Sunday, February 25, 2024

Church unity: Pope Francis faces 3 difficult situations

Pope Francis and the Life Issues | George Weigel | First Things

In recent months, Pope Francis has had to deal with three difficult situations that threaten the unity of the Church. 

Here we break them down for you.

The consequences of “Fiducia supplicans”

The declaration Fiducia supplicans, published on December 18, authorizes non-ritual blessings for couples in “irregular” situations. 

It generated tremendous discussion in the Catholic Church.

While Fiducia supplicans was well received in some dioceses — notably in Germany, Belgium and Switzerland — it provoked a pointed response from Africa. 

But, as a Vatican source closely involved in the matter tells us, “The outcry is not only on the African continent, but also in half of Europe, and a large part of Latin America.”

Congolese Cardinal Fridolin Abongo, with the Pope’s ok, explained that the text could not be applied in Africa. 

This brings to mind the situation among the Anglicans, where the Archbishop of Canterbury no longer speaks for the whole Anglican Communion on certain issues, and is particularly at odds with African Anglicans.

As well, this declaration has caused tensions in matters of ecumenism. 

Many Christian confessions, especially in the Orthodox world, have expressed to Rome their consternation.

The conclusion of the Synod on Synodality next October should provide an opportunity to return to this episode.

The Syro-Malabar liturgical revolt

In a message sent at the beginning of December, Pope Francis gave Christmas 2023 as an ultimatum to 400 priests of the Syro-Malabar Church in India, who refuse to comply with a liturgical reform voted by their church’s synod decades ago.

The synod had agreed to a partial return to a traditional liturgy in order to recover their Eastern roots, including the priest facing the “liturgical east” and away from the congregation.

The rebellious clerics, who defend a more modern version of the liturgy, obeyed the Pope on Christmas Day to avoid excommunication, but the situation is far from over.

They continue to strongly contest the reform, and now openly oppose the new head of the small Eastern Church, Archbishop Mar Raphael Thattil, whose election was approved by the Pope in January. 

Archbishop Thattil succeeds Cardinal George Alencherry, whose resignation was seen as an admission of failure in the face of this liturgical crisis. 

Thattil’s mission is to impose the reform voted by the Synod and restore unity to this Church, which counts over 4 million faithful in India.

German obstinacy

Since the launch of its “synodal path” in 2019, the Catholic Church in Germany and its reform agenda have been causing growing concern in Rome. 

Despite several admonitions from the Pope and the Roman Curia, in February the bishops’ conference was preparing to vote on the statutes of a “synodal committee,” an organization designed to integrate lay people into the governance structures of the German Church.

A year earlier, the Holy See had explicitly asked the Germans not to move in this direction. This time, three high-ranking officials of the Roman Curia sent a letter to the interested parties in extremis, calling for the vote to be canceled. 

The vote was therefore removed from the agenda, but there is no indication that the synod committee project will be abandoned.

“I am impressed by the patience with which the Pope and the Roman dicasteries are trying to keep in touch with the German bishops and maintain unity and communion,” commented Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna Christoph Schönborn, responding to Communio magazine. 

The Austrian also asked his neighbors to reconsider their synod council project, which he described as a problem “from the point of view of the unity of the faith.”

“Refusing to give in would be obstinatio — a clear sign of a schism that no one can want,” he insists.