Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Pope creates new super-department for human development

Ines San Martin
August 31, 2016

Pope Francis on Wednesday confirmed that the quest for peace and justice is a hallmark of his papacy, and that his point man for it is his top African aide, by creating a new Vatican super-department and by appointing Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana as its first-ever prefect.

In a new motu proprio, meaning a legal document issued under the pope’s personal authority, Francis created a new dicastery, the overall term for a Vatican department, for Promoting Integral Human Development.

The new dicastery convenes four preexisting Vatican departments: the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, previously headed by Turkson; Cor Unum, the Vatican’s agency for coordinating the work of Catholic charities; the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Refugees, another subject close to the pontiff’s heart; and the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers, which among other things oversees the work of some 6,000 Catholic hospitals around the world and 18,000 clinics.

The consolidation of those departments into a single new entity is part of a broader reform of the Roman Curia desired by Pope Francis, and worked out in conversation with his nine-member council of cardinal advisers from around the world. The American member of that council is Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston.

Since the beginning of his papacy, Francis has insisted that issues of justice for the poor, conflict resolution and combating what he describes as a “throwaway culture” must be absolute priorities for the Catholic Church. By creating a powerful new Vatican department, and by installing as its first leader an African cardinal widely understood to enjoy the pope’s favor, he has created an important new platform to pursue those issues.

The creation of the new department for human development comes roughly two weeks after Pope Francis created another new department, once again consolidating several previously existing offices, dedicated to laity, family, and life. The creation of both departments was recommended to the pontiff by his council of cardinal advisors.

Although Pope Francis is legendarily adverse to bureaucracy, in the culture of the Vatican the creation of two powerful new departments bringing several important agencies under their control is widely understood as a statement about the pontiff’s priorities.

“In all her being and actions, the Church is called to promote the integral development of the human person in the light of the Gospel,” says the document released on Wednesday, signed by Francis on August 17.

The development, the motu proprio says, takes place by attending the inestimable goods of justice, peace, and the care of creation.

The new dicastery will begin its function on January 1, 2017, and as the combination of offices signals, will be competent particularly in issues regarding migrants, those in need, the sick, the excluded and marginalized, the imprisoned and the unemployed, as well as victims of armed conflict, natural disasters, and all forms of slavery and torture.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

India in spotlight ahead of Mother Teresa's canonization and commemoration of Orissa martyrs

Paolo Affatato
Vatican Insider
August 29, 2016

All the conditions are there and the President of the Episcopal Conference, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, expressed the hope that the 101 Christians killed “in odium fidei” in the wave of Hindu extremist violence that engulfed the Indian state of Orissa in 2008 will be recognised as martyrs.

As the date of Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s canonization in the Vatican approaches, on 4 September and as Narendra Modi’s government announces that a high-profile delegation (not including him) is to be sent for the occasion, another matter holds court in the Indian Church. It involves the delicate relations with the nationalist government currently leading the world’s biggest democracy.

It is a painful event which speaks of suffering, violence, rape, abuse, destruction and displacement: the gratuitous violence unleashed against defenceless civilians, which led to the deaths of 101 victims, the scientifically orchestrated destruction of 8500 homes and 395 churches and the displacement of 56,000 Christians, permanently exiled from their villages, they lost homes, property and every means of sustenance.

Eight years on from this event which essentially amounted to ethnic cleansing, leaving a permanent scar in the heart of the nation’s Catholic community (it was the most ferocious incident of mass violence against Christians), the Church of central-eastern India has celebrated its “Day of martyrs” every year for the past 30 years. And it expects the entire nation, starting with the national Bishops’ Conference to acknowledge this cause, thus becoming sponsors of a real canonization process.

The Bishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, John Barwa, is very active on this front. He is President of Orissa’s regional Bishops’ Conference, which chose to celebrate the martyrs the day after that which commemorates the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist. This decision was “taken in order to honour and respect the sacrifice of those who lost their lives in the anti-Christian massacres of 2008 in the Kandhamal district,” Barwa explained to Vatican news agency Fides. He recalled having discussed this at the plenary assembly of Indian bishops which took place in Bangalore last spring.

Meanwhile, the local Church has put a special team of priests and researchers in charge of documenting the incidents that caused the death of 101 Christians in Orissa, in preparation for the diocesan phase of the process for the declaration of martyrdom.

But faith is not the only issue here, there are also human and legal repercussions to consider: the community continues to ask for full justice and adequate compensation for survivors.

In the legal battle launched, Christians recently obtained a favourable verdict: India’s Supreme Court upheld an appeal made by former archbishop Raphael Cheenath, who died just a few days ago, considering the compensation handed out so far to be “inadequate” and ordering Orissa’s government to provide additional compensation for Christian families. The court also decided that 315 cases of violence are to be re-examined. All of these cases had been reported to the police, but it failed to carry out adequate investigations into the claims.

As a result of this first step, even eight years on, the state government is still bound by the duty of guaranteeing that the authors of those crimes do not go unpunished. It also ensures that the violence of Kandhamal is not forgotten. This is why Delhi’s weekly newspaper, Indian currents, directed by Capuchin friar Suresh Mathew, backs the need for a memorial day by dedicating a special issue focusing exclusively on the Orissa martyrs, speaking of a “travesty of justice”.

On the one hand, the newspaper recalls that almost a third of the 827 complaints filed by Christians were shelved because the police were unable to track down those responsible. Of 362 lawsuits launched, only 78 were heard in court. Secondly, most cases brought before judges were lost because eye-witnesses were threatened and the government “failed in its duty to protect witnesses to the most terrible of crimes”. In eight years, the government of Orissa did nothing to ensure the displaced could return to their homes, allowing the illegal and forced occupation of property owned by other people, actions it is evidently unwilling to question.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Napa county now home for John Nienstedt, twin cities archbishop who resigned under legal cloud

Chris Smith
Press Democrat
August 27, 2016

Minnesota and then Michigan evidently grew too hot for John Nienstedt, a former Catholic archbishop who was accused of protecting predatory priests and who now cools his heels in Wine Country.

Nienstedt came far west after departing Minnesota under duress and stopping briefly in Michigan. A newspaper report out of Battle Creek earlier this year revealed that only two weeks after Nienstedt arrived and took a temporary church post there he “left amid a swirl of criticism.” Residents opposed to his assignment hounded the diocese and the media, and pulled tuition support for a school associated with the church, according to another news report.

His resignation in June of 2015 as the Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis came 10 days after prosecutors there filed criminal charges against the archdiocese that he ran since 2008, alleging “its failure to protect children.”

Earlier last year, in the midst of multiple lawsuits, the archdiocese filed for bankruptcy, citing “the scourge of sexual abuse of minors.”

Advocates for alleged victims of abuse by priests overseen by Nienstedt seek to have the former archbishop penalized and defrocked for what they say was a pattern of protecting Minnesota priests who preyed on children.

“Wrongdoing is deterred when wrongdoers are punished,” David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, told a reporter in Minnesota. “But not one Twin Cities Catholic official is being punished — in the courts or in the church — for repeatedly deceiving parishioners, moving predators, hiding evidence, stone-walling police or endangering kids.”

… HAVING MOVED ON on to the North Bay, Nienstedt now is doing work at the private Napa Institute, created by Orange County attorney and Meritage Resort & Spa owner Tim Busch. The institute’s declared mission is “to equip Catholic leaders to defend and advance the Catholic Faith in ‘the Next America’ — today’s emerging secular society.”

Nienstedt has presided over Mass at the chapel at Meritage, in Napa. Bishop Robert Vasa of the Diocese of Santa Rosa, which encompasses Napa County, is aware he’s here and said the resort chapel is “a suitable place for him to celebrate Mass.”

Vasa responded firmly to a question of how he knew Nienstedt was coming to this area.

“I talked to him, he told me,” Vasa said. “I talked to Mr. Tim Busch, he told me. I talked to (successor) Archbishop (Bernard) Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis and he told me. So, that’s how I know.”

Vasa said Nienstedt is living in Napa County and that though he would not simply appear at a parish, there would be nothing to prevent him from presiding over Mass at a church in the diocese were a priest to invite him.

Vasa said Archbishop Hebda in Minneapolis told him Nienstedt is “a priest in good standing.”

“I have no concerns about him,” Vasa said.

In Minnesota last month, Hebda publicly confessed that the archdiocese mishandled allegations of the sexual abuse of three boys. With the admission, criminal prosecutors dropped a case that had charged the archdiocese with six counts of child endangerment for turning a blind eye to Curtis Wehmeyer, a former priest now in prison.

(to put above in perspective, here is a commentary by a Minneapolis priest in a parish bulletin about Archbishop Nienstedt's participation in the Napa Institute several years ago)

Sunday, August 4, 2013
Are You Serious?
By Rev. Michael V. Tegeder
By its name, the Napa Institute could be anything. But according to its website it is a society for Catholics who "take their faith seriously;" a society that "emboldens Catholics to live and defend their faith" in the face of a growing secularization of society. Among its goals is to "better form Catholics in a life shaped by liturgy, prayer, fasting, sacred art and music, and habits of holiness."

The institute's "cornerstone" is the annual conference which will occur from August 1 until August 4 (I write right before their rites.) Among the serious Catholics prominently displayed as being in attendance is our own self-proclaimed Chief Catechist, Archbishop J. C. Nienstedt (along with Archbishops Gomez, Chaput, Aquila, Cordileone, and Brunett; Bishops Vasa, Vann, and Morlino, the usual suspects.)

And the setting for these serious Catholics for their four days of intense liturgy, prayer, fasting and habits of holiness is the Meritage Resort and Spa in Napa, California.

For the unknowing allow me to cite the company's website:

Just like the wine that inspired its name, the Meritage Resort and Spa is the perfect blend of wine tasting, dining, spa, beautiful event spaces, romance and indulgence — all in one California Wine Country hotel. Unwind among the sun-drenched vineyards of our award-winning resort, offering world-class luxury in the heart of Napa Valley, California.

Sounds like secularization to me. And what better place for serious Catholics to boldly confront it right in the belly of the beast.

But I digress, the conference invitation asks the difficult questions:

Why should you attend? Part of being a Catholic leader is knowing your faith, and who better to teach you than the best of the best? The conference also inspires attendees to shape their lives by habits of holiness, including liturgy, prayer, fasting. . . . This is a conference that explores the best in Catholic thought, never forgetting that the source and summit of Catholicism is the Eucharist. There are multiple Masses offered each day in the Meritage's Estate Cave or in the resort's Our Lady of Grapes Chapel. [I am not making this up.]

I can picture the worthies offering their intense propitiations in the Chapel of Our Lady's Grapes. It is comforting to know that our own Local Ordinary is among the best of the best and what better place for him to join with the rest of the best to properly celebrate the Eucharist in memory of the lowly carpenter who had not a place to lay his head and who shared his table with the outcast. And although Jesus seemingly ignored appellations, his own vintage had good ratings ergo enjoy.

Placing a call to the most hospitable staff I was informed that they especially welcome wedding "events" at these same chapels and yes they do accommodate same sex celebrations. Hopefully enhanced scheduling will prevent any unpleasant communicatio in sacris. The crosses serious Catholics must bear.

He Is Serious

In a Huffington Post article, Pope Francis is quoted telling a group of Argentine pilgrims to World Youth Day:

I want to tell you something. What is it that I expect as a consequence of World Youth Day? I want a mess. We knew that in Rio there would be great disorder, but I want trouble in the dioceses!" he said, speaking off the cuff in his native Spanish. "I want to see the church get closer to the people. I want to get rid of clericalism, the mundane, this closing ourselves off within ourselves, in our parishes, schools or structures. Because these need to get out!

"This closing ourselves off within ourselves." Francis could start at the Napa Institute conference with its better than the rest.

And for the rest of us, let us continue to agitate the mystery, messy as it might be in our dioceses.

Rev. Michael V. Tegeder is the pastor of St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church in Minneapolis and of the Church of Gichitwaa Kateri in Minneapolis. This commentary was originally published as part of Fr. Tegeder's "Pastor's Comments" in the August 4, 2013 parish bulletin of St. Frances Cabrini Church.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Francis asks priests to learn life isn't black and white, but shades of grey

Joshua J. McElwee
National Catholic Reporter
August 25, 2016

Pope Francis has asked members of his Jesuit religious order to help young priests recognize that decisions Catholics make in their everyday lives are rarely ethically clear-cut, but rather exist on a spectrum between good and evil. In a dialogue with Jesuits in Poland during his trip to the country last month, the pontiff asked his confreres to particularly work with seminarians to help them learn "the wisdom of discernment."

"The Church today needs to grow in the ability of spiritual discernment," the pope said in the July 30 meeting with about 30 Jesuits, according to a transcript of the dialogue released for the first time Thursday by the Italian Jesuit magazine Civiltà Cattolica.

"Some priestly formation programs run the risk of educating in the light of overly clear and distinct ideas, and therefore to act within limits and criteria that are rigidly defined ... and that set aside concrete situations," said Francis. "The seminarians, when they become priests, find themselves in difficulty in accompanying the life of so many young people and adults," he continued.

"We need to form future priests not to general and abstract ideas, which are clear and distinct, but to [the] keen discernment of spirits so that they can help people in their concrete life," said the pontiff.

"We need to truly understand this: in life not all is black on white or white on black," said Francis. "No! The shades of grey prevail in life. We must them teach to discern in this grey area."

The pope met with the Polish Jesuits in a private setting, as he often visits with members of his religious order on trips abroad. The Vatican did not release a transcript of the meeting, but Civiltà Cattolica says it is publishing the dialogue now with Francis' consent.

The pontiff spoke about teaching seminarians the need to recognize shades of grey at the end of the encounter, as an addendum to the meeting as it was concluding. He spoke of discernment in the context of the spiritual exercises taught by 16th century St. Ignatius of Loyola, one of the founders of the Jesuits.

Mentioning 20th century Jesuit Fr. Hugo Rahner, brother of famed theologian Jesuit Fr. Karl Rahner, Francis said Hugo said a Jesuit "must be a man with the nose for the supernatural, that is he must be a man gifted with a sense of the divine and of the diabolical relative to the events of human life and history."

"The Jesuit must therefore be capable of discerning both in the field of God and in the field of the devil," said the pontiff. "This is why in the Exercises St Ignatius asks to be introduced both to the intentions of the Lord of life and to those of the enemy of human nature and to his lies."

"What he has written is bold, it is truly bold, but discernment is precisely this!" said Francis.

The pontiff was also asked in the meeting about the needs of today's young people and how the church can work more effectively with them.

Responding, he spoke about a lunch he had July 30 with several young people in Poland for World Youth Day. Young people, said the pope, "have no discretion. They ask direct questions. And you always need to answer a young person with the truth."

Francis said one young person told him he does not go to confession because "in my country there were scandals tied to priests and we do not have the courage to go to confession with these priests who have lived these scandals."

"Young people speak directly," said the pope. "If you answer with a theory they remain disappointed."

Francis was also asked about the role of Jesuit universities today. The university, he said, "must be involved with the real life of the church and the nation."

"A particular attention must be always given to the marginalized, to the defense of those who have more need of being protected," the pope continued.

"And this ... is not being a Communist," he said. "It is simply being truly involved with reality. In this case in particular a Jesuit university must be fully involved with reality, expressing the social thought of the Church."

"The free-market thought that removes man and woman from the center and puts money at the center is not ours," he said. "The doctrine of the Church is clear and it must move forward in this sense."

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Vatican newspaper: Amoris Laetitia is authoritative church teaching

Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
August 23, 2016

Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation on the family is an example of the "ordinary magisterium" -- papal teaching -- to which Catholics are obliged to give "religious submission of will and intellect," said an article in the Vatican newspaper. Fr. Salvador Pie-Ninot, a well-known professor of ecclesiology, said that while Pope Francis did not invoke his teaching authority in a "definitive way" in the document, it meets all the criteria for being an example of the "ordinary magisterium" to which all members of the church should respond with "the basic attitude of sincere acceptance and practical implementation."

The Spanish priest's article in L'Osservatore Romano Aug. 23 came in response to questions raised about the formal weight of the pope's document, Amoris Laetitia ("The Joy of Love"). For instance, U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke has said on several occasions that the document is "a mixture of opinion and doctrine."

Pie-Ninot said he examined the document in light of the 1990 instruction from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the vocation of the theologian.

The instruction -- issued by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now-retired Pope Benedict XVI -- explained three levels of church teaching with the corresponding levels of assent they require. The top levels are: "Infallible pronouncements," which require an assent of faith as being divinely revealed; and teaching proposed "in a definitive way," which is "strictly and intimately connected with revelation" and "must be firmly accepted and held."

A teaching is an example of "ordinary magisterium," according to the instruction, "when the magisterium, not intending to act 'definitively,' teaches a doctrine to aid a better understanding of revelation and make explicit its contents, or to recall how some teaching is in conformity with the truths of faith, or finally to guard against ideas that are incompatible with these truths, the response called for is that of the religious submission of will and intellect."

Amoris Laetitia falls into the third category, Pie-Ninot said, adding the 1990 instruction's statement that examples of ordinary magisterium can occur when the pope intervenes "in questions under discussion which involve, in addition to solid principles, certain contingent and conjectural elements."

The instruction notes that "it often only becomes possible with the passage of time to distinguish between what is necessary and what is contingent," although, as the Spanish priest said, the instruction insists that even then one must assume that "divine assistance" was given to the pope.

Accepting Amoris Laetitia as authoritative church teaching, Pie-Ninot said, applies also to the document's "most significant words" about the possibility of people divorced and remarried without an annulment receiving Communion in limited circumstances.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Does it matter whether Archbishop John Nienstedt is gay?

Tim Gihring
August 19, 2016

When allegations of a sex-abuse coverup began to leak out of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis a couple years ago, they were always accompanied by another, seemingly unrelated set of accusations: the bumbling attempts of Archbishop John Nienstedt, then the leader of the archdiocese, to have sex with men.

“The archbishop has been known to go ‘cruising’ (and I am not referring to the type of cruising one does on a ship in the Caribbean) and, on one occasion, purchased ‘poppers’ (and not the exploding candy preferred by elementary school students) and followed another gentleman to his car for, well, the type of activity that men purchase ‘poppers’ for…,” wrote Jennifer Haselberger, the whistleblower whose allegations prompted Nienstedt’s resignation last summer. On her website, Haselberger helpfully links to Wikipedia’s entry on poppers: basically disco-era sex drugs.

In late July, more stories of Nienstedt’s “promiscuous gay lifestyle,” as a fellow priest put it, were released by prosecutors. Most relate to his time in Detroit, where he moved up the clerical ladder in the late 1970s and ’80s. He’s said to have frequented a gay bar just across the border in Canada, whimsically called the Happy Tap.

But even if the allegations are true, it doesn't mean that Nienstedt is sympathetic to sexual abuse — a link between homosexuality and priestly pederasty is as unproven as it is enduring. Nor does it mark Nienstedt as unusual. Catholic researchers estimate that as many as 58 percent of priests are homosexuals. To confirm that he desired men would be like discovering that the pope is Catholic.

But Nienstedt is not just any priest, of course. He staked his tenure in Minnesota fighting marriage equality — and using church money to do so. No other archbishop in the country has gone so far as to condemn the families and friends of gays and lesbians for abetting “a grave evil.”

Nienstedt, who now lives in California, writing and editing for a Catholic institute, has publicly denied that he is gay. He recently declared, as no straight guy ever has: “I am a heterosexual man who has been celibate my entire life.”

For gay Catholics, if Nienstedt does share their desires, the deceit would be heartbreaking, “a sickening level of hypocrisy,” as one described it. It may also help explain why Nienstedt not only neglected the sins of priests, but covered them up, a pattern of denial that would be hard to fathom if it were not so deeply personal.

A different era

When gay Catholics in the Twin Cities first came together, in the late 1970s, they asked to meet with then-Archbishop John Roach. They were looking for compassion and understanding, if not acceptance — and to a remarkable degree they got it.

With Roach’s blessing, the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM) — an independent group of local Catholics based in St. Paul — introduced a sort of sensitivity training in parishes and in nine of the 11 local Catholic high schools. It was intended to help priests, teachers, and administrators better serve gays and lesbians, and it lasted for nearly 20 years.

“During the peak of our work,” one of the group’s co-founders told me several years ago, “we became almost mainstream.” In 1989, the archdiocese awarded its Archbishop John Ireland Award to another CPCSM co-founder for his social-justice activism on behalf of gays and lesbians.

The efforts paid off: “If it was okay to bash someone in the past, it isn’t now,” reported the director of Catholic Education and Formation Ministries in 1998. “We’re trying to teach kids what’s right.” When conservative activists objected that same year, the archdiocese defended the Safe Schools initiative.

Michael Bayly, a gay Catholic who until last year headed up the CPCSM, began compiling this history in 2009, shortly after Nienstedt became archbishop. He worried at the time that “there are some who would like to downplay or even deny such a relationship.”

But the church’s openness wasn’t limited to the Twin Cities. Bayly recalls that in 1994, when he moved to Minnesota, a bishop from Detroit came to talk with gay and lesbian Catholics on how — to quote the advertisement for the dialogue — a “wholeness in sexual expression” can be “deeply human and truly spiritual.”

In fact, Detroit was known as one of the most open-minded districts of the church. And as Nienstedt was starting out there, he was imbued with its liberal spirit.

Promoted and protected

In 1977, as the era of disco and poppers was in full swing, Nienstedt was 30, a newly minted priest in Detroit, and he became the secretary to Cardinal John Dearden, characterized by the New York Times as a “leading liberal voice in the Church.” Nienstedt himself described his mentor’s views to the Times as aligned “with the mind of the Church.”

But something changed after Dearden’s retirement in 1980, when Nienstedt went to work and study in the Vatican, which was shifting toward the neo-conservatism of the new Pope John Paul II. As a leading critic of Nienstedt has noted, the ambitious young priest saw first-hand “the changes John Paul II sought in the church and the kind of bishops whom he wanted.” When he returned to Detroit in 1985, Nienstedt’s new boss was a favorite of the pope, and, sure enough, in time Nienstedt adopted his views.

For pushing back on gays in the church, among other issues, Nienstedt would be promoted and promoted and promoted again. He would also be protected: Among the revelations in the documents unsealed last month is that the Vatican envoy to the United States quashed an investigation into Nienstedt’s homosexual activity and ordered evidence destroyed.

The evidence that exists, in the form of corroborated witness accounts, suggests that Nienstedt spent his time in Minnesota, from 2001 to 2015, living a precarious double life: indulging his homosexual tendencies, even as he railed against them.

Haselberger, who worked closely with Nienstedt in the archdiocese office as an adviser on church law, believes his proclivities help explain why he coddled abusive priests — he may have been attracted to them. And the so-called Delegate for Safe Environment, a priest overseeing child-abuse prevention in the archdiocese, came to the same conclusion about Nienstedt two years ago: being gay “affected his judgment.”

But Nienstedt’s silence protected far more priests than he could have known or been attracted to — dozens across Minnesota. And aside from suspicions of a relationship with one of the most notorious, Curtis Wehmeyer, his intervention — or lack of it — appears less about personal favor and more about institutional preservation. He saw sin, and looked the other way.

Instead, the deal that Nienstedt long ago made for the benefit of his career — to follow the church into conservatism — now seems a kind of ecclesiastical quid pro quo: if he covered for the sins of the church, the church would cover for his. The internal investigation of him, reportedly quashed by the Vatican, had been his idea — he was that confident that his name would be cleared.

But the deal may also have been a trap. By closing the door to homosexuality, marking its expression as the work of Satan and the most aberrant of sins, Nienstedt had nowhere to go with his own desires. He left himself no way out.

At the end, as multiple investigations closed in, Nienstedt still stuck to the pattern, claiming both that he was unaware of abusers under his watch and that any accusations of homosexuality were merely retaliation for his anti-gay policies. He had no choice but to double down on denial.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Pope Francis issues marching orders for new pro-life leader

August 18, 2016

Though for Americans it may be overshadowed by the appointment of Dallas Bishop Kevin Farrell to run the Vatican’s new mega-department for laity, family and life issues, Pope Francis made another key personnel move Wednesday by tapping Italian Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia as head of two bodies devoted to the pro-life cause.

Paglia was put in charge of both the Pontifical Academy for Life, and the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. Both are considered primary Vatican agencies for engaging what Americans know as the “life issues,” including abortion, contraception and euthanasia.

The choice of Paglia, therefore, offers an important signal about how Pope Francis wants the Church’s pro-life activity to develop.

Paglia, 71, has served as President of the Pontifical Council for the Family since 2012. That office has been folded into the new department to be led by Farrell.

Generally speaking, popes don’t issue explicit marching orders when they name someone to a job. Francis, however, did precisely that on Wednesday, publishing a “chirograph,” usually meaning a papal document whose circulation is restricted to the Roman Curia.

The pontiff opened the letter by saying he wants the activity of Vatican offices dedicated to marriage, family and life issues to be “ever more clearly inscribed within the horizon of mercy.”

After citing his two recent Synods of Bishops on the family and his own document, Amoris Laetitia, drawing conclusions from those gatherings, Francis told Paglia that even “in theological study, a pastoral perspective and attention to the wounds of humanity should never be missing.”

Francis then ticked off several issues he wants Paglia to focus on in his new assignments.

“Care for the dignity of the human person in different ages of existence.”
“Reciprocal respect between the sexes and among the generations.”
“Defense of the dignity of every single human being.”
“Promotion of the quality of human life that integrates material and spiritual values.”
An “authentic human ecology,” which can help restore “the original balance of creation between the human person and the entire universe.”

“To kneel before the wounds of the human person, in order to understand them, care for them and heal them, is the duty of a Church that trusts in the light and the strength of the risen Christ,” Francis wrote.

That will be a Church, he added, “capable of facing places of tension and conflict like a ‘field hospital,’ where it lives, announces and realizes its mission of salvation and healing, precisely in the lives of individuals most threatened by the new culture of competition and disposal.”

Francis ended by saying that he expects Paglia to carry out his tasks in collaboration both with Farrell’s new department, and also a separate one being created for charity, justice and peace, which will also absorb a preexisting office for health care.

Created in 1994 under St. Pope John Paul II, the Pontifical Academy for Life is devoted to research and study on bioethical issues including IVF, stem cell research, euthanasia and abortion.

The Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family was created by the late pope himself in 1981. Its original setting was Rome’s Lateran University, which remains its headquarters, but today it also has campuses in the United States, Benin, Brazil, India, Mexico, Spain, Australia and the Philippines.

Paglia is a longtime leader in the Community of Sant’Egidio, a Catholic movement founded in Rome in 1968 and dedicated to ecumenism, inter-religious dialogue and conflict resolution. As an expression of that spirit, Paglia is the postulator, or official in charge, of the sainthood cause for Blessed Oscar Romero of El Salvador, who was seen as a champion of the poor and oppressed.

In political terms, Paglia is generally viewed as center-left and not associated with a forceful, aggressive style of confronting pro-life matters.

Although Paglia holds degrees in theology, philosophy and pedagogy, he has not engaged in much professional scholarship, which is considered a bit unusual for the head of a pontifical academy. He also doesn’t have a specialized background in either science or bioethics, which make up the lion’s share of the work of both the institute and the academy. Vatican observers take that to mean Francis wanted someone with Paglia’s broad outlook in these positions, and detailed qualifications were deemed secondary.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Pope names Dallas bishop head of new office of laity, family, life

Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
August 17, 2016

Pope Francis has named Bishop Kevin J. Farrell of Dallas to head the Vatican's new office for laity, family and life.

The Dublin-born bishop will celebrate his 69th birthday Sept. 2, the day after the new Vatican office officially begins its work.

In a statement a few hours after his appointment was announced in Rome, Farrell said he was "extremely humbled" Pope Francis chose him to lead the new office.

"I look forward to being part of the important work of the universal church in the promotion of the laity and the apostolate of the laity and for the pastoral care of the family in accordance with the pope's recent apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia ("The Joy of Love"), and the support of human life," he said.

At the same time, Farrell said he had "mixed emotions" about leaving Dallas, its people and priests.

The Dallas bishop is the brother of Bishop Brian Farrell, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Both brothers were ordained to the priesthood for the Legionaries of Christ, but the Dallas bishop was later incardinated in the Washington archdiocese and served as an auxiliary bishop there 2002-2007.

When the Dallas bishop arrives in Rome, it will be the first time the two brothers have ever ministered in the same city, the Vatican's Bishop Farrell told Catholic News Service Aug. 17. The appointment "was a huge surprise to me and a huge surprise, of course, to him. But he has such a long experience of pastoral work and administration as well," he added.

Pope Francis, in a brief apostolic letter formally establishing the new "Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life," said the office should respond "to the situations of our age and adapt to the needs of the universal church."

The church, as an "attentive mother," must show special care and concern for the lay faithful, for families and for the sacredness of human life, he wrote in the letter, which was released Aug. 17. "We want to offer them support and help so that they would be active witnesses of the Gospel in our age and an expression of the goodness of the Redeemer."

Pope Francis created the new office by combining the pontifical councils for the laity and for the family. Statutes for the new office, published in June, said it was being established "for the promotion of the life and apostolate of the lay faithful, for the pastoral care of the family and its mission according to God's plan and for the protection and support of human life."

Its new head, Bishop Farrell, has been bishop of Dallas since 2007. Before that, he was an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Washington. He currently serves as treasurer of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl welcomed the appointment.

"At a time when our Holy Father is calling the attention of the whole church to the role of the laity and the importance of a robust, pastoral activity and support of family and married life through the establishment of this new dicastery to focus and coordinate this work, the leadership that Bishop Farrell brings will be a blessing for all of us," the cardinal said. "How appropriate that so soon after the publication of the postsynodal apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, with its widespread and wholehearted reception in the church, we would now have a new Vatican office to further that important ministry. We rejoice to know that this challenge has been entrusted to the very competent Bishop Farrell."

The Pontifical Council for the Family had been headed by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, 71, since 2012. Pope Francis appointed him chancellor of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family and president of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

The Pontifical Council for the Laity had been led since 2003 by Polish Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, 71. The Vatican did not announce his new assignment.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

US Lutherans approve document recognizing agreement with Catholic church

Emily McFarlan Miller
Religion News Service
August 16, 2016

Nearly 500 years after Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Castle Church door, the largest Lutheran denomination in the U.S. has approved a declaration recognizing "there are no longer church-dividing issues" on many points with the Roman Catholic church.

The "Declaration on the Way" was approved 931-9 by the 2016 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Churchwide Assembly held last week at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans.

ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton called the declaration "historic" in a statement released by the denomination following the Wednesday vote.

"Though we have not yet arrived, we have claimed that we are, in fact, on the way to unity. … This 'Declaration on the Way' helps us to realize more fully our unity in Christ with our Catholic partners, but it also serves to embolden our commitment to unity with all Christians," Eaton said.

The declaration comes as the Lutheran and Catholic churches prepare to kick off a year of celebrations to mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

Luther had touched off the Reformation on Oct. 31, 1517, when he nailed the 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. That document included 95 statements he wanted to debate within the Catholic church.

Most notably, the "Declaration on the Way" includes 32 "Statements of Agreement" where Lutherans and Catholics no longer have church-dividing differences on issues of church, ministry and the Eucharist. Those statements previously had been affirmed by the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

It also lists remaining differences between the two churches and next steps on addressing them.

Eaton pointed to past agreements reached by the ELCA and Catholic church, as well, including 1999's "Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification."

Last November, Pope Francis sparked controversy when he seemed to suggest a Lutheran could receive Communion in the Catholic Church, saying "life is greater than explanations and interpretations." The pontiff is scheduled to visit Sweden on Oct. 31 to preside at a joint service with Lutherans.

And the Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation released a joint document in 2013 titled “From Conflict to Communion” that focused on the progress made in Lutheran-Catholic dialogue in the past 50 years, rather than centuries of conflict. The ELCA is one of the 10 largest Protestant denominations in the U.S. with more than 3.7 million members across the 50 states and the Caribbean region.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

'Seminarians going on a dating site, there's something wrong there' - Archbishop Martin

Tomas Heneghan
Irish Independent News
August 7, 2016

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said he wishes to take men training to become priests in Ireland away from the closed environment of a seminary.

The cleric was speaking to RTÉ Radio One’s This Week programme on Sunday afternoon.

He told the show he made his decision to remove three seminarians from St Patrick’s College at Maynooth in June, following various reports and blogs.

He explained: “I have an obligation, if I feel there is an atmosphere that is unsettling for my students I have to take action.”

He said that despite the decision of other bishops not to remove their seminarians from the college, he did not believe he was overreacting.

“Seminarians going on a dating site, there’s something wrong there,” he explained.

He added: “I have to live with my conscience and I have no difficulty in doing that.”

He also said the reaction by the other bishops to his comments last week on the issue may have been “a misunderstanding”.

According to the archbishop, other bishops are free to explore alternatives themselves, but that for him and his Dublin diocese “there’s a better way” than the seminary system currently operating at Maynooth.

“I have no intention of telling other bishops what to do,” he added.

“Maybe their seminarians are telling them they’re quite happy in Maynooth.”

He said he told his three seminarians about the situation at Maynooth and “listened to their response and they’re happy to go.” He explained: “Until I have clarity about the climate in Maynooth I prefer to send them to Rome.”

He also told the show: “Many of these cases that are coming forward were dealt with by the college council rather than independently.”

Expressing surprise that a meeting of the trustees of the college had been called since the scandal arose last week, he said: “It’s a matter that has to be dealt with effectively and quickly. It’s not going to be easy.”

Mr Martin was also critical of the structures at the Maynooth seminary, saying: “One of the things I have been constantly trying to do in Maynooth is upgrade the governance structures.

“We have to have a modern governance structure.”

“My real problem isn’t actually with the procedures, it’s with the strange atmosphere of innuendo going on.”

“Am I happy with all the procedures in Maynooth? No. Am I happy with some of the procedures? Yes.”

He added that he is not isolated and that others have supported his move.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Msgr. Lynn free on bail, Philadelphia DA pledges a retrial

Brian Roewe
National Catholic Reporter
August 2, 2016

Msgr. William Lynn, the first U.S. church official convicted for his handling of clergy sexual abuse allegations, was released from prison on $250,000 bail Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.

Lynn, 65, served as secretary for clergy for the Philadelphia archdiocese from 1992 to 2004. In June 2012 a jury found him guilty on one charge of child endangerment in relation to former priest Edward Avery.

Last week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected a petition to review a December appeals court ruling that vacated the conviction and ordered a new trial. The Supreme Court decision opened the door for Lynn's release Tuesday from Waymart State Prison. He is expected to live with family as he awaits a new trial.

At the bail hearing, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams confirmed that his office will retry Lynn on the child endangerment charge.

"There is substantial evidence, including testimony from the defendant himself, to establish his guilt. A retrial is the right thing to do in the pursuit of justice," Williams said in a statement.

The district attorney reiterated that his office "takes the charges of institutional sexual abuse extremely seriously," and he will use "every available legal option at my disposal to prosecute pedophile priests and those who shield them to the fullest extent of the law."

The Associated Press reported Lynn will return to court Thursday, when a new trial date will be set.

The decision from the Pennsylvania Superior Court to vacate Lynn's conviction was based on a three-judge panel's determination that the trial court "abused its discretion" by allowing the prosecution to present as evidence 21 supplemental cases of sexual abuse, some as far back as 1948, during the original trial.

It marked the second time the Superior Court overturned the priest's guilty verdict and released him on bail. In December 2013, it ruled that the state's 1995 child endangerment law did not apply to Lynn, who was in a supervisory role, and that a 2007 amendment that included supervisors could not be applied to him retroactively. The Supreme Court disagreed, and reinstated his conviction the following April.

Before his release Tuesday, Lynn had served 33 months of his three-to-six-year sentence, along with 18 months under house arrest. He was expected to be granted parole in October.

Thomas Bergstrom, Lynn's lawyer, told the Associated Press that they are "prepared to try a fair trial any day." He added that should the priest be convicted again, the sentence would be limited to completing the three months remaining on the minimum three-year sentence.

At the time of Lynn's original trial, his conviction was hailed as a landmark case in the U.S. clergy sex abuse scandal, but in the years since, appeals rulings and credibility concerns about a key witness has muddied that classification and raised questions of the conviction's legality.

In a statement, Karen Polesir, Philadelphia area volunteer director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the group applauds the district attorney's vow to retry Lynn and expressed hope he would be convicted a second time in the retrial.

"For the morale of deeply suffering Philly area Catholics, victims, witnesses and whistleblowers, it's important to see the glass as 'half full' -- finally, a Catholic enabler -- a church official who put kids in harms' way -- has been punished. And he may be punished further," said Polesir, adding, "That should make many employers think again when they're tempted to hide known or suspected child sex crimes."

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Philly monsignor seeks bail after cover-up conviction tossed

Associated Press
August 2, 2016

PHILADELPHIA - A former Philadelphia church official imprisoned over his handling of abuse complaints is seeking bail after Pennsylvania’s highest court granted him a new trial.

Monsignor William Lynn is the first person ever charged and convicted of helping the Roman Catholic Church shield child molesters within its ranks. He served from 1992 to 2004 as the Secretary for Clergy of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, under the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, and had been accused in 2012 of conspiring to cover up abuse charges against priests under his supervision.

Appeals courts have wrestled ever since with the legality of his conviction. It came after a scathing grand jury report accused Lynn and other officials in thew archdiocese of playing down credible charges against several priests, and of acting to protect institutional interests rather than children.

Lynn has been in and out of prison as the courts have twice thrown out his conviction. He’s served nearly three years of a three- to six-year sentence, and is due to be paroled in October.

Defense lawyer Thomas Bergstrom plans to ask a judge on Tuesday to release the 65-year-old Lynn.

Prosecutors have not said whether they hope to retry the longtime secretary for clergy.

Vatican announces commission on women deacons

Tim Riedy, Gerard O'Connel
August 2, 2016

In a press release issued this morning, the Vatican announced that "after intense prayer and mature reflection," Pope Francis has established a “Commission of Study on the Diaconate of Women” and named twelve members to it, six of them women, including one American—Professor Phyllis Zagano, who teaches at Hofstra University, Hempstead, N.Y.

Professor Zagano is a widely published author on the subject of women deacons whose writings who have appeared in America.

Editor's note: This post was updated at 8:15 am to include a fuller analysis of the membership of the commission and context from Pope Francis' discussion leading up to this decision. We will continue to update this post as more information becomes available.

In addition to the 12 members, he appointed as president of the commission the Jesuit priest, Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, who is Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. A full list of the members is included below.

The Vatican made the announcement today, Aug. 2, and recalled that during the meeting with participants of the Plenary Assembly of Religious Superiors on May 12, the pope had expressed the intention “to set up an official commission to study the question” of the Diaconate of Women, “especially regarding the first times periods of the church.”

Five of the members teach at pontifical universities in Rome; four are members of the International Theological Commission. In addition to the commission's president, Father Ferrer, two other members are Jesuits. They come from different countries: four from Italy, and others from Spain, France, Germany, Austria, Belgium and the United States.

The commission includes members with a variety of theological perspectives. For example, Father Robert Dodaro, an Italian Augustinian, was an editor of a book published before the Synod on the Family with contributions from five cardinals arguing against Cardinal Kasper's position for greater openess on the question of communion for the divorced and remarried.

The full list of commission members includes:
Sr. Nuria Calduch-Benages, M.H.S.F.N., Member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission;
Prof. Francesca Cocchini, Professor at the University "La Sapienza" and at the Patristic Institute "Augustinianum," Rome; Msgr. Piero Coda, Dean of the University Institute "Sophia," Loppiano, and Member of the International Theological Commission; P. Robert Dodaro, O.S.A., Dean Patristic Institute "Augustinianum," Rome, and Professor of Patrology; P. Santiago Madrigal Terrazas, S.J., professor of ecclesiology at the Pontifical University "Comillas," Madrid;
Sr. Mary Melone, S.F.A., rector of the Pontifical University "Antonianum," Rome; Karl-Heinz Menke, Emeritus Professor of Dogmatic Theology at the University of Bonn and member of the International Theological Commission; Aimable Musoni, S.D.B., professor of ecclesiology at the Pontifical Salesian University, Rome; P. Bernard Pottier, S.J., Professor at the ''Institut d'Etudes théologiques," Brussels, and member of the International Theological Commission;
Prof. Marianne Schlosser, Professor of Spiritual Theology at the University of Vienna and a member of the International Theological Commission;
Prof. Michelina Tenace, Professor of Fundamental Theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome.
Prof. Phyllis Zagano, Professor Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York.
To appreciate the full context of his decision to establish the commission, it is worth re-reading Pope Francis' responses to two questions put to him in recent times. (These answers, including the ellipses, are the official texts published by the Vatican).

First, the following is the question he was asked and the response he gave at the free-flowing Q&A session in the Vatican on May 12 with the International Union of Superiors General:

Question: […] In the Church there is the office of the permanent diaconate, but it is open only to men, married or not. What prevents the Church from including women among permanent deacons, as was the case in the primitive Church? Why not constitute an official commission to study the matter?

Pope Francis: This question goes in the direction of “doing”: consecrated women already do much work with the poor, they do many things … “doing.” And it touches on the problem of the permanent diaconate. … In effect this exists in antiquity: there was a beginning.… I remember that it was a theme I was quite interested in when I came to Rome for meetings … there was a good Syrian theologian there and one day I asked him about this, and he explained to me that in the early times of the Church there were some “deaconesses”. But what were these deaconesses? Were they ordained or not? The Council of Chalcedon (451) speaks about this but it is somewhat obscure. What was the role of deaconesses in those times? It seems—I was told by this man, who is now dead but who was a good professor, wise and erudite—it seems that the role of the deaconesses was to help in the baptism of women, their immersion; they baptized them for the sake of decorum, and also to anoint the body of women, in baptism. And another curious thing: when there was a judgement on a marriage because a husband hit his wife and she went to the bishop to complain, deaconesses were responsible for inspecting the bruises left on the woman’s body from her husband’s blows, and for informing the bishop. … There are various publications on the diaconate in the Church, but it is not clear how it was. I think I will ask the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to refer me to some studies on this theme, because I have answered you only on the basis of what I heard from this priest, who was an erudite and able researcher, on the permanent diaconate. In addition, I would like to constitute an official commission to study the question: I think it will be good for the Church to clarify this point, I agree, and I will speak so as to do something of this type.

He returned to the question again on May 26 in a press conference on the flight from Armenia to Rome.

Question: Holy Father, some weeks ago, you spoke about a commission to look into the idea of women deacons. I would like to know if this commission already exists and what issues need to be resolved? Then too, sometimes a commission is a useful way to forget about problems; I would like to know if that is the case here.

Pope Francis: We had a president of Argentina who used to say, and he would give this advice to presidents of other countries, “When you want something to remain unresolved, set up a commission!” The first person surprised by this news story was myself, because my dialogue with women religious—which was recorded and then published in L’Osservatore Romano – was something different, along the lines of: “We have heard that in the early centuries there were deaconesses. Could this be looked at? A commission set up…?” That was it. They asked a question, they were polite and not only that, but also they love the Church, consecrated women.

I told the story about how I knew a Syrian, a Syrian theologian who has since died, the one who prepared the critical edition of Saint Ephrem in Italian. Once, we were talking about deaconesses—when I used to visit, I would stay on the Via della Scrofa and he lived there too—once at breakfast, he told me: “Yes, but we do not know what they were exactly, if they were ordained…” There were certainly these women who helped the bishop. They helped him with three things. First, with baptizing women, because baptism was by immersion; second, with the pre- and post-baptismal anointing of women; third, and this one makes you laugh, when wives would complain to the Bishop that their husbands beat them, the bishop would call one of these deaconesses to examine the body for bruises that could serve as evidence. That’s what I said. “Can it be studied?” “Yes, I will tell the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to set up this commission”. The next day [the headlines read]: “Church opens the door to women deacons!”

To tell the truth, I was a little annoyed with the media because this is not telling people the whole truth. I spoke with the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who told me: “But there was a study done by the International Theological Commission in the 1980s”. I spoke with the president of the Superiors General and told her: “Please give me a list of persons you think could be on this commission”. And she sent me the list. The Prefect also sent a list, and they are on my desk, with a view to establishing this commission. I believe that much attention was given to the issue back in the 80s and it will not be difficult to shed light on the matter.

But there is also another thing. A year and a half ago, I named a commission of women theologians who have been working with Cardinal Ryłko [the President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity] and they have done a good job, since it matters what women think. For me, what a woman does is not as important as what she thinks: women think differently than we men. And one cannot make a good and proper decision without listening to women. Sometimes in Buenos Aires I would have a meeting with my consultors; I would listen to what they had to say and then I called in some women, and they saw things in a very different light. This enriched us greatly, and the decision proved fruitful, very fine. I have to meet these women theologians; they did a good job, but things have stopped. Why? Because the office for the laity is now being restructured. I am waiting for this to happen and then to take up the second issue, that of the women deacons. Another thing about women theologians: and I would like to stress this—the way women understand, think through and see women’s issues is more important than what women do. Finally, I would repeat what I have always said: the Church is a woman, the Church is a “she”. And she is no “old maid”. She is a woman married to the Son of God; her spouse is Jesus Christ. Think about this and then tell me what you think…