Friday, June 14, 2024

Pope's envoy on schismatic Poor Clares: Still hoping for dialogue


The administrative commission appointed by the papal representative and Archbishop of Burgos, Mario Iceta, in the dispute with the schismatic nuns of Belorado has no intention of harming the community economically. 

This is clear from a statement issued on Thursday, as reported by the Spanish internet portal "Religion Digital". 

"For our part, we continue to hold out our hand and have no intention whatsoever of imposing economic conditions on the community," it says. 

The nuns have already been asked several times to provide the amounts they need for the usual expenses of daily life. 

So far, according to Iceta, they have not done so. They are also hoping for a gesture from the community that will make a path of dialogue possible.

Previously, the nuns had criticised the Pope's representative in a post on the Instagram platform for the fact that they have not had access to several bank accounts for days. This makes it difficult for the nuns to earn a living and pay the salaries of their employees. They are no longer able to support themselves financially, they say. 

The nuns also complained of "journalistic harassment" and the throwing of fireworks at the convent at dawn. This has prompted them to hire a private security service to ensure their physical safety and honour their cultural heritage as much as possible.  

As the Pope's representative Iceta has a duty by virtue of his office to look after the nuns living in the convent, in particular the elderly sisters and the staff employed, the corresponding payments will be covered, the archbishop's statement said.

Current expenses of the community will be covered

Among other things, Iceta emphasised that, as the legal representative of the Belorado, Derio and Orduna convents, he is responsible for all matters relating to both canonical and civil matters. He also had to ensure the proper administration of finances and assets. 

However, Iceta criticised the nuns for preventing him and his commission from fulfilling the tasks assigned to him by the Vatican. The keys to the convent had also not been handed over to him, as the nuns were legally required to do. 

So far, according to Iceta, none of the convent employees have complained to the archbishopric. 

They have been assured that they will continue to be paid for their work. 

"We hope that the nuns, just as they have applied to hire a private security service, will also inform us of their specific needs to cover the community's running costs," said Iceta. 

Likewise, they reject any lack of respect for the nuns and continue to hope that the community will make a gesture that enables dialogue, it concludes.

In mid-May, the abbess of the Poor Clares caused a scandal in a public statement when she renounced the church on behalf of all 16 nuns. 

At the same timethey joined the schismatic Bishop de Rojaswho was excommunicated after an irregular episcopal consecration. The Order of Poor Clares in Spain and Portugalseparated from the Poor Clares. 

One of the 16 sisters has already left because she did not agree with the abbess's decision. 

The Archbishopric of Burgos finally asked the schismatic Bishop Pablo de Rojas and the unofficial spokesman and spiritual counsellor of the renegade nuns to leave the controversial convent

They refused to comply. 

The archbishopric threatened to take legal action. 

The Vatican then appointed the Archbishop of Burgos, Mario Iceta, as the papal representative in the Belorado case. 

So far, all attempts at dialogue with the schismatic Poor Clares, who had already announced that they would not respond to any of the demands made of them, have failed. 

Once again they emphasised their break with the Catholic Church.

Zollner: New tool to support nuns against abuse

A new programme from the Anthropology Institute at Rome's Gregorian University aims to support women religious worldwide in the fight against abuse

"The tool is intended to show which possibilities and necessities there are to defend oneself against abuse, which institutions exist that can help and which steps must also be taken in a religious community or in a local church so that women religious can live and work safely and with their dignity respected," said the Jesuit Hans Zollner in an interview with "Domradio" (Thursday). The prevention expert is the head of the centre.

The programme is what is known as "blended learning": a certain part of the content is offered online, while face-to-face events also take place on site. 

The programme is made available to institutions and communities. The aim is to recognise, report and prevent sexualised violence. 

"All those who take part in such programmes are also supported and, under certain circumstances, accompanied if they come across personally difficult issues or if they feel they need to talk to someone," says Zollner.

Religious women particularly at risk

When developing the programme, the focus was on the abuse "that women religious suffer and the abuse that women religious may also commit against each other," explained Zollner. 

In the past and to this day, women religious have been treated like servants in many places, especially by clergy. They are still particularly at risk in many parts of the world - "in the areas of labour, sexuality and the exercise of spiritual power". 

The programme is also intended to provide women religious with a tool to help them recognise what forms of grooming exist. The term refers to the initiation of abuse.

According to Zollner, there is still a lot of work to be done in recognising and combating abuse against women religious. 

The Jesuit emphasised that it is not only about raising awareness and self-confidence to report abuse, but also about providing victims with a level of security that makes it possible to report such crimes. 

"We hope that the programme will also help to ensure that women and all vulnerable people in need of protection can live safely and with respect in all parts of the world and in all institutions."

After incendiary letter: Poland's bishops approach those affected by abuse

Poland's bishops support several reform proposals from victims of abuse for the protection of minors. 

In a letter published on Wednesday, they pledged, among other things, to speak out at the Synod on Synodality in the Vatican in October in favour of victims being involved in church proceedings in future as a party in their own right and not just as witnesses. 

According to the 15 members of the Permanent Council of the Bishops' Conference, the function of the victim's representative must be anchored and regulated in canon law.

In addition, the request of the victims that at least one woman in each diocese be the contact person for those affected - instead of only men - will be honoured. 

The letter is a response to an open letter to the Permanent Council of the Bishops' Conference and the Pope's ambassador in Poland, Archbishop Antonio Filipazzi, which 46 people signed in May - some of them anonymously.

The bishops have now apologised to those affected by sexual abuse: "We are sorry that we were not always there to support you." They also honoured the request for a meeting with a delegation of those affected by abuse at a bishops' plenary session and invited them to the next meeting in November.  

The bishops wrote that they wanted to listen to those affected and "relearn sensitivity for the wounded in our communities". They added: "We hope that this dialogue will be an important step towards mutual understanding and cooperation that will contribute to better protection of the youngest and most vulnerable."

Call for the suspension of Archbishop Wojda

In their response to the incendiary letter from those affected by abuse, however, the bishops do not comment on the call for the suspension of the conference chairman, Archbishop Tadeusz Wojda, until the accusation of negligence in dealing with cases of abuse levelled against him has been clarified. 

Wojda has asked the Holy See for an investigation, the bishops said. 

"In this attitude, we see the archbishop's trust in the Holy Father Francis, in the actions of the Holy See and in the established ecclesiastical procedures." 

Wojda is accused of allowing a priest in his archdiocese of Gdansk to continue working with children, even though two women had reported him for sexual abuse in 2021.

One initiator of the widely publicised open letter to the bishops welcomed the response. "For me, the bishops' response is a small sign that they are beginning to treat us as partners and not as objects without rights," Robert Fidura told the Catholic News Agency (KNA). 

In 2021, in protest against the behaviour of bishops, he ended his involvement on the management board of the church's St. Joseph Foundation, which aims to help those affected by abuse. 

Previously, those affected had only held talks with individual bishops, but did not join forces. 

The bishops had already apologised to those affected in the past.

Trouble over future church music at Notre-Dame Cathedral

Cheer, Cheer for Old Notre-Dame ...

The organ out of order, the organists out of tune: There is trouble over the future church music at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris

The current team of organists feels ignored by the church leadership when it comes to rejuvenating the team, as several Parisian media report. 

The appointment of new, younger musicians and the omission of long-serving colleagues took place without consultation, a call for tenders or a competition, according to the tenor of an online petition that has been launched. 

This was non-transparent, brutal and unjustified.

Six months before the reopening of the cathedral in December, church musicians are particularly offended by the appointment of a 21-year-old organ student without a degree, according to the portal actu.fr. 

The sole belief in a promising talent is incomprehensible. The cathedral administration explained that the selection of organists is part of the rector's duties. 

The rector had formed an opinion by listening to the candidates; the candidate had always been at the top of his class and had already proved himself during a stay in the USA.

No farewell "with respect and dignity"

Following the major fire at Notre-Dame in April 2019, it was decided to dismiss the organists for financial reasons. The full-time choir organist had moved his activities to the replacement cathedral Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois. 

According to the organists, the main player of the Great Organ was not offered the opportunity to postpone his retirement so that he could officiate "with respect and dignity" until the reopening ceremony of the episcopal church.

The early Gothic episcopal church of Notre-Dame in Paris is a Parisian landmark. It is considered by many to be the epitome of French cathedrals. 

Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the church is prominently located on the Ile de la Cite on the Seine in the historic centre and was visited by around 12 to 14 million people a year before the major fire in 2019. 

A major fire broke out on 15 April 2019 during renovation work, destroying the roofs and roof trusses, parts of the vaults and the crossing tower. 

President Emmanuel Macron's wish to reopen the church by the fifth anniversary of the fire could not quite be met; it is now scheduled to take place on 8 December.

During Mass, Argentine priest leads congregation in political chant used against Milei

A Catholic priest in Buenos Aires, Argentina, incorporated into the celebration of the Mass a political chorus used in protests against the government of President Javier Milei.

The irregular act took place at the Argentine capital city’s Holy Cross Parish on June 9, when the parish’s pastor, Father Carlos Saracini, led the congregation in repeatedly singing “The homeland is not for sale” (“La patria no se vende”), a chant routinely used in political protests against the administration of the country’s president, Javier Milei.

Saracini intoned the chant during the presentation of the offerings portion of the Mass, when the priest presents to God the gifts of bread and wine that, later, in the consecration, will become the body and blood of Christ. The moment was captured on social media networks.

Discussing his action in a local radio interview, Saracini confirmed that “I started the chant of ‘The homeland is not for sale’ because it is not for sale, it is our resources, our people, our work,” he said. “The song interprets what many of us believe; that is why it can be prayer.”

“It seemed pertinent to me that the song be part of the offering, due to the terrible situation we are experiencing as a country,” Saracini insisted. In response to an inquiry by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires said it will not issue any statement about the matter.

Iraq reinstates Cardinal Sako as head of Chaldean Catholic Church

Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako holds up the decree from Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani. Photo: Chaldean Catholic Church

The Iraqi government has reinstated Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako as head of the Chaldean Catholic Church, a title he was stripped of last year after a dispute with an influential Christian MP who also leads a militia.

The church announced the decision late on Tuesday along with a decree issued by Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani.

Mr Sako was embroiled last year in a war of words with Rayan Al Kildani, the US-sanctioned leader of the Babylon Movement, in which each accused the other of exploiting their influence to illegally seize Christian-owned properties.

Mr Al Kildani gained influence after his militia fought as part of state-recognised Popular Mobilisation Forces, a network of largely pro-Iran paramilitaries, in the 2014 to 2017 war against ISIS. He has since forged strong alliances with powerful Iran-allied Shiite militias.

Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid last year revoked a 2013 presidential decree that recognised Mr Sako as the head of the Baghdad-based Chaldean Church. The decree had allowed him to administer the community's endowment.

The presidency justified the decision by saying the decree had no “constitutional or legal basis” as the President “only issues appointment decrees for employees of government institutions”.

Mr Sako left the seat in protest and moved to one of the monasteries in the Kurdistan region.

In Mr Al Sudani's decree shared by the Chaldean Church on Tuesday, he named Mr Sako as the patriarch and specified that he will be responsible for its endowment and properties.

A ceremony was held at the church in Baghdad to receive the decree.

The church also published a letter from Mr Sako to the Mr Al Sudani in which he welcome his “noble decision” that came after a “difficult period”.

Mr Sako is a key interlocutor between the Iraqi government and its Christian minority. He has been outspoken about the grievances the Christian community has faced since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime and the country's political scene.

He was the architect of the historic visit of Pope Francis to the country in 2021.

Christians in Iraq trace their roots back to the beginning of the faith nearly 2,000 years ago. But with the rise of extremism after the 2003 invasion, killings and kidnappings for ransom against the community forced many to flee.

Community leaders estimate that the number of Christians in Iraq has dropped to about a third of the estimated 1.5 million who lived there before 2003.

Swedish cardinal urges Catholics to protect the unborn

Sweden's Cardinal Anders Arborelius of Stockholm called on the country’s Catholics to engage others in meaningful ways to protect the lives of the unborn.

Following a recent vote to include abortion in the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights, Cardinal Arborelius said that "as Catholic Christians, we can choose different approaches to advocating for the inviolability of life and human rights, justice, and peace."

"The important thing is that one truly engages in various ways, in words and actions, to try to save the lives of the most vulnerable among us," he wrote in a statement released June 10 by the Diocese of Stockholm.

In April, the European Parliament voted in favor of a resolution that would "enshrine the right to abortion in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights." However, in order for it to be included in the charter, all 27 member states must vote unanimously in favor, an outcome that currently seems unlikely.

In his letter, Cardinal Arborelius said, "more Catholics have begun to engage more deeply on the issue of abortion" in the lead-up to the June 9 European parliamentary elections.

He also noted that a letter published in May by the diocese's Justice and Peace Commission, which called on Catholic voters "to cast blank votes in the EU elections" in cases when it is not possible "to vote for any party or candidate from the conscience that remains bound by the principle of the inviolable dignity of every human life," had served as "a wake-up call for many."

The Justice and Peace Commission explained that in Sweden, for example, a blank vote is classified as invalid and not counted in the allocation of seats between parties and candidates.

Nevertheless, it said, the tactic "shows the voter's willingness to participate in the election" while "expressing the realization that there is no acceptable alternative to vote for without actually committing a sin in the sense that one's vote becomes an enabler of further violations of the principle of human dignity."

"The call to cast blank votes in the EU elections brought the issue to a head," Cardinal Arborelius said. "With its drastic message, the Justice and Peace (Commission) tried to shake things up and spur engagement since none of the parliamentary parties today are willing to question the so-called right to abortion in any respect."

The cardinal acknowledged that Swedish Catholics are reluctant "to engage in party politics" and instead "have tried to influence people's consciences" in respecting the right to life "from conception to natural death."

Nevertheless, he said, "it can also be entirely appropriate to engage in political life to try to create better opportunities to help those in difficult situations who need support to allow their expected child to be born into life."

Expressing concerns that similar calls to include the "so-called right to abortion into Sweden's constitution," Cardinal Arborelius said that now, more than ever, "our Catholic voice is needed."

"It is my hope that many more believers will stand up for the inviolability of life in various ways," the cardinal wrote. "It is my prayer that in our country, we learn to respect and revere every person, who is created in the image of God, and grant them the gift of life."

San Diego Roman Catholic Diocese to File for Bankruptcy Over Abuse Victim Claims

The Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego announced Thursday that it will file for bankruptcy in the wake of hundreds of legal claims from alleged sexual abuse victims.

In a letter to parishioners and clergy, Cardinal Robert McElroy wrote that bankruptcy would help the diocese fulfill its goals going forward, while also compensating abuse victims.

Last year, McElroy announced the possibility of bankruptcy in a separate letter, as he wrote then that the diocese “must face the staggering legal costs” in response to lawsuits alleging abuse dating back as far as 1945.

In 2007, the diocese settled lawsuits brought by 144 victims, but recently more than 450 claims have been made against the diocese, according to a statement. The diocese said more than 60% of the latest claims are for incidents that occurred more than 50 years ago.

The Zalkin Law Firm, which represents victims in the cases against the Diocese of San Diego, said this is at least the 13th Catholic Diocese to file for bankruptcy protection in recent years in response to laws that allowed for new abuse claims previously barred by statutes of limitations.

Last year, the firm sued the Diocese, alleging it fraudulently transferred real estate to dummy corporations in order to avoid paying out legal settlements to victims.

Devin Storey, a partner at Zalkin, said in a statement, “It has become very clear that these Catholic Dioceses and their insurers have adopted a national strategy to use Chapter 11 bankruptcies to resolve child sexual abuse cases in a way that reduces the compensation paid to survivors and deprives survivors of their right to trial.”

Irwin Zalkin, another attorney for the plaintiffs, said the firm will continue “on behalf of the 457 survivors who will now find themselves in bankruptcy court, to work with the Diocese and its insurer to arrive at a fair settlement for these survivors.”

“The ball is very much in the Diocese and its insurance company’s court,” he concluded.

In last year’s letter to parishioners, McElroy wrote that while earlier cases were settled for $198 million, settling the present cases at the same rate would cost more than $550 million.

“The diocese faces two compelling moral claims in approaching the settlement process: the need for just compensation for victims of sexual abuse and the need to continue the church’s mission of education, pastoral service and outreach to the poor and marginalized,” McElroy said. “Bankruptcy offers the best pathway to achieve both.”

The diocese, which will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Monday, said its parishes, charities and schools would continue normal operations.

However, McElroy wrote, “It is clear that as part of providing appropriate compensation to past victims of the sexual abuse of minors, both the parishes and high schools will have to contribute substantially to the ultimate settlement in order to bring finality to the liability they face.”

Bishop John Stowe Reaffirms Support for Transgender Diocesan Hermit

The Diocese of Lexintgon, Kentucky, led by Bishop John Stowe, has reaffirmed its support for a vowed diocesan hermit who recently came out as transgender, acknowledging “his witness of discipleship, integrity and contemplative prayer for the Church.”

On Pentecost Sunday, Brother Christian Matson, a hermit Kentucky who made vows to Stowe, announced that he is transgender. The Lexington diocese responded positively to the announcement with a brief statement:

“On Pentecost Sunday, Brother Christian Matson, a professed hermit in the Diocese of Lexington, has made it public that he is a transgender person. Brother Christian has long sought to consecrate his life to Christ in the Church by living the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience. He has consistently been accompanied by a competent spiritual director and has undergone formation in the Benedictine tradition. He does not seek ordination, but has professed a rule of life that allows him to support himself financially by continuing his work in the arts and to live a life of contemplation in a private hermitage. Bishop John Stowe, OFM Conv., accepted his profession and is grateful to Brother Christian for his witness of discipleship, integrity and contemplative prayer for the Church.”

Matson medically transitioned while in college. A few years later, he converted to Catholicism as he felt called “to be in relationship with God in contemplative prayer.” Matson does not receive a salary or benefits from the diocese, and he supports himself financially through the creative arts. He is spiritually supported by Bishop Stowe, who helped Matson decide when and how to come out. Matson told The Catholic Spirit:

“We (Bishop Stowe and Matson) both think that it is a matter of justice that LGBT people be considered based on their character and on their actual gifts and their actual love of God and (being) desirous of the Church, as opposed to saying (that) this state of being, whether it’s your sexual orientation or gender identity, in itself makes you unfit and uncallable by God.”

Interviewed by Louisville Public Media, Matson stated that he has received support from people all around the world, especially from those who lost hope in the Catholic Church:

“’And the support from trans people all around the world who have been emailing me saying, “I had given up on having a relationship with the church. But seeing that you’ve been welcomed by the church… I feel like I have hoped for having a relationship with God and the church again.” And that’s really who this announcement was for.'”

Responding to those who may believe that his identity is inconsistent with Catholicism, Matson said that, rather than portraying him as a dissenter, “ask me what I actually believe.” He explained further that he believes in “church teaching about the goodness of gender and the human body and the goodness of maleness and femaleness.”

Yet, he also wants people to “acknowledge the complexity” of gender, which has not been “addressed so far in our theology.” The hermit clarified his coming out at Pentecost had been planned long before Dignitas Infinita, the Vatican’s declaration on human dignity which was highly transgender negative, was released.

As part of his contribution to theological discourse, Matson is preparing a book which lays out “the theological argument for transgender inclusion according to orthodox Catholic anthropology,” which accounts for contemporary scientific and social scientific ideas, as well as trans peoples’ experiences. He has launched a crowdfunding campaign to support his work on the book, and more details about the project are available here.

The hermit hopes that his story shows it is possible for transgender people to have a relationship with religion. More dioceses should follow the lead of the Diocese of Lexington by outwardly loving and accepting the LGBTQ+ community. Matson’s offered advice to other trans people:

“I’d say don’t give up. Keep going toward the people who support you. Keep your grounding in the knowledge that you are beloved by God that you are made by God the way you are, and he purposely made you that way, which means he finds something good and how you’re made and something that you have to contribute to the world in the way you were made.”

Theologian slams hierarchicalism in diocesan mergers

The manner in which two West of Ireland dioceses were merged last April has shown that the Irish Church leadership talks the talk of synodality but doesn’t walk the walk according to a leading theologian. 

Fr Eugene Duffy, theologian and priest of the Diocese of Achonry, writing in the Furrow that “After 900 years, two diocese Achonry and Killala, would be merged with neighbouring dioceses…came as a shock to the people and priests of the dioceses concerned, none of who had been invited to attend” the announcement in Tuam cathedral. “It was an entirely hierarchical event…and once again exposed the sharp disconnect between the rhetoric of magisterial teaching and the reality of ecclesial life in practice.”

He adds: “Just as people and their priests were beginning to raise their expectations about the emergence of a more synodal style of church, their hopes have been undermined.” 

Dr Duffy asks: ”Perhaps one might have to accept the reality that, in fact nothing has changed.” 

He adds that a more Synodal approach should be taken with future boundary changes which might lead to “a much more imaginative and more meaningful reorganisation emerging.”

‘The Bishop of Rome’: A brief guide for busy readers


In his 1995 encyclical Ut unum sint, Pope John Paul II made what many at the time considered a startling proposal. 

He invited other Christians around the world to join him in exploring ways in which the Bishop of Rome could exercise a renewed “ministry of unity.”

Almost 30 years later, the Vatican is taking stock of the responses, in a new document entitled “The Bishop of Rome: Primacy and synodality in ecumenical dialogues and responses to the encyclical Ut unum sint.”

The 146-page document was released June 13, accompanied by a press conference featuring the Vatican’s ecumenism chief Cardinal Kurt Koch and synod czar Cardinal Mario Grech. 

What exactly is this new text? What does it say? And what will happen next? 

Here’s a brief guide for busy readers.

What’s a ‘study document’?

The first thing to note is that The Bishop of Romeis a long document, clocking in at around 43,000 words, meaning it takes somewhere between three to six hours to read.

What type of Vatican text is it? It’s not one of the more familiar kinds — encyclicals, instructions, apostolic letters — but rather a “study document” issued by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity.

In a preface, Cardinal Koch, the dicastery’s prefect, says this means that the text “does not claim to exhaust the subject nor to summarize the Catholic magisterium on it.” 

Rather, “its purpose is to offer an objective synthesis of recent ecumenical developments on the theme, thus reflecting the insights but also the limitations of the dialogue documents themselves.”

So this isn’t a text offering authoritative guidance to Catholics on the meaning of primacy and synodality. Instead, it’s exploring the current debate around those terms in the wider Christian world.  

It’s not a papal text, though it has been published “with the agreement” of Pope Francis. Rather, it represents the Christian unity dicastery’s view of current discussions.

The document is not meant to settle the debate on papal primacy, but rather to inform it — and perhaps also to guide it in the years to come. 

There’s a notable section at the end, “Towards an Exercise of Primacy in the 21st century,” which summarizes what Cardinal Koch calls “the most significant suggestions” for the renewed exercise of the Bishop of Rome’s ministry of unity. 

If you’re pressed for time, you might want to skip to that section (beginning on page 116). It’s about 6,000 words, or 20 minutes of reading.

What’s the background?

The document’s background arguably stretches back to biblical times, specifically to the moment that Jesus entrusted Peter with the keys to the kingdom of heaven as recorded in Matthew 16:19.

As the Vatican Council II’s decree on ecumenism noted, in the centuries that followed, Christians in the East and West “each followed their separate ways though linked in a brotherly union of faith and sacramental life.” When there were disagreements over matters of faith or discipline, “the Roman See by common consent acted as guide.”

But after a millennium of this somewhat loose form of unity, Eastern and Western Christians went their separate ways. Five centuries or so later, Western Christianity fragmented at the Reformation.

But the conviction that the Bishop of Rome exercised a ministry of unity on behalf of all Christians persisted despite every painful division.

The First Vatican Council, which began in 1868, offered precise definitions of the pope’s primacy of jurisdiction and papal infallibility that seemed to gain little favor outside of the Catholic Church. 

The new document argues that “the understanding and exercise of the ministry of the Bishop of Rome entered a new phase” with Vatican II, which stressed episcopal collegiality alongside papal primacy. 

After roughly 30 years of theological dialogue between Catholics and other Christians, John Paul II expressed his hope, in Ut unum sint, that “we may seek—together, of course—the forms in which this ministry may accomplish a service of love recognized by all concerned.”

The new document aims to present the following in an orderly way:

1) The responses to John Paul II’s Ut unum sint, as well as the documents of theological dialogues devoted to the question of primacy.

2) “The main theological questions traditionally challenging papal primacy, and some significant advances in contemporary ecumenical reflection.”

3) “Some perspectives for a ministry of unity in a reunited Church.”

4) “Practical suggestions or requests addressed to the Catholic Church.”

These items form the document’s four main sections.

What does it say?

Helpfully, the text has a section summarizing the four sections (beginning on p106).

1) Regarding responses to Ut unum sint, the document says that the question of papal primacy is being discussed in “a new and positive ecumenical spirit.”

“This new climate is indicative of the good relations established between Christian communions, and especially between their leaders,” it says.

2) Concerning disputed theological questions, the text welcomes what it calls “a renewed reading” of the classic “Petrine texts,” which set out the Apostle Peter’s role in the Church.

“On the basis of contemporary exegesis and patristic research, new insights and mutual enrichment have been achieved, challenging some traditional confessional interpretations,” it notes.

One particularly controversial issue, it says, is the Catholic conviction that the primacy of the Bishop of Rome was established de iure divino (by divine law), “while most other Christians understand it as being instituted merely de iure humano” (by human law).

But the document says that new interpretations are helping to overcome “this traditional dichotomy, by considering primacy as both de iure divino and de iure humano, that is, being part of God’s will for the Church and mediated through human history.”

Another enduring obstacle is the First Vatican Council. But the document says that here too there has been “promising progress,” thanks to ecumenical dialogues that seek “a ‘rereading’ or ‘re-reception’” of the Council’s decrees.

This approach, it says, “emphasizes the importance of interpreting the dogmatic statements of Vatican I not in isolation, but in the light of their historical context, of their intention and of their reception — especially through the teaching of Vatican II.”

Addressing this point in a June 13 Vatican News interview, Cardinal Koch said that since Vatican I’s “dogmatic definitions were profoundly conditioned by historical circumstances,” ecumenical partners were encouraging the Catholic Church to “seek new expressions and vocabulary faithful to the original intention, integrating them into an ecclesiology of communion and adapting them to the current cultural and ecumenical context.” 

“There is therefore talk of a ‘re-reception,’ or even ‘reformulation,’ of the teachings of Vatican I,” the Swiss cardinal explained.

3) Summarizing the document’s third section, the text says that fresh approaches to disputed questions have “opened new perspectives for a ministry of unity in a reconciled Church.”

Crucially, the document suggests there is a common understanding that although the first millennium of Christian history is “decisive,” it “should not be idealized nor simply re-created since the developments of the second millennium cannot be ignored and also because a primacy at the universal level should respond to contemporary challenges.”

From the ecumenical dialogues, it’s possible to deduce “principles for the exercise of primacy in the 21st century,” the text says.

One is that there must be an interplay between primacy and synodality at every level of the Church. In other words, there is a need for “a synodal exercise of primacy.”

Synodality is notoriously difficult to define, but the document describes it at one point as “the renewed practice of the Synod of Bishops, including a broader consultation of the whole People of God.”

4) Among the practical suggestions for a renewed exercise of the ministry of unity, the document highlights the possibility of “a Catholic ‘re-reception’, ‘re-interpretation’, ‘official interpretation’, ‘updated commentary’ or even ‘rewording’ of the teachings of Vatican I.”

It also stresses appeals for “a clearer distinction between the different responsibilities of the Bishop of Rome, especially between his patriarchal ministry in the Church of the West and his primatial ministry of unity in the communion of Churches, both West and East.” 

“There is also a need to distinguish the patriarchal and primatial roles of the Bishop of Rome from his political function as head of state,” the text says, adding: “A greater accent on the exercise of the ministry of the pope in his own particular Church, the Diocese of Rome, would highlight the episcopal ministry he shares with his brother bishops, and renew the image of the papacy.”

The new document appears months after Pope Francis restored the title “Patriarch of the West” among the list of papal titles in the Vatican’s annual yearbook, after it was dropped by his predecessor Benedict XVI.

Commenting on that development at the June 13 Vatican press conference, Cardinal Koch said that neither Francis nor Benedict XVI offered detailed explanations for the change.

“But I am convinced they did not want to do something against anyone, but both wanted to do something ecumenically respectful,” he commented.

Another suggestion is for the Catholic Church to further develop its practice of synodality, particularly through “further reflection on the authority of national and regional Catholic bishops’ conferences, their relationship with the Synod of Bishops and with the Roman Curia.”

Finally, the text mentions a request for regular meetings among Church leaders at a worldwide level, in a spirit of “conciliar fellowship.”

What’s next?

The study document ends with the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity’s brief proposal for the exercise of primacy in the 21st century, which it approved in 2021.

“Our dicastery would like to share this proposal, together with the study document, with the various Christian communions, asking for their thoughts on the matter,” Koch told Vatican News.

“We thus hope to continue the discussion, ‘together, of course,’ for an exercise of the ministry of unity of the Bishop of Rome ‘recognized by one another.’”

The new document is therefore a small but noteworthy milestone on the very long path to greater Christian unity.

The Bishop of Rome, servant of unity

The Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity presents a new study document that surveys the ongoing ecumenical dialogue concerning the role of the Pope and the exercise of the Petrine Ministry.

The Bishop of Rome is a document of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity that brings together the fruits of the ecumenical dialogues on the ministry of the Pope in response to the invitation made by Pope John Paul II almost thirty years ago in the wake of the advancements made since the Council. The objective is to seek a form of the exercise of the primacy that is shared by the Churches that lived in full communion in the first centuries. Even if “not all theological dialogues have treated the topic at the same level or in the same depth,” it is possible to indicate some “new approaches” to the more controversial theological questions.

Re-reading the Petrine texts

One of the fruits of the theological dialogues is a renewed reading of the “Petrine texts,” which historically have become an obstacle to unity among Christians. “Dialogue partners have been challenged to avoid anachronistic projections of later doctrinal developments and to consider afresh the role of Peter among the apostles.” For example, “a diversity of images, interpretations and models in the New Testament have been rediscovered, while biblical notions such as episkopè (the ministry of oversight), diakonia, and the concept of ‘Petrine function’, have helped develop a more comprehensive understanding of the ‘Petrine texts’.”

The origin of primacy

Another controversial issue is the Catholic understanding of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome as an institution of divine right, while most other Christians understand it as an institution of human right only. “Hermeneutical clarifications,” the document reads, have helped to put this traditional dichotomy “into a new perspective,” considering the primacy to be both of divine right and human right, that is, “both part of God’s will for the Church and mediated by human history.”

“The dialogues have emphasized instead the distinction between the theological essence and the historical contingency of primacy” and call “for a greater attention to and assessment of the historical context that conditioned the exercise of primacy in different regions and periods.”

The First Vatican Council

“The dogmatic definitions of the First Vatican Council are a significant obstacle for other Christians. Some ecumenical dialogues have registered promising progress when undertaking a ‘re-reading’ or ‘re-reception’ of this Council, opening up new avenues for a more accurate understanding of its teaching …  in light of their historical context” and of the teaching of Vatican II. This allowed a clarification of the dogmatic definition of the Pope's universal jurisdiction, “by identifying its extension and limits.”

Similarly, it became possible “to clarify the wording of the dogma of infallibility and even to agree on certain aspects of its purpose, recognizing the need, in some circumstances, for a personal exercise of the teaching ministry, given that Christian unity is a unity in truth and love.”

Despite these clarifications, the document acknowledges, “the dialogues still express concerns regarding the relation of infallibility to the primacy of the Gospel, the indefectibility of the whole Church, the exercise of episcopal collegiality and the necessity of reception.”

A ministry for the reconciled Church

Many theological dialogues have recognised “the necessity of a ministry of unity at the universal level … Referring to apostolic tradition, some dialogues argue that, from the early Church, Christianity was established on major apostolic sees occupying a specific order, the see of Rome being the first.”

Some dialogues “have maintained that there is a mutual interdependency of primacy and synodality at each level of the life of the Church: local, regional, but also universal. Another argument, of a more pragmatic nature, is founded on the contemporary context of globalization and on missionary requirements.”

“Some dialogues have pointed out that there is a mutual interdependence between primacy and synodality at every level of Church life: local, regional, but also universal. Another argument in favour, of a more pragmatic nature, concerns the contemporary context of globalisation and missionary needs.”

Moreover, “Certain criteria of the first millennium” have been “identified as points of reference and sources of inspiration for the acceptable exercise of a ministry of unity at the universal level, such as: the informal – and not primarily jurisdictional – character of the expressions of communion between the Churches; the ‘primacy of honour’ of the Bishop of Rome” and “the interdependency between the primatial and synodal dimensions of the Church.”

Primacy and synodality

Many dialogues recognise, however, that the “first millennium of Christian history … should not be idealised nor simply recreated,” in part “because a primacy at the universal level should respond to contemporary challenges.”

“Some principles for the exercise of primacy in the 21st century” have also been identified. “A first general agreement is the mutual interdependency of primacy and synodality at each level of the Church, and the consequent requirement for a synodal exercise of primacy.”

“A further agreement concerns the articulation between…  the ‘communal’ dimension based on the sensus fidei of all the baptized; the ‘collegial’ dimension, expressed especially in episcopal collegiality; and the ‘personal’ dimension expressed in the primatial function.”

A further, “crucial issue is the relationship between the local Church and the universal Church, which has important consequences for the exercise of primacy. Ecumenical dialogues helped bring about agreement on the simultaneity of these dimensions, insisting that it is not possible to separate the dialectical relationship between the local Church and the universal Church.”

The role of Bishops’ conferences

“Many dialogues stress the need for a balance between the exercise of primacy on a regional and universal level, noting that in most Christian communions the regional level is the most relevant for the exercise of primacy and also for their missional activity. Some theological dialogues with the Western Christian communions, observing an ‘asymmetry’ between these communions and the Catholic Church, call for a strengthening of Catholic episcopal conferences, including at the continental level, and for a continuing ‘decentralization’ inspired by the model of the ancient patriarchal Churches.”

Traditions and subsidiarity

The importance of the principle of subsidiarity – the idea that “no matter that can properly be dealt with at a lower level should be taken to a higher one”

“Some dialogues apply this principle in defining an acceptable model of ‘unity in diversity’ with the Catholic Church. They argue that the power of the Bishop of Rome should not exceed that required for the exercise of his ministry of unity at the universal level, and suggest a voluntary limitation in the exercise of his power – while recognizing that he will need a sufficient amount of authority to meet the many challenges and complex obligations related to his ministry.”

Practical suggestions

“A first proposal is a Catholic ‘re-reception’, ‘re-interpretation’, ‘official interpretation’, ‘updated commentary’ or even ‘rewording’ of the teachings of Vatican I” that could involve “new expressions and vocabulary faithful to the original intention but integrated into a communio ecclesiology and adapted to the current cultural and ecumenical context.”

Some dialogues have suggested that “a clearer distinction” be made “between the different responsibilities of the Bishop of Rome, especially between his patriarchal ministry in the Church of the West and his primatial ministry of unity in the communion of Churches.” There have also been calls for “a greater accent on the exercise of the ministry of the Pope in his own particular Church, the diocese of Rome…”

“A third recommendation … concerns the development of synodality within the Catholic Church. In particular, “further reflection on the authority of national and regional Catholic bishops’ conferences, their relationship with the Synod of Bishops and with the Roman Curia” has been called for. “At the universal level” the dialogues “stress the need for a better involvement of the whole People of God in the synodal processes.”

A final proposal involves  “the promotion of ‘conciliar fellowship’ through regular meetings among Church leaders at a worldwide level” and the promotion of “synodality between Churches … through regular consultations and common action and witness.”

You can find the full text of The Bishop of Rome on the website of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity.

Russian Orthodox Church suspends priest who prayed at Navalny's grave

A Russian Orthodox priest who led a memorial service last month at the grave of late opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been suspended from clerical duties and ordered to serve three years of "penance".

Dmitry Safronov has prayed several times at the Moscow grave of Navalny and conducted a service there on March 26 to mark 40 days since Navalny's death in an Arctic penal colony.

His suspension was announced by the Moscow Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church, which said he would be demoted to the role of psalm-reader.

No reason was stated for the punishment, the latest in a series that the Church has imposed on priests deemed sympathetic to the opposition or not sufficiently supportive of Russia's war in Ukraine.

"At the end of the period of penance, based on feedback from the place of obedience, a decision will be made on the possibility of his further priestly service," the diocese said.

Reuters was unable to reach Safronov. A man who answered the phone at his Moscow church said all questions should be directed to the office of Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The March 1 funeral of Navalny, the best known domestic critic of President Vladimir Putin, brought tens of thousands of people on to the streets - a rare event in Russia, where nearly 20,000 people have been detained in the past two years for protesting against the war.

The Kremlin denied accusations by Navalny's supporters that it had had him killed. His death certificate said he died of natural causes.

Speaking at the grave, which was piled high with flowers, on March 9, Safronov said that Navalny had urged Russians not to give up.

"Evil can be defeated only by one thing, by good. If we try to defeat evil with evil, then we multiply evil. So we will indeed remember Alexei, remember his testament to us and we will pray for him and hope he will pray for us at the throne of the Lord," he said.

'CLEAR MESSAGE'

Ksenia Luchenko, an expert who writes a blog on the Russian Orthodox Church and is critical of its leadership, said Safronov was "a real hero" for performing his priestly duties at the grave despite the risks of associating himself with Navalny.

She said the Church hierarchy was sending a clear message by suspending him.

"They just need the priests to be obedient and to support publicly the point of view of the Patriarch on this war and to support the Russian state, to support Putin. And if somebody refuses, he will be punished."

She said the likely formal reason for the priest's suspension was his refusal to read a prayer asking God to lead Russia to victory in Ukraine, which Patriarch Kirill introduced in 2022 and has made compulsory at church services.

Dozens of other priests have been punished for defying the Church's line on the war - for example, by reading out prayers for peace instead of victory. The most prominent was Aleksiy Uminsky, who was expelled from the Church in January and has now left Russia.

Jesuit priest suggests pope OKs homosexuals entering seminaries, despite reports to the contrary

In a social media post, Jesuit priest Fr. James Martin wrote that he met with Pope Francis this week and discussed with him the topic of homosexuals entering seminaries.

Fr. Martin posted on June 12 that he met with the pope for an hour. 

“With his permission to share this, the Holy Father said he has known many good, holy and celibate seminarians and priests with homosexual tendencies,” Fr. Martin wrote:

Once again, he confirmed my ministry with LGBTQ people and showed his openness and love for the LGBTQ community. It was also a great joy to receive his blessing on the 25th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood.

Fr. Martin’s meeting with Francis comes one day after the pope reportedly used a deprecating Italian slur to refer to homosexuals during a meeting with 200 priests.

Several weeks earlier, the pope reportedly used the same slur during a meeting with the Italian Bishops’ Conference.

In both instances, the pope used the controversial word while expressing his opposition to homosexuals joining the Catholic priesthood.

On May 27, the Vatican issued a statement apologizing for the offense the pope caused.

“The Pope never intended to offend or express himself in homophobic terms, and he extends his apologies to those who felt offended by the use of a term, reported by others,” read the statement from the director of the Holy See Press Office Matteo Bruni. 

After Francis used the deprecating term the second time, CatholicVote reported

Reuters this week questioned the Vatican about Francis’ repeated use of the controversial word. 

The Vatican press office responded to the publication by making “reference to a statement it had issued regarding Tuesday’s meeting with the priests, in which the pope reiterated the need to welcome gay people into the Church and the need for caution regarding them becoming seminarians.”

Boy accused of terrorist act in Sydney church faces new charges of stabbing bishop and priest

Sydney bishop who was stabbed during ...

A 16-year-old boy accused of committing a terrorist act by stabbing a bishop in a Sydney church in April faces two additional charges, a court was told on Friday.

The boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was arrested at the scene of the stabbing on April 15 in an Assyrian Orthodox church as a service was being streamed online.

The earlier charge of committing a terrorist act carries a possible life sentence, while the new charges carry maximum sentences of 25 years each.

A prosecutor told the Parramatta Children’s Court on Friday that the boy had also been charged with wounding with intent to murder Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel and wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm a priest, Rev. Isaac Royel. Neither cleric sustained life-threatening injuries.

Police have identified 52,000 images and 7,500 videos from the boy’s phone that could be used as evidence in the terrorist charge prosecution.

Prosecutors expect to provide defense lawyers with the final evidence within six weeks.

The boy did not apply for release on bail on Friday and remains in custody.

The stabbing sparked a riot outside the Christ The Good Shepherd Church and a major investigation involving police and Australia’s main domestic spy agency.

Police have also arrested six other boys aged 14 to 17 who they allege are part of the 16-year-old’s network. Police say they all “adhered to a religiously motivated, violent extremist ideology.”

The six allegedly plotted to buy guns and attack Jewish people after the bishop was stabbed. They have been charged with an array of offenses including conspiring to engage in or planning a terrorist act.

Police said on Thursday that 29 people had been charged with rioting offenses outside and church on April 15 and others identified from video images were being sought.

The rioting left 51 police officers injured and 104 police vehicles damaged.

Popular Tipperary priest becomes an Irish citizen

Irish citizen! – Nenagh Parish

Nenagh parish were delighted to announce this week that Fr Rexon Chullickal officially became an Irish citizen at a ceremony at the INEC in Killarney, Co Kerry on Monday 10 June 2024.

Ordained to the priesthood in 1999, Fr Rexon remained in his native Kerala province in southwestern India until the end of 2017. When he arrived in Nenagh in July 2018, Fr Rexon immediately endeared himself to the people of Nenagh and the surrounding parishes.

Nenagh Co-PP, Fr Pat Gilbert commented: ‘Fr Rexon has been a wonderful support to me since I came to Nenagh Parish in the summer of 2022. His dedication to the priestly life, his sense of spirituality and dedication to his faith, is an inspiration to all his brother priests. We are delighted he has chosen to become an Irish citizen.’

Nenagh Parish Pastoral Council Chairperson, Dr Conor Reidy, congratulated and thanked Fr Rexon for his decision to become an Irish citizen: ‘Sometimes a person comes along and their sense of calm, their warmth, their presence, is infectious. Fr Rexon is one such person. Wherever you go across the Ódhran Pastoral Area parishes, he is beloved by the people. Whether he is welcoming someone into the world at a Baptism, or ministering over their final journey, his devotion to people is something special. It is our great honour that he has decided to become an Irish citizen.’