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Philippine archbishop rebukes faithful for rejecting church morals

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The head of the Philippine bishops’ conference expressed concern over what he perceived to be a growing trend “of rebuffing church morals and doctrine” in his country.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas, head of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, gestures during a 2014 news conference in Manila. Archbishop Villegas expressed concern over what he perceived to be a growing trend "of rebuffing church morals and doctrine" in his country. (CNS/Simone Orendain)

Archbishop Socrates Villegas, head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, gestures during a 2014 news conference in Manila. Archbishop Villegas expressed concern over what he perceived to be a growing trend “of rebuffing church morals and doctrine” in his country. (CNS/Simone Orendain)

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan opened his Easter message with a searing rebuke of the faithful in the Philippines, questioning their behavior.

“How many of our Catholics openly and blatantly declare, ‘I am a Catholic, but I agree that drug addicts must be killed; they are useless. I am a Catholic but I am pro-death penalty. … I am a Catholic, but I do not always obey my bishop, he is too old-fashioned. … I am a priest but my bishop’s circulars are optional for obedience. … I am a Catholic but … I am a Catholic but …’” Archbishop Villegas trailed off in the published message.

Since Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte took office in June 2016 on a promise to eradicate crime and kill drug dealers and addicts, the archbishop has been a vocal critic.

Months later, more than 7,000 people, most of them impoverished, have died in either police anti-drug operations or in unexplained killings. And in early March, Duterte’s allies in the Philippine House helped pass a measure reinstating the death penalty, with the primary goal of executing drug offenders.

Archbishop Villegas’ criticism has grown more strident with the body count increasing and the latest steps toward restoring execution. The prelate has led prayer marches and authored letters and official conference documents decrying the “war on drugs” and the death penalty. Other church officials have also expressed dismay through various statements.

However, Duterte’s popularity ratings remain high, with supporters expressing strong backing online. In response to his church critics, Duterte has called priests hypocrites and accused them of being pedophiles or leading secretly married lives, among other scathing remarks.

In his Easter message delivered at St. John Cathedral in Dagupan City, Archbishop Villegas said it has become “fashionable” to make priests and bishops “the punching bags of public officials to the glee of our parishioners.”

“The church is ridiculed and her churchmen are rebuked. Christ’s teachings are relentlessly challenged. Human life is cheaper than a gun. God’s mercy is disdained and scorned,” he said, pointing out people’s apathy as they “walk not forward but backward, becoming, day by day, an angry society.”

Archbishop Villegas was particularly emphatic about bishop-bashing on the internet.

“We bishops have become martyrs in social media,” said the prelate. “We are killed a thousand times; our trolls are in the thousands. When we speak, they want us muted. When we oppose, they want us maimed. When we stand for life, they want us dead.”

The archbishop said if this type of behavior continued he expected to see “more and more priests and bishops dying as martyrs in the prime of their lives.”

“If this should happen: Stand up and take courage. Go to jail for the sake of the Gospel. Be ready to be killed for the sake of our faith. The church will not die when Christ’s believers are killed. The Catholic faith will bloom, grow and glow,” said Archbishop Villegas.

— By Simone Orendain

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Pope says church doctrine is reflected in Christ, alive, restless and animated

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Catholic News Service

FLORENCE, Italy — Meeting workers and addressing a major gathering of the Catholic Church in Italy, Pope Francis demanded an end to economic exploitation, to clerics “obsessed” with power, to apathy among youth and to a cold, fearful church that forgets Christ is always by its side.

Pope Francis arrives outside the Duomo, the Cathedral of St. Maria del Fiore, left, Nov. 10. Pope Francis attended a meeting of Italy's bishops and cardinals in the Duomo during a one-day visit to Florence Nov. 10. The pope also met young people and was to celebrate Mass at a soccer stadium. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis arrives outside the Duomo, the Cathedral of St. Maria del Fiore, left, Nov. 10. Pope Francis attended a meeting of Italy’s bishops and cardinals in the Duomo during a one-day visit to Florence Nov. 10. The pope also met young people and was to celebrate Mass at a soccer stadium. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“These times of ours demand that we experience problems as challenges and not like obstacles: The Lord is active and at work in the world,” he said Nov. 10 inside Florence’s Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the third-largest church in Europe.

In a trip that covered a normal 8 a.m.-to-5 p.m. workday, the pope rallied workers, young people and hundreds of church leaders representing the entire Italian peninsula; he met with the sick, kissed babies, admired Renaissance artwork and venerated an ancient relic. He ate lunch with the poor and homeless and celebrated Mass in a city soccer stadium.

Much of the city seemed empty of residents, yet filled with people who came to see the pope and tourists curious about the beefed-up security and roadblocks.

Speaking to hundreds of Italian cardinals, bishops and laypeople attending a national congress held only every 10 years, the pope gave a lengthy, yet clear indication of where their discussions and pastoral mission should be heading.

“We must not tame the power of the face of Jesus,” who takes on the face of the humiliated, the enslaved and “the emptied,” he said.

A divine Christ reflects a very human gaze of humility and selflessness, and he insists his disciples follow the beatitudes like he did, the pope said.

“We must not be obsessed with power,” the pope said, even if it is a useful or seemingly innocuous way of getting things done. Otherwise the church “loses its way, loses its meaning.”

Standing at a lectern beneath a stunning painted dome ceiling representing the Last Judgment, the pope said the beatitudes indicate whether the church is following its mission or is only thinking of protecting its own interests. Measuring oneself against the beatitudes “is a mirror that never lies,” he said.

Reading animatedly from his written remarks, the pope also found moments to offer a bit of humor, like when warning church leaders against various temptations.

“I’ll present at least two” temptations, but not a huge list of 15 like he spelled out in a memorable pre-Christmas address to the Roman Curia in 2014, he said to applause and laughter in the pews.

Do not feel superior and place complete trust in structures and perfect plans, he said. This focus on the abstract and on security “often leads us to take on a style of control, harshness, regulation.”

When “facing evils or problems in the church,” he said, “it is useless to seek solutions in conservatism and fundamentalism, in the restoration of outdated conduct and forms” that are no longer culturally relevant or meaningful.

Christian doctrine, in fact, isn’t a closed system void of questions or doubts, but is alive, restless, animated. Its face “isn’t rigid, its body moves and develops, it has tender flesh. Its name is Jesus Christ.”

The same spirit that drove Italian explorers to seek new worlds, unafraid of storms and open seas, can drive the church in Italy, Pope Francis said, if it lets itself be driven by the breath of the Holy Spirit, “free and open to challenges of the present, never in defense out of fear of losing something.”

He also told priests and bishops to be shepherds, “nothing more. Shepherds.” To illustrate what that looked like, the pope told a story of a bishop who was riding the subway during rush hour.

It was so packed, there was nothing to hold onto, and “pushed right and left” by the swaying car, the bishop leaned on the people around him so as not to fall. A bishop will find support, he said, by leaning on his people and through prayer, he said.

Underlining the importance of caring for the poor who know well the suffering and face of Christ, the pope asked God to protect the church in Italy from all forms of power, facades and money.

He recalled an old practice in Italy when mothers, who were unable to care for their newborns, left behind a small medallion, snapped in half, with the babies they gave up for adoption at a Catholic hospital. The birth mothers would keep the other half, he said, in the hopes that one day, when times had improved, they would be able to find their children.

“We have that other half. The mother church has the other half of everyone’s medallion and it recognizes all of its abandoned, oppressed and tired children,” he said. “The Lord shed his blood for everyone, not a select few.”

“I like a restless church in Italy, ever close to the abandoned, the forgotten, the imperfect,” the pope said.

“I want a happy church with the face of a mother, who understands, accompanies, caresses. Dream for this church, too, believe in this, innovate with freedom,” he told the bishops, pastors and lay leaders.

The pope flew by helicopter from Rome early in the morning to land first in the industrial town of Prato on the outskirts of Florence. He apologized for his brief 90-minute visit there, saying he had come as “a pilgrim, a pilgrim in passing.”

In the town’s cathedral, he venerated the Holy Belt of Our Lady, an ancient band of wool traditionally believed to have belonged to Mary and used to wrap her flowing robes around her waist.

From the cathedral balcony, he greeted thousands of people who had woken very early for the 8 a.m. encounter or slept there overnight in sleeping bags.

Addressing young people and workers, especially foreign workers, the pope criticized the “cancer” of corruption and exploitation, calling it the venom of a culture built on operating outside the law.

He recalled the seven Chinese textile workers who were killed two years ago when the pre-fab warehouse they worked and slept in caught fire and caused the roof to collapse.

The pope said the deaths of those men and women, who slept in a tiny alcove jerry-rigged out of cardboard and drywall, “is a tragedy of exploitation and inhumane living conditions.”
To people’s cheers and applause, he urged young people and workers to fight to the very roots of the problem of “the cancer of corruption” and “the cancer of human and worker exploitation.”

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Ignorance about marriage is no reason to change doctrine, Cardinal Muller says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Just because many Catholics do not understand the church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage, that does not mean the church can change that teaching, said Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Speaking to reporters Feb. 25, just days after the College of Cardinals held a two-day meeting to discuss the pastoral care of families, he said the widespread lack of understanding among Catholics about church doctrine was “lamentable.”

German Cardinal Gerhard Muller, doctrinal congregation prefect, holds a news conference to unveil his book “Poor for the Poor: The Mission of the Church” in Rome Feb. 25. (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

However, just because people don’t understand Jesus’ word doesn’t mean it can or should be changed, he said. “It would be paradoxical if the church said, ‘Since not everyone knows the truth, the truth isn’t obligatory for the future.’”

Not allowing divorced and civilly remarried Catholics access to the Eucharist “is not about my opinion,” Cardinal Muller said; it reflects a long history of church teaching and doctrine.

After the Archdiocese of Freiburg, Germany, said it would make it easier for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion, Cardinal Muller wrote an article last summer, published in a German newspaper and in the various language editions of the Vatican newspaper, countering any expectations that the Catholic Church would relax its discipline on receiving the sacraments.

Pastoral attention to Catholics cannot go against doctrine, the cardinal told journalists Feb. 25.

“Doctrine and pastoral care are the same thing. Jesus Christ as pastor and Jesus Christ as teacher with his word are not two different people,” he said.

While Pope Francis has called for new pastoral approaches that are creative, courageous and loving, Cardinal Muller said whatever those new approaches are, they cannot go against the will of Jesus.

The sacrament of marriage will remain as an indissoluble bond between husband and wife and that teaching cannot be changed, he said. Any new approaches “must deepen knowledge” and people’s understanding of that teaching.

Many Catholics “think marriage is just a festive gathering celebrated in church, but the spouses are giving their word,” promising to fully live in each other, in body and soul, in faith and in God’s grace, he said.

“There is no solution, since church dogma isn’t just some theory created by some theologians;” it represents “the word of Jesus Christ, which is very clear. I cannot change church doctrine.”

Cardinal Muller spoke to reporters minutes before a conference to present his new book on poverty. Sitting next to him at the book presentation was Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, with whom he has disagreed publicly over the church’s approach to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics. The topic of marriage did not arise during the presentation.

 

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