Thursday, October 29, 2015

True defenders of doctrine uphold spirit, not letter of the law

Christine Schenk
National Catholic Reporter
Oct. 29, 2015 Simply Spirit

Like many of you, I have been following the Synod of Bishops on the family with more than usual interest. Despite early accusations from conservatives that the synod was rigged, it saw the most open exchange of differing perspectives of any synod in recent memory. This resulted in "huge support" for Pope Francis among bishops and bodes well for a healthier, more pastorally effective church.

I am delighted that the synod advised use of the "internal forum" in pastoral decision making about fuller participation of the divorced and remarried in Catholic life. The internal forum relies on priests working privately with individuals to discern the extent to which the "external forum" ideal of church law applies to their subjective situations.

Propositions 84, 85 and 86, while never actually using the word "Communion," open a way for divorced and remarried Catholics to return to receiving the Eucharist. Proposition 85 cites an encyclical by Pope St. John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, as well as the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts and past teachings of the church. It says, "The judgment on an objective situation must not lead to a judgment on 'subjective guilt." Further it says, "While upholding the general norm, it's necessary to recognize that the responsibility for certain actions or decisions is not the same in all cases," and that, "Pastoral discernment, taking account of the correctly formed consciences of people, must take up these situations."

Several prelates have confirmed that the synod supported opening a pathway for the divorced and remarried to return to the sacraments.

Of course, Pope Francis has the final word, but as anyone who has been paying attention realizes, his heart is set on the mercy of God rather than judgment.

The synod fathers have now handed him the two-thirds consensus he needs to nuance pastoral practice regarding divorced and remarried Catholics. Note I did not say to change doctrine. The doctrinal ideal of life-long married commitment remains the same. But the pastoral application can and should take into account the complex circumstances of individual believers.

And all of this is important why? Because people -- especially hurting people -- are beloved of God and the privileged place of divine compassion.

I am grateful that the German bishops raised the "internal forum" proposal at the synod. That they did so with the support of Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the conservative Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is nothing short of miraculous. Still, the "internal forum" path is not really new. I know a number of U.S. priests who invoked it frequently while accompanying people in complex situations.

I have two friends, both nurses, who suffered greatly over loss of the sacraments when they remarried after a painful divorce. Their stories are as heartbreaking as they are instructive.

"Jane" is a dedicated nurse midwife who married at a young age, raised several children and later divorced. She fell in love with a physician with whom she worked and later married him. Theirs was an unusually happy union.

Jane grew up in the proverbial school of hard knocks, but her Catholic faith was always an important support. I knew she loved God but I had no idea how much she suffered from not being able to receive Communion until one day, with many tears, she told me about it. I suggested she speak to a priest I knew to be a skilled spiritual director and told her about the "internal forum."

Several months later we both attended the funeral of the young son of a beloved physician colleague. Before Mass, someone announced there was a need for Communion ministers, so I volunteered. While distributing Communion, I looked up and there was Jane, eyes streaming and hands outstretched to receive the Body of the Christ she loved so well. It was the first time she had received Communion in 20 years. I still get pretty choked up thinking about it.

My other friend, "Joyce," is a college chum from nursing school days who had undergone a painful divorce and later remarried. At our last reunion, Joyce's college roommate, "Trish," asked me to talk to her and her husband who happens to be a retired Protestant minister. Turns out, Joyce was in considerable pain because she longed to receive Communion but could not bring herself to approach the altar. Her husband suffered with her, knowing full well the heights and depths of God's love for his wife.

I suggested to Joyce that the intensity of her longing was itself a sign that Christ was inviting her to receive. I also told her about the "internal forum" and suggested she seek the counsel of a pastoral priest. Not long afterwards she sent me a joyful email relating that she would soon return to the sacraments.

I am very grateful to God for my small part in assuaging the pain of these wonderful women.

If our church doesn't help people connect with God's unconditional love, then what's the point?

We have become salt that has lost its savor.

Unfortunately, most divorced and remarried Catholics have never heard of the "internal forum".

But, hopefully, not for long.

In his concluding synod speech, Pope Francis had harsh words for those "letter-of-the-law" types who "frequently hide even behind the Church’s teachings or good intentions, in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families."

Rather, said Francis, true defenders of church doctrine, "are not those who uphold its letter, but its spirit; not ideas but people; not formulae but the gratuitousness of God’s love and forgiveness."

Listen up, people. No more straining at gnats and swallowing camels allowed in this church.

God's love and forgiveness rule -- now and forever, amen!

[A Sister of St. Joseph, Sr. Christine Schenk served urban families for 18 years as a nurse midwife before co-founding FutureChurch, where she served for 23 years. She holds master's degrees in nursing and theology.]

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Pope, ending synod, excoriates bishops with 'closed hearts'

Philip Pulllela
October 25, 2015

Pope Francis, ending a contentious bishops' meeting on family issues, on Saturday excoriated immovable Church leaders who "bury their heads in the sand" and hide behind rigid doctrine while families suffer.

The pope spoke at the end of a three-week gathering, known as a synod, where the bishops agreed to a qualified opening toward divorcees who have remarried outside the Church but rejected calls for more welcoming language toward homosexuals.

It was the latest in a series of admonitions to bishops by the pontiff, who has stressed since his election in 2013 that the 1.2 billion-member Church should be open to change, side with the poor and rid itself of the pomp and stuffiness that has alienated so many Catholics.

In his final address, the pope appeared to criticize ultra-conservatives, saying Church leaders should confront difficult issues "fearlessly, without burying our heads in the sand."

He said the synod had "laid bare the closed hearts which frequently hide even behind the Church's teachings or good intentions, in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families".

He also decried "conspiracy theories" and the "blinkered viewpoints" of some at the gathering, and said the Church could not transmit its message to new generations "at times encrusted in a language which is archaic or simply incomprehensible".

The outcome of the gathering, over which the pope presided, marked a victory for conservatives on homosexual issues and for progressives on the thorny issue of remarriage.

The final synod document restated Church teachings that gays should not suffer discrimination in society, but also repeated the stand that there was "no foundation whatsoever" for same-sex marriage, which "could not even remotely" be compared to heterosexual unions.

The 94-article document indicated that the assembly had decided to avoid overtly controversial language and seek consensus in order to avoid deadlock on the most sensitive topics, leaving it up to the pope to deal with the details.

The synod is an advisory body that does not have the power to alter church doctrine. The pope, who is the final arbiter on any change and who has called for a more merciful and inclusive Church, can use the material to write his own document, known as an "apostolic exhortation".


The synod document did offer some hope for the full re-integration into the Church of some Catholics who divorce and remarry in civil ceremonies.

Under current Church doctrine they cannot receive communion unless they abstain from sex with their new partner, because their first marriage is still valid in the eyes of the Church and they are seen to be living in an adulterous state of sin.

They only way such Catholics can remarry is if they receive an annulment, a ruling that their first marriage never existed in the first place because of the lack of certain pre-requisites such as psychological maturity or free will.

The document spoke of a so-called "internal forum" in which a priest or a bishop may work with a Catholic who has divorced and remarried to decide jointly, privately and on a case-by-case basis if he or she can be fully re-integrated.

"In order for this happen, the necessary conditions of humility, discretion, love for the Church and her teachings must be guaranteed in a sincere search for God's will," the document said.

Tally sheets showed that the three articles on the divorced and re-married were the most fought-over, reaching the two-thirds majority needed to remain in the document by only a few votes each. One passed by only one vote.

Progressives have for years been advocating the "internal forum" and some observers said the mere fact that phrase was included in the document was a victory for those promoting merciful change.

During the synod, some bishops said the Church should introduce welcoming and inclusive language regarding homosexuals, such as calling them "brothers, sisters and colleagues" in the document.

But Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn of Vienna told reporters many of the 270 bishops felt homosexuality was still "too delicate a theme" in their countries. During the meeting, African bishops were particularly adamant in their opposition to welcoming language toward homosexuals, saying it would only confuse the faithful.

At a preliminary meeting a year ago, conservative clerics made sure an interim report deleted a passage they thought was too welcoming to gays.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Pope Francis is victim of internal conspiracy to 'manipulate' him, Vatican alleges

Nick Squires
The Telegraph
October 22, 2015

The Vatican alleged on Thursday that Pope Francis was the victim of an internal plot to undermine his authority after a false story was leaked to the Italian press claiming that he was suffering from a brain tumour.

The front-page story was published by Quotidiano Nazionale, an Italian daily, on Wednesday, but was indignantly denied by Vatican spokesmen.

It took to new heights the atmosphere of skulduggery and Machiavellian intrigue that swirls around the Holy See at the best of times.

Cardinals and others within the Catholic Church hierarchy suggested that the unfounded story about the tumour was an attempt by “enemies” of the 78-year-old Pope to discredit him and to suggest that his judgment was impaired.

They said the timing of the leak was deeply suspicious – it came just days before the conclusion of the Synod, a three-week meeting of 270 bishops and cardinals at the Vatican which has been discussing delicate issues such as divorce and the Church’s attitude towards homosexuality.

The bishops are due to present their final report to the pontiff on Saturday.

In a forthright notice, L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s own newspaper, called the story about the tumour “false” and “unfounded”.

“The moment (that was) chosen reveals an attempt to raise a cloud of dust in order to manipulate," the broadsheet said. Walter Kasper, a liberal cardinal from Germany who is closely in step with the Pope’s views, said: “It's evident to me that some people don't like this Pope. Maybe they were trying to influence us (in the Synod).”

“Certain people, both inside and outside the Church, are nervous about the outcome of the Synod," he said.

The tumour story was an attempt to “upset” the final days of deliberation at the gathering, the cardinal said.

Italian newspapers speculated about “the shadow of a plot”, alleging that it may have been the work of conservatives within the Church who are aghast at Pope Francis’s reformist agenda and the sympathetic line he has taken towards homosexuals, diverging from the traditional Vatican view that they are “intrinsically disordered”.

“Who wants the Pope dead?” was the headline of Il Giornale, a conservative daily, which said the Church was “in chaos”. Whoever leaked the tumour story to Quotidiano Nazionale was aiming to undermine the “legitimacy” of the Pope, said Massimo Franco, a leading Vatican expert.

“This nasty story seems to have been concocted by the enemies of Jorge Mario Bergoglio (as the Pope was known before his election in 2013) to let him know that he is in their sights,” he wrote in Corriere della Sera.

The underlying aim may have been to cast doubt on the Pope’s mental acuity, insinuating that his actions and statements were a result of “his brain not functioning properly,” Mr Franco suggested.

It was a “subliminal and disturbing” message that the Pope’s enemies were hoping to spread, amid a growing conservative backlash against some of his statements and decisions.

Antonio Spadaro, the editor of Civilta Cattolica, a Jesuit publication, said: “After various other lies that have been put out there, they are now inventing an illness. They don’t know what else to do. They’re getting desperate.”

But it remained unclear who exactly was behind the alleged plot.

Most Vatican observers believed that if it really was engineered by insiders, it may have been the work of conservatives at the Synod.

They have been particularly alarmed by the Pope’s suggestion that the Church should show more compassion towards Catholics who have divorced and then remarried without seeking an annulment.

They are currently banned from taking Communion because the Church teaches that they are living in sin and committing adultery with their new spouses.

A group of 13 cardinals wrote to the Pope during the Synod to complain that they felt it was being rigged by the pontiff in order to ensure a more liberal outcome.

Victor Manuel Fernandez, a bishop from the Pope’s native Argentina, called the alleged attempt at spreading false rumours “the strategy of the Apocalypse”.

It was a bid to “discredit some who is in power, to speak ill of him, to disseminate absolutely false stories about him. To speak of someone in this way shows the intention to destabilise him.”

In its story, Quotidiano Nazionale claimed that the Pope had been secretly visited at the Vatican by a Japanese surgeon, who had found a benign, treatable, brain tumour.

But the Holy See issued three, increasingly exasperated denials of the story and the brain cancer specialist, Dr Takanori Fukushima, released a statement saying that he had never medically examined the Pope.

The Rev Federico Lombardi, the chief Vatican spokesman, said the report was “totally unfounded,” calling the story “seriously irresponsible and not worthy of attention. As all can see, the Pope continues to exercise his intense activity without interruption and in an absolutely normal way".

But the newspaper continued to stand by its story. Andrea Cangini, the editor, said his journalists had worked for months to double-check the information and make sure their sources were reliable.

Pope Francis' plans for inclusiveness divide bishops

Laurie Goodstein and Elisabetta Povoledo
New York Times
October 21, 2015

Pope Francis had encouraged bishops from more than 120 countries to speak freely when they gathered at the Vatican nearly three weeks ago for a broad discussion of family matters to guide the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics. And speak freely, they have.

The result has been the most momentous, and contentious, meeting of bishops in the 50 years since the Second Vatican Council, which brought the church into the modern era. The meeting has exposed deep fault lines between traditionalists focused on shoring up doctrine, and those who want the church to be more open to Catholics who are divorced, gay, single parents or cohabiting.

As the bishops face a deadline Saturday to present their report to the pope, it is increasingly clear that Francis is struggling to build consensus for his vision of a more inclusive and decentralized church. The question is whether the pope, who has won the hearts of those in the pews, can persuade the bishops to help create a church that fully welcomes people with the kinds of family situations it now condemns.

“This is a pivotal moment of this pontificate,” said Roberto Rusconi, who teaches the history of Christianity at the University of Rome Tor Vergata, a state school. Pope Francis is sounding out the world’s bishops “to better understand whether they are going to follow his line or not.”

“The risk,” Professor Rusconi said, “is polarization.”

Already the summit meeting — known as a synod — has had to conduct its debate amid a distracting swirl of intrigue that has included the leak in the Italian media of a private letter to Francis from 13 cardinals asserting that he had stacked the 10-member committee drafting the final report with partisans favorable to his vision of change. Then on Wednesday, an Italian newspaper reported that Francis had a treatable brain tumor — a report the Vatican swiftly declared to be “unfounded.”

The synod meetings are closed to the media, but at daily briefings bishops have said that Francis appears serene and quite pleased to have uncorked a genuine debate. On Saturday, the synod’s final report is expected to be published and the 270 participating bishops, known as synod fathers, will vote up or down on each passage.

Progressives, led by the contingent from Germany, are pushing for a church that is more welcoming toward divorced, gay and other parishioners who are not living the Catholic ideal of family. The German bishops have found allies among some prelates from Western Europe, Asia and the Americas.

The traditionalists — whose standard bearers are the African and Eastern European bishops — have resisted any proposals that appear to soften the church’s doctrine that marriage is “indissoluble” and homosexuality is “intrinsically disordered.”

In one indication of their fervor, Cardinal Robert Sarah, who is from Guinea and leads the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship, told the synod, “What Nazi-Fascism and Communism were in the 20th century, Western homosexual and abortion ideologies and Islamic fanaticism are today.”

Bishops from the United States have revealed themselves to be just as divided as their flock back home. Their tensions surfaced here when an Italian newspaper reported last week that Cardinals Timothy M. Dolan of New York and Daniel N. DiNardo of Houston were among 13 who signed the letter to Francis complaining about the drafting committee. On that panel is a fellow American, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C.

This week Cardinal Wuerl, usually known as a centrist diplomat, fired back in an interview with the Jesuit magazine America, saying the charges that the pope was trying to manipulate the synod’s outcome or undermine church teaching were unfounded.

“I don’t know what would bring people to say the things that they are saying because we are all hearing the pope, and the pope is saying nothing that contradicts the teaching of the church,” Cardinal Wuerl said. “He’s encouraging us to be open, to be merciful, to be kind, to be compassionate, but he keeps saying that you cannot change the teaching of the church.”

“I wonder,” he added, “if it is really that they find they just don’t like this pope.”

The synod can make recommendations, but unlike the three-year Second Vatican Council, it cannot make decisions. That power lies with the pope.

Francis is expected to speak to the bishops this weekend, giving him the last word after the bishops vote on their final report. But it could be many months before Francis issues an official document on the church’s approach to family issues, and it has not been determined what that document will cover and what weight it will have, several Vatican spokesmen have said.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

What To Do When Your Church Changes on You: The Case of Fr. Joseph Fenton

Can doctrine "develop"? Can Rome admit it was wrong without the church crumbling into dust? It is useful to look at history as the following article from Pray Tell does in the case of the church's doctrinal attitude toward freedom of religion in the 20th century.


Fr. Anthony Ruff, OSB
Pray Tell
October 18, 2015

Joseph Fenton was born in Springfield, MA in 1906. By 1931, he was ordained to the priesthood and had obtained his Roman doctorate in theology – from the Angelicum. On the question of religious liberty, he stood solidly with the church. And the official teaching had been expressed repeatedly:

In 1832, Pope Gregory XVI called the idea of religious liberty “absurd” in an encyclical.
In 1864, Pope Pius IX listed both religious freedom and separation of church and state in his Syllabus of Errors.
In 1888, Pope Leo XIII called religious liberty “false” and “greatly hurtful” in an encyclical.
In 1906, Pope Pius X said the idea of separation of church and state is “eminently disastrous and reprehensible.”

The official position was held well into the 20th century. In April 1948, an article in the Vatican-approved Civiltà Cattolica stated that the Roman Catholic Church is “convinced of being the only true church,” and hence she alone has a right to freedom. Other religions “shall not be allowed to propagate false doctrine.” When the majority of people in a country are Catholic, “the Church will require that legal existence be denied to error, and that if religious minorities actually exist, they shall have only a de facto existence, without opportunity to spread their beliefs.” Protestants should understand that the Catholic Church would betray herself “if she were to proclaim … that error can have the same rights as truth.”

As the reader perhaps knows, it was Fr. John Courtney Murray, SJ, who did the most important work in the development of doctrine regarding religious liberty in the decades before the Second Vatican Council. Limited by the accepted theological constrictions of his time, he was forced to argue that the condemnation of religious liberty was not really the “traditional” Catholic teaching (though it was taught repeatedly and emphatically by popes). He claimed that it merely was, as Barry Hudock puts it, “an adaptation … the church had made in a specific historical context, a specific set of circumstances that were true in a particular time and place.”

Fr. Joseph Fenton emerged as the primary opponent in battle against Murray. Fenton was a theology professor at the Catholic University of America and a close associate of Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, prefect of the Holy Office (now called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith). If Christ is King, as Fenton pointed out that the Catholic liturgy calls him, then it is obligatory that nations follow and worship him in their laws. In an article in the American Ecclesiastical Review, Fr. Fenton wrote:

In the event that Fr. Murray’s teaching is true, then it would seem that our students of sacred theology have been sadly deceived for the past few centuries. They have been told that the state has an obligation to worship God according to the precepts and the rites of the true religion…. It is hard to believe that any Catholic could be convinced that an entire section of Catholic teaching about the Church itself could be so imperfect.

OttavianiCardinal Ottaviani for his part said in 1953 at a talk at the Lateran University in Rome, “The enemies of the Church in every time have opposed her mission….” It’s not surprising when those outside the church do this, but it’s even worse when those inside it “attempt to snatch the weapons of truth and justice from her hands.” But that it was he saw happening then. He then went into the dispute between Fenton and Murray, and cited Murray’s thinking almost verbatim as it had been presented in a recent Fenton article. The church’s principles, he said, are “firm and unmovable.”

By 1954, Fenton was in Rome submitting secret reports about Murray to Ottaviani. Fenton wrote in his diary, “There is a good chance that I have taken a leading part in an action which may turn out to be one of the most important in the history of the Catholic Church in the USA. There seems to be ample evidence that the big boys over here are working in the right direction.”

Then, later in 1954, the Holy Office condemned four errors:
that the Catholic confessional state is not the ideal;
that full religious liberty can be considered as a valid political ideal in a truly democratic state;
that it is sufficient for the state to guarantee the freedom of the Catholic Church by a general guarantee of religious liberty; and
that the teaching of Leo XIII on the obligations of states to God is not applicable to the democratic state.

Murray was ordered to submit his writings to the censors in Rome before publication. His Jesuit superiors ordered him to write no more on the topic of religious liberty, to which he acquiesced.

In 1957-1958, the Holy Office was preparing a document on religious freedom. A draft included a list of 21 errors, 14 of which were drawn from Murray’s writings. But then, on October 9, 1958, Pope Pius XII died. And on October 28, John XXIII was elected. He called the Second Vatican Council in 1959.

Fenton was present at the first session of Vatican II in 1962 as Cardinal Ottaviani’s peritus (theological expert). Murray was not invited to the Council. Fenton worked with Ottaviani to have the Council condemn religious freedom, and the Holy Office had been preparing a document to this effect. Meanwhile, the newly-formed Secretariat for Christian Unity was also preparing a document on religious freedom which took an entirely different and more positive approach.

Cardinal Spellman arranged to have Murray invited to the second session of Vatican II as his advisor. Murray received the invitation to Vatican II the same week he was barred, along with Fr. Godfrey Diekmann, OSB, from speaking at the Catholic University of America. Murray’s ideas were advanced vigorously by the U.S. bishops on the Council floor.

But not without vigorous opposition. When the Council fathers were presented a draft document affirming religious freedom, A Spanish cardinal said that the proposed declaration: “certainly contradicts the explicit teaching of the Roman pontiffs up to and including Pope John XXIII.”

Another Spaniard said that the document “perverts the doctrine taught for centuries by the magisterium of the Church. Cardinal Ottaviani said that it was “contrary to common [Catholic] teaching.”

As events progressed in the course of November 1965, near the end of the final session of Vatican II, it became clearer that the proposed document was moving toward approval. Fenton wrote in his diary, “We should, I believe, face the facts. Since the death of St. Pius X the Church has been directed by weak and liberal popes, who have flooded the hierarchy with unworthy and stupid men. This present conciliar set-up makes this all the more apparent.”

After much to-ing and fro-ing, with plenty of backstage politicking and what some would no doubt call “synod rigging,” the Council fathers eventually approved the declaration on religious freedom, Dignitatis humanae. The vote on December 7, 1965, the day before the close of the Council, was 2,308 in favor and 70 against.

Dignitatis humanae states in its opening paragraph what it is up to: “The council intends to develop the doctrine of recent popes on the inviolable rights of the human person.” And here is the key sentence in the declaration: “This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom.” It is interesting how the declaration understands the source of its teaching:

This doctrine of freedom has roots in divine revelation, and for this reason Christians are bound to respect it all the more conscientiously. Revelation does not indeed affirm in so many words the right of persons to immunity from external coercion in matters religious….”

The (new) teaching is not explicitly found in divine revelation, but it is enough that its “roots” are in divine revelation. This was enough to make development, indeed reversal, possible.

And where was Fr. Fenton at this point? Fenton left Rome in late November so as not to have to be present for the promulgation of Dignitatis humanae. He had resigned as editor of the American Ecclesiastical Review the previous December. He became pastor of a parish in Massachusetts, and no longer expressed himself on the issue of religious liberty. He died in 1969. One can only wonder what the final years and days were like for him.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Puerto Rico archbishop calls for path to Communion for remarried

Joshua J. McElwee
National Catholic Reporter
October 19, 2015

Puerto Rico’s representative at the ongoing Synod of Bishops has poignantly called for some sort of penitential path towards taking Communion for Catholics who have divorced and remarried, saying the current practice does not allow them a “full encounter” with Christ.

San Juan Archbishop Roberto González Nieves told the 270 prelates at the gathering that the practice of remarried Catholics entering the Communion line with their arms crossed to indicate they wish to receive a blessing, instead of the Eucharist, demonstrates that “spiritual communion is not enough.”

“This gesture shows and suggests several things,” González said of that practice during his 3-minute address to the synod. “It is a manifestation of the desire of sacramental communion and they humble themselves before the community by making clear to all their illegal status; as if to say: Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!”

Saying he wanted to present proposals to “enter into dialogue with the complexity of the pastoral reality and the salvation of souls,” González suggested to the synod that certain divorced and remarried persons might enter into something akin to an "order of penitents" through participation in "places of encounter with Jesus Christ."

With a citation to Pope John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation Familiaris consortio, the archbishop said such a journey would be “gradual and proportionate” and take such persons “step-by-step in the most profound and sincere moral life of faith.”

Each of the participants in the Synod of Bishops is allowed to make at least one short speech during an open meeting of the group. While the speeches are not being published by the Vatican, González has made the full text of his intervention available at his archdiocesan website in Spanish.

One of the discussions known to be taking place at the synod, being held behind closed doors, regards the church's stance towards divorced persons who remarry without obtaining annulments of their first marriages. Such persons are currently prohibited in church teaching from receiving the Eucharist.

Identifying places of encounter with Christ as scripture, prayer, liturgy, Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, González suggested a penitential pathway could offer divorced and remarried persons a kind of “second baptism” where they can resolve a “conflict of values” between the indissolubility of marriage, human dignity, and salvation.

Quoting from Pope Francis’ homily during the recent Mass in Washington to canonize 18th-century Franciscan missionary Fr. Junipero Serra, the archbishop said the pope reminded Catholics that Jesus “did not provide a short list of who is, or is not, worthy of receiving his message and his presence.”

“Far from expecting a pretty life, smartly-dressed and neatly groomed, he embraced life as he found it,” González quoted the pope’s homily. “It made no difference whether it was dirty, unkempt, broken.”

“Without going into the details of the moral responsibility towards their children: Would it be right that in a couple one spouse leaves with the pretext to live in chastity?” the archbishop asked the synod prelates.

“Where is the dignity and responsibility towards the person abandoned?” he continued. “If we believe in the efficacy of the penitential sacrament as a sacrament of conversion, then: why deny it to someone, who we can guide to meet the Lord who can convert him/her?”

“This penitential journey, with renewed purpose to bring back to the right path these brothers and sisters, will have the conditions of possibility for which, extraordinarily, they may progressively assume the gifts of God and its requirements,” said the archbishop, quoting again from Familiaris consortio.

“This implies that in the penitential journey these brothers and sisters resume their ecclesiastic union through the Eucharist, when the conditions established by the Church are verified,” said González.

“This will not be a prize because they are good, but it will be their strength in weakness … an aid to help them continue on the journey,” said the archbishop. “The consecrated host is the medicine for the soul, and whoever has a wound looks for medicine, says St. Ambrose.”

Friday, October 16, 2015

Cardinal Pell rejects conservative call for a walkout at Synod of Bishops

John L. Allen, Jr.
October 16, 2015

Despite an online petition calling on prelates “faithful to Christ’s teaching” to abandon the 2015 Synod of Bishops on the family, due to perceptions of a “pre-determined outcome that is anything but orthodox,” one of the summit’s most outspoken conservatives says “there’s no ground for anyone to walk out on anything.”

Australian Cardinal George Pell, who heads the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy, told Crux on Friday that by the midway point of the Oct. 4-25 synod, concerns about stacking the deck circulating in some quarters have “substantially been addressed.”

The online petition calling for a walkout, which can be found at, has garnered roughly 2,300 signatures in two days.

It asks any bishop alarmed by the prospect of progressive changes to Church doctrine to “do his sacred duty and publicly retire from any further participation in the synod before its conclusion,” and suggests that Pope Francis is responsible for promoting “confusion and scandal.”

Pell was among roughly a dozen cardinals who signed a letter to Francis at the beginning of the synod raising doubts about the process, but he says reassurances have been given by Vatican officials that the final result “will faithfully present the views of the synod.”

Among other things, Pell said that Italian Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the synod secretary, has stated from the floor of the synod hall that voting on a final document will take place “paragraph by paragraph,” providing a clear sense of where the bishops stand on individual issues.

He also said that members of a drafting committee for the final document have vowed to be true to the content of the synod’s discussions, rather than using the text to promote their own views.

“That’s all we want, for whatever the synod says, whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent, to be represented,” Pell said.

“That’s in the long-term interest of everyone, because no matter how it might turn out, people want to feel that the bishops got to that situation fairly,” he said.

Asked if he feels the synod now has a level playing field, Pell said it’s “level enough.”

Overall, Pell said he believes the synod is making solid progress.

“I think a lot of good work has been done on the first two parts of the document,” he said, referring to a working text that’s the basis for synod discussions. “I think there’s generally a good atmosphere in the synod.”

Pell also said that he believes the information flow this time is an improvement on the October 2104 edition of the Synod of Bishops, when there were charges by conservatives that Vatican briefings presented a selective vision that generally favored progressive positions.

“Both sides of the story are getting out this time, I think,” he said.

“In terms of the [synod participants] who are briefing the media, I think they’re getting a mix of left, right, and center …. it’s better than it was the last time, anyway,” Pell said.

Pell said that he believes the final report must deal with sensitive issues, such as proposals to allow divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion, even if there’s no clear consensus among the bishops.

“I don’t think we’ll be in that position,” he said, suggesting that opposition to those proposals represents a strong majority in the synod.

“But even if it actually is 50/50 on some significant point, I think the Catholic world has to know that,” Pell said.

Vatican briefers repeatedly have told reporters that a decision on whether to release the synod’s final document is up to the pope. Pell said he believes it should be released, among other things because it’s destined to leak out anyway.

“I think no matter what happens, it will be public,” he said

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Wuerl disputes claims of synod manipulation

Christopher Lamb
The Tablet
October 12, 2015

A prominent cardinal has challenged claims that the synod is being manipulated describing the process as “the most open” he has attended.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington and a member of the synod’s governing council, was responding to the leaking of a letter sent to the Pope, signed by a number of cardinals, which claimed the synod processes were designed to “facilitate predetermined outcomes.”

Speaking to The Tablet today the cardinal said: “I’m not seeing this manipulation they are talking about. I’ve been at synods since 1990 and this is the most open synod I’ve ever been at.”

He went on: “I don’t know how you manipulate 13 language groups and 13 moderators and 13 relators and 250 people talking. How do you manipulate that so it comes out with what you want it to say? I just cant make sense of that. But if you begin with that lens, and you see everything through that lens then you can see manipulation, intrigue, conspiracy anywhere. I just don’t see it.”

A report by Italian Vatican journalist Sandro Magister said 13 cardinals signed the letter which was presented to Francis by Cardinal George Pell. However four signatories have denied they signed it and Cardinal Pell later issued a statement saying there were errors in the letter reported and the signatories. He stressed, however, that “there is no possibility” to change the doctrine preventing the divorced and remarried from receiving communion.

New settlement brings Kansas City priest abuse cost to nearly $4M

Kansas City Business Journal
October 13, 2015

The Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph has settled two more sexual abuse claims against former priest Shawn Ratigan. Ratigan, who was sentenced to 50 years in prison in 2013 for child pornography charges, has now cost the diocese nearly $4 million, The Kansas City Star reports.

Last week, the diocese finalized an out-of-court settlement worth $200,000 with a family who's two minor daughters were photographed by Ratigan.

The Star reports that previous lawsuits in 2013 and 2014 were settled for $1.35 million, $600,000, $1.275 million and $525,000. Another ongoing 2011 case is being appealed by plaintiffs.

In addition, a $10 million settlement reached in 2008 with 47 plaintiffs on other priest abuse charges had a stipulation that the diocese be forthcoming about other criminal behavior. In 2014, that settlement triggered a $1.1 million breach-of-contract award after Ratigan's abuse conviction.

Bishop Robert Finn, who was convicted in 2013 and sentenced to two years of probation on a misdemeanor charge of failing to report suspected child abuse, resigned in April. James V. Johnston Jr., the current bishop for the Springfield-Cape Girardeau diocese, will become the Kansas City diocese's seventh bishop on Nov. 4.

Vatican seeks to quell talk of letter to pope on family

Nicole Winfield
Associated Press
October 13, 2015

The Vatican spokesman on Tuesday denounced the leak of a private letter to Pope Francis by conservative cardinals complaining about the way his big family meeting is being run. But he reminded those responsible that the meeting procedures are set and that they're duty-bound to stick with them.

Spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi sought to end discussion about the latest controversy to roil Francis' synod on the family after an Italian journalist published the letter Monday and named 13 cardinals who purportedly signed it.

Four of those said they never signed it. But the Vatican's finance manager, Cardinal George Pell, effectively confirmed he was behind the initiative by fellow conservatives to bring complaints straight to the pope about a perceived lack of openness in the synod process that they felt would create "predetermined results."

The letter, written in English, said the working document for the meeting was problematic and so was the drafting committee for the final document, since its members were appointed by the pope, not elected by the synod's 270 members.

And the letter warned if the synod muddied church teaching about marriage, the Catholic Church risked going the way of "liberal" Protestant churches which, according to the letter, had collapsed because they had abandoned "key elements of Christian belief and practice in the name of pastoral adaptation."

Pell has been at the forefront of conservative resistance to attempts by liberals at the synod to find wiggle room in the church's ban on giving Communion to Catholics remarried outside the church. Catholic teaching holds that without an annulment, these Catholics are committing adultery and cannot receive the sacraments.

Lombardi said Tuesday that Francis had already responded to the complaints and that it wasn't unusual for there to be "observations" and doubts about new procedures for a synod.

"But once they have been established, the (synod fathers) should commit themselves to putting them into practice in the best possible way," Lombardi said.

He said the synod process was going along smoothly in a positive atmosphere and even some of the purported signatories of the letter were moderators for their discussion groups, a sign even they were committed to the process.

Friday, October 9, 2015

German archbishop: church's stance on divorce makes people 'doubt God'

Joshua J. McElwee
National Catholic Reporter
October 9, 2015

One of Germany’s representatives at the worldwide meeting of Catholic prelates on family has pointedly told the gathering that church teaching preventing divorced and remarried persons from receiving the Eucharist makes people “doubt God.” Berlin Archbishop Heiner Koch has used his 3-minute address during the deliberations to directly address one of the issues known to be creating the most disagreement among the prelates, saying he is often asked why remarried couples are barred from the Eucharistic table.

The church’s theological arguments “do not silence the questions in the hearts of people,” Koch told the assembly.

“Is there no place at the Lord’s table for people who experienced and suffered an irreversible break in their lives?” he asked. “How perfect and holy must one be to be allowed to the supper of the Lord?”

“It becomes clear to me every time that the question of allowing divorced and remarried people to the Eucharist is not in the first place a question about the indissolubility of the sacrament of marriage,” said the archbishop.

rectangular-logo.jpgVisit our sister website, Global Sisters Report, for unique content you won't find anywhere else! “Many people question the Church and her mercy in this regard,” he said. “More than a few people concerned leave the Church with their children on the basis of what they see as rejection.”

“Ultimately and most profoundly it is much more about the Christian faith and God and His mercy,” he continued. “For many, the question of admittance to the Eucharist makes them doubt God.”

Each of the some 270 bishops participating in the Oct. 4-25 Synod is being given three minutes to address the entire assembly. While the meetings are not open, and the press is therefore not witnessing each of the statements, some of the bishops are making their remarks public.

Koch released his statement in German at the website of the country’s episcopal conference. Mark de Vries, a Dutch blogger, has released an English-language translation of the remarks.

The German archbishop’s text is notable for the way it directly confronts an issue known to be causing disagreement in the Synod.

While some bishops have expressed an openness to a proposal for some sort of “penitential path” to allow some divorced and remarried Catholics to receive communion, others have expressed concerns that such a proposal would put in doubt the church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage.

Divorced and remarried Catholics are currently prohibited from taking Communion unless they have received annulments of their first marriages.

In a sign of the disagreement on the issue, of the Synod’s organizers opened the event Monday by saying there could be no “graduality” on the matter.

“In the search for pastoral solutions for the difficulties of certain civilly divorced and remarried persons, it is presently held that the fidelity to the indissolubility of marriage cannot be joined to the practical recognizing of the goodness of concrete situations that stand opposed and are therefore incompatible,” said Hungarian Cardinal Peter Erdő, who is serving as the Synod’s general relator.

“Indeed, between true and false, between good and evil, there is not a graduality,” he continued. “Even if some forms of living together bring in themselves certain positive aspects, this does not mean that they can be presented as good things.”

Koch, who was appointed as the leader of the Berlin archdiocese by Francis in June, also focused his comments at the Synod on a range of other issues. He spoke in particular about the needs of interfaith marriages, struggles of single parents, of families with many children, of refugees, and a desire to protect the elderly and unborn children

“It is so important that the Holy Father, with us, sends out from this Synod the Gospel of the mystery of marriage, with a new hermeneutic, in a new language, a language of fullness, of blessing, of the richness of life, provocative and inviting for the people,” said the German archbishop.

“What grace is offered to the people, what participation in God’s order of creation and salvation, what depths of mutual love between God and people: Marriage is for us about a life in fullness and in the love of God, even in our brokenness,” said Koch.

“This must be our message in Church and society,” he said. “The Synod cannot give the impression that we mainly fought over divorce and conditions for admittance to the sacraments.”

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Archbishop: Synod should reflect on possibly allowing female deacons

Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service
October 6, 2015

Canadian Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher of Gatineau, Quebec, said the synod should reflect on the possibility of allowing for female deacons as it seeks ways to open up more opportunities for women in church life.

Where possible, qualified women should be given higher positions and decision-making authority within church structures and new opportunities in ministry, he told Catholic News Service Oct. 6.

Discussing a number of proposals he offered the synod fathers to think about, he said, "I think we should really start looking seriously at the possibility of ordaining women deacons because the diaconate in the church's tradition has been defined as not being ordered toward priesthood but toward ministry."

Currently, the Catholic Church permits only men to be ordained as deacons. Deacons can preach and preside at baptisms, funerals and weddings, but may not celebrate Mass or hear confessions.

Speaking to participants at the Synod of Bishops on the family Oct. 6, Archbishop Durocher said he dedicated his three-minute intervention to the role of women in the church -- one of the many themes highlighted in the synod's working document.

The working document, which is guiding the first three weeks of the synod's discussions, proposed giving women greater responsibility in the church, particularly through involving them in "the decision-making process, their participation -- not simply in a formal way -- in the governing of some institutions; and their involvement in the formation of ordained ministers."

Durocher, who recently ended his term as president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CNS that much of his brief talk was focused on the lingering problem of violence against women, including domestic violence. He said the World Health Organization estimates that 30 percent of women worldwide experience violence by their partner.

He reminded the synod fathers that in the apostolic exhortation "Familiaris Consortio" in 1981, St. John Paul II basically told the church that "we have to make a concerted and clear effort to make sure that there is no more degradation of women in our world, particularly in marriage. And I said, 'Well, here we are 30 years later and we're still facing these kinds of numbers.'"

He said he recommended one thing they could do to address this problem was, "as a synod, clearly state that you cannot justify the domination of men over women -- certainly not violence -- through biblical interpretation," particularly incorrect interpretations of St. Paul's call for women to be submissive to their husbands.

In his presentation the archbishop also noted that Pope Benedict XVI had talked about the question of new ministries for women in the church. "It's a just question to ask. Shouldn't we be opening up new venues for ministry of women in the church?" he said.

In addition to the possibility of allowing for women deacons, he said he also proposed that women be hired for "decision-making jobs" that could be opened to women in the Roman Curia, diocesan chanceries and large-scale church initiatives and events.

Another thing, he said, "would be to look at the possibility of allowing married couples -- men and women, who have been properly trained and accompanied -- to speak during Sunday homilies so that they can testify, give witness to the relationship between God's word and their own marriage life and their own life as families."

Don't put priests on a pedestal

Father Donald Cozens
US Catholic
October 2, 2015

Finally there appears an issue that our divided church can agree on. Catholics of all stripes—conservatives and liberals and in-betweens—are declaring a pox on clericalism. From Pope Francis to the back pew widow, from seminary rectors to lay ecclesial ministers, we agree that clericalism is crippling the pastoral mission of the church.

At the same time it is strengthening the secularists’ claim that Catholic clergy are nothing more than papal agents bent on enforcing rigid moral controls that smother our human instinct for pleasure and freedom. So let’s end clericalism in the church.

Yes, of course, let’s end clericalism. It’s just plain right to heed the growing consensus that clericalism must go. But something tells me, “not so fast.”

This cancer crippling the Catholic world—from local communities to Vatican offices—is so deeply embedded in our past and present church fabric that we need a careful presurgery examination. So pull on your surgical gloves and join me in the pre-op room.

We know clericalism when we encounter it, whether on the parish level or in the media’s caricaturist portrayal of clergy. But although we know clericalism when we see it, it’s not so easy to define it.

Here’s how I see it: Clericalism is an attitude found in many (but not all) clergy who put their status as priests and bishops above their status as baptized disciples of Jesus Christ. In doing so, a sense of privilege and entitlement emerges in their individual and collective psyche. This, in turn, breeds a corps of ecclesiastical elites who think they’re unlike the rest of the faithful.

Clergy caught up in this kind of purple-hued seduction are incapable of seeing that it freezes their humanity—their ability to simply connect on a human level with the various sorts of God’s holy people. Of all the sour fruits of clericalism, this inability to connect with others might be the most damaging. When the ordained come across as somehow superior to their parishioners and people they encounter, the playing field is tilted. This kind of disconnect can be fatal to a priest’s efforts to build a sense of community in his parish.

It’s often difficult for parishioners to feel comfortable with a clerical priest. They simply don’t find “Father” approachable. The same can be said of bishops who are all too comfortable thinking of themselves as princes by divine selection. They connect neither with their priests nor with the people they’re meant to shepherd. You won’t find the smell of the sheep on them.

Often that’s exactly what clergy caught up in clericalism want: They believe a certain distance from the nonordained is fitting and right. Of course, priests need not be chummy with their parishioners; the pastor-parishioner relationship requires maturity and prudence on the part of the ordained. Most pastors are all too aware of the smothering demands of some of their flock. Without question, they need to safeguard their privacy and find time when they are, so to speak, “off the clock.” But clericalism by its nature exaggerates this need. Without fail, it breeds artificiality and superficiality between pastors and parishioners. Though often unnamed, something real is missing.

Clerical priests and bishops (and yes, clerical deacons) come to see their power to confer sacraments, to preach, and to teach as the bedrock of their identity. When this happens they lose sight of the truth that the church’s power is ultimately the power of the Holy Spirit. Without words, they seem to say, “We are clergy and you’re not.”

Years ago, when I served as the diocesan vicar for priests, I spoke with a highly placed lay diocesan official who related his fear that he was being co-opted by the system—that he was becoming “clerical.” I told him not to worry. The very fact that he sensed the danger was his deliverance. We agreed that a number of his lay colleagues apparently didn’t see the danger. These lay chancery workers thought of themselves as insiders. And in a real sense they were. But like many of their ordained colleagues, their first loyalty was now to the church as institution rather than to the gospel and to the faithful they served. So the cancer of clericalism, in its broadest sense, is not restricted to deacons, priests, and bishops.

Clerical culture, it should be clear, is the breeding ground for the disease of clericalism. The two, however, are distinct. We must understand this before any attempt to surgically excise the cancer of clericalism. Most professionals, skilled workers, and artisans develop a culture, a pattern of behavior and language and image that shape the identity of those who belong. Such cultures can foster a healthy esprit de corps.

So clerical culture itself isn’t the culprit here. Priests regularly speak of the “brotherhood of the ordained.” They share a similar seminary training. They understand the joys and sorrows of parish ministry, the freedom and loneliness of celibacy, and the frightening responsibility of preaching God’s word.

But a healthy clerical culture fosters a spirit of humility and gratitude in the hearts of deacons, priests, and bishops. It leads a priest to say to himself, “By the grace of God I’m a priest. But I’m first a baptized disciple in need of ministry myself, in need of mercy and the fellowship of lay men and women.” However, a clerical culture that exaggerates the role and scope of the ordained minister in the life of the church becomes fertile soil for the cancer of clericalism.

So what can we do to end clericalism? The following steps should excise the cancer, or at least put clericalism into remission:

Bishops, priests, and deacons are called by the gospel—and by Pope Francis—to see discipleship and service as foundational to ordained ministry. Baptism confers all the dignity they need. Many clergy get this. Many still do not. So let our seminaries teach candidates for the priesthood that baptismal discipleship rooted in prayer is the foundation of priestly ministry. Some clergy insist on being addressed with their title, Father or Monsignor. And some prelates insist on their courtly honorifics, Excellency or Eminence. Titles have their place, but we shouldn’t insist on them. We might smile at a layperson who insists on being called Mister, Doctor, Professor, or Judge. Calling a physician Doctor is appropriate in the consulting room or hospital, and addressing a pastor as Father is likewise appropriate in parish settings. But most people wince when an individual insists on always being addressed by his or her title.

Mandated celibacy needs to be revisited. It’s true that we also find clericalism in the married clergy of Eastern rite Catholic and Orthodox churches. But the inherent burdens of celibacy lead some clergy to a sense of entitlement and privilege, hallmarks of clericalism.

But, some will argue, isn’t the critique of clericalism an attack on the priesthood? The logic behind this question goes something like this: It’s difficult to exaggerate the dignity and spiritual power of the priesthood. Think of how many, if not most, laypeople perceive the priest primarily in terms of offering Mass and forgiving sins. So great a vocation, it’s concluded, requires that a priest be someone “set apart.” And with being set apart comes responsibility and privilege.

In other words, this line of thinking accepts as natural a certain clericalism in Catholic priests because they belong to a kind of noble spiritual class. And while nobility has its obligations, it also has its perks.

Pope Francis has answered this way of thinking by saying a priest is not so much a man set apart as a servant-pastor placed in the center of the community. The pope believes priests and bishops should have a missionary heart, the antithesis of a clerical heart. In Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), Francis writes that “a missionary heart never closes itself off, never retreats into its own security, never opts for rigidity and defensiveness. It realizes that it has to grow in its own understanding of the gospel and in discerning the paths of the Spirit, and so it always does what good it can, even if in the process, its shoes get soiled by the mud of the street.”

So, yes, let’s end clericalism and follow the example of our nonclerical pope. He keeps reminding his bishops, priests, and deacons that they are trail guides for a pilgrim people. They are ministers of mercy—with muddy shoes.

Father Donald Cozzens is a writer in residence at John Carroll University, where he teaches in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Pope Francis to open Church synod amid gay row

David Willey
October 3, 2015

Pope Francis is due to celebrate Mass at St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, at the start of a synod of bishops that will focus on family issues.

The run-up was dominated by a row over a Vatican priest who on Saturday announced he was in a gay relationship.

Poland-born Krzysztof Charamsa said he wanted to challenge the Church's "backwards" attitude to homosexuality.

He was later dismissed from his post at the Vatican's office in charge of guarding Roman Catholic doctrine.

A spokesman said Msgr Charamsa's decision to give interviews on the eve of the synod was "grave and irresponsible" and would put Pope Francis under "undue media pressure".

In an interview with the Corriere Della Sera newspaper, the 43-year-old priest said: "It's time the Church opened its eyes and realised that offering gay believers total abstinence from a life of love is inhuman."

BBC religious affairs correspondent Caroline Wyatt says the controversy has set the scene for what some fear could be a fractious three weeks.

The Synod - a defining moment for Pope Francis

Almost 300 Church leaders - and some lay people - will be discussing such issues as the treatment of Catholics who are gay, and how to approach couples who live together without being married or wish to take communion after being divorced.

Our correspondent says the Church is unlikely to change its doctrine, but some traditionalists fear that the synod is sowing confusion about the ideals of the Catholic faith.

The Pope has called for a more understanding attitude on sexual issues.

There's the text and then there's the subtext. The official subject under discussion at the crucial three-week meeting of cardinals and bishops from around the world beginning at the Vatican on Sunday, chaired by Pope Francis, is how to ensure Catholic families heed Church teaching.

The ban on contraception, for example, is now honoured more in its breach than in its observance.

But the sudden revelation by a Polish monsignore that he is gay, has a lover, and is apparently a member of a long-rumoured but never formally acknowledged "gay lobby" at the heart of the Catholic Church, risks skewing the smooth running of a long-anticipated event.

The subtext is whether the Church should relax its traditional hostility to same-sex partnerships and marriages in an age when even the Pope retorts: "Who am I to judge?"

After his election in 2013, Pope Francis reaffirmed the Roman Catholic Church's position that homosexual acts were sinful, but said homosexual orientation was not.

"If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?" he said.

The issue of homosexuality was also highlighted during the pope's visit to the US last week.

He had a private meeting with a gay former student of his and his boyfriend at the Vatican mission in Washington. The Pope also met Kim Davis, a Kentucky local official who recently gained attention for refusing to issue marriage licences to same-sex couples.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Pope held private meeting with same sex couple in US

Daniel Burke
October 2, 2015

The day before Pope Francis met anti-gay county clerk Kim Davis in Washington last week, he held a private meeting with a longtime friend from Argentina who has been in a same-sex relationship for 19 years.

Yayo Grassi, an openly gay man, brought his partner, Iwan, as well several other friends to the Vatican Embassy on September 23 for a brief visit with the Pope. A video of the meeting shows Grassi and Francis greeting each other with a warm hug.

In an exclusive interview with CNN, Grassi declined to disclose details about the short visit, but said it was arranged personally by the Pope via email in the weeks ahead of Francis' highly anticipated visit to the United States.

"Three weeks before the trip, he called me on the phone and said he would love to give me a hug," Grassi said.

The meeting between Grassi and the Pope adds another intriguing twist to the strange aftermath of Francis' first-ever trip to the United States. Since news broke on Tuesday of Francis' meeting with Davis, conservatives have cheered the seemingly implicit endorsement, while liberals have questioned how much the Pope knew about her case.

In a statement on Friday, the Vatican said that the meeting with Davis was not intended as a show of support for her cause and said "the only real audience granted by the Pope at the nunciature (embassy) was with one of his former students and his family."

"That was me," Grassi said.

Grassi said that Pope Francis taught him in literature and psychology classes at Inmaculada Concepcion high school in Sante Fe, Argentina, from 1964-1965.

Grassi said the Pope has long known that he is gay, but has never condemned his sexuality or his same-sex relationship. Grassi said he and Iwan (he declined to disclose his last name due to privacy concerns) had previously met Francis in Rome.

Greeting Iwan with a handshake, Francis says that he recalls meeting him, according to the brief video. At the end the meeting, the Pope hugs both men and kisses them on the cheek.

"He has never been judgmental," Grassi said. "He has never said anything negative."

"Obviously he is the pastor of the church and he has to follow the church's teachings," Grassi added. "But as a human being he understands all kinds of situations, and he is open to all kinds of people, including those with different sexual characteristics."

While not changing church teaching, which considers same-sex relationships sinful, Pope Francis has often emphasized mercy over judgment. In 2013, for example, he famously said, "Who am I to judge" gay priests who seek to do God's will. He also reportedly met with a transgender man from Spain in January of this year.

Transgender man: I met with Pope Francis

At the same time, the Vatican has refused to recognize France's ambassador to the Holy See, Laurent Stefanini, who is openly gay.

And while Grassi describes his relationship to the Pope as very close, they haven't always agreed on same-sex rights.

During Argentina's heated debate over same-sex marriage in 2010, Grassi chastised the Pope for opposing gay rights. At one point, the future pontiff suggested that same-sex marriage is the work of the devil.

"You have been my guide, continuously moving my horizons—you have shaped the most progressive aspects of my worldview," Grassi wrote to future Pope in an email, according to National Geographic magazine. "And to hear this from you is so disappointing."

Grassi told CNN that Francis -- then Cardinal Jorge Margio Bergoglio -- wrote back, saying that he was sorry to have upset his former student and promising that "homophobia" had no place in the Catholic Church.

Grassi said he believes the Pope was "misled" into meeting with Davis, who served six days in a Kentucky jail for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Davis' lawyers had portrayed the papal meeting as an endorsement of her cause. After several days of questions and culture-war sparring, the Vatican said that was not the case.

"The Pope did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs. Davis, and his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects," Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said in a statement issued Friday morning.

Vatican clarifies: Francis' Kim Davis meeting not a show of support

Joshua J. McElwee
National Catholic Reporter
October 2, 2015

After days of speculation about Pope Francis’ meeting while in the U.S. with a Kentucky county clerk who has refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses, the Vatican clarified Friday that the meeting should not be seen as a show of support by the pope for the clerk.

Francis’ meeting with Kim Davis “should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects,” Vatican spokesman Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi said in a statement.

“Pope Francis met with several dozen persons who had been invited by the Nunciature to greet him as he prepared to leave Washington for New York City,” Lombardi said in the statement. “Such brief greetings occur on all papal visits and are due to the Pope’s characteristic kindness and availability.”

“The Pope did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs. Davis and his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects,” said the spokesman.

Friday’s statement caps a story that has attracted wide media attention, with many asking why the pope would choose to meet with a controversial figure in secret during his otherwise well-received visit to the U.S. Sept. 22-27.

Questions were especially pointed because the pontiff had taken a fairly moderate tone on issues of religious liberty during his visit --placing them always in the context of other freedoms, and refusing to use harsh language about the issue.

Basilian Fr. Tom Rosica, a Canadian who assists the Vatican press office with English-language media, said Friday that the encounter between Davis and Francis was not organized by Vatican staff.

Rosica said the Vatican was unsure who the meeting was organized by, and that it might have been an initiative by the Vatican’s ambassador to the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Vigano. The encounter took place at the DC embassy Sept. 24, just before the pope headed to New York for a visit there.

Rosica said that Vatican staff were not sure the pope “knew fully each of the people he was meeting” while greeting people at the nunciature. The priest also said Francis had personally approved Friday's press statement after a meeting with Lombardi on the issue.

While Friday’s statement clarifies the Vatican’s position on Francis’ meeting, it does not look likely that it will close discussion on the matter.

Davis’ lawyer, Mat Staver, responded almost immediately to the Vatican, disputing the claim that the pope only met the clerk as part of a group. Davis and her husband, Staver told the Associated Press, met the pope alone.

Staver also told the AP that Vatican personnel initiated contact, saying the pope wanted to meet Davis. The lawyer did not name the Vatican officials.