Thursday, November 30, 2023

Peter McVerry Trust to receive €4 million this week in first tranche of emergency Govt funding

THE PETER MCVERRY Trust will receive approximately €4 million in the first tranche of emergency funding from the Government to ensure the organisation can continue to provide its services, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien has confirmed. 

It was confirmed on Tuesday that the Government is to provide up to €15 million in funding to the charity. 

It comes after the housing charity found itself in significant financial difficulties this autumn.

The funding is being provided on the condition of significant reform within the charity.

The Peter McVerry Trust has given a commitment that improved management and budgetary processes are being put in place. 

The funding, which was secured by Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien on an exceptional basis, will be provided monthly between December and March.

Speaking to reporters today, O’Brien said the first phase of that payment will be made later this week.

He confirmed the first tranche of funding is approximately €4 million. 

“My priority is the service users, is the hundreds of people who are assisted by the Peter McVerry Trust every single day.”

The Minister said the Government has “full oversight” of what is happening at the charity. 

“There’s investigations in place … there will be reorganisation and restructuring,” he said. 

“Those payments are made on behalf of the taxpayer to support the services, so there are conditions attached, which at this stage I can’t go through because I am writing to the Trust today outlining that.” 

When asked if there needs to be any change at board level, McGrath said: “We’re not at that stage yet. We’ve a full review underway and we have external consultants in the Peter McVery Trust at the moment.” 

The Peter McVerry Trust is due to provide a detailed plan for the future by February next year, a Government spokeswoman said earlier this week. 

In August, the charity said it was experiencing cashflow pressures that were “more acute than would traditionally be the case”, even allowing for the summer period.

In October, its chief executive Francis Doherty resigned amid the controversy.

Doherty had been the chief executive of the charity since June 2023, taking over from Pat Doyle, who was at the organisation for almost 19 years.

Inspectors were appointed by the Approved Housing Bodies Regulatory Authority to the Peter McVerry Trust and the charity was engaging with them.

The Department of Housing, which normally does not fund any homeless service directly, provides funding to local authorities towards the operational costs of homeless accommodation and related services.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Bishop Willie Walsh Set To Be Named Next Clare GAA President

A former Clare bishop looks set to be named as the next president of Clare GAA.

Bishop Emeritus of Killaloe Willie Walsh is the sole nominee for the position, with nominations now closed.

The Tipperary native joined the staff of St. Flannan’s College 60 years ago and led the school to five Dr Harty Cup and Dr Croke Cup titles between 1976 and 1987, while also leading Éire Óg to Clare Senior Hurling Championship glory in 1990.

Reflecting on his long involvement in Clare GAA, Bishop Walsh says the enduring friendships he’s made have been the highlight.

Catholic Church Slammed Over Sabrina Carpenter Music Video

The Catholic Church is being criticized after a priest was stripped of his administrative duties for allowing singer and actor Sabrina Carpenter to film a music video in a Brooklyn church, with many accusing it of being a hypocritical decision.

In September Carpenter used Our Lady of Mount Carmel-Annunciation Parish—a part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn which oversees the Catholic churches in Brooklyn and Queens—as a backdrop for her "Feather" music video. 

The 24-year-old—who gained recognition for her leading role in the Disney Channel series Girl Meets World—was filmed dancing among pastel-colored coffins on the altar while wearing a short tulle dress and a black veil.

The day after the video was released the church issued a statement saying that proper procedures around allowing filming had not been followed and told the Catholic News Agency that it was "appalled." 

A few days later Monsignor Jamie Gigantiello, the pastor who approved filming, was relieved of his duties and his employment as the diocese's vicar of development was terminated.

Now people online are calling out the church for the decision, saying it has the wrong priorities. Some are referencing the fact that there have been numerous cases of sexual abuse of children by priests over the years. 

One particular example of this they're pointing to is that the Brooklyn diocese hid the names of multiple pedophiles, including James Lara, for 25 years.

In November 2017 the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn revealed that 25 years prior a man known as James Lara, then known as the Reverend James Lara, was laicized by the Vatican for sexually abusing children.

According to the New York Times, the Brooklyn diocese hid Lara's secret from the public but posted Lara's name, as well as the names of seven more former priests, on its website, confirming that he had been defrocked for child sexual abuse offenses.

"There is no excuse for a supposedly moral institution to wait 25 years to release a pedophile priest's name," Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer portrayed in the film Spotlight, which is about sexual abuse by clergy, told the New York Times

He represented three people who claimed they were abused by Lara between the ages of nine and 11.

"Because of the church's immoral behavior, dozens, if not hundreds, of children have probably been sexually abused by Father Lara, and their lives have been destroyed and their families' lives have been destroyed," he said.

People on X, formerly Twitter, are now referencing this on the social media platform while they slam the Catholic Church.

"Brooklyn diocese hid the names of multiple pedophiles, including father Jaime Lara, for 25 years. Lawyers stated that hundreds of children were sexually abused as a direct consequence of the church's actions… glad to see they have their priorities in check," one person posted.

"[The Catholic Church] need to be appalled by all the priests with child abuse allegations they move around," said another.

"Pedophilia and sexual abuse they can tolerate but a harmless blonde pop star is where they draw the line," a third person wrote.

A fourth added: "I feel like there are other, more pressing issues of clergy misconduct that the Catholic Church should prioritize."

Others have praised Gigantiello for allowing the music video to be filmed in the church in the first place.

"He knew history had to be made and he wanted to be a part of it. I say free him," one person posted.

"They can strip him of his duties but they can't keep that diva out of heaven," another wrote.

A different person said: "Why is this so funny to me…he was just doing the lord's work."

On November 6, Gigantiello apologized to parishioners in a post on the church's Facebook page. 

He said the video crew had approached him in September about filming a music video for Carpenter in and around the church. 

He said he supported the idea because it was an "effort to further strengthen the bonds between the young creative artists who make up a large part of this community," noting that an internet search for more information about the singer "did not reveal anything questionable."

As of November 29, the music video, which was released on October 31, had received 12 million views on YouTube.

When the Vatican investigated Margaret Farley for her book on Catholic sexual ethics

When one hears news out of the Vatican these days concerning Catholic theologians, more often than not the names that appear are authors seeking new ways of doing theology or of nuancing traditional magisterial teachings in light of contemporary understandings of human anthropology and culture—be that around synodality, same-sex relationships or the possibility of ordaining women to the diaconate. 

It can be easy to forget that the situation was rather different less than a generation ago, when many theologians—American scholars among them—found themselves in a more adversarial relationship with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, now the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.

One of the more public examples of that long-standing tension arose in 2012, when Margaret A. Farley, R.S.M., found herself the subject of an investigation and official notification from the C.D.F. concerning her 2006 book Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics.  

The notification was a publisher’s dream—the book shot to the top of the best-seller lists for a time—but was an unhappy moment for the American Catholic theological community.  

The C.D.F. notification stated that Farley’s book “affirms positions that are in direct contradiction with Catholic teaching in the field of sexual morality” and “is not in conformity with the teaching of the Church.” 

Though Farley was not silenced or prevented from teaching in Catholic institutions, the C.D.F. decreed that the book “cannot be used as a valid expression of Catholic teaching, either in counseling and formation, or in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.”

The C.D.F. decreed that Just Love “cannot be used as a valid expression of Catholic teaching, either in counseling and formation, or in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.”

Sister Farley released a statement to the National Catholic Reporter soon after, explaining her rationale for writing the book. 

“Whether through interpretation of biblical texts, or through an attempt to understand ‘concrete reality’ (an approach at the heart of ‘natural law’), the fact that Christians (and others) have achieved new knowledge and deeper understanding of human embodiment and sexuality seems to require that we at least examine the possibility of development in sexual ethics,” she wrote. “This is what my book, Just Love, is about.”

Just Love had received positive reviews upon its release, including a 2006 review in America by Lisa Sowle Cahill, who called it “the product of years of experience, reflection, scholarship and wisdom.” 

As a theologian, she wrote, “Farley gives us a social ethic of sex that incorporates both the biblical option for the poor and the orientation of Catholic social thought to the universal common good. As a feminist, she reminds Catholics that their tradition should make its global option for women more consistent, more explicit and more effective, especially in the areas of sex, motherhood, marriage and family.”

After the 2012 notification from the C.D.F., America solicited responses from prominent Catholic theologians James Bretzke, S.J., Richard Gaillardetz and Julie Hanlon Rubio, all of whom expressed concern about the way Farley and her work had been treated. “Professor Farley does hold positions contrary to current Catholic teaching, but these positions are not the most important points in her book,” Hanlon Rubio wrote. 

“Rather, the significance of her work lies in her use of compelling philosophical language and in her treatment of neglected issues like sexual violence, infidelity, polygamy and prostitution. Catholics on all sides should seize the opportunity she offers to discuss sexual ethics in a new way.”

Gaillardetz was critical of the C.D.F.’s methods, which he saw as part of a longstanding trend of not valuing the contributions of theologians:

What would happen if the magisterium were to view theologians as serving the teaching office of the church by challenging faulty arguments, raising difficult questions and proposing alternative frameworks for the church’s prayerful discernment? What would happen if theologians and the rest of the faithful were to attend seriously to official magisterial teaching with an attitude of respect but with a determination to test its adequacy in the light of their own insight and intuitions? Perhaps the church would become a more authentic school of humble Christian discipleship, one better equipped to offer the world the liberating message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Farley remains a prominent figure in Catholic ethics and is the Gilbert L. Stark Professor Emerita of Christian Ethics at Yale University Divinity School, where she taught from 1971 to 2007. 

(Among her doctoral students at Yale was Drew Christiansen, S.J., the former editor in chief of America.) 

A past president of the Catholic Theological Society of America and the Society of Christian Ethics, she has authored or edited eight books on various subtopics of Christian ethics.

In a 2006 review for America, Lisa Sowle Cahill called Just Love “the product of years of experience, reflection, scholarship and wisdom.”

I worked with Sister Farley on two of her books when I was an editor at Orbis Books: a revised 2013 edition of her 1986 book Personal Commitments (in which she first surfaced some of the ethical questions she addressed more fully in Just Love), and a 2015 book of essays edited with Jamie Manson, Changing the Questions: Explorations in Christian Ethics

The latter collection is a testament to Farley’s wide range of interests and expertise—in addition to essays on the intersection of ethics and public life, she also wrote on feminism, ecclesiology, scripture and more. Her work has also focused on ethical responses to AIDS and on the status of women in the developing world. 

A classic example is a 1991 essay for America after a monthlong visit to China with a group of female theologians, “A New Form of Communion: Feminism and the Chinese Church.”

In that essay, she noted that the isolation and persecution of many Christian churches in China after the 1949 Communist takeover had resulted in a Christian community that was recognizable to a foreigner and yet unique in many ways. 

“In time and in place it has found a separate but not alien way from that of the West,” she wrote. “Radical discontinuity with the history of Western Christianity has ironically allowed the Chinese church a graced continuity with Christian tradition, a radical hope for a life, not in isolation but in a new form of communion, with the rest of the world’s Christians.” 

She also found a Christian community where women had more prominent roles and voices—and where some of the systematic sexism of a Eurocentric church was less of an issue. On that front, she wrote, the Chinese church had much to teach us.

In 1992, Farley received the John Courtney Murray Award for Excellence in Theology from the Catholic Theological Society of America. 

In 2008, she was honored with the University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion, one of the highest honors in the field, for Just Love

She is still an occasional visitor to America’s offices for meetings of the “All-Africa Conference: Sister to Sister” project, which supports the initiatives of women religious in sub-Saharan Africa.

What Pope Francis said about Cardinal Burke (Contribution)

Pope Francis Punishes Cardinal Raymond Burke, One of His Most Outspoken  Critics

The question most Catholics have in response to the decision of Pope Francis to remove the Vatican privileges of Cardinal Raymond Burke will not be, “why did he do this?” but “what on earth took him so long?” 

The Pope is an astonishingly patient man, and he loves to give people second chances. 

Anyone who has followed the activities, speeches, and shenanigans of the traditionalist American cardinal this past decade will have been amazed at how Burke has been allowed constantly to undermine the pope’s authority, setting himself against the papacy as a counter-magisterium, and building a lucrative career portraying himself as the true guardian of the tradition.

But while the Pope’s patience personally is virtually limitless, there is a point where he must act: in justice, and for the good of the Church. 

Burke’s antics at the start of the synod assembly in Rome to promote a traditionalist tract denouncing the synod as a heretical conspiracy were arguably of a piece with previous outrages. 

But with the world’s attention on the assembly, they were aimed to capture maximum publicity and to create confusion and doubt in the ordinary faithful about the most important process in the Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council.

A cardinal, in his oath, promises obedience “to blessed Peter in the person of the supreme Pontiff.” 

The wording is not accidental. Whoever is pope has the charism of authority which Jesus entrusted to the apostle Peter. It is not a matter of personal preference for this or that pope. To undermine, question, and to throw into doubt the legitimacy of the authority of the office of Peter by claiming that its occupant cannot be trusted with that office goes directly against the oath cardinals take. If a cardinal reaches this conviction in conscience, integrity demands he resign his office.

Yet not only has Cardinal Burke not done this, but he has also continued to draw a Vatican salary of around 5-6,000 euros a month while living in a spacious rent-free Vatican apartment of over 400 square meters (close to 5,000 square feet), probably worth a similar amount. 

It is hard to imagine any other organization allowing this. 

The injustice of an independently wealthy cardinal living at the expense of the People of God while touring the traditionalist circuit sowing suspicion and doubt about the successor of St. Peter should be obvious to anyone who doesn’t live in a world of their own confection.

I met with Pope Francis on the afternoon of November 27th. It was a short meeting because of his lung inflammation, which meant it took him some effort to speak. 

(The following evening his trip to Dubai was cancelled because it had not improved enough.) 

In the course of our conversation, Francis told me he had decided to remove Cardinal Burke’s cardinal privileges — his apartment and salary — because he had been using those privileges against the Church. 

He told me that while the decision wasn’t a secret, he didn’t intend a public announcement but earlier that day (Monday) it had been leaked.

After I came out from the Santa Marta I found it on a traditionalist news website, La Bussola Quotidiana

The meaning of this is obvious to anyone covering the Vatican: the leaker is motivated by animus against the Pope. 

Their story reported that at a meeting on November 20 with heads of the dicasteries, the Pope had told them: Il cardinale Burke è un mio nemico, perciò gli tolgo lappartamento e lo stipendio (“Cardinal Burke is my enemy, so I am taking away his apartment and stipend”).

I knew this quote was pure fiction. 

Pope Francis would never conduct a personal vendetta. 

It was conveniently in line with the traditionalist narrative of a merciless, vindictive pope who recklessly and unreasonably “punishes” those who disagree with him. 

Anyone who knows or works with the pope knows how bizarrely untrue this is, yet it is a fiction promoted with great vigor by media and websites supportive of Cardinal Burke. 

It is a fiction meant to perpetuate their fantasy that they are innocent victims being punished merely for defending the Church’s unchanging tradition against a modernist usurper.

On Tuesday morning, I wrote Pope Francis a note alerting him to this quote and offering to correct it with the truth as he had put it to me. 

As it happened, others who were at the November 20 meeting had already done so, speaking on condition of anonymity to reputable journalists. 

One told Massimo Franco of Corriere della Sera that the Pope had informed them of “some measures of an economic nature, together with canonical penalties” he would be taking against the cardinal. 

According to a source present at the meeting cited by the Associated Press’s Nicole Winfield, this was because Burke was “a source of ‘disunity’ in the church.” 

A Reuters report by Philip Pullella quoted an official at the same meeting recalling the Pope saying that Burke was “working against the Church and against the papacy” and had sown “disunity” in the Church. 

The same official specifically denied that Francis had referred to Burke as an “enemy.”

On Tuesday evening I had a note back from the Pope. 

“I never used the word ‘enemy’ nor the pronoun ‘my.’ 

I simply announced the fact at the meeting of the dicastery heads, without giving specific explanations.”

He thanked me for making this clear.

Pope Francis Tries to Settle Accounts (Opinion)

Fake Pope”, so much bogus on Francis - La Stampa

For years now, Pope Francis’ governance of the Roman Catholic Church has been seemingly designed to drive the church’s conservative and liberal wings ever further apart. 

Thus the persistent question hanging over his pontificate: How will he hold this thing together?

By opening debate on a wide array of hot-button subjects without delivering explicit changes, he has encouraged the church’s progressives to push the envelope as far as possible, even toward real doctrinal rebellion, in the hopes of dragging him along. 

At the same time, by favoring the progressives in his personnel decisions and making institutional war on the legacy of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, he has pushed conservatives toward crisis, paranoia and revolt.

On both fronts it’s unclear whether the papacy’s weakening authority can pull either group of rebels back. But in the last few weeks we’ve seen a clear attempt to use that authority, a real test of the pope’s ability to keep the church together.

On the one hand, Pope Francis has moved against two of his sharpest critics on the right: First, he removed Bishop Joseph Strickland from his diocese in Tyler, Texas; now he has stripped Cardinal Raymond Burke of his privileges at the Vatican, including an income and an apartment.

At the same time, the Vatican has tried to draw a bright line against the experiments of the German bishops, the leading progressive faction, by issuing a letter declaring that any reforms the Germans contemplate cannot change the church’s teaching on the all-male priesthood and the immorality of homosexual relations.

In each case you have an act of discipline seemingly tailored to the way that the rebellions are manifesting themselves. 

Among conservatives and traditionalists, specific critiques of the pope himself from prominent bishops and cardinals have now met with specific personal punishments. 

Among liberals and progressives, a broad attempt to liberalize the church’s moral teachings has now met with a general doctrinal rebuke.

But in each case one should be skeptical that the discipline will work. Both sides will note, for instance, that criticizing the pope earns you a sacking but that seeming doctrinal disobedience merits only a sternly worded letter. 

Unless the latter move is eventually backed up by something like the Strickland firing, progressives are likely to persist in the same line the German church is already pursuing, where the practices of the church are simply altered — via blessings for gay couples, say — without Rome granting formal permission. 

The assumption is that if liberalization becomes a fact on the ground, eventually the church’s laws will have to follow — and the more that assumption is entrenched, the harder it becomes for Rome to avoid some eventual rupture.

Meanwhile, those Catholics who admire Strickland and Burke are likely to be confirmed more deeply in a culture of conservative resistance, in which to remove a bishop from his real-world office only increases his potential influence in the magisterium of internet Catholicism. 

The idea that a bishop or cardinal could be somehow more orthodox than the Vatican would have seemed like an impossibility to the church’s conservatives just a few short years ago. 

But the world’s general crisis of authority, mediated by scandal and technological disruption, now extends through conservative Catholicism as well — a long, ragged crack that Francis’ unsteady leadership has opened in what was previously the papacy’s most secure base.

It’s a mistake to pin too much blame on this pope alone, however. He has worsened the church’s divisions and raised the likelihood of schism, but he’s also just exposed fissiparous tendencies that were present all along.

Consider just one important contrast between American and German Catholicism, two of the richest national churches and the major conservative and progressive camps in the church’s civil war. 

In the United States, a report from the Catholic University of America recently revealed, the theologically progressive priest is basically disappearing. Priests ordained in the 1960s were much more likely to call themselves progressive than theologically conservative or orthodox. 

But among priests ordained in the last 20 years, including the Francis era, a majority call themselves conservative or very conservative, and most of the rest call themselves middle of the road — leaving the 21st-century American priesthood’s progressive wing looking more like a feather.

This is the generational replacement that conservative Catholics have long predicted will marginalize liberal Catholicism. 

But then consider Germany, where Catholicism doesn’t have a large number of conservative or progressive priests coming along; instead it has almost no younger priests at all. 

There were only 48 new seminarians in Germany in 2022, for a church that still serves 21 million self-identified Catholics. 

Whereas the United States, with its 73 million Catholics, has almost 3,000 seminarians in training — a declining number that portends increasing shortages but not the existential crisis facing the German church.

And that existential crisis helps explain the intensity of the pressure for liberalization and Protestantization, because to many German Catholic leaders this seems like the only way for their church to survive at all — with the traditional model, the priestly model, having failed before their eyes.

Thus a conservative Catholic in the United States can feel reasonably secure in the future of the sacramental church — a future which the sacking of a conservative bishop by a more liberal pope can’t plausibly derail. 

In Germany, by contrast, the future that seemingly can’t be derailed is one of steep decline and increasing dominance by liberal-leaning laypeople: A new pope could be elected tomorrow and try to enforce greater orthodoxy within the German church, but without younger priests who embody those beliefs, the exercise could just lay Rome’s weakness even barer than today.

There is in God’s providence, presumably, a form of papal stewardship that can prevent a schism or separation between the Catholic trends embodied in Germany and America — and sometime soon a new pope may get the chance to try. 

But what he will inherit is not just specific messes made by his predecessor but an underlying reality of division that any policy made in Rome will need divine assistance to resolve.

A Catholic crisis: Why priests in Ireland are fading into history and not being replaced

Mass hoppers' giving us anxiety, say Irish priests | Ireland | The Guardian

In what was one of Europe's most religious countries, mass attendance has dropped severely, Irish priests find themselves working far past retirement age, and only a small number of apprentices are committing themselves to the church.

In Ireland, where religion has played such a big place in its past, for better or for worse, fewer and fewer people are attending mass on Sunday, and even less are willing to commit themselves to the sanctified life of a priest.

This, among other reasons, is leading these men of God to work well past retirement age while still trying to cover the work of churches all over the country.

According to a survey conducted by the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) last year, 15% of priests are over 75 and still working, over 25% are aged between 60–75, and just 2.5% of serving Catholic priests in Ireland, meanwhile, are under 40.

“What we see now is priests in their mid to late seventies trying to run three parishes”, Father Tony Flannery, a now 76-year-old retired priest from county Galway and founding member of the ACP tells Euronews.

“And there is nobody coming after them”, he adds. 

The amount of clergymen retiring is surpassing the number of young people committing to the priesthood.

No time for religion

This year, only 20 seminarians are studying to become Catholic priests for Ireland’s 26 dioceses at the national seminary in Maynooth. 

Weekly Mass attendance, which stood at 91% in 1975, was down to 36% in 2016 according to figures from the Irish census.

According to Father Flannery, the sexual abuse scandal surrounding the church is one of the main factors driving people away from religion, but also the fact that the institution is not aligned with modern-day society.

“It’s hard enough getting young people to go to mass, and even more so when it is conducted by an 85-year-old”, he tells Euronews over the phone while remembering a recent church event.

Coming up to Christmas, he explains that the world has become more “consumerist and materialistic” and that it’s hard for young people to “find a space in life to think about issues around faith, God, and the meaning of life.”

"Lost the ability to relate to the modern world"

In 2012, Father Flannery was deemed “not fit for conducting mass” by the Vatican after being outspoken about “necessary reforms” he thought the Catholic Church was in dire need of conducting.

These included the acceptance of women into the priesthood, teaching topics on the LGBTQ+ community and contraception, and trying to change structures of governance by taking power away from the clergy and giving it to ordinary people.

These values are now “in align with the current Pope Francis’ way of doing things,” and “are necessary to be able to continue to spread the lord's message,” says Flannery.

According to him, another reason priests in Ireland are working until late in life is due to “loneliness.”

When a man takes up the priesthood, he completely commits himself to the church, giving up a family and what some may call a normal life. Thus, priests retiring “can be a very lonely life”.

“As long as he is doing this work in this parish, he is in contact with people,” says Father Flannery.

Local community help, and beyond

In order to combat the lack of clergy, Irish priests are looking for help abroad. Some are contracting younger, foreign priests from places such as India and Africa to help deal with the workload.

But this is only postponing the inevitable, some priests believe, and the focus should be on preparing the laity to take up parish roles such as on parish finance committees and leading funerals and weddings.

In parish priest Father Joe Deegan's opinion, the biggest problem for the church is the fall-off in the number of people practicing their faith.

“If we don’t have people practising their faith, then there won’t be the same need for priests," he told the Irish Independent.

Father Flannery says he would "love all the elderly priests in Ireland to retire", because this would force the church to "rethink" things.

In his view, it's not about the amount of priests, but about "delivering the message of Jesus in a way that appeals to the people and gives meaning to their lives."

And this is something the church has failed to do due to it's "lack of ability to communicate with the modern world".

German reformers undeterred by warnings from Pope and Parolin

Der Synodale Weg und die Krise der Kirche - DOMRADIO.DE

Four German theologians who have criticised the reforms proposed by the Synodal Path initiative wrote to Pope Francis on 6 November, prompting a response in which he expressed serious concerns about its plans.

Katharina Westerhorstmann, Marianne Schlosser, journalist Dorothea Schmidt and philosopher Hanna-Barbara Gerl-Falkovits received a reply to their letter dated 10 November.

Francis said that he shared their “concern over the numerous concrete steps with which large parts of this local church threaten to distance themselves more and more from the common path of the World Church”.

The handwritten letter, signed “Franziskus”, criticised the German Church for concentrating on itself and discussing the same topics repeatedly.  

Pope Francis said it “sought salvation” in creating more new committees.

Francis encouraged the reformers instead “to go out and encounter our brothers and sisters, especially those on the thresholds of our churches, in the streets, in the prisons and in the hospitals”.

He particularly criticised the German Church’s decision to establish a “synodal committee” consisting of bishops and lay people, who would share decision-making.

An “advisory and decision-making committee” such as this was “not compatible with the sacramental structure of the Catholic Church”, the Pope emphasised.

The Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) has voted almost unanimously in favour of the statutes of a synodal committee which will establish a permanent synodal council within the next three years. The German bishops are due to vote on the issue in February.

“We local bishops adhere to the synodal council’s statutes. This is not a psychological procedure but a conscious ‘Yes’,” said Archbishop Heiner Koch of Berlin, the ZdK’s spiritual assistant.

However, he admitted that several auxiliary bishops did not agree, which made the ZdK’s vote in favour of the statutes “a very, very important sign” for the bishops and their final vote in three months’ time.

The Pope’s letter was followed on 24 November by an official note from the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin addressed to the secretary of the German bishops’ conference, Beate Gilles.

He reiterated that the Vatican was not prepared to discuss either the Church’s teaching on homosexuality or John Paul II’s apostolic letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis in which he had declared that the Church did not have the authority to ordain women with the German bishops.

Parolin said both issues were “non-negotiable” when the German bishops meet the heads of the various dicasteries in the Vatican for discussions in January, April and June 2024.

Citing in the Church-wide Synod on Synodality, Parolin said it was “imperative to respect this universal synodal path and avoid the impression that parallel paths are being pursued which are indifferent to one common path forwards”.

In response, the ZdK president Imre Stetter-Karp observed that before the recent Synod in Rome – which included female voting delegates – Cardinal Parolin had said that women voting at a synod was unthinkable and unlawful as it contradicted church law. “And what did the Pope do? Suddenly it was both lawful and possible.”

Thomas Söding, the ZdK’s vice-president, said: “It is not a case of negotiating. It’s a question of whether or not one faces the problems the Church is confronted with.”

Spanish abuse report challenged over figures and procedures

 Spanish abuse report challenged over figures and procedures

The head of the polling firm which conducted a survey for a government inquiry into Church abuse in Spain says media estimates of a potential 440,000 victims are “a statistical delusion”.

Narciso Michavila’s company GAD3 conducted the poll for “A Necessary Response”, a 779-page report presented to the Spanish parliament on 27 October by the national ombudsman.

According to the survey of 8,013 Spaniards, 0.6 per cent of respondents had suffered abuse from a priest or member of a religious order. That number rose to 1.13 per cent including abuse by lay Church employees.

“A single case of abuse is intolerable,” said the Spanish Bishops’ Conference in response, but they rejected estimates drawn from the survey of a potential 440,000 victims

According to Michavila, that number “does not add up”. Speaking on COPE, the bishops’ conference-owned radio station, he said: “The vast majority of crimes of pederasty in Spain took place in the 1960s and 1970s. In Spain at that time, there were simply not enough priests to have committed so many crimes.”

There were 72,000 priests and religious in Spain at that time.

A group of lay Catholics meanwhile revealed they had “faked” an abuse story printed in the parliamentary report.

Alfredo Fernández, the spokesman for E-Cristians, told the Spanish newspaper ABC that in 2022, the group had invented an abuse victim.  E-Cristians wrote to the parliamentary inquiry’s victim unit from a false email address, claiming that “Sergio Gámez” had been sexually abused as a teenager, by a catechist in a Madrid parish in 1991.

E-Cristians passed the email to the Spanish daily El País, which published the details on 7 July, although “Sergio” had not responded to a request to speak to the newspaper over the telephone.

The Spanish Bishops’ Conference also gave the account from “Sergio” to the parliamentary inquiry, which included the it as “Testimony 359” in the report.

Fernández said no one had double-checked the story. “Our only objective was to verify whether there was any truth to suspicions about the modus operandi of these investigations,” he said.

“The focus should be on the inquiry’s poor procedures which we have managed to demonstrate. We do not want in anyway to denigrate the true victims, who certainly exist and that is very painful.”

Last week, the bishops’ conference announced a draft “holistic plan” to compensate abuse victims, now including cases where the priest-perpetrator had died or there was a civil statute of limitation. It had previously refused to consider such cases.

The conference’s secretary general Bishop Francisco Garcia Magán said they would “have to be examined on a case-by-case basis”.

Pope Francis met with the Spanish bishops on Tuesday to discuss the results of an apostolic visitation of the country’s seminaries conducted early this year.

Priests reportedly detained in Belarus

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Authorities in Belarus have reportedly detained two Catholic priests in the space of a week.

Fr. Henryk Okołotowicz, a pastor in the town of Volozhyn, was held Nov. 17, according to Polish media

Fr. Viachaslau Pialinak was detained after a morning Mass Nov. 22, the human rights monitoring group Christian Vision for Belarus reported.

Christian Vision said that Pialinak served as the first personal secretary of the then Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti after the Italian prelate was appointed apostolic nuncio to Belarus in 2011. 

Gugerotti, who is now prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Eastern Churches, ended his service in Belarus in 2015 and was made a cardinal in September this year.

The monitoring group said that Pialinak, a member of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, was detained for unknown reasons after a morning Mass in the city of Brest. The 48-year-old priest’s cell phone and laptop were reportedly seized by security forces, who maintain a tight grip on the Eastern European country.

Belarus, a nation of more than 9 million people bordered by Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Russia, and Ukraine, has been led by the authoritarian Alexander Lukashenko since 1994.

Tensions between Church and state rose following a disputed presidential election in 2020. After Lukashenko claimed victory with over 80% of the vote, there were mass protests, followed by a police crackdown. 

Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, the country’s most prominent Catholic leader, was prevented from returning to Belarus after a trip to Poland. He was only able to return months later, following a Vatican intervention, but retired from his post of Archbishop of Minsk-Mohilev shortly afterward.

Belarus has become increasingly tightly linked with Russia since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Belarus hosted Russian troops, who invaded Ukraine across its border, which runs close to Kyiv.  

Catholics, who are a minority in the predominantly Eastern Orthodox country, have experienced repeated difficulties with the authorities in the past three years. There are periodic reports of priests being arrested. But it is hard to determine the extent of the problem as press freedom is restricted in Belarus.

Orthodox and Protestant Christians have also had numerous brushes with the authorities, according to Christian Vision.

The Belarusian government insists that it is engaged in a battle against “extremism.” But human rights activists say the concept is loosely defined and applied to any actions, public statements, or social media posts deemed critical of the authorities. 

State media often stress the strong ties between Belarus and the Holy See. Full diplomatic relations were established between the two sovereign entities in 1992, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, to which Belarus belonged.

Gugerotti visited Belarus in June this year, meeting with the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Aleinik.

“The parties reaffirmed their commitment to furthering the Belarusian-Vatican cooperation and strengthening the interfaith dialogue, peace and harmony,” a statement said at the time.

Belarus’ Catholic bishops attended a Nov. 21-22 plenary assembly in the town of Novogrudok. An official statement said that they discussed the translation of liturgical texts and youth ministry, as well as “other current issues from the life of the Church in Belarus.”

Archbishop orders future priests to take liturgy oath

Abp. Mar Andrews Thazhath was appointed as the Apostolic Administrator of  Ernakulam-Angamaly Syro Malabar Archdiocese - CCBI

A decades-long liturgical dispute in the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church has reignited after an archbishop said that candidates for the priesthood must make a written promise to celebrate the new “uniform” liturgy.

Apostolic administrator Archbishop Andrews Thazhath announced in a Nov. 23 letter that deacons in the Archeparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly “can be permitted to be ordained priests only when they make the undertaking that they will obey the ecclesiastical authorities and celebrate Syro-Malabar Holy Qurbana only licitly as per the Synodal decision on the uniform mode of celebration.”

The Syro-Malabar Church, based in the southern Indian state of Kerala, is the second-largest of the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with Rome.  

The synod of bishops — the Church’s authoritative governing body — announced in August 2021 that all Syro-Malabar dioceses would adopt a new form of its Eucharistic liturgy, known as the Holy Qurbana, in a move intended to strengthen internal unity and recover aspects of its liturgical history.

All but one of the Church’s 35 dioceses made the change. But the overwhelming majority of priests and lay people in the Ernakulam-Angamaly archeparchy fiercely resisted the uniform liturgy. 

The new liturgy seeks to reconcile the Eastern Church’s ancient custom, in which the priest celebrated ad orientem (facing east), and the post-Vatican II Latin Church practice in which the celebrant stands versus populum (facing the people). 

In the new mode, the priest faces the people at the beginning and end of the celebration, but turns east for the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

Clergy and laity in the Ernakulam-Angamaly archeparchy — the largest Syro-Malabar diocese and the canonical center of the self-governing Church — argued that the Holy Qurbana facing the people should be recognized as a legitimate liturgical variant as it was a response to the Second Vatican Council and has been in use for more than 50 years.

The Church’s synod, supported by the Vatican, has discouraged the practice, considering it a Latinization of the ancient Eastern liturgy. 

Pope Francis urged the archeparchy’s priests to accept the “difficult and painful step” of embracing the reformed liturgy by Easter Sunday 2022. 

But the deadline passed without any resolution of the crisis, which has been marked by street brawls, hunger strikes, and the burning of cardinals in effigy, as well as clashes inside the archeparchy’s cathedral that led to the building’s closure.

Archbishop Thazhath, who was named the archeparchy’s apostolic administrator in June 2022, wrote in the letter to local bishops, major superiors of religious orders, and deacons that candidates would be required to sign an oath before being admitted to the priesthood. 

He attached the wording of the oath, according to which the candidates for both the religious and diocesan priesthood must say: “I will celebrate Holy Qurbana only as per the Synodal decision on the uniform mode of celebration and I will not celebrate illicitly against the Synodal decision.” 

“I am aware of the disciplinary sanctions, including suspension/dismissal from priestly ministry in case I disobey the above-mentioned directives of my ecclesiastical authorities.”

The Archdiocese Protection Council, a body that opposes the introduction of the uniform liturgy, denounced the move, calling it the “cheapest style of bargaining.”

“Denying the priesthood for eight deacons who have received priestly training for about 10-11 years in Kerala and outside the state, which they consider a dream, is injustice,” it said, according to a report by the Press Trust of India.

The council added that only four of the archeparchy’s 320 churches were currently celebrating the uniform liturgy.

The latest upsurge in the liturgy dispute follows months of relative calm after a turbulent summer in which a papal delegate delivered an ultimatum to priests opposed to the change.

Addressing clergy in Kerala in August, pontifical delegate Archbishop Cyril Vasil’ asked priests whether they were “with the Holy Father.” 

Vasil’, a Slovak Jesuit who previously worked at the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Eastern Churches, said: “Do you wish to remain priests and members of the Catholic Church and of your Syro-Malabar Church? Or do you wish to give preference to the voice of troublemakers who lead you towards disobedience to the Holy Father to the legitimate pastors of your Syro-Malabar Church and to the Catholic Church?” 

Vasil’, who was given police protection during the visit, later met with Pope Francis in Rome to review the trip.

Cardinal George Alencherry, the head of the Syro-Malabar Church, announced that after the papal delegate’s visit, the synod of bishops had decided to continue a dialogue with members of the Ernakulam-Angamaly archeparchy via a committee of nine bishops.

Members of the committee held talks in September with clergy of the Ernakulam-Angamaly archeparchy. 

But a draft agreement aiming to end the liturgical dispute appeared to fall apart over whether there should be a deadline for the changes.

The archeparchy’s cathedral is still closed and may remain so for a second Christmas.