’s internal handling of abuse allegations.

This specific probe was launched after Pope Francis personally received a letter from a young man claiming to have been abused by a ring of priests in Granada from the age of 13 onwards.

The group allegedly drew boys into their sphere of influence by taking them on as altar boys or ‘assistants’ before molesting them. The Church is now losing touch with many of those who used to attend Mass regularly

The alleged victim had tried to confide in Granada’s own Catholic investigation section but was repeatedly ignored.

However, in a personal telephone call to the man, now a 24-year-old teacher, Pope Francis encouraged him to go to the Guardia Civil and denounce his abusers, to ensure a full investigation would take place.

The Pope commented that the news had caused him ‘great pain’.

Since the turn of the millenium, Spain’s Catholic Church – where priests are not allowed to have wives and demands celibacy – has lurched from one embarrassing crisis to the next.

When Pope Francis announced his zero-tolerance policy towards abuse in May, hopes were raised that a corner had been turned. “I commit myself not to tolerate harm done to a minor by any individual, whether a cleric or not,” he announced to the world.

But Pope Francis himself has been accused of covering up sex abuse scandals in the past, while he was a cardinal in Argentina. And with each new skeleton that emerges from the closet, trust in the church diminishes.

In December 2007, a bishop in Tenerife provoked widespread anger over his disturbing comments about children in the Church who ‘want to be abused’.

Bishop Bernardo Alvarez said: “There are 13-year-olds who are under age and who are perfectly in agreement with it and wanting it, and if you are careless they will even provoke you.”

Three years later, Cordoba’s Catholic order was publicly embroiled in a sexual abuse scandal, when a priest, Brother Manolo, respected for his charity work, was ordered to stay away from the Francis of Assisi Centre he once ran, and from its residents. But clerical sexual abuse has not been confined to young boys working within church portals. In June this year, a Moroccan maid accused a priest in Madrid of exploiting her for four years. He allegedly abused her sexually and subjected her to psychological and physical torture.

Four years ago, another priest was found to have 21,000 indecent images of children on a computer at his church in Castellon. There are many more examples.

As the murky underbelly of child sex abuse is exposed on a global scale, people are beginning to stereotype so-called celibate priests as paedophiles.

Moreover, clerical sex abuse victims estimate that the reported cases barely scratch the surface of a pandemic within Spain. It is not hard to see why the global attitude towards the clergy has changed from one of respect to ridicule.

Despite the Pope estimating that only 2% of clerics could be paedophiles, Catholic priests have sadly become synonymous with child abuse.

There is even a video game called Vatican Quest which portrays the previous Pope, Benedict XVI, as a pimp for paedophile cardinals. But arguably the biggest church scandal of all did take place in Spain.

From 1939 until the 1990s, an incredible 300,000 babies were stolen from their parents at birth and sold through the Catholic adoption network to childless couples with money and the right connections.

As the Olive Press has reported on many occasions, mothers were told that their babies had died at birth, sometimes even being shown a frozen corpse.

In fact, 15% of the adoptions in Spain between 1960 and 1989 are believed to have been ‘stolen babies’, figures that beggar belief. More than 2,000 cases have been filed through the Spanish courts, while many victims continue to search for the mother they never met; or, in other cases, the child they thought had died at birth.

Nonetheless, the Catholic Church has continued to play an integral part in Spanish life, typified by the solemn Semana Santa celebrations which see huge numbers of worshippers spilling into the streets to watch the processional thrones.

It is impossible to envisage 2 million people lining the streets of Birmingham at night to watch a brotherhood carry a candlelit float of the Virgin Mary to the cathedral.

But they do it in Sevilla and Malaga… and even in staunch Communist/Socialist-run towns like Cordoba, Arriate and Casares.

The institutionalisation of Catholicism in government, the law and society as a whole, is undoubtedly part of the problem.In schools, Catholic education is compulsory, while most children still take communion in Andalucia.

When one expat’s child ‘opted out’ of religious education in her school in a communist run village near Ronda, last year, she ended up sitting on the floor of the headmaster’s office, reading a book.

Victims have had nowhere to turn in a country so indoctrinated and trusting that many cannot equate their venerated pillars of the community with paedophilia.

And despite a Vatican announcement this year that, between 2004 and 2013, it struck off 850 paedophile priests, groups representing victims argue that it is nowhere near enough.

But the facts are the Church is now losing touch with many of those who used to attend Mass regularly, due to its outdated stances on abortion, gay marriage and contraception.

Worse, it has been sullied by the actions of individuals who seek to exploit it for their own perverted gains.

Of course, there are many genuine priests who play a valuable role in Spanish society, those caring shepherds who help their flock to endure the trials and tragedies of everyday life. The real horror is that some of the very same people in whom many still place their trust turn out to be the greatest sinners of all.

Faith in the Church has been rocked to its foundations. The sweet scent of incense has been tainted with the acrid reek of hypocrisy.

Friday, December 12, 2014

On synod reforms and that theology which was "done with faith"

Andrea Tornielli
Vatican Insider
December 12, 2014

“None of the speeches given called into question the fundamental truths regarding the Sacrament of Marriage indissolubility, unity, faithfulness and openness to life,” Francis said at the Wednesday Audience, describing what was discussed at the recent Synod on the family. His words seem to indicate that the different positions taken during the lively Synodal debate over the possibility of opening up the sacraments to remarried divorcees did not deny the “fundamental truths” of marriage.

Italian journalist and theologian Gianni Gennari recalled the elements that were examined further and related developments in an article on Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae encyclical and birth control. This issue was mentioned in the Synod documents but was not discussed as much as other topics were. “Until 1951,” Gennari says, “the very thought of using so-called natural methods was considered a serious sin, a mortal sin. In 1931, Pius XI’s “Casti Connubii” was very clear: no reason or contraceptive method (even so-called natural methods) was considered acceptable! … In the years that followed, a heated discussion took place in the Church over progestogens etc. and in 1951, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the “Castii Connubii”, Pius XII planned to condemn all such methods again.” The personal words repeatedly pronounced by the Jesuit Fr. Virginio Rotondi were decisive in making him change his mind in the famous address he gave to obstetricians in November 1951, giving the nod to natural methods.

Pius XII’s decision to open up to “natural methods” of contraception marked a “big change”, leaving the Roman school of the theology surprised and displeased. As Gennari pointed out, this was “a decisive change in Catholic doctrine”. With the exception of true indissolubility, it is rash to talk about “dogmas of the faith” when it comes to sexuality and marriage, using these as an obstacle a priori. In fact, the true and absolute doctrine of the Church regarding sexuality, family and other such topics, has changed a number of times over the centuries, including recently.” Gennari recalled that in one of his catecheses on the body and sexuality, John Paul II described as “having no basis in the Word of Christ”, something which had been stated in the Council of Trent and confirmed in paragraphs 21 and 28 of Pius XII’s encyclical “Sacra Virginitas” published in 1954. Paragraph 21 of Pius XII’s document said that “according to the teaching of the Church, holy virginity surpasses marriage in excellence”. Paragraph 28 solemnly set this in stone, mentioning the Council of Trent’s “anatema sit” on those who claimed that “virginity does not surpass marriage”. Regarding this point, John Paul II expressly denied that this position had any basis in faith itself. In the Audience held on 14 April 1982, Wojtyla said: “In Christ's words on continence for the kingdom of heaven there is no reference to the inferiority of marriage with regard to the body, or in other words with regard to the essence of marriage, consisting in the fact that man and woman join together in marriage, thus becoming one flesh. "The two will become one flesh" (Gn 2:24). Christ's words recorded in Matthew 19:11-12 (as also the words of Paul in 1 Cor 7) give no reason to assert the inferiority of marriage, nor the superiority of virginity or celibacy inasmuch as by their nature virginity and celibacy consist in abstinence from the conjugal union in the body. Christ's words on this point are quite clear … Marriage and continence are neither opposed to each other, nor do they divide the human (and Christian) community into two camps (let us say, those who are "perfect" because of continence and those who are "imperfect" or "less perfect" because of the reality of married life).”

“On the other hand,” John Paul II concluded, “there is no basis for a presumed counterposition according to which celibates (or unmarried persons), only by reason of their continence, would make up the class of those who are "perfect," and, to the contrary, married persons would make up a class of those who are "imperfect" (or "less perfect").” Taking these recent examples into consideration, Gennari urges caution when speaking in absolute terms about an “unchangeable doctrine” on marriage, sexuality, family and other such topics being, in an attempt to set “limits ahead of the upcoming Synod”.

At last Wednesday’s Audience, Pope Francis expressed trust in the path the Synod is taking, showing that he was not in any way afraid to face differing positions, but stressed the profoundly different nature of the Synod in comparison to parliament. “Always, when we seek the will of God in a Synodal assembly, there are diverse points of view and there is discussion, and this is not something unpleasant. May it always be done with humility and a spirit of service to the assembly of brothers.” And the whole thing unfolded “cum Petro et sub Petro”, in the presence of the Pope that is. The Pope is a “guarantee of freedom and trust for everybody, and a guarantee of orthodoxy.”

That trust is also reflected in the following example from 1950 given in Joseph Ratzinger’s autobiography. "We all lived in the perception of the Reincarnation, which we noticed already in the 1920s, of a theology able to consider questions with renewed courage and of a spirituality that got rid of what was outdated and surpassed, to revive a new way of joy of the redemption. Dogma was not perceived as an external link, but as the vital source which made new knowledge possible.”

Before publishing the Apostolic Constitution defining the dogma of the Assumption, Pius XII asked theology faculties around the world for an opinion. “Our teachers’ answer was emphatically negative” Ratzinger wrote. “What here became evident was the one-sidedness, not only of the historical, but also of the historicist method in theology. ‘Tradition’ was identified with what could be proved on the basis of texts. Altaner, a patrologist from Würzburg, “had proven in a scientifically persuasive manner that the doctrine of Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven was unknown before the fifth century.” This doctrine could not therefore belong to the ‘apostolic tradition’, a conclusion also shared by Ratzinger’s teachers in Munich.

“This argument is compelling if you understand ‘tradition’ strictly as the handing down of fixed formulas and texts,” Ratzinger remarked. “This was the position that our teachers represented. But if you conceive of ‘tradition’ as the living process of truth whereby the Holy Spirit introduces us to the fullness of truth and teaches us how to understand what previously we could still not grasp (cf. Jn 16:12-13), then subsequent ‘remembering’ (cf. Jn 16:4, for instance) can come to recognize what it had not caught sight of previously and yet was already handed down in the original Word.” Ratzinger wrote that in 1949, one year before the proclamation of the dogma was issued, Professor Gottlieb Söhngen expressed firm disagreement. Another professor, Eduard Schlink, who taught Systematic Theology at Heidelberg, asked him: “What will you do if the dogma is proclaimed anyway? Wouldn’t you have to turn your back on the Catholic Church?” Söhngen’s response was this: “If the dogma is proclaimed, I will bear in mind that the Church is wiser than I am and that I have more faith in the Church than in my erudition.”” I think that this small scene says everything about the spirit in which theology was done [in those days],” Ratzinger said, “both critically and with faith.”

Australians suggest celibacy played a role in clergy abuse scandal

Josephine McKenna
Religion News Service
December 12, 2014

The Roman Catholic church in Australia acknowledged that "obligatory celibacy" may have contributed to decades of clerical sexual abuse of children in what may be the first such admission by church officials around the world.

A church advisory group called the Truth, Justice and Healing Council made the startling admission Friday in a report to the government's Royal Commission, which is examining thousands of cases of abuse in Australia.

The 44-page report by the council attacked church culture and the impact of what it called "obedience and closed environments" in some religious orders and institutions.

"Church institutions and their leaders, over many decades, seemed to turn a blind eye, either instinctively or deliberately, to the abuse happening within their diocese or religious order, protecting the institution rather than caring for the child," the report said.

"Obedience and closed environments also seem to have had a role in the prevalence of abuse within some religious orders and dioceses. Obligatory celibacy may also have contributed to abuse."

The council's CEO, Francis Sullivan, who has held various administrative roles in the health sector, including heading Catholic Health Australia, said clergy training should include "psychosexual development."

"It's a no-brainer," Sullivan said. "You need to address how sexuality is understood and acted out by members of the clergy."

But the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, which represents around 20,000 victims worldwide, said the latest report did little to help protect those at risk from abuse.

"Decisive action is needed, not more reports," SNAP national director David Clohessy said. "The church hierarchy knows what's needed. It simply refuses to give up its power and enable secular authorities to investigate and prosecute those who commit and conceal sexual violence against the vulnerable."

The Vatican's chief spokesman, Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, could not be reached for comment Friday. But Maltese Bishop Charles Scicluna, the Vatican's former chief prosecutor for abuse cases, tried to put the report in context in remarks to the Italian daily La Stampa.

"You mustn't forget that most abuse occurs in the family," he said. "Obviously I don't exclude individual cases where celibacy is lived badly that may have psychological consequences. But it should be said clearly that it is certainly not the origin of this sad and very painful phenomenon and remember that there is no nexus between cause and effect."

The suggestion of a link between celibacy and child sexual abuse has divided Australian Catholic leaders in the past.

Cardinal George Pell, former archbishop of Sydney and now head of the Vatican's powerful economic ministry, acknowledged there may be a connection when he testified before a separate government inquiry in Australia last year. He was unavailable for comment Friday at the Vatican.

The independent Australian council is made up of church and lay members and is supervised by some of the nation's senior archbishops, though its views do not necessarily reflect those of all senior clergy.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Archbishop Nienstedt lawyers up

Grant Gallicho
December 9, 2014

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has retained the services of a high-profile criminal defense attorney, Peter Wold, as part of its nearly year-long investigation of Archbishop John Nienstedt, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. News of the hire comes weeks after the archdiocese announced a 20-percent budget reduction, which will include cuts to lay staff, as pending sexual-abuse litigation threatens to plunge the Twin Cities diocese into bankruptcy.

In early July, I reported that the archdiocese had hired the law firm Greene Espel to look into multiple claims that Nienstedt had engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct with seminarians, priests, and other adult men. Nienstedt denied the allegations, and has said he will not resign. Greene Espel's report was completed by late July, but auxiliary Bishop Lee Piché, who has been overseeing the investigation, said at the time that the archdiocese needed more time "to digest the information and any other information we receive." Apparently that means re-interviewing some of the people who filed affidavits as part of Greene Espel's investigation. And, as the Star-Tribune reports, at least one of those people is not too happy about it. His name is Joel Cycenas, former priest of the Twin Cities diocese--and former friend of Nienstedt.

“I met with him [Wold] and they are trying to discredit my own affidavit,” Cycenas told the Star-Tribune. "I don't get it." (Cycenas has not replied to requests for comment.) Wold disputes that characterization. “I wasn’t challenging what [the witness] said to Greene Espel,” Wold told WCCO-TV. “I was trying to get more information." What's more, Wold said he was hired by Bishop Piché. [This paragraph has been updated with information from the WCCO report.]

One of the reasons the archdiocese took the allegations against Nienstedt so seriously, according to my sources, is that they first came from someone who had been close to him. The Star-Tribune reports that last summer Nienstedt had this to say about his friendship with Cycenas: “We were very good friends at one point. We met at World Youth Day in Toronto [in 2002].... We went to the State Fair together. Oftentimes I would stay at his rectory at Holy Spirit when I was coming up [from the New Ulm Diocese] to fly out the next morning.” The end of their friendship coincided with Cycenas's decision to leave the priesthood in 2009.

This news raises obvious questions. What is the point of hiring a criminal defense attorney to re-interview people who already filed sworn statements in the Greene Espel investigation? If Cycenas believes Wold is attempting to undermine his sworn statement, what about the other people who filed affidavits with Greene Espel? Is the archdiocese's insurance paying Wold's fees? Or is that coming out of the budget the archdiocese just cut by $5 million--for reasons partly related to the sexual misconduct of its priests and the failure to handle them properly? What is the timeline of Wold's investigation? Will the archdiocese release the Greene Espel report unedited, and if so, when--and to whom? (I've put some of these questions to the archdiocese before and have not received much of an answer. I've contacted the archdiocese again for comment, and will update this post if I receive a substantive reply.)

Serious allegations must be investigated seriously. That takes time. But the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis learned of the allegations against Nienstedt at the end of 2013. It's nearly 2015. Every day the archdiocese delays releasing the results of the Greene Espel report--even if only to the apostolic nuncio, which Piche promised to do--it weakens the credibility of its own leaders, who have promised time and again to foster "a culture of transparency."

Update: After I published this post, I received the following statement from Bishop Piché:

As we had mentioned earlier this year, the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis received claims regarding alleged misbehavior involving Archbishop John Nienstedt. The claims did not involve anything criminal or with minors. The Archbishop asked me to look into these claims and I retained Greene Espel to help conduct an investigation. I received Greene Espel’s information in July. However, this matter involves more than just their role. I have since retained attorney Peter Wold to help with some remaining details in the same investigation. It would be a disservice to those involved to discuss any more of the specifics of the investigation while it is ongoing.

This raises another obvious question: Did Archbishop Nienstedt approve the decision to hire Wold? I asked the archdiocese several times, and was referred to this sentence of Piché's statement: "I have since retained attorney Peter Wold to help with some remaining details in the same investigation." That doesn't answer the question. I've never heard of an auxiliary bishop hiring--on his own--a lawyer to look into the actions of his archbishop. Nor do I know what it means for an attorney who is being paid by a diocese to represent the interests of an auxiliary bishop rather than those of the ordinary. After all, it's the archbishop who has the authority to make such a decision. Perhaps the archdiocese wants to emphasize the idea that Wold is not acting on behalf of Nienstedt, and in practice that may be the case. But there is one final authority in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. His name is John Nienstedt.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Pope Francis on why disagreement in the Catholic church is a good sign

Jena McGregor
Washington Post
December 8, 2014

Just two days after Pope Francis told the Catholic Church's top theologians that they need to listen to the "signs of the times" and consider the needs of ordinary Catholics, an interview published on Sunday by La Nación showed us a few examples of what he meant.

The interview was the pope's first with a newspaper from Argentina, his birthplace. In it, Francis urged the church to improve its handling of gay and divorced family issues.

Pope Francis clarified what was really discussed at the controversial Synod of Bishops in October, the gathering of bishops in Rome that was described as "tumultuous" for exposing divisions over issues involving homosexuals and divorced Catholics. He told La Nación that gay marriage was not mentioned, but that the discussion focused on how to help the family of a homosexual child ("we have to find a way to help that father or that mother to stand by their son or daughter"). Regarding Catholics who have divorced and remarried, he said, "let us open the doors a bit more. Why can't they be godfathers and godmothers?"

Yet while the pope's position on family matters is noteworthy, what's just as intriguing is that he thinks the positions of others should also be heard. Francis said certain criticisms of his leadership — such as the reported statement by conservative U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke that the "church is like a ship without a rudder" — struck him as "odd" and that he was "not aware of anybody using them." Yet he didn't shy away from admitting there was disagreement.

"Resistance is now evident," Pope Francis told La Nación. "And that is a good sign for me, getting the resistance out into the open, no stealthy mumbling when there is disagreement. It's healthy to get things out into the open, it's very healthy."

Francis went further, saying not only that it is good to air these divisions, but that it is entirely natural to have them. "Resistance means different points of view, not something dirty," he said. "It is connected to some decisions I may occasionally take, I will concede that. ... I am not worried. It all seems normal to me. If there were no difference of opinions, that wouldn't be normal."

Francis's leadership of the Catholic Church has been hailed by many for its humility. The interview published Sunday, however, is also a reminder of that his leadership style hinges on an openness to change and a willingness to listen. As Time's Elizabeth Dias wrote following the assembly of bishops in October, the single takeaway was that "Pope Francis showed the world that he is not afraid of making mistakes. ... His commitment to listening allows a host of voices to rise and controversy to surface."

That is precisely what defines a good leader: the ability to foster an environment in which differences are open rather than concealed, and in which people feel free to speak rather than fear being silenced. Francis calls this "a protected space where the Holy Spirit may endeavor." And to create that space, he told La Nación, "two clear qualities are needed: courage to speak and humbleness to listen."

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Prosecutor freezes accounts of ex-Vatican bank heads

Phillip Pullela
December 6, 2014

The Vatican’s top prosecutor has frozen 16 million euros in bank accounts owned by two former Vatican bank managers and a lawyer as part of an investigation into the sale of Vatican-owned real estate in the 2000s, according to the freezing order and other legal documents.

Prosecutor Gian Piero Milano said he suspected the three men, former bank president Angelo Caloia, ex-director general Lelio Scaletti, and lawyer Gabriele Liuzzo, of embezzling money while managing the sale of 29 buildings sold by the Vatican bank to mainly Italian buyers between 2001 and 2008, according to a copy of the freezing order reviewed by Reuters.

The money in the three men’s bank accounts “stems from embezzlement they were engaged in,” Milano said in the October 27 sequester order.

Milano’s investigation follows an audit of the Vatican bank by non-Vatican financial consultants commissioned last year by the bank’s current management. The Vatican bank earlier this year also filed a legal complaint against the three men. The men have not been charged.

The Vatican spokesman on Saturday issued a statement confirming the freezing but gave no names, amounts or other details.

The Vatican bank said in a separate statement that it had pressed charges against the three as part of its “commitment to transparency and zero tolerance, including with regard to matters that relate to a more distant past”. The bank statement also gave no details, citing “the ongoing judicial enquiry”.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Fr. Lombardi's response to Cardinal George Pell's article in "Catholic Herald"

Vatican Information Service
December 5, 2014

Vatican City, 5 December 2014 (VIS) – The Director of the Holy See Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., today issued the following declaration in response to requests for clarification regarding an article by Cardinal George Pell published in the Catholic Herald.

“It should be observed that Cardinal Pell has not referred to illegal, illicit or poorly administered funds, but rather funds that do not appear on the official balance sheets of the Holy See or of Vatican City State, and which have become known to the Secretariat for the Economy during the current process of examination and revision of Vatican administration, to acquire a more comprehensive knowledge of the latter in view of the planned rationalisation. It is indeed a sign and result of constructive cooperation between the various Vatican institutions.

“Moreover, it was known and had been previously explained, also publicly by the Prefecture of Economic Affairs, that the consolidated balance sheets of the Holy See and Vatican City State, presented every year to the College of Cardinals, do not in any way encompass the totality of the numerous administrations under Vatican auspices, but only the main institutions of the Roman Curia and the State”.

[ See previous article Vatican finds hundreds of Euros 'tucked away' describing the sudden appearance of large amounts of cash. Questions immediately arise about who controlled this cash, for whose benefit was it being used, and where did it come from. ]

Vatican finds hundreds of millions of euros 'tucked away'

Phillip Pullela
December 4, 2014

The Vatican's economy minister has said hundreds of millions of euros were found "tucked away" in accounts of various Holy See departments without having appeared in the city-state's balance sheets.

In an article for Britain's Catholic Herald Magazine to be published on Friday, Australian Cardinal George Pell wrote that the discovery meant overall Vatican finances were in better shape than previously believed.

"In fact, we have discovered that the situation is much healthier than it seemed, because some hundreds of millions of euros were tucked away in particular sectional accounts and did not appear on the balance sheet," he wrote.

"It is important to point out that the Vatican is not broke ... the Holy See is paying its way, while possessing substantial assets and investments," Pell said, according to an advance text made available on Thursday.

Pell did not suggest any wrongdoing but said Vatican departments had long had "an almost free hand" with their finances and followed "long-established patterns" in managing their affairs.

"Very few were tempted to tell the outside world what was happening, except when they needed extra help," he said, singling out the once-powerful Secretariat of State as one department that had especially jealously guarded its independence.

"It was impossible for anyone to know accurately what was going on overall," said Pell, head of the new Secretariat for the Economy that is independent of the now downgraded Secretariat of State.


Pell is an outsider from the English-speaking world transferred by Pope Francis from Sydney to Rome to oversee the Vatican's often muddled finances after decades of control by Italians.

Pell's office sent a letter to all Vatican departments last month about changes in economic ethics and accountability.

As of Jan. 1, each department will have to enact "sound and efficient financial management policies" and prepare financial information and reports that meet international accounting standards.

Each department's financial statements will be reviewed by a major international auditing firm, the letter said.

Since the pope's election in March, 2013, the Vatican has enacted major reforms to adhere to international financial standards and prevent money laundering. It has closed many suspicious accounts at its scandal-rocked bank.

In his article, Pell said the reforms were "well under way and already past the point where the Vatican could return to the 'bad old days'."

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Pope blasts Christian and Moslem fundamentalists while leaving Turkey

December 2, 2014

Pope Francis said on Sunday that equating Islam with violence was wrong and called on Muslim leaders to issue a global condemnation of terrorism to help dispel the stereotype.

Francis, the leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, told reporters aboard his plane returning from a visit to Turkey that he understood why Muslims were offended by many in the West who automatically equated their religion with terrorism.

Francis' predecessor, Benedict XVI, caused storms of protest throughout the Islamic world in 2006, when he made a speech that suggested to many Muslims that he believed Islam espoused violence.

Benedict said he had been misunderstood and apologized. But this year, the image of a violent religion has once more been promoted by Islamic State, who have seized swathes of Syria and Iraq, slaughtering or driving out Shi'ite Muslims, Christians and others who do not share their radical brand of Sunni Islam.

The Argentine pope, who has been trying to foster cooperation with moderate Islam in order to work for peace and protect Christians in the Middle East, said it was wrong for anyone to react to terrorism by being "enraged" against Islam.

"You just can't say that, just as you can't say that all Christians are fundamentalists. We have our share of them (fundamentalists). All religions have these little groups," he said.

"They (Muslims) say: 'No, we are not this, the Koran is a book of peace, it is a prophetic book of peace'."

Francis said he had made the suggestion of a global condemnation of terrorism by Islamic leaders in talks on Friday with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.

"I told the president that it would be beautiful if all Islamic leaders, whether they are political, religious or academic leaders, would speak out clearly and condemn this because this would help the majority of Muslim people," he said.

Francis several times condemned Islamic State's insurgents during his three-day trip. On the plane, he said some Christians had been forced to abandon everything: "They are driving us out of the Middle East."

In an address at a Mass on Sunday, he said Islamic State were committing a "profoundly grave sin against God" and called for inter-religious dialogue and action against poverty to help end the conflicts in the region.

He added that ending poverty was crucial, partly because it gave rise to "the recruitment of terrorists". Francis has in the past said that, while it is lawful for the international community to use force to stop an "unjust aggressor", lasting solutions must be found that tackle the root causes of violence.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Priests join abuse survivors in call for papal investigation of Milwaukee archdiocese

Annya Johnson
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
December 2, 2014

A group of sex-abuse victims and their supporters, including three Catholic priests, are asking Pope Francis to investigate the actions of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in its dealings with abuse survivors in the context of its nearly 4-year-old bankruptcy.

An open letter to the pontiff, released this week, raises many of the same concerns and allegations victims have raised during the bankruptcy. Among them: That the archdiocese cast a wide net inviting victims to file claims in the bankruptcy, but is now seeking to have them all dismissed; that it moved $57 million in cemetery funds into a trust to keep it from being used for settlements; and that the archdiocese would rather pay attorneys to fight claims than compensate survivors.

The letter was signed by members of the Milwaukee-based Survivors and Clergy Leadership Alliance and the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. Signers include four victims, at least three of whom have filed claims in the bankruptcy; and a couple whose son, John Pilmaier, was molested at the age of 7 in his Catholic School. Two of the signers -- Peter Isely and Pilmaier, local leaders of SNAP -- have had their cases thrown out. Pilmaier had already received a $100,000 settlement from the archdiocese, but argued that he had been misled during his mediation. Isely's was dismissed as beyond the statute of limitations for fraud.

Two Milwaukee-area priests are among the signatories: the Rev. James Connell, the archdiocese's former vice chancellor; and the Rev. Howard Haase of St. Mary's Parish in Waukesha.

A spokeswoman for the archdiocese said in an email that it was the victims' attorneys and creditors committee, not the archdiocese, that cast the wide net seeking claimants, and that the archdiocese warned the attorneys at the time that many survivors would be disappointed.

Julie Wolf said the archdiocese would have limited claims to those abused by diocesan priests, and would have excluded, for example, victims of religious order priests and nun, teachers in Catholic schools and others the archdiocese does not consider its employees. She said the bankruptcy was forced by a group of about 2 dozen victims who refused a $4 million settlement offer in 2010.

"It was not the archdiocese that created these false hopes," said Wolf said.

In addition to Pope Francis, the letter was sent to Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston, who was appointed by Pope Francis to head a committee tasked with protecting children from sexual abuse; the Vatican's Apostolic Nuncio, or ambassador, to the United States and Archbishop Jerome Listecki.

The archdiocese filed for Chapter 11 protection in 2011 to deal with its sexual abuse claims. It is one of the largest Catholic Church bankruptcies to date, with more than 570 individuals alleging they were molested as children by a priest or someone connected with the local church. Legal fees in the bankruptcy have topped $16 million, according to the archdiocese.

Before entering bankruptcy, the archdiocese had spent $30 million on its sex abuse crisis, including settlements, legal fees and audit expenses, according to its web site.

Dominican Republic, Vatican continue investigation of former nuncio

Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
December 2, 2014

The attorney general of the Dominican Republic met Dec. 2 with Vatican City's promoter of justice to discuss the sex abuse case against Jozef Wesolowski, a former archbishop who had served as nuncio to the Caribbean nation.

Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, released a statement saying Francisco Dominguez Brito, the attorney general, requested the meeting during his trip to Europe to make contact with officials at the Vatican and in Wesolowski's native Poland.

The meeting took place "within the framework of the international cooperation of the investigating agencies," Lombardi said. The meeting "was useful for both sides given the complexity of the inquest" and the likelihood that the Vatican will make a formal request for evidence from the investigation in the Dominican Republic.

Citing the "gravity of the accusations" of sexually abusing boys in the Dominican Republic, the Vatican placed Wesolowski under house arrest in late September. "In light of the medical condition of the accused, supported by medical documentation," he was not housed in a Vatican jail cell.

In his Dec. 2 statement, Lombardi said the Vatican's criminal investigation of Wesolowski is continuing, but the time limit for house arrest had expired. The former nuncio, he said, "has been allowed a certain freedom of movement, but with the obligation of remaining within the (Vatican City) State."

After a separate investigation by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Wesolowski was dismissed from the clerical state in June, depriving him of all rights and duties associated with being a priest except the obligation of celibacy.

He had been nuncio to the Dominican Republic until August 2013, when Pope Francis ordered him to return to the Vatican and the investigations began.

Wesolowski is likely to face a criminal trial at the Vatican and Lombardi said the Vatican's criminal investigations are continuing. The former nuncio has been interrogated once and other sessions are planned, he said.