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Vatican Letter: Pope Francis’ pro-life challenge: Respect all life, oppose death penalty

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis’ recent statement that the death penalty is incompatible with the Gospel focused less on a government’s role in protecting its people and more on the need to defend the sacredness and dignity of every human life. Read more »

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Vatican Letter: Pope moves toward decentralization, local responsibility

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis talks about the need for a “healthy decentralization” in the Catholic Church, but how that should look and work has been a topic of debate since the Second Vatican Council.

The discussion often centers on how people describe the way the church experiences and ensures its unity around the globe: For example, by focusing on a strong, decision-making central authority, that helps unites the parts to the whole or by describing the church as a communion where unity is found in sharing, cooperative relationships among the diversity of local churches.

Pope Francis arrives to celebrate the closing Mass of the Synod of Bishops on the family in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in this 2015, file photo. The pope has spoke of a “healthy decentralization” in the Catholic Church and has made several decisions toward this goal. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“The key thing” in striving for a healthy balance and reform, one Vatican official said, is to avoid a business-management idea of decentralization and “embed theology back into the term.” In other words, it’s not about a cold transfer of power, but an emphasis on collegiality and collaboration.

Bishop Paul Tighe, adjunct secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture, told Catholic News Service, “the model is the hub,” with the pope and his assistants in the Curia at the center, always connected to the local churches, which are the first to encounter new situations and the first to respond.

“The Vatican is in contact with those different churches,” not as the problem-solver, but to “put them in contact with other churches” that have been dealing with the same or similar issues, so they can share ideas and best practices, and avoid reinventing the wheel, he said.

“Rome has that ability to have that overview” because it is “a point of contact. It’s not centralizing, but building a bond of communion” between churches and church leaders at local, regional and national levels, he said.

“What should be done locally, should be done locally,” Bishop Tighe said, but when some issues “transcend one locality,” that is, they end up being “universal questions that need a harmonious response,” then the help of a central authority is essential.

“People see the church as a hierarchical, monolithic structure. But it is much richer than that,” he said.

Australian Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane told CNS that people are used to hearing “the claim that the unity of the church doesn’t mean uniformity, and much of what Pope Francis has done and is doing is simply moving beyond the rhetoric to give some reality to that claim,” for example, in his naming of new cardinals from very diverse parts of the world.

“There may be some danger of fragmentation in passing more authority to local churches and to bishops’ conferences, but the Holy See and especially the Petrine ministry is the guarantor that a healthy decentralization doesn’t become an unhealthy fragmentation,” he said in an email response to questions.

The archbishop, who chairs the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference’s commission for evangelization and was a member of the Synod of Bishops on the family in Rome in 2015, said healthy cooperation between the Holy See and bishops requires co-responsibility.

For example, Pope Francis’ new motu proprio, “Magnum Principium,” on guiding future liturgical translations “is an attempt by the pope to restore the balance between the bishops and the Holy See in line with the provisions of Vatican II and in the light of experience since the council. It’s a document driven not by ideology but by theology, and its intent is clearly pastoral.”

A “good liturgical translation” holds the balance between the doctrinal and pastoral, he said, and that requires responsible cooperation among bishops and between bishops’ conferences and the Holy See.

“It does mean that the bishops will have to work hard at shaping a new language, drawing on the work of experts, of course, but maintaining control of the process and working trustfully with the Holy See to ensure that the communion of the church and her fidelity to doctrine are not compromised,” he said. “This will produce variety, certainly, but that doesn’t necessarily mean disunity.”

Retired Pope Benedict XVI said he, too, “always wished that the local churches be the most autonomous and lively possible, without needing assistance from Rome,” he said in the book-length interview, “Last Testament,” published in 2016.

During the Synod of Bishops on the role of the bishop in 2001, he endorsed greater responsibility for bishops as envisioned by the Second Vatican Council and spoke, to great applause, on the bishops’ duty to govern and to judge and correct doctrinal error in their own dioceses.

When that happens, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, at that time head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, told the synod of bishops, “the so-desired decentralization happens automatically.”

At the end of that synod, he had stressed that unity was brought about by a harmonious unity of purpose, with a greater focus on Christ and the need to move “forward together to announce Christ to a world that needs a new proclamation of Christ and the Gospel.”

Neglecting those essential tasks because of too much attention to secondary things like internal church structures and organization has been “a way to strangle the life of the church,” he had said.

“The world’s first need is to know Christ. If it doesn’t, all the rest will not function,” he said.

     

Follow Glatz on Twitter: @CarolGlatz.

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Vatican Letter: Pope’s remarks on refugee crisis aren’t intended for United States only

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — When Pope Francis affirms basic Christian principles, he is not singling out one person or nation, but he definitely is not excluding them either.

The ongoing global migration and refugee crisis is a case in point. Read more »

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Vatican Letter — From marshy to manicured: Gardens’ gruesome past grows into green haven

July 28th, 2016 Posted in Uncategorized Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Today’s lush and immaculately manicured Vatican Gardens were once just a sprawl of mosquito-infested swamps, clay hillsides and hardy grape vines. Read more »

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Vatican Letter — Pope brings a Latin American vision to mission of the church

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The challenges and experiences of the church in Latin America figure heavily in Pope Francis’ papacy, especially when it comes to making bishop appointments, addressing global issues and the pastoral care of the poor and the marginalized. Read more »

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Vatican Letter: Theologians discuss promise, pitfalls of family synod discussions

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The discussion at last year’s extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family was lively, some media coverage made it sound like a battle, and a new book from the Pontifical Council for the Family shows the debate continues.

“Family and Church: An Indissoluble Bond,” published this summer only in Italian, is a collection of presentations by theologians and canon lawyers gathered by the council for three full days of discussion and debate.

Pilgrims reach to receive Communion as Pope Francis celebrates Mass Jan. 18 in Manila, Philippines. As Catholics prepare for the world Synod of Bishops on the family in October, a number of church leaders and theologians are discussing ways to reach out to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics. (CNS photo/Francis Maalasig, EPA)

Pilgrims reach to receive Communion as Pope Francis celebrates Mass Jan. 18 in Manila, Philippines. As Catholics prepare for the world Synod of Bishops on the family in October, a number of church leaders and theologians are discussing ways to reach out to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics. (CNS photo/Francis Maalasig, EPA)

Their consensus is that the church must do something to present more clearly its teaching on marriage; it must do more to help young couples prepare for marriage; it must be more effective in helping couples in trouble; and it must reach out to those who divorced and remarried without an annulment.

At the same time, the text indicates that many bloggers and reporters are wrong when they try to pigeon-hole church leaders as being in either-or categories of loving ministers of God’s mercy or strong defenders of God’s truth. The challenge lies in being both.

The meetings brought together two dozen participants, men and women, most teaching at pontifical universities in Rome, including the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. The experts — Europeans, an Indian, Africans and South Americans — met in January, February and March.

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the family council, told an Italian Catholic magazine that finding pastoral approaches to express God’s mercy while being faithful to church teaching is complicated. However, he told Famiglia Cristiana, “It is pharisaical to limit ourselves to repeating laws and denouncing sins. The church must be frank in admonishing, but it also must be ready to find new paths to follow.”

One of the paths suggested before and during last year’s extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family was a “penitential process” that gradually would lead some divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to confession, absolution and Communion.

Participants at the family council’s meetings explored the idea, giving suggested steps and highlighting potential pitfalls beginning with the obvious danger of signaling to the couples and the world at large that perhaps some sacramental marriages are not indissoluble after all. But doing nothing, several said, risks signaling that entering a new union, even after being abandoned by a husband or wife, is the only situation where the church cannot be a minister of God’s forgiveness.

In his presentation, Father Giampaolo Dianin, an Italian professor of moral theology, insisted forgiveness is not “some kind of amnesty.” In Catholic teaching it is “a free and full gift of God which asks for and provokes a commitment to repair, begin again and rebuild.”

A possible “penitential path,” he said, would include:

  • A diocesan bishop appointing a priest or a team of qualified people to evaluate individual cases and accompany the applicants, first determining if they have the grounds for an annulment, which would allow them to have their new union blessed as a marriage.
  • For a spouse who was abandoned, the process would aim at promoting forgiveness of the offending party. For all involved, the process would include recognizing their sins and ways they contributed to the destruction of the marriage.
  • Evaluating the solidity of the second union and the commitment of the couple to live seriously as Christians.
  • “Readmission to the sacraments could be full or partial.” Some might maintain that permanent readmission downplays the fact that the second union is not a sacramental marriage, Father Dianin said; they would allow the couple to receive absolution and Communion during the Easter season and on special occasions.

In Father Dianin’s process, there is no requirement that the couple abstain from sex, living “as brother and sister.” In current church practice, that is what is required of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics who want to receive the sacraments.

Father Dianin and several other participants said that beyond the difficulty, and perhaps impossibility, many couples would have in fulfilling that requirement, there is a theological problem in suggesting that the spiritual and corporal aspects of love can and should be separated. In addition, Father Alberto Bonandi, another theologian, said it gives the message that the sexual relations in a new union are the only way the couple is living in conflict with their original marriage bond when, in fact, they have withdrawn their affection and are building a life with someone else.

Father Eugenio Zanetti disagreed. The Italian canon lawyer outlined not a “penitential path,” but what he called a “path of conversion to Love,” meaning to God who is love.

The process would begin with a year of individual and group prayer and reflection, particularly looking at the obligations that remain to the spouse and any children from one’s sacramental marriage, he said. During Lent, the prayer would intensify and the reflection would include attention to the Christian understanding of sexuality. At the end of Holy Week, the couple would be invited to confession, “recognizing their sins, including their complex and not fully correct marriage situation.” As a condition of granting them absolution, the church would ask for a promise that they abstain from sexual relations during the Octave of Easter, which would permit them to receive Communion on Easter and on Divine Mercy Sunday.

Publishers have announced the coming release of other books on Catholic teaching and the family before the world Synod of Bishops on the family begins Oct. 4. One of them, coming from Ignatius Press, is: “Eleven Cardinals Speak on Marriage and the Family: Essays from a Pastoral Viewpoint.”

The book, widely expected to be cautious about broadening the church’s “penitential path,” is described by the publisher as steering “a wise and merciful course that engages genuine concerns, while avoiding false compassion, which compromises both truth and authentic love.”

The discussion and debate continues.

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Vatican Letter — Pope has harsh critiques of free-market economy, but he’s neither pro- nor anti-capitalist

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Harsh criticisms meted out by Pope Francis on free-market capitalism have sparked backlash from some fiscal conservatives and have led some people to call him “anti-capitalist” or even Marxist. Read more »

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Administering mercy: Facilitating forgiveness does not downplay sin

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Always, but especially during a Holy Year, the Catholic Church does everything possible to help Catholics repent of their sins, receive forgiveness and draw closer to God. Read more »

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Vatican letter: Pontifical group moves from academics to advocacy in anti-trafficking fight

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — For an international group of researchers and scholars, serving at the pleasure of popes had meant producing lots of papers on important topics. But with Pope Francis, they are moving from publication to advocacy.

Students from the Archdiocese of Calcutta take part in a walk for peace against human trafficking in early February in Kolkatta, India. (CNS photo/Piyal Adhikary, EPA)

Students from the Archdiocese of Calcutta take part in a walk for peace against human trafficking in early February in Kolkatta, India. (CNS photo/Piyal Adhikary, EPA)

Margaret Archer, a British sociologist and president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, said that in the academy’s 20-year existence, its specialists in philosophy, economics, sociology, law, political science, religious studies and history “have produced enormous books each year — enormous books, unreadable books, completely academic books.”

“What has happened to them? Well, they have gathered a lot of dust and have had not very much impact,” she told reporters at the end of the academy’s plenary assembly April 17-21.

But things changed. “We have a new pope. We have a new model of action and, for the first time, PASS feels it can be useful. That’s what we are there for,” she said. “We are not decorative. We’re not novelists; we’re not creative. We should be very useful.”

When it was established by St. John Paul II in 1994 and again when Pope Benedict XVI was elected in 2005, academy officers wrote formal letters to the pontiffs offering the scholars’ services and inquiring if the pope had a particular topic for them to explore.

When Pope Francis was elected in 2013, “we wrote the usual polite letter,” she said. “What we have previously received were very much pro-forma (letters) that said, ‘Oh, we are grateful for your work; please continue.’ So we did and we produced more of these big books.”

But in May 2013, Pope Francis himself responded in his own handwriting, in Spanish, on the back of an envelope: “I think it would be good to examine human trafficking and modern slavery. Organ trafficking could be examined in connection with human trafficking. Many thanks, Francis.”

Pope Francis has been part of the fight against human trafficking and modern forms of slavery, including prostitution and forced labor, since his days as archbishop of Buenos Aires. He has made the issue one of the priorities of his pontificate and has called for formal international recognition of trafficking as a “crime against humanity.”

In November 2013, the academy of social sciences and the much older Pontifical Academy of Sciences, hosted a workshop designed to bring everyone up to speed on the size of the problem and to begin exploring policies and tools the natural sciences and the social sciences could bring together to stop human trafficking.

Some members of the academy also participated in an April 2014 meeting at the Vatican, organized by the bishops of England and Wales, that brought together victims of trafficking and national and international police forces, including Interpol. Archer said the social scientists were fascinated to hear about the tools law enforcement officers use to detect trafficking — for example, using thermographic cameras to scan cargo ships for people hidden in crates or in the hold.

While sharing academic research is still part of their brief, the academy’s 25 members, who come from 14 countries, are focusing their research on practical, enforceable steps that can be taken to stem trafficking.

First, Archer said, they are hoping to convince the United Nations and its member states to include “eradicating human trafficking” as one of the international community’s development goals for 2015-2030. States make commitments to specific plans to achieve the goals.

Second, academy members are urging governments around the world to recognize the difference between persons who voluntarily immigrate without permission and the victims of trafficking, who are tricked or forced to work in a country that is not their own.

Stefano Zamagni, another academician, said the laws of most countries rely on testimony by a trafficking survivor in order to convict the trafficker. If the victim is considered an “illegal immigrant,” he said, there is almost no way to persuade him or her to testify. In addition, he said, academy members will urge their governments to grant asylum to survivors to ensure they do not face deportation.

A third step, said academician Pierpaolo Donati, will be widespread religious, moral and consumer education to eliminate the demand for trafficked persons, including prostitutes, forced domestic workers and organ donors, and for products they produce, which range from clothing to diamonds to components for cellphones.

Archer said the only way to end trafficking for human organs is to make freely donated organs more widely available. She said she told Pope Francis that the church should encourage all Catholics to carry organ donor cards.

The academy president went a step further at her media briefing, expressing the hope that some day governments would distribute “non-donor” cards; anyone who does not sign one would be considered an organ donor volunteer.

As for goods produced by children and others in indentured servitude and other forms of forced labor, the pontifical academy plans to work with a variety of groups already promoting certification of supply chains. Consumers should boycott goods that cannot be certified as made without slave labor, Archer said.

In a world where many people think religions should be a strictly private affair, she said, “maybe this helps show that we can be of some practical use, which people who have no faith at all will recognize as a good thing.”

 

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Vatican Letter: Pope prepares encyclical on ecology as a pro-life, pro-poor issue

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The Catholic Church supports the efforts of scientists to study the causes and effects of climate change and insists governments and businesses must get serious about specific commitments for protecting the environment. Read more »

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