Monday, February 19, 2024

Young Catholics seek to build a renewed Church in a secular Ireland


Since its foundation in 1795, 11,000 priests have been ordained at St. Patrick’s College in Maynooth, many of whom went on to serve as missionaries across the world.

Much has changed; it was reported last year that only 20 seminarians were studying there. 

However, on March 16th, hundreds of young Catholics will gather in Maynooth for a kind of event which is becoming a feature of the new Church developing against the backdrop of a secular Ireland.

Evangelium Ireland’s stated purpose is to help young Catholics to deepen their knowledge of their faith. To this end, they organise regular events featuring lectures and workshops for Catholics.

Evangelium’s annual Apologetics Conference will include talks on marriage, the priesthood and theology, along with interactive workshops allowing for open discussion on hot topics.

Among the speakers will be Professor Vincent Twomey and the Maynooth lecturers Dr. Gaven Kerr and Dr. Julia Meszaros, while the well-known priest Fr. Brendan Kilcoyne will be providing a workshop on ‘St. Patrick, an Uneasy Hero,’ on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day.

Public Relations Officer for Evangelium Ireland, James Bradshaw, said that the growing numbers attending Evangelium events showed the increased interest which exists among young people in Ireland.

“Evangelium is for every young Catholic who wants to learn more in the company of others just like them. It is educational and social,” Bradshaw said.

“There is a real hunger for knowledge, at a time when the secular world is not providing answers. People who attend our events come from all walks of life, including people who were away from Mass for a long time or who came from non-practising homes, Catholics from other countries and those who are now involved in a range of new groups and movements within the Church,” he said.

Recent developments suggest that similar catechetical events outside of traditional classroom settings are soon going to be more common.

There have been ongoing calls to reduce the number of Catholic schools or even eliminate Catholic education entirely. 

Last year, the Education Minister Norma Foley unveiled plans to reduce the amount of time being dedicated to religion in primary schools.

The scale of Ireland’s dramatic secularisation is particularly obvious among younger age cohorts. Census 2022 showed that just 53% of people aged 25-29 now describe themselves as Catholic.

The same Census also showed that just 53% of Dubliners are self-identified Catholics. To give an idea of the scale of the capital’s secularism, in the area of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, almost a quarter of the population now say they have no religion.

It is therefore perhaps strange that Dublin and the surrounding region is at the centre of the development of an especially vibrant Catholic subculture.

Part of this relates to immigration. 

Almost one in five Dubliners are non-Irish citizens, many of whom come from countries where secularism has not gained as much ground.

Many Catholic youth groups derive much of their strength from new arrivals. These include the growing Jesus Youth movement (whose growth has gone hand-in-hand with the influx of Indian Catholics, who make up almost a quarter of the burgeoning Indian population here) and the Rathmines-based Hakuna group for Spanish-speaking Catholics.

One such group belongs to the Shalom Catholic Community, based in Dublin’s Pro-Cathedral. 

Founded in Brazil in the 1980s, the Shalom charism now extends to over 30 countries. In 2018, the Charismatic New Community was established in Dublin with two lay missionaries – a number which has since grown to ten.

The community plays an important role in the Sunday evening Mass in the Pro Cathedral, after which they hold their weekly prayer group meeting.

According to the Shalom missionary Rafael Segovia, 2023 represented a breakthrough year for the group.

“As we are located in Dublin, our focus is to be completely immersed in Irish culture, however as our charisma is international we are open to all people who are seeking God. Currently we have about 12 nationalities: Irish, English, Indian, Italian, Mexican, Brazilian, Polish, Slovak, Egyptian, Salvadoran, Lithuanian and French,” Segovia said.

Shalom is not the only community which attracts young Catholics drawn to a more charismatic form of religious worship.

Living Water, whose weekly gatherings take place in St. Teresa’s Church just off Grafton Street, has been in existence for a decade.

Following on from the interruption in the group’s activities due to Covid, Committee member Ryan Clear said that they have recently seen considerable growth in the numbers attending their Wednesday night prayer meetings.

One of the group’s best known activities is the eight week Transformer course, the last of which took place in 2022 and attracted over 100 people. “The overall goal of the Transformer course,” Living Water core team member Ryan Clear said, “is to help people to make more space for the Holy Spirit in our lives.”

Dublin is also home to a number of traditionalist Catholic groups such as the recently-established St. Colmcille’s Society.

Aside from differences in the form of spirituality, there is a growing diversity within Catholic youth movements responding to the needs and interests of younger generations.

One particular example of this is the Beloved group for young women. The group organises regular meet-ups, social and faith formation events in Dublin as well as Belfast, Cork and Galway.

As tends to be the case with groups dedicated to youth ministry, Beloved’s calendar of events includes opportunities for social outreach as well as weekend retreats and even trips abroad.

Beloved CEO Catherine McMahon said she believed that any Catholic woman in her 20s or 30s who is seeking to grow in faith along with her contemporaries will find a community in Beloved.

“I am hopeful of the future for young Catholics in Ireland. I have been in youth ministry for several years, and I have seen a shift in recent years among people of greater desire and purpose to seek meaning and community. Young people want to have meaningful conversations. They want to know about the faith and are earnest to grow in it. I see groups like Beloved, Shalom, Pure in Heart, Youth2000 and others as torches of hope that can reignite the life of parishes,” she said.

Naturally, a major part of Dublin’s social and spiritual offering for young men and women revolves around college chaplaincy.

Even in its most religiously observant phase, Ireland stood out amongst Catholic European countries due to the absence of a specifically Catholic university.

In 2019, the reluctance of University College Dublin to send a representative to the canonisation of their own founding rector, John Henry Newman, was interpreted by many as a sign of academic indifference or even hostility towards Catholicism.

Although honouring Newman’s memory may not be high on the UCD leadership’s list of priorities, Newman’s name still lives on in Belfield and beyond.

Every Monday, the UCD Newman Catholic Society gathers together. These events feature a short talk, a shared meal, student-led prayer as well as some social time.

The Society’s Speaker Coordinator, Heather Kamataris, said that participation has increased year-on-year, adding that Newman now includes 254 registered members, representing a membership increase of almost 60% in just one year. Up to 80 students attend Monday evening meet-ups: up from an average figure of around 20 attendees prior to 2020.

All of the aforementioned groups which cater to the needs of young Catholics in Dublin share one obvious similarity – they are not parishes.

The more than 1,300 Catholic parishes in Ireland continue to be the centres of religious worship and instruction in Ireland, but there are clear signs that this is changing.

Declining numbers of Massgoers and the looming retirement of large numbers of Irish priests now in their 60s and 70s suggests that major changes may soon be necessary.

Many parishes across the country will eventually not have a parish priest. Catholics will have to travel further to attend Mass or to access a Catholic education in the future, and the religious social life which previously centred on parishes may need to take place in different ways.

However, there has been some good news for the Church recently. Fifteen new seminarians began their studies for the priesthood in 2023: up significantly from previous years. There was also a significant increase in the number of young men who attended the ‘Come and See’ weekend which took place in Maynooth in November.

Evangelium Ireland’s James Bradshaw said that the continuous growth of Evangelium Ireland’s events not only showed the eagerness of young Catholics to learn, it also pointed to the possibilities for the wider Church in Ireland.

“Year on year, we are seeing more people coming from across Ireland to attend. In 2019, the annual conference attracted 90 people. That increased to 130 when we returned after Covid in 2022, and then 150 last year.

“Those who come to Maynooth on March 16th can be part of one of the largest gatherings like this that has taken place in Ireland in recent times, and they can be part of something much wider still,” he said.

Referendums 2024: What are the views of the Catholic Church and other major faiths in Ireland?

Referendums on 'women in the home' reference and wider definition of family  to be held in March

Some of the country’s major faiths are still formulating their views on the forthcoming referendums, and some are not taking a stance.

The Catholic Bishops Conference will not be issuing any public comment until their Spring General Meeting, which takes place from March 4-6.

However, the Irish Independent spoke to Bishop Denis Nulty, president of Accord, the Catholic marriage support agency. He said he was “surprised” that there didn’t seem to be “a huge interest or knowledge around the issues such as what exactly we mean by a ‘durable relationship’”.

“There are a lot of things that have to be sorted out and we want to be very careful that we know all the issues involved. The most important thing is to inform ourselves well,” he said.

“I have concerns when we take ‘woman’ out of the Constitution, ‘mother’ out of the Constitution and ‘home’ out of the Constitution – they are such important themes. Family is critical; it is the key that keeps society going. Let’s do our best to protect the family.”

Imam Hussein Halawa at the ­Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland (ICCI) in Dublin does not believe there is any need to amend the Constitution.

According to Dr Ali Selim, project manager at the ICCI, the imam also feels that “if he were to write a constitution, he would not be able to present anything better than the current Constitution”.

This is based on the Muslim perception that family is “the nucleus of society and its backbone”.

The Irish Muslim Peace & Integration Council said that it holds a position of neutrality on the referendums.

Rabbi Yoni Wieder of the Dublin Hebrew Congregation said that the Jewish community has maintained a more traditional, conservative approach to issues of family, marriage, and gender.

“That said, as the referendums pertain to Irish society as a whole, we will not be taking any one stance ahead of the votes.”

He acknowledged the language of the Constitution “may be somewhat anachronistic”, but “it does not – as has been claimed – assert that a woman’s place is in the home, nor does it prevent women from pursuing careers”.

“The current formulation is a strong acknowledgment of the value to society of women’s work in the home.

“It expressly aspires to protect mothers who choose to devote themselves to raising their children.

“Both points still have resonance today, especially for the many mothers who feel forced to seek employment due to social or economic pressures, and not out of preference.

“Undoubtedly, marriage has lost much of its centrality and stature in Western society. The new reality gives rise to significant questions about what is a family and whether all types of relationships ought to be equal.

“Contrary to what some like to claim, there is no clear consensus on these questions. The potential legal and social implications of changing core definitions are far-reaching.

“Yet the proposed amendment purposefully skirts around the central issues and leaves them subject to the interpretations of the judiciary.”

A spokesperson for the Church of Ireland’s Archbishop Michael Jackson said he would prefer not to make a statement at this time, particularly with the level of debate around the term “durable”, “to which we don’t feel we can add anything of substance”.

Archdiocese of Montreal sues Quebec for trying to force Catholic hospice to commit euthanasia

The Archdiocese of Montreal is suing the government of Quebec over a law passed in 2023 that would force Catholic hospices to commit assisted suicide, contrary to the Fifth Commandment and Catholic teaching. 

At the heart the legal challenge is operation of a palliative care home in Montreal, St. Raphael’s Nursing Home, a former parish of the archdiocese, which opened in 2019 and presently offers 12 beds and day care, free of charge. 

The property is owned by the archdiocese and is rented out at $1/year under a 100-year lease, on the express condition that St. Raphael’s provides palliative care without ever committing euthanasia. 

At the time, Quebec law allowed hospices to refrain from offering assisted suicide, called euphemistically “Medical Aid in Dying” (MAID), on their own premises. 

However, on June 7, 2023, an amendment to the “Act Respecting End-of-life Care” passed, requiring hospices to commit assisted suicide upon request. 

The law, LQ 2023, c.15, contained no religious or conscientious objection exemption clause and took effect December 7, 2023. 

Refusing to either comply with a law requiring that a Catholic hospice participate in the murder of the sick and elderly or close the much-needed Catholic palliative care home, Archbishop Christian Lépine of Montreal has sued the Quebec government on February 5, asking the Superior Court to stay the implementation of the amendment and to invalidate it as unconstitutional. 

Quebec Life Coalition praised the strong move as “news as surprising as it is encouraging.” 

In a statement addressing the issue, the archbishop stated, “The consequence of the new Act is that acts we find morally unacceptable will be committed on our property. The state is thus de facto hijacking the intent of the founders and donors and the mission of the former church, which we are graciously making available to a community organization.” 

In short, what the Appeal is asking for is no more and no less than to allow hospices and health professionals “to refuse to administer medical aid in dying on the basis of personal convictions and (to) refuse to participate in its administration for the same reason.” 

We believe that forcing all hospices to offer “medical aid in dying” in this way, without regard to their mission and values and those of the community that support them, is a violation of the law. The new Act significantly undermines the exercise of the right to freedom of religion and conscience, as well as the right to peaceful enjoyment and free disposal of one’s property, guaranteed by the Canadian Charter and the Quebec Charter.   

Hospices – which are community organizations, not public institutions – should be able to define their own mission and the services they are prepared to offer, as was the case until recently. 

Reaffirming Catholic teaching on the sanctity of the life of the sick and elderly and condemning MAID as morally unacceptable, Archbishop Lépine declared, “According to the Catholic faith, human life is a sacred and inviolable gift, from conception to natural death. ” 

Palliative care accompanies people and their loved ones through the end-of-life process, while at the same time without delaying or hastening death. On the contrary, the procedure that the Act refers to medical aid in dying (MAID) causes premature death. For this reason, the Church regards it as an act of euthanasia, which is not a morally acceptable response to the suffering and distress of people at the end of life. 

Commenting on the situation facing Catholic hospices and health care institutions, Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, stated earlier this month that “The euthanasia lobby is committed to eradicating opposition to euthanasia and assisted suicide and eliminating any ‘safe space’ that doesn’t provide euthanasia, that is, doesn’t kill their patients.”

Nearly 10,000 urge Cardinal Dolan to exorcise St. Patrick’s Cathedral after sacrilegious ‘trans’ funeral

Pope picks Archbishop Dolan to be cardinal; elevates new nuncio to Ireland  who grew up in Catskills to archbishop

Within one day, over 9,000 people have signed a petition urging Cardinal Timothy Dolan to exorcise St. Patrick’s Cathedral after a blasphemous funeral of an atheist transgender activist was held in the iconic church last week.

LifeSiteNews launched the petition after St. Patrick’s Cathedral hosted a scandalous and sacrilegious funeral for the atheist LGBT activist “Cecilia Gentili,” a man who falsely believed he is a woman, which has sparked outrage among faithful Catholics.

In an apparent blasphemous reference to the true St. Cecilia, a virgin who was martyred for refusing to renounce the Catholic faith, Gentili, a former prostitute, was eulogized as “this whore. This great whore. St. Cecilia, Mother of all Whores!” at his funeral service, with the New York Times celebrating the funeral as “an event with no likely precedent in Catholic history.”

According to the photos provided by the Times, “Mass cards and a picture near the altar showed a haloed Ms. Gentili surrounded by the Spanish words for ‘transvestite,’ ‘whore,’ ‘blessed’ and ‘mother’ above the text of Psalm 25.”

One of Gentili’s friends prayed to God for access to “gender-affirming health care” during the intercessions. At one point, a participant at the funeral changed the lyrics during the “Ave Maria” and sang “Ave Cecilia” while dancing through the aisles, the New York Times reports.

The Times described the funeral as “a celebration of her life and an exuberant piece of political theater.”

The organizers of the funeral viewed the event as a political statement against the traditional Catholic faith. They told the New York Times that they hope the celebrations of “Cecilia” will be remembered as an important moment in the history of the “LGBT community,” similar to the 1989 protests where activists chained themselves to the pews in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in protest to the Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality.

In a press release published on February 17, the communications office of St. Patrick’s Cathedral claimed that “it only knew that family and friends were requesting a funeral Mass for a Catholic, and had no idea our welcome and prayer would be degraded in such a sacrilegious and deceptive way.”

“At the Cardinal’s directive, we have offered an appropriate Mass of Reparation,” the Office stated.

Fr. Dougherty referred to Gentili, a man who suffered from gender confusion, as “our sister Cecilia” during the service.

During his opening remarks, he said, “Except on Easter Sunday, we don’t really have a crowd that is this well turned out,” to which the transgender activist in the crowd responded with loud cheers and claps.

Dougherty, who was appointed to be a pastor of St. Patrick’s Cathedral by Cardinal Dolan, said that the cardinal asked him “to bring a missionary dimension to the parish.”

The New York Times noted in their report that both Cardinal Dolan and Pope Francis have taken “steps toward inclusivity” of “transgender people” in recent years, for instance, permitting them to be godparents or witnesses at Catholic weddings, as well as allowing homosexual “parents” to have their children baptized.

For 40 years: Catholicism no longer Italy's state religion

What is the 1984 Concordat between State Italian and Church and why is the  Vatican challenging it against the Zan ddl? - Quora

In a sober ceremony in Rome's Villa Madama, Cardinal Secretary of State Agostino Casaroli and Italian Prime Minister Bettino Craxi signed the new concordat treaty on 18 February 1984. 

The top Vatican diplomat with the Roman collar and the socialist prime minister with the red tie made history.

They adapted the Lateran Concordat signed by Mussolini in 1929 to the conditions in democratic Italy and the new self-image of the post-conciliar Church. 

In doing so, they placed state-church relations in the country with the largest number of Catholics in Europe on a new footing.

"The state and the Catholic Church are each independent and sovereign in their own order. Both are committed to mutual cooperation for the promotion of humanity and the common good," said Casaroli, summarising the spirit of the agreement. Religion and church are a "social reality in a pluralistic society".

No longer dependent on state authorisations

For the church, this meant a new autonomy with rights and duties - and with relief: It was now no longer dependent on state authorisations, for example in personnel matters. Since then, the church leadership has been free to appoint bishops without having to ask the state. 

And senior pastors no longer had to swear an oath of allegiance to the state. 

Instead of the 45 articles of 1929, the new concordat comprised just 14, and some of the requirements had simply become superfluous, such as the prescribed prayer service for the king.

The consequences of the Council were more far-reaching, such as the opening up of religious freedom or the Church's relations with the state. 

Article 1 of the Lateran Treaties, according to which "the Catholic, Apostolic and Roman religion is the only religion of the state", was therefore obsolete. 

Very soon Italy also concluded agreements with the Waldensians and other communities.

The "sacred character" of the Eternal City of Rome - as the episcopal see of the Pope and centre of the Catholic world - established by the Lateran Concordat "in the name of the Most Holy Trinity" was also obsolete. 

It was now succinctly stated that Italy recognises "the special significance that Rome has for Catholics as the Pope's episcopal see".

Legacy of the Lateran Treaties

The 1984 treaty nevertheless retained essential parts of the Lateran Treaties. These had ended the enmity between the Holy See and the Italian unitary state, which had occupied the Papal States in 1870, in 1929. 

The Lateran Treaties had created the sovereign Vatican State and compensated the Pope for the loss of the Papal States. In return, the Pope recognised the Kingdom of Italy with its capital Rome and declared the territorial conflict settled.

Religious education was reorganised in 1984. Previously a compulsory subject, attendance is now optional. 

In principle, the convention on marriage law was retained, according to which - unlike in Germany - church marriages are valid under civil law. 

A type of "church tax" was also introduced: the 0.8 per cent levy, which is also mandatory for non-members of the church, can be donated to the church or other charitable causes.

The response to the revision of the concordat was initially divided. Some saw it as the glorious conclusion of the secular state foundation initiated in the Risorgimento of 1870, as Craxi emphasised at the signing ceremony. 

Others saw it as an "instrument of harmony".

Praise from Benedict XVI

Benedict XVI later praised the "healthy secularity" with which the revision had contributed to cooperation in a pluralistic society and guaranteed religious freedom. Francis also spoke of a "positive secularity". 

They share fundamental values on topics such as human dignity, family, solidarity and peace and work together for the good of the country.

Although not all state-church conflicts in Italy have been resolved, both sides today praise the good cooperation - which is now even evident in criminal proceedings. His ministry would not be possible "without the generous availability and cooperation of the Italian state", said Francis soon after taking office. 

Conversely, Italy always finds the "best ally" for the promotion of society in the Church.

The Vatican and Italy are also dependent on this cooperation with regard to the next major joint project: When 35 million pilgrims are to come to the Eternal - but no longer Holy - City of Rome for the Holy Year 2025.

ZdK: Bishops should defy Rome and continue reform

The Catholic laity in Germany are calling on the bishops to continue the Synodal Path reform project, even against all the stop signals from Rome. 

"The Catholic Church in Germany will not have a second chance if it stops the synodal path now," warned the President of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), Irme Stetter-Karp, on Sunday.

She was irritated that Rome had asked the German Bishops' Conference "virtually by express mail" not to vote on the statutes of the Synodal Committee at its spring plenary assembly in Augsburg next week and to wait for talks in Rome first: "This means a further delay in the urgently needed reforms in the Church." 

The ZdK expects the Synodal Committee "to be fully operational at its next meeting in June".

It is a contradiction if Rome promotes synodal processes - for example through the World Synod - but then "puts a stop sign on the German reform path", added ZdK Vice President Thomas Söding: "I assume that the German bishops will reliably stand by their own decisions. We expect a prompt decision, ratification of the statutes and constructive further work on the synodal path. In discussions with Rome, the German bishops will have to emphasise the urgency of further work."

The ZdK also pointed out that it was the bishops who had asked the laity in 2019 to start the Synodal Path with them in view of the crisis of confidence in the Church. 

In addition, the bishops had also agreed to the establishment of a Synodal Committee with the necessary two-thirds majority. 

"We expect Rome not to undermine the good cooperation between the German bishops and the representation of the laity, but to value it and recognise it as a resource," added Stetter-Karp.

Letter from Rome

In a letter that became public on Saturday evening, the Vatican reaffirmed its scepticism towards the Church's path of reform in Germany. 

The Bishops' Conference therefore complied with the request and removed the planned vote on the statutes of the Synodal Committee from the agenda of its plenary assembly.

In recent years, the Vatican has repeatedly stated that the Church in Germany is not authorised to establish a joint governing body of lay and clerical members. However, this is what the synodal path provides for. 

The Synodal Committee constituted in November is to prepare the establishment of a Synodal Council. 

In this body, bishops and Catholic laity want to continue their consultations on the topics of power, the role of women, sexual morality and the priestly way of life and make joint decisions.

Four German local bishops had spoken out against participating in the committee and against funding the project through the Association of German Dioceses. Bishops Gregor Maria Hanke (Eichstätt), Stefan Oster (Passau), Rudolf Voderholzer (Regensburg) and Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki (Cologne) referred to reservations from the Vatican. According to the four bishops, even the establishment of a preparatory synodal committee runs counter to Pope Francis' directives.

Cardinal Schönborn to German bishops: Maintain unity with Rome

Austrian cardinal-theologian known for patient pastoral approach - The  Catholic Sun

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn from Vienna is calling on the German bishops to remain in dialogue with the Vatican. 

In an interview with the theological portal"communio.de" (Monday), he agrees with Rome's criticism of the planned progress of the German reform process

The envisaged involvement of lay people in fundamental decisions contradicts the constitution of the Church, he said.

In Schönborn's view, the German bishops should not take any decisions that could lead to a schism. They should "seriously ask themselves whether they really want to leave the communion with and under the Pope or rather accept it loyally. Refusing to give in would be obstinatio - a clear sign of a schism that nobody can want." 

In his view, ignoring the warnings from Rome would be negligent.

The background to Schönborn's unusual advice to his German confreres is their plenary assembly, which begins today, Monday, in Augsburg. Immediately beforehand, the Vatican had asked the German Bishops' Conference (DBK) not to vote on the statutes of a synodal committee as planned. 

The topic was therefore taken off the agenda. Reform groups and the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) then called on the bishops to stick to their reform course anyway.

"Patience" of Pope and dicasteries "impressed"

Schönborn recalled that the Vatican had already stated several times that the Church in Germany was not authorised to establish a joint governing body of lay and clerical people. 

"I am impressed by the patience with which the Pope and the Roman dicasteries are trying to remain in dialogue with the German bishops and maintain unity and communion," emphasised the Cardinal. 

Therefore, the German bishops should also be expected to make concessions - "and the German bishops should also expect the ZdK not to overstep the mark".

The current conflict between the German bishops and Rome is not about "questions of power" or disciplinary issues, Schönborn added: "Rather, Pope Francis is fulfilling his core task of maintaining unity in the faith" because it is about the "basic understanding of the Church".

A bishop cannot delegate personal responsibility for important decisions and the transmission of faith to committees, said the cardinal: "Therefore, the idea of bishops voluntarily binding themselves to the decisions of synodal councils is also incompatible with the core of the episcopal mission."

Key Pope ally says US blowback on Fiducia is fueled by anti-gay ‘animus’

One of Pope Francis’s most vocal allies in the American hierarchy has said that while it’s fine for a priest concerned about marriage to refuse to offer blessings of persons in same-sex relationships, much of the U.S. opposition to a recent Vatican document authorizing such blessings is rooted not in doctrinal principle but what he called an “enduring animus” against gays and lesbians.

“It is wholly legitimate for a priest to personally decline to perform the blessings outlined in Fiducia because he believes that to do so would undermine the strength of marriage,” Cardinal Robert McElroy of San Diego said Friday.

The reference was to Fiducia Supplicans, the Dec. 18 document of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith permitting priests to offer non-liturgical blessings of couples in irregular situations, including same-sex couples.

“It is crucial to emphasize that Fiducia simply clarified questions about the permissibility of a priest pastorally blessing persons in irregular or gay unions in a non-liturgical setting and manner,” McElroy said. “No change in doctrine was made.”

“It is particularly distressing in our own country that the opposition to Fiducia focuses overwhelmingly on blessing those in same-sex relationships, rather than those many more men and women who are in heterosexual relationships that are not ecclesially valid,” said McElroy, who’s widely seen as a leader of the progressive wing of the American church and a strong Francis supporter.

McElory didn’t specify which sorts of non-ecclesially valid relationships he had in mind, but presumably may have been thinking, for example, of couples who live together outside of marriage.

“If the reason for opposing such blessings is really that the practice will blur and undermine the commitment to marriage, then the opposition should, one thinks, be focusing at least equally on blessings for these heterosexual relationships in our country,” he said.

“We all know why it is not,” McElroy said, attributing it to “an enduring animus among far too many toward LGBT persons.”

Noting that Fiducia Supplicans has stirred intense debate around the world, including a statement from the bishops of Africa to the effect that such blessings would be inappropriate in their cultural context, McElroy cited these “diverging pastoral paths” as a positive example of decentralization.

“We have witnessed the reality that bishops in various parts of the world have made radically divergent decisions about the acceptability of such blessings in their countries, based substantially on cultural and pastoral factors as well as neo-colonialism,” he said.

“This is decentralization in the life of the global Church,” McElory said, implying that such differences in principle can be positive, reflecting adaptation to local cultures.

Nonetheless, he insisted that decentralization not become an excuse for anti-gay prejudice.

“This decentralization must not obscure in any manner the religious obligation of every local church in justice and solidarity to protect LGBT persons in their lives and equal dignity,” he said.

McElroy, 70, was speaking during a session of the Religious Education Congress sponsored by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the largest annual Catholic gathering in North America, on the subject of Pope Francis’s ongoing Synod of Bishops on Synodality.

McElroy said that in the listening sessions which led up to last October’s month-long meeting of the synod in Rome, issues related to the LGBT+ community loomed large.

“The searing question of the Church’s treatment of LGBT+ persons was an immensely prominent facet of the synodal dialogues,” he said. “Anguished voices within the LGBT communities, in unison with their families, cried out against the perception that they are condemned by the Church and individual Catholics in a devastating way.”

Yet McElroy conceded that among the bishops and other participants gathered in Rome, there was disagreement on the subject, listing it among what he called areas of “deep divide” in the assembly. The others included how to empower laity without undercutting the hierarchical nature of the church, the extent and limits of inculturation and decentralization, and the possible ordination of women deacons.

On the other hand, McElory also described areas of strong consensus in the meeting, such as the need to open up more roles in the Church to laity. He cited the example that in his own diocese, he was unable to name a veteran administrator to the role of “moderator of the curia” because, under existing church law, that role is restricted to priests.

Instead, McElroy told the crowd, he simply appointed the layman as “vice-moderator of the curia” and refused to name a moderator. He predicted that when the Synod of Bishops reaches its conclusion this October, reforms on such matters could come quickly.

“I think there will be a lot of progress on questions like this,” he said.

In terms of the single most powerful theme to emerge from last October’s summit, McElory said it was the sense that the time has come for a “paradigm shift” with regard to the inclusion of women in the Church.

McElroy said that while there were contrasting opinions on women deacons, a more “full-bodied” discussion ensued beyond a “binary” yes or no. For example, he said there was some discussion of perhaps ending the transitional diaconate, meaning ordination as a deacon as the final step before priesthood.

Doing so, McElroy said, might sever the connection between the diaconate and the priesthood, which “could make it easier to have women deacons.”

In response to question about the perception that certain American bishops are anti-Francis, McElroy said the political dimension of things is less important than a bishop having a pastoral orientation.

“The ultimate criterion for a bishop is, is he pastoral? The question of whether he’s strongly pro-Francis, medium Pope Francis, okay but not great with Pope Francis, leaning for or against, is secondary,” he said.

Going forward, McElroy said, a major practical challenge will be to find ways to make the Church more participatory and rooted in listening, but without replicating the cumbersome system of the synod itself.

“The process of discernment used in Rome is far too time-consuming to use with regularity in parish and diocesan life and decision-making,” he said. “It won’t work here.”

Instead, McElroy called for “analogical methods of discernment” which would be “practical for general use in our diocese and our parishes and groups of faith.”

With regard to Catholic doctrine, McElroy said the synod also lend momentum to rethinking some matters, though without offering specific examples.

“It is becoming clear that on some issues, the understanding of human nature and moral reality upon which previous declarations of doctrine were made were in fact limited or defective,” he said.

Finally, McElroy’s most succinct comment, and his only real laugh line, came in response to a question as to whether synodality will outlive Pope Francis.

“I hope so, I think so,” he said, adding, “I’m not sure.”

Vatican orders German bishops to halt vote on disputed ‘Synodal Committee’

As the German bishops meet this week to advance their national reform process, the Vatican has threatened canonical action if they refuse to comply with an order to halt a vote on the statutes of a controversial new committee that had previously been disapproved.

As part of their current Feb. 19-22 general assembly in Augsburg, the roughly 60 members of the German Bishops’ Conference (DBK) attending were scheduled to address the results of their recently concluded “Synodal Path” reform process and vote on the statutes of a “Synodal Committee” that has the task of establishing a new national “Synodal Council.”

However, after receiving a new letter from the Vatican threatening punitive measures, the German bishops’ have apparently put that vote on hold.

A German-langue edition of the letter – dated Feb. 16 and signed by Vatican Secretary of State Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith Argentine Cardinal Victor Fernández, and Prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Bishops American Cardinal Robert Prevost – has been published on the DBK website.

According to an Italian translation of the letter published on Italian news site Settimana News, Parolin, Fernández and Prevost said it was necessary to “express some concerns” and “provide some indications” regarding the vote on the statutes of the Synodal Committee.

These indications, they said, “have been brought to the Holy Father and approved by him.”

Noting that the proposed statutes say the commission’s “first task” is to establish the Synodal Council, the Vatican said this kind of ecclesial body is “not foreseen by current canon law and therefore a resolution of the DBK in this sense would not be valid, with the related legal consequences.”

Citing specific articles of Canon Law, the Vatican said there is no basis for the Synodal Council as conceived by the DBK, “nor has a mandate been issued by the Holy See” to establish it.

“On the contrary, [the Holy See] has expressed itself to the contrary,” the letter says.

The idea for the Synodal Council, a governing body composed of both bishops and laypeople that would permanently oversee the church in Germany, was approved during the fourth plenary assembly of Germany’s “Synodal Path” in September 2022, with the purpose of making “fundamental decisions of supra-diocesan importance.”

That assembly also approved of a “Synodal Committee,” to be co-chaired by Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, president of the German Bishops’ Conference, and layperson, which had the specific task of establishing the Synodal Council so as to be active by 2026.

In January of last year, the heads of several Vatican major departments wrote a letter to the German bishops vetoing the Synodal Council on grounds that it constituted a new form of ecclesial authority not canonically recognized, and which would essentially usurp the authority of the national bishops’ conference.

In that letter, the Vatican said no bishop was obliged to take part in the Synodal Committee, and they insisted that the German church had no authority to establish a new canonical entity, such as the Synodal Council.

However, during the German bishops’ spring assembly a month later, in March 2023, Bätzing announced that plans would still move forward, and that the Synodal Committee would be formed regardless of the Vatican’s concerns.

Both the Vatican and Pope Francis have repeatedly directly intervened in the German bishops’ synodal process since it was launched in 2019, with the aim of reforming church structures to better respond to the national clerical abuse scandals.

Francis in June 2019 wrote a letter to German Catholics cautioning against placing too much emphasis on “purely structural or bureaucratic reforms.”

In a letter to German theologians and critics of the Synodal Path in November 2023, the pope criticized both the Synodal Council and the Synodal Committee, saying they “cannot be reconciled with the sacramental structure” of the church, and that the initiatives risk fracturing church unity.

The Vatican and the German bishops have organized regular meetings since the German bishops’ November 2022 ad limina visit to Rome, during which a moratorium was proposed for the German synodal process, to continue dialogue amid their disagreements, however, the bishops in the meantime have continued to advance the Synodal Council planning process.

When the Synodal Committee held its inaugural meeting in November 2023, participants approved its statutes, which among other things allows the body to pass resolutions with a simple two-thirds majority, unlike the Synodal Path, which required two-thirds support from both bishops and laypeople to pass resolutions.

With just 23 bishop-members on the committee, after four refused to participate, over half of the body’s 70 members are laypeople, meaning resolutions could theoretically be passed without the approval of any of the country’s bishops.

In its Feb. 16 letter, the Vatican noted that the statutes of the Synodal Committee state that they can only enter into force by a joint resolution of the DBK and the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) – an influential lay body comprised of various Catholic organizations in Germany.

The statutes were approved by the ZdK shortly after the Synodal Committee’s November 2023 meeting.

However, the DBK resolution would be problematic, the Vatican said, because it “cannot act as a legal entity in the secular sphere.”

These and other problems were flagged during the German bishops’ 2022 ad limina visit, the Vatican said, noting that these concerns were reiterated in the letter sent by Vatican officials last January with the pope’s specific mandate “not to continue with the establishment of this council.”

“The approval of the statutes of the Synodal Committee would therefore be in contradiction to the instructions of the Holy See issued on the special commission of the Holy Father, and would once again present him with a fiat accompli,” the letter said.

In this regard, the Vatican noted that during a meeting last October, it was decided that the topic of a “supra-diocesan consultative and decision-making body” such as the Synodal Council would be discussed during the next meeting between the DBK and Vatican officials.

“If the statutes of the Synodal Committee are adopted before this meeting, the question arises as to the meaning of this meeting and, more generally, of the ongoing dialogue process,” the letter said.

The Vatican asked the DBK to take the contents of the letter into consideration and voiced hope that the letter would also be considered during the DBK’s general assembly this week.

A spokesman for the bishops’ conference told German agency KNA confirmed that a meeting between members of the Roman Curia and the DBK is currently on the schedule but did not disclose when that meeting would take place.

The Synodal Committee is currently scheduled to hold its second plenary meeting in June, however, it is unclear if that meeting will in fact be held given the Vatican’s most recent letter.

Francis Appoints ‘Women Clergy’ Advocates to Synod

Francis Slams Door on Women's Ordination

Pope Francis has appointed as consultors to the Synod on Synodality three women who are pushing for the ordination of female deacons and priests. 

The Holy See Press Office announced Saturday that the pontiff has named Sr. Birgit Weiler, Tricia C. Bruce and Maria Clara Lucchetti Bingemer, as part of a team of six new theologians for the Second Session of the General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.

Sister Weiler, a member of the Medical Mission Sisters who works as a missionary in the Amazon, maintains that "it must be possible for women who feel called to it to be admitted to the priesthood."

In an interview with Swiss media Kath.ch, Weiler — who is also pushing for married priests — pointed out that she knew of women religious in the Amazon who were authorized by their bishop to administer the sacraments of baptism and even the anointing of the sick. 

"This is nothing unusual in Amazonia," Weiler observed, lamenting the shortage of priests which resulted in some members of the laity receiving Holy Communion only once a year. "The nuns do this with the permission of the respective bishop."

"In Amazonia, seriously ill people seek the sacrament of confession from a woman religious with whom they have a relationship," the nun revealed in the April 2023 interview. But, she added, the sisters "cannot formally grant absolution — many nuns find this very painful."

Patriarchal and androcentric discourse about God has led to a pervasive exclusion of women from the public sphere.

Weiler believes female deacons are inevitable: "It could actually come very soon. There are no theological hurdles if one understands the diaconate as an independent office in the Church through which Christ is made present in the Church in His service to people's lives."

"When it comes to women's priesthood, I fear that it will take a little longer. But it is imperative that the Church recognizes the urgency of this issue," the nun emphasized. 

In 2021, Francis' second female appointee, Tricia C. Bruce, authored a pro-deaconess report titled "Called to Contribute: Findings from an In-depth Interview Study of US Catholic Women and the Diaconate."

Bruce, who is president-elect of the Association for the Sociology of Religion, believes that ordaining women deacons is possible since "changes to canon law introduced by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009 reinforced the distinction between deacons and the ordained priesthood."

Codeswitching creates outlets for women's preaching gifts in coordination with willing priests.

Female interviewees in Bruce's report share experiences emphasizing how they felt called to the priesthood in the Catholic Church, some from childhood and others through participating as altar girls, eucharistic ministers, lectors or performing diaconal roles. 

"Beyond preaching, Catholic women find themselves hamstrung in their ability to meet lay Catholics' sacramental needs — particularly those that arise in moments of crisis and urgency," Bruce laments. 

The sociologist describes how women use "codeswitching" in collaboration with priests as accomplices to get around the canonical barriers that forbid them from preaching the homily during Mass.

"Codeswitching creates outlets for women's preaching gifts in coordination with willing priests. Iris preached as a 'lay reflector' on Mother's Day," she writes. "Women also describe ways in which they strategically dissent and adapt norms to respond to sacramental needs of parishioners."

"Women willingly commit themselves in their call to 'deacon-like' service but the Catholic Church does not guarantee circumstances in which it is possible to fulfill that call," Bruce concludes, urging the Magisterium to reverse its position on Holy Orders. 

Maria Clara Lucchetti Bingemer, professor of theology at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, has proposed that a woman is the proper matter for the sacrament of Holy Orders can act as an "alter Christus" and "in persona Christi."

Bingemer, who describes herself as a feminist theologian, advocates going "beyond God the Father" since "patriarchal and androcentric discourse about God has led to a pervasive exclusion of women from the public sphere and a subordination of women to suit the perspective and needs of a world that is principally designed for men."

There are no theological hurdles if one understands the diaconate as an independent office in the Church.

The Brazilian feminist argues in favor of ordaining women to the priesthood in her book Transforming the Church and Society From a Feminist Perspective, because of "their eucharistic vocation expressed through their bodies." 

Earlier, Salesian nun Sr. Linda Pocher, who was invited to address Pope Francis' February C9 meeting of the pope's consultors, said in an interview that the pontiff "is very much in favor of the female diaconate" and is studying methods for its implementation.

The religious sister added that there was "no reflection on the presbyteral ordination of women in the Catholic Church."

Francis and the C9 also met with Anglican female "bishop" Jo Bailey Wells and Giuliva Di Berardino, a consecrated virgin, religious studies teacher, and liturgist from the diocese of Verona, Italy.

In a Feb. 9 interview with Vida Nueva Digital, Wells said the cardinals "were welcoming, attentive and I would even say curious" and that they "spent more time listening than talking."

After addressing the C9 cardinals, Pocher said Francis "is changing the way of thinking and living the difference between the ordained ministry and the baptismal priesthood" by "extending to all the baptized some rights that until recently belonged to bishops, priests or religious."

Francis also named Msgr. Alphonse Borras, episcopal vicar of the diocese of Liège, Belgium; Fr. Gilles Routhier, professor of theology at the Université Laval, Canada; and Rev. Ormond Rush, associate professor of theology at the Australian Catholic University to the synod. 

The Second Session of the Synod of Bishops takes place from Wednesday, Oct. 2 to Sunday, Oct. 27, 2024, to continue the work of the Synod on Synodality on the theme "For a synodal Church: communion, participation and mission."