German Catholic Church’s survival may hinge on facing down Rome

It is fending off calls for women priests and blessings of same-sex couples amid criticism of its handling of sex abuse cases

For centuries the 13th century Cologne Cathedral has been a touchstone of German Catholicism. Yet for many German believers Cologne is now the epicentre of institutional dysfunction and denial, in particular over the scale of clerical child abuse and the systematic nature of its cover-up.

By Derek Scally

On a sunny Sunday evening in May, 80 people gathered in a Berlin church for a calm Catholic revolution. At 6pm the 11 metre-high wooden doors of the modernist church of St Canisius were opened for an inclusive Mass of blessing. Spaced out in pairs around the airy church were mainly same-sex couples, all looking ahead at the lanky Jesuit priest.

With expectation in the air, Fr Jan Korditschke removed his face mask and, wearing a broad smile, spread his arms and invited all present to join him in celebrating love. His sermon drew on John’s Gospel, that love is from God, and that it is not in the purview of a priest or a pope to deny the God-given blessing of love.

“God is present in love and and loving couples are already blessed with the presence of God. I am just giving it a framework through this rite,” he said.

Afterwards, with two assistants Korditschke worked his way through the church, talked briefly to each couple before praying together. Behind medical masks many tears flowed.

“It was such a relief, like a stone was rolling away from my heart,” said one man, Georg, alongside his partner afterward.

The Berlin Mass was the last in a series of services across Germany under the banner #liebegewinnt – love wins. The services were triggered by a Vatican document from March restating Catholic teaching that homosexual acts are disordered and blessings for same-sex unions are impossible.

One attendee, Robert, said he came with his partner in protest at the document’s key sentence that “God does not and cannot bless sin”. “By posing a question no one asked, just to answer it in such cold language,” he said, “Rome tried to ram home its point but have triggered a reaction they didn’t expect.”

A few feet away 15 young men and one middle-aged woman held a large hand-written banner reading “God cannot bless sin” and recited the rosary during the Mass. One protester, who declined to give his name, said that obedience to papal teaching is what has held the Catholic Church together for two millennia.

“I worry that carry-on like this,” he said, with a nod to the emerging massgoers, “will bring us toward another schism.”

Papal authority

Exactly 500 years ago, the renegade Augustinian monk Martin Luther was ordered in public to submit to this absolute papal authority by recanting his claims of corrupt church practice and flawed teaching.

Luther turned the tables on Rome by demanding they prove that his scripture-based understanding of the Christian faith was false. The confrontation spiralled and his challenge became a channel for a host of political and modernising forces. Western Christianity split and the world was never the same again.

History doesn’t repeat itself; in a largely secular Europe, most people would struggle to spell schism, let alone see any relevance for their lives. Still, something is brewing in the land of the Reformation as individual protests within the church of Rome feed into each other to create a crackling, Catholic conflagration.

German bishops appear unsure like never before as to where their loyalties lie. Should they deploy the Roman fire blanket, suffocate the flames and denounce critics as arsonist apostates? Or does their survival hinge on embracing the protest and facing down Rome?

Fr Jan Korditschke “I look to Jesus, who was respectful of religious leaders and the sabbath but not afraid of conflict when it came to prioritising the good of people”
Fr Jan Korditschke “I look to Jesus, who was respectful of religious leaders and the sabbath but not afraid of conflict when it came to prioritising the good of people”

Like their Irish colleagues, the German bishops’ fumbled response to clerical sexual abuse allegations and their cover-up in the past decade has drained away credibility and public support.

Nowhere is the struggle more visible – or the stakes higher – than in the western city of Cologne. For centuries its hulking Gothic cathedral has been a touchstone of German Catholicism. For many German believers, though, Cologne is now the epicentre of institutional dysfunction and denial, in particular over the scale of clerical child abuse and the systematic nature of its cover-up.

Last year Cologne’s conservative archbishop, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, came under fire for suppressing a report he himself commissioned into clerical sexual abuse. A replacement report followed this year and triggered two bishops’ departure, but critics say this document was careful to avoid any analysis of whether church structures were a contributory factor to abuse. Tensions continue to build.

In January a local priest, Klaus Koltermann, wrote to Cardinal Woelki, warning of “disquiet among the greatest believers” in his parish of Dormagen, 20 minutes north of Cologne. When a local newspaper reprinted his letter, Koltermann’s superiors warned of “possibly serious breaches of your service obligations . . . that could have consequences”.

The threat was withdrawn when the priest went public with their correspondence, a stand-off he describes as a learning experience. “A new solidarity has to grow amongst us,” he told The Irish Times. “We have to become more courageous. Sadly,  we priests never learned to stand up for our faith – in the church.”

In defiance

Such cases of conscience-led insubordination are gaining momentum. Two weeks ago Catholics at an ecumenical gathering with Germany’s Lutherans held joint eucharistic celebrations in defiance of their bishops.

This week a parish in Düsseldorf wrote to Cardinal Woelki disinviting him as celebrant at their confirmation Mass next month. Woelki once served as a deacon in the parish, as did two abusing priests. In their letter, some 140 parishioners said they feared the cardinal would “instrumentalise” their children’s confirmation to hit back at his critics.

“You are for us, sadly, no longer credible, we have lost our trust in you as a bishop,” they wrote.

Unlike in other countries, German Catholics have a clear way to express a vote of no-confidence with the Kirchenaustritt (church departure). All Christian church members in Germany automatically pay a so-called “church tax” in a system dating back to the 19th century, calculated at 8 per cent of their income tax. Effectively a membership fee, it earns Germany’s Catholic Church some ¤6 billion annually. Revoking the payment is seen as revocation of church membership.

The number of annual departures in 2019 was 218,000, twice the number of a decade ago. Numbers for 2020 have yet to be collated but, based on anecdotal evidence, the ongoing abuse debate has prompted an unprecedented rush for the exits.

Already facing a ticking demographic time bomb, Catholic bishops announced a “synodal process” in 2019 to discuss the road ahead. With 230 members (lay and religious) discussions are under way in four groups examining the role of priests, church power, sexuality and women in ministry. The pandemic shifted discussions online but organisers hope in-person gatherings can begin from September, with the first votes on proposals by Christmas.

For Bishop Georg Bätzing, head of the German episcopate, the “synodal path” is a balancing act between church liberals and traditionalists – with Rome looking on warily.

A parish in Düsseldorf has written to Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, Cologne’s conservative archbishop, disinviting him as celebrant at their confirmation Mass next month
A parish in Düsseldorf has written to Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, Cologne’s conservative archbishop, disinviting him as celebrant at their confirmation Mass next month

His relief was palpable this week when Pope Francis announced plans for a worldwide synodal consultation. This, said the German bishop, was proof that “we are neither schismatic nor do we as a German national church want to loosen ourselves from Rome”.

Expectations of the process are modest, however, given two emergency brakes built into the process: any decisions from the synodal path require unanimous backing of bishops, then approval from Rome.

Church strike

Rather than wait for reform from within, Lisa Kötter began a church strike two years ago, out of which has grown a grassroots movement called Maria 2.0. Two years on, with regular protests and prayer services, Maria 2.0 has gone global with its demands for the inclusion of women in all church functions, an end to mandatory celibacy, and a consequential response to clerical sexual abuse.

“We see the entire patriarchal basis of the Catholic Church as wrong and not inclusive, out of step with the teaching of Jesus,” said Kötter.

It’s a measure of the movement’s effect that it already has a conservative countermovement, Maria 1.0. And, after initial icy silence, Kötter has been invited to private meetings with bishops. But the friendly conversation always reaches a dead end, she says, when conversation turns to the main bone of contention: church privileges and power that men claim for themselves.

With calls for women priests and blessing same-sex couples, Kötter and Fr Korditschke push back against the idea that they are part of a Luther 2.0 movement. Neither wants a break with Rome but, then again, neither did the man who became the face of the Reformation.

Korditschke says Germany’s Lutheran churches, with more liberal positions on women ministers and social questions, have raised expectations among local Catholics — and tensions when change comes slowly, or not at all.

“I look to Jesus, who was respectful of religious leaders and the sabbath but not afraid of conflict when it came to prioritising the good of people,” said Korditschke, who was baptised Lutheran, converted to Catholicism aged 16 and has no plans to return.

“I don’t see myself at odds with the Catholic Church and, unlike Martin Luther, I pray every day for the pope and serve my church. This is my home.”

After lighting a fuse in Germany two years ago, Kötter sees neither the structural means nor political appetite for reform among German Catholic bishops. She dismisses the synodal path as a “simulation”.

“They haven’t heard the sign of the times, the demands for change. Their ears are trained to hear nothing except their own hymns.”

Complete Article HERE!

Author of explosive book about gay priests discusses homophobia and hypocrisy in the Catholic Church

Declan Henry shares the journey to creating ‘Forbidden Fruit: Life and Catholicism in Contemporary Ireland’.

by Peter Dunne

Declan Henry’s new book, Forbidden Fruit, speaks to gay priests about the hypocrisy and homophobia of the Catholic Church. It also looks at the issues, which he writes, have led to the crumbling of a once-mighty institution. Declan speaks about the creation of the book, the high percentage of gay priests in the Church and how he, as a gay man and a Catholic, has managed to reconcile his faith.

What was the impetus for writing your book?

“I wanted to explore the changing face of Catholicism in Ireland over the past 30 years post the cleric abuse scandals. I want to find out why the Church has never adequately addressed the reasons why paedophilia occurred among priests – and question if this malaise is still present – and why. I wanted to explore the hypocrisy of the church towards gay people – given that such a high percentage of Catholic priests are gay. I also wanted to explore compulsory celibacy and question if it is emotionally healthy to expect any man – gay or straight – to live a life devoid of intimate personal relationships and sex.”

Did your research surprise you?

“I met two very different – yet both happy priests during my research. One was an openly gay (celibate) priest in Dublin who is much loved and respected by his parishioners for being so honest. The other was a married priest in London (converted from the Anglican Church many years ago). It was so refreshing to be shown around his church and to be introduced to his wife and children. This clearly showed two things – a) that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being gay and a priest… b) being a married Catholic priest is not the slightest deterrent in fulfilling the role of a priest.”

Declan continued, “Research last year from the French author (Frederick Martel) found that 80% of the Vatican’s top clergy are gay. And yet, despite these high statistics, the Catholic Church is very homophobic. Why?”

How do you balance your affinity for the Catholic Church alongside your findings?

“I believe that most people in the LGBT+ community must transcend their belief system beyond the Catholic Church and find their own faith, their own God, their own Jesus. In the end, this is not too hard to do. Remember that you can read all the Gospels and you will find that Jesus never once condemned homosexuality.”

“In one sense, I smile when I think back about my earlier years growing up gay in Ireland – how vulnerable I was, how naïve I was. In the book, I recall how once I was feeling down and went to see a priest – but he refused to see me because he had just started to prepare his dinner. His dinner was far more important to him than seeing me. And so, I left and never returned. But I’m lucky. I left all that behind. I’ve had a good life, so any bitterness is forgotten. But there was pain and rejection. On one hand you had this unrivalled sense of belonging but on the other hand rejection, fear, shame and guilt for being gay.”

Do you believe the Catholic Church has alienated LGBT+ people to the point of pushing them from their faith?

“Yes, absolutely. Pope after Pope has helped to reinforce this message. Take the current Pope for example – he is not a stupid man, he is well informed and very knowledgeable about what is going on around him, yet he can say the most foolish of things. In December 2018 he stated, ‘There is no place for gay priests in the clergy’. Who is he trying to fool when the horse has well and truly bolted on that one?!”

“The truth is the church is full of homosexuals at every level. But unfortunately, most of these gay priests have a very unhealthy attitude towards their own sexuality – which is not alone very damaging to themselves but damaging to the wider LGBT+ community.”

Complete Article HERE!

German bishops declare that homosexuality is completely and utterly ‘normal’

In a groundbreaking move, German bishops have revised teachings on sexual morality and said homosexuality is “normal”.

Pope Francis meets with German bishops during their ad limina visit Nov. 20, 2015.

By Josh Milton

As the Catholic Church prepares for its contended review, the Commission for Marriage and Family of the German Bishops’ Conference came to the consensus that being gay is a “normal form of sexual predisposition.”

Moreover, church organisers committed to “newly assessing” topics such as sacraments of ordination and marriage, with another revision being that adultery will not longer “always be qualified as grave sin”, the Catholic News Agency reported.

For centuries, Church leaders have been rattled by the thought of people being sexualities other than heterosexual. But as public attitudes and governments overwhelmingly sway in favour of letting the LGBT+ community exist, the church has steadily caught up to speed.

German bishops call for homophobia to be ‘rejected’ in the church.

The German Catholic Church’s statement comes ahead of a two-year ‘Synodal Process’ by the Germans which will see a national reform consultation. Although, Vatican leaders have warned against this.

In a press release detailing the conclusions of the conference, it detailed how a panel of bishops, sexologists, moral theologians and canon lawyers deliberated how to discuss “the sexuality of man […] scientifically-theologically, and how to assess it ecclesiastically.”

The experts, consisting of bishops from four diocese, agreed in the Berlin conference that “human sexuality encompasses a dimension of lust, of procreation, and of relationships”, the release stated.

“There was also agreement that the sexual preference of man expresses itself in puberty and assumes a hetero- or homosexual orientation. Both belong to the normal forms of sexual predisposition, which cannot or should be be changed with the help of a specific socialisation.”

The panel also said that “any form of discrimination of those persons with a homosexual orientation has to be rejected.”

However, the panel did not reach a consensus across all battle lines. There was no consensus on “whether the magisterial ban on practiced homosexuality is still up to date.”

Furthermore, the experts also disagreed on whether or not both married and unmarried people should be allowed to use artificial contraceptives.

Complete Article HERE!

Pope Francis, the Revolutionary, Takes On the Traditionalists

A three-week conference that prioritized the environment highlights a culture war in the Catholic Church.

Pope Francis leads a Mass to close a three-week synod of Amazonian bishops at the Vatican, October 27, 2019.

By

Pope Francis has helped open the door to allowing married men to become priests, albeit in just one region of the Amazon for now. He has made environmentalism a major focus of his papacy. Yesterday he gave a shout-out to Greta Thunberg and thanked journalists for doing their jobs, rather than calling them enemies of the people. He’s decried income inequality and nationalism and spoken out on behalf of gay people, Muslims, immigrants, and the poor.

This pastoral approach has made him one of the clearest and most humane voices crying out in the wilderness today. Has it also made him a revolutionary?

Yesterday, Francis wrapped up a month-long synod, or meeting of bishops, at the Vatican dedicated to the Amazon, a region the bishops called “a wounded and deformed beauty, a place of suffering and violence.” Their list of recommendations to the pope is nothing less than an environmentalist manifesto, in which they recommended that destroying the environment should be considered a sin. (Their requests are nonbinding but set a tone; Francis said he will try to respond to them before the end of the year.)

The bishops also asked Francis to lift the 1,000-year-old ban on priestly celibacy to allow married men who are already ordained as deacons to become priests in some areas of the Amazon. There, a priest shortage means the faithful can go for long stretches without receiving Communion and other sacraments that only priests can deliver. This could very well revolutionize the Church worldwide. If a door opens in one country, it might open in another. (Or it could be limited to the Amazon.)

Francis’s method, and the method of the synod, is one of listening and reflection, then some consensus, and charting a path forward through discernment. The path Francis has been taking, though, leads directly into a larger culture war, one that pits progressives against traditionalists.

And so the synod offered ample opportunity for Francis’s many vocal critics—including conservative Catholics in the United States, who are intertwined with the political right—to accuse the pope of breaking orthodoxy and watering down Church doctrine, such as the bishops’ recommendations to allow more room for indigenous traditions in Catholic ritual. These critics also see Francis’s papacy as flirting dangerously with paganism, pantheism, and even Marxism, because they view the pope’s emphasis on attending to the poor as often at odds with the exigencies of global capitalism.

The environment was the central focus of the meeting. In their final document, the bishops warned of the risks of deforestation, which they said now put almost 17 percent of the Amazon forest in danger, and also of the displacement of indigenous groups because of the deforestation. “Attacks on nature have consequences for the lives of peoples,” they wrote.

They defined what they called “ecological sins of commission or omission against God, against one’s neighbor, the community and the environment.” They called these “sins against future generations … manifest in acts and habits of pollution and destruction of the harmony of the environment, transgressions against the principles of interdependence and the ripping of network of solidarity among creatures and against the virtue of justice.”

In practical terms that means better coordination in the region for advocacy against environmental catastrophes, such as toxic spills related to mining, Bishop David M. De Aguirre Guinea, one of two special secretaries overseeing the synod, said at a news conference yesterday. “This has become part of the social doctrine of the Church, taking care of our common home,” he said.

Francis set the Amazon as the theme for the meeting three years ago, long before the devastating fires that swept through the region in August, the result of targeted deforestation to clear farmland. “The fires brought the thing home to us in a way that graphs or other visuals didn’t,” Cardinal Michael Czerny, a Canadian Jesuit and the other special secretary behind the synod, said. “If we insist on tearing up the trees and digging up the land because we can’t live without the metals and the gold and the wood for our fancy furniture, you can fill out the rest.”

Czerny is one of 13 new cardinals whom Francis appointed this month and who will one day elect his successor, the clearest way any pope shapes the future of the Church. Czerny, for instance, runs a Vatican office dedicated to migrants and refugees at the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, and his promotion is a clear sign of the importance Francis places on migration.

The pope also appointed other cardinals from the global South, making the College of Cardinals less white and less Italian. (One of the constant tensions of the Catholic Church is that it’s a global community of a billion souls governed at the top by an Italian village.)

Francis isn’t the first pope to open the door to some married priests. A decade ago, his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, created a special structure to allow married Anglican priests to join the Catholic Church. It was aimed at attracting Anglicans distressed by that Church’s ordination of women and gay priests, and it infuriated the then–Archbishop of Canterbury.

For the synod, Francis and the bishops framed the issue of married priests as stemming from a ground-up desire from some communities in the Amazon, not a top-down rule imposed by Rome, Alberto Melloni, the director of the John XXIII Foundation for Religious Studies in Bologna, told me. “It’s not a revolution,” he said. “It’s a late remedy to an evident call.”

The bishops didn’t vote to allow women to be ordained as deacons, but Francis, in his concluding remarks yesterday, said the Vatican would study the role of women in the early Church. “Women put out a sign that says, ‘Please listen to us, may we be heard,’ and I pick up that gauntlet,” the pope said to applause.

Francis also gave a special mention to Greta Thunberg, who has already become a kind of Joan of Arc for her time, and drawn no shortage of hatred—this month, police removed an effigy of Thunberg that had been hung from a bridge in Rome. In his concluding remarks yesterday, the pope spoke about the recent climate strikes by students around the world. “We’ve seen the demonstrations of young people, Greta and others, and they walk around saying ‘The future is ours, you can’t gamble with our future.’”

In one of the stranger sideshows of the synod, a handheld video circulated on a traditionalist Catholic website showing unidentified men removing several wooden figurines representing an Amazonian fertility figure from a Roman church and tossing the statuettes into the Tiber from the Ponte Sant’Angelo, lined with statues of angels and saints, against a perfect Roman sunrise. Some of Francis’s critics, such as Cardinal Gerhard Müller, a former head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s doctrinal office, seized on the video, and called the statuettes tantamount to idolatry. “The great mistake was to bring the idols into the church, not to put them out,” Müller said in an interview with an American conservative-Catholic TV channel, EWTN.

Francis, as bishop of Rome, apologized to his fellow bishops for the vandalism, and one of the statuettes was on view in the synod hall during the pope’s concluding remarks. A Mass today ending the synod included indigenous peoples from the Amazon. Francis’s approach to indigenous rites is “a very profound characteristic of the Jesuit missionary attitude,” Melloni told me, in which the Jesuits would try to convert native populations to Catholicism while also respecting the native traditions. “These rites express a culture and not a religion,” Melloni said.

But for Francis’s many critics, the statuettes, and the pope’s posing for photos in a feathered headdress, were further signs that the pope was watering down Church doctrine. These critics tend to be defenders of Benedict, a brainy disciplinarian who advocated a smaller, more doctrinally pure Church, rather than a more flexible and inclusive one.

“This synod is truly the most politically correct meeting of all time. It’s a relief that Greta Thunberg has not yet been chosen to be a cardinal,” Bishop Robert Mutsaerts of the Netherlands wrote in a blog post translated by LifeSite News, a conservative Catholic website that has been fiercely critical of Francis. “Is there anyone left who is actually worried about saving souls? But isn’t that why Christ died on the cross?”

“The bishops and cardinals are discussing the environment, the rise of the sea level; they are saying that above all, we should listen. They speak like politicians, using the same slogans, the same cheap rhetoric,” Mutsaerts wrote. Why? he asked. “It is not the specialty of the Church, it is not our core business and it is not our perspective.”

In the culture war between traditionalists and progressives over the future of the Church, the pope may be on the progressive, inclusive side, but his traditionalist critics have access to social media, which has an outsize influence in shaping perceptions. “We have a small, noisy minority and a large silent majority,” Melloni told me. “The noisy minority is struggling, with a certain success, to represent themselves as half of the Church, and they are not. They’re not even half the College of Cardinals, not even half the episcopate.”

In short, the Catholic Church on Twitter may not be the same as the Catholic Church writ large. Francis seems confident that he has the latter on his side, but will his efforts—on married priests, on environmentalism—spread beyond the Amazon?

Complete Article HERE!

Pope Francis Is Fearless

His papacy has been a consistent rebuke to American culture-war Christianity in politics.

“It’s an honor that Americans are attacking me,” Pope Francis said in September.

By John Gehring

The Rev. James Martin, one of America’s most prominent Catholic priests, is a best-selling author, film consultant to Hollywood producers and a prolific tweeter with a digital pulpit that reaches more than 250,000 followers. Father Martin is also a hero to many L.G.B.T. Catholics for challenging church leaders to recognize the full humanity of gay people. His advocacy has made him a target of vicious online campaigns from far-right Catholic groups. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia last month warned that Father Martin “does not speak with authority on behalf of the church.”

But this week, Father Martin’s ministry received an endorsement from the most authoritative of church offices. Pope Francis met with the priest, a Jesuit like the pope, during a private, half-hour conversation in the pope’s library, a place often reserved for discussions with heads of state and diplomats. In a tweet, Father Martin said he shared with Francis “the joys and hopes, and the griefs and anxieties, of L.G.B.T. Catholics and L.G.B.T. people worldwide.”

There is little doubt Pope Francis wanted the meeting advertised. Damian Thompson, associate editor of The Spectator, a London-based conservative magazine, tweeted that the pope’s meeting was “intended to taunt the U.S. conservatives that he demonizes.”

Despite that hyperventilating, Pope Francis has made it clear that he is not afraid of the small but increasingly vocal chorus of American critics who consider his pastoral efforts to reach out to L.G.B.T. people and divorced Catholics as near heretical breaks from church tradition. In September, a reporter asked Pope Francis about his right-wing critics in the United States. “It’s an honor that Americans are attacking me,” the pope told Nicholas Senèze, a French journalist who presented the pope with his new book, “How America Wanted to Change the Pope,” which chronicles efforts by conservatives in the United States to undermine the pope.

The pope’s meeting with Father Martin did more than serve as a signal of support for the priest’s advocacy on behalf of L.G.B.T. people. It was also emblematic of the Francis papacy, which has been a consistent rebuke to a style of culture-war Christianity that since the ascendance of the religious right in the United States during the 1980s has often been the default setting for American Christianity in politics.

Father Martin told a conference on families that gay Catholics are sometimes “treated like dirt.”

Since his election six years ago, Pope Francis has modeled a different brand of moral leadership: engaging and persuading, reframing contentious issues away from narrow ideologies and expanding moral imaginations. Last week, a gay theologian and priest who was dismissed from his religious order for expressing disagreement with the church’s teachings on same-sex relationships wrote that Pope Francis called him two years ago, gave him “the power of the keys,” a reference to being restored to ministry, and encouraged him to “walk with deep interior freedom, following the spirit of Jesus.”

The pope’s interior freedom and humility stand in stark contrast to other religious and political leaders on the world stage. When Donald Trump accepted the Republican nomination for president, he declared: “I am your voice. I alone can fix it.” In keeping with that megalomania, Mr. Trump surrounds himself with compliant evangelical courtiers like Robert Jeffress, the Dallas megachurch pastor, who view the president in messianic terms, a political savior. Mr. Trump turned to Mr. Jeffress this week, citing the pastor’s claim on Fox News that if the president is impeached, it will cause a “Civil War-like fracture in this nation from which this country will never heal.”

Pope Francis rejects this resurgence of Christian nationalism and warns against idolizing politicians.

As right-wing populists from the United States to Europe depict migrants as menacing threats and build walls, the pope continues to challenge what he calls a “globalization of indifference.” On Sunday, during a special Mass for the 105th World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Pope Francis unveiled an artistic monument to migration in St. Peter’s Square. The work depicts 140 migrants and refugees from various historical periods traveling by boat, a powerful visual counterpoint to the nativist winds blowing across both sides of the Atlantic.

And unlike the loudest anti-abortion voices on the Christian right who are so wed to the Republican Party that they ignore assaults on life inflicted by policies that exacerbate economic inequality, poverty and climate change, the pope insists that the “lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute” are as “equally sacred” as the unborn in the womb.

Culture warriors in the United States have done enough damage to our collective political and moral imagination. More intoxicated with power than faithful to the gospel, these religious leaders demonize L.G.B.T. people, turn their back on migrants fleeing danger and ignore the cries of the poor while claiming to defend Christian values. A humble but persistent pastor in Rome reminds us there is a different path for those of us who still believe in a faith that seeks justice.

Complete Article HERE!

Pope Francis May Not Change the World. But He Is Reshaping the Church.

Pope Francis at the Vatican in September. In a ceremony at St. Peter’s Basilica on Saturday, he will create 13 new cardinals who reflect his pastoral style and priorities.

By

Pope Francis and his push for openness — toward migrants, Muslims and gay people — may no longer have influence on a global stage where nationalists, populists and the far right dominate the political conversation.

But inside the church is another story.

In a ceremony at St. Peter’s Basilica on Saturday, Francis will create 13 new cardinals who reflect his pastoral style and priorities on a range of issues, including migration, climate change, the inclusion of gay Catholics, interreligious dialogue and shifting church power away from Rome to bishops in Africa, Asia and South America.

The appointments are a landmark for Francis, who now reaches a tipping point of influence to shape the future church in his image. After Saturday, Francis will have named more than half of the voters within the College of Cardinals, where a two-thirds majority of those under the age of 80 are required to elect his successor.

The longer Francis lives, the more his pontificate matters.

“The longer it lasts, the more there will be cardinals in the spirit of Pope Francis,” said Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, who will be one of those made a cardinal this weekend.

Francis has by now made his agenda abundantly clear. Unlike his predecessors, who cracked down on dissent and promoted bishops and cardinals who emphasized fealty to church doctrine, Francis wants an inclusive church that welcomes back into the fold Catholics who felt geographically, pastorally and ideologically alienated. That mission has earned him the enmity of church conservatives, especially in the United States, who feel he is diluting the church’s teaching for the sake of a cheap embrace.

Francis will be 83 in December, and given his age, he has from the start of his papacy six years ago approached the role with a certain urgency, often acknowledging his own mortality.

Though his voice does not seem to carry as far in the world as it once did in an era of populist and right-wing politics, his effect within the church may be lasting.

“The longer it lasts, the more there will be cardinals in the spirit of Pope Francis,” said Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, who will be made a cardinal on Saturday.

By appointing cardinals and more than a thousand bishops on the front lines of the faith, Francis is reconstituting a church in his image. It is one that decentralizes power from Rome to the bishops around the world, that is willing to work through the challenges of the modern world together with other faiths, and with atheists.

While liberal critics argue he has not moved fast enough to reform the church — especially when it comes to the role of women — his supporters note that he is at the least willing to talk about and reconsider church policy on married priests, and its stance toward homosexuality and celibacy.

More concretely, he has reshaped the College of Cardinals, making it less white, less Italian and less representative of the Roman curia, the bureaucracy that governs the church.

Instead, he has looked to the church’s newer franchises. He has made it more Latin American, Asian and African. The new appointees among the cardinals will include prelates from Morocco, Indonesia, Guatemala and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

And tellingly for a pontiff with a tense relationship with conservative opponents in the United States, he has again passed over America’s traditional feeder schools for the College of Cardinals, especially those occupied by conservatives.

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, a vocal critic of Francis, reached the retirement age of 75 in September without receiving a cardinal’s red hat. He is not expected to be asked to stay on for much longer.

Conservatives in the powerful American church have argued that Francis’ emphasis on pastoral openness is eroding the doctrine of the faith.

His backers say that at least he lets them speak out, and that under John Paul II and Benedict XVI, his conservative predecessors, theological critics were censored.

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, right, a vocal critic of Francis, reached the retirement age of 75 this week without receiving a cardinal’s red hat.

Francis has instead moved them out of power, ignored their complaints and mostly shrugged off their threats to break away.

“I pray that there are no schisms,” he said last month. “But I am not scared.”

Archbishop Hollerich, 61 and a Jesuit, like Francis, is president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union and is one of the church’s most vocal opponents of nationalism.

When it comes to Francis’ vision, he and his fellow new cardinals, “follow the same line,” he said.

He said that Francis was clearly against the traditionalist efforts to restore a Catholic society separate from the world. The attempts by his opponents to slow Francis down, he said, would backfire.

“The more he gets attacked,” Archbishop Hollerich said of Francis, “the more free he becomes.”

The day after Francis elevates the new cardinals, he will inaugurate a major meeting of bishops on the subject of the Amazon.

One of the major questions is whether to allow older married men with grown children and a strong standing in the Church — known as “viri probati” or proven men — to join the priesthood and administer sacraments to Catholics in remote areas that hardly ever see a priest.

Some conservatives worry it is a step on a slippery slope toward undoing priestly celibacy.

One of those running the conference on the Amazon is the Rev. Michael Czerny, 73, a Czech-born Canadian Jesuit that Francis will make a cardinal on Saturday.

Father Czerny, a close collaborator of Francis, declined to talk about the substance of the Amazon synod, except to say that “everything is on the table.”

But broadly speaking, he said the result of a College of Cardinals shaped by Francis was a willingness to take up difficult issues “in a way, in a style, in a spirit” consistent with the Second Vatican Council.

The Second Vatican Council in the 1960s spurred a spirit of openness in the church.

That landmark meeting of the world’s bishops in the 1960s spurred a spirit of openness in the church. It re-examined issues like its liturgy, the language in which people pray and priestly celibacy, which is not a question of doctrine but of church tradition dating back nearly 1,000 years.

But that opening triggered a backlash from conservatives that has lasted nearly a half-century.

Now, speaking about the possibility of ordaining married men, Archbishop Hollerich said if bishops in one part of the world say they need it, “I think the universal church should consider that request.”

While he personally considered celibacy a “great gift” for the priesthood, he added, that “does not mean it should be perhaps the only way.” He said he was far from alone in such views.

And Francis elevated other bishops considered open to change.

Archbishop Matteo Zuppi of Bologna, 64, is the only new Italian cardinal in a college Italy once dominated. His grand uncle was a cardinal once considered a candidate for pope, but the archbishop takes after Francis, dedicating much of his time to the poor.

In 2015 the pope chose him to replace Cardinal Carlo Caffarra in Bologna, a stalwart of Catholic conservatism who publicly doubted Francis’ teaching.

Archbishop Zuppi has come under criticism from the conservative wing of the church for writing an introduction to a book about reaching out to gay Catholics. On Monday, Francis infuriated those conservatives by granting a private audience to the book’s author, the Rev. James Martin, who later said the meeting showed Francis’ “deep pastoral care for L.G.B.T. Catholics.”

In an interview, Archbishop Zuppi said the pope’s new cardinals showed that Francis wanted a “missionary” church that “doesn’t close in on itself.”

The new cardinals, he said, will help the church live “in our present.”

What he and the other cardinals do now will be critical for success in the future, which the church believes lies in Africa, Asia and South America, where the competition with evangelical Christians is fierce. Francis, history’s first South American pope, has consistently sought to elevate cardinals in the global south.

Archbishop Matteo Zuppi of Bologna, 64, is the only new Italian cardinal in a College of Cardinals once dominated by Italians.

“The pope wants to give his priority to the peripheries,” Bishop Fabien Raharilamboniaina of Madagascar said in Antananarivo, the capital, where Francis appointed a cardinal last year. “Because this is the future of the church.”

Francis’ visit to Africa, like much of his recent travel, has generated less interest than his earlier trips. Archbishop Zuppi acknowledged that Francis was perhaps having less effect on the global stage.

“The pope is often, unfortunately, not listened to” in the secular world, he said. “This is a problem.”

But he argued that Francis’ influence may be more long term than immediate.

Father Czerny did, too. He said that while the pope stayed committed to his core issues, as the unveiling of a new sculpture of migrants in St. Peter’s Square attested, on a global scale it was hard to see Francis’ impact.

The problems the world faced required a grass-roots mobilization that the pope led among his flock of 1.3 billion, he added.

On the issue of climate change, for example, he said churches around the world had heard the pope’s message and were changing their behavior, whether it be recycling or planting trees or saving water.

“There is more good news than appears,” he said.

But the spiritual realm remains the one where Francis has the most influence. Some analysts suggested he would change as much as he could in the church while he held office, given that, no matter how many cardinals he appointed, there was no guarantee that the next pope would follow in his footsteps.

Some of the new cardinals hail from a much more conservative African and Asian culture.

“It’s not automatic that a conservative College of Cardinals elects a conservative pope or vice versa,” said Sandro Magister, a veteran Vatican expert. “Francis was elected by cardinals who were appointed by two conservatives like John Paul II and Benedict XVI.”

Even Father Czerny, who gets his own vote next week, agreed.

“The person who is elected by the last conclave chooses the people who are probably going to be the majority of electors in the next one,” he said. “This has happened for 2,000 years and the popes don’t all turn out the same. As we’ve noticed.”

Complete Article HERE!

Women priests could help the Catholic Church restore its integrity. It’s time to embrace them

History and the Bible provide good reasons why women should be in positions of authority in the Catholic Church.

By

In the wake of the royal commission into child sexual abuse, Christian churches in this country need not only radical reform of their principles and practices, but also ways of recovering their integrity. For the Catholic Church, with its patriarchal structures, ordaining women to the priesthood is one way to achieve this.

In 2016, Pope Francis appointed a commission to report on women in the early church, asking the question of whether women could be ordained as deacons. (Deacons are the first level of ordination in the Catholic Church before priesthood.)

Now the pope has said the commission was divided on the issue. The commission agreed there were women deacons in the early church, but disagreed on whether they had any power. The pope has handed the report to a gathering of the heads of female religious orders, and may call the commissioners back for further input.

Note that, in all this, the Catholic Church has not even begun to debate the question of whether women can be priests (the second and more powerful level of ordination in the church). Yet if we look closely at the Bible and the history of the church, there are very good reasons why women should hold these positions of high authority.

As the mother and grandmother of Catholic children, it pains me that women cannot be ordained in the Catholic Church. I can tell my grandson that he might think about becoming a Catholic priest when he grows up, but I cannot say the same to my granddaughters.

As an Anglican priest, I have seen ordained women of extraordinary capacity working in the Anglican Church and exercising authority. I know women deacons, women priests and women bishops, and can testify to the marvellous work of ministry they are doing.

I also know scores of Catholic women who would make truly remarkable priests. They are loving, self-giving, intelligent and responsible, with spiritual depth and wisdom. They would do much to restore the church’s integrity.

Pope Francis at the weekly general audience in Saint Peters Square, Vatican City, in June 2019.

Idolatry of maleness

The main argument used in the Catholic hierarchy to exclude women from priesthood is that, to represent Christ at the altar in Mass, the priest must be male. The priest stands in for Jesus and therefore has to have a “natural resemblance” to him, and that resemblance is his maleness.

Opponents to women priests also claim that, at the Last Supper, Jesus ordained the 12 male apostles and no women. In subsequent church tradition, they say, women were never priests and to ordain them now would make the church contradict its own tradition.

Yet there are a number of arguments, from within the church’s own theological framework, that strongly support the ordaining of women as priests. At the most basic level, the church baptises (christens) females as well as males; there is no gender barrier around baptism. This has enormous implications.

In baptism, a person takes on something of the identity of the Risen Christ. He or she now belongs to Christ in a unique way. Not only are they committed to living a Christlike life of love and justice, they are also able to represent Christ in loving service to others. Yet supposedly only at the altar are they unable to represent Christ!

Jesus was not only male but also Jewish. Priests in the Catholic Church are not required to be Jews, but can represent Christ from widely divergent ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

Maleness, in other words, is given a significant weighting over all other social and cultural differences, including femaleness. In this sense, this belief represents an idolatry of maleness – an exalting of male over female, despite the inclusive impetus of baptism and despite the fact that, in creation, women as well as men are made equally in God’s image. The “natural resemblance” to Christ that is needed is not maleness but rather humanness.

Biblical scholars, moreover, have argued that Jesus ordained no-one in his lifetime: neither at the Last Supper nor anywhere else. It is even possible that women were present at this event.

There is compelling evidence that women, in the ministry of Jesus and the early church, held positions of leadership and authority. Mary Magdalene was the first to meet the risen Christ and the first to proclaim its message to the other disciples; the later church called her the “apostle of the apostles”.

We find references in the New Testament to a female deacon (Phoebe), to a female apostle (Junia) and to a host of women who were leaders in ministry. The same is true for the early centuries where there is evidence of women deacons and priests, and even of a female bishop.

The exclusion of women from leadership in the church came at a later date (possibly in the fourth century and later in some places) when it lost something of its radical beginnings, inherited from Jesus. Here the argument from tradition – that women never were ordained or held positions of leadership – simply does not hold.

Change is necessary

The Catholic Church believes that tradition is dynamic: unfolding and developing throughout history (this was most famously articulated by John Henry Cardinal Newman in 1845). New perspectives and understandings can and do come in new contexts. The ordination of women belongs arguably in this category of new and emerging truths.

In a number of Anglican churches, particularly in places where terrible abuse occurred in the past, the appointment of senior, ordained women has had a vital role to play in reforming and transforming the church.

Women’s ordination is necessary in the current climate of the Catholic Church. There is no better time for it to happen than now. It will confirm, in ways beyond mere words, the church’s determination to move beyond the sins of the past. It will mean a significant move beyond the old structures where only men made decisions and a protective boys’ club existed within leadership.

This is not a call coming only from outside the Catholic Church. Many of the faithful within believe the same thing, and Catholic women in places such as Ireland and Germany are becoming more vocal and organised in their fight for women’s ordination.

In Australia, too, there are Catholic women working to be heard on the issue, supported by both laity and priests. Now is the time for something new to emerge from the ashes of the past.

Complete Article HERE!

What lessons can the clergy sex abuse crisis draw from a 4th-century church schism?

Following the recent revelations about sex abuse, many Christian communities are facing a crisis of trust.

By

A string of sex abuse scandals have rocked Christian communities recently: In the Roman Catholic Church, revelations related to sex abuse by priests continue to unfold across the globe. Within the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., media reports have brought into public view allegations of sexual abuse dating back decades.

These scandals stand alongside abuses by prominent male church officials that have occurred in independent Christian communities, such as Harvest Bible Chapel, Willow Creek Community Church and Mars Hill Church.

Such scandals have led to widespread doubts about church officials and institutions. And this is not for the first time. As a scholar of early Christianity, I know that in the fourth century, Christian churches in North Africa faced a similar crisis of trust in their leaders.

Known as the Donatist controversy, it caused a schism that lasted for centuries and offers a parallel for thinking about the impact of these crises on contemporary Christian communities today.

Traitors during Christian persecution

Christians in the Roman Empire occasionally experienced periods of imperial persecution. These periods were often memorialized in Christian tradition through stories of famous martyrdoms. The stories often portrayed Christians as courageous and virtuous in the face of imperial violence.

The most infamous period of persecution occurred in the early fourth century A.D. Spearheaded by the emperor Diocletian, it was also the final imperially sponsored persecution of Christian communities.

While persecutions were sporadic, local and rare, they often put difficult choices before Christian clergy and laity.

Some renounced Christianity. Others handed over sacred books or church property and outed fellow Christians to the authorities. Christians called the latter “traditores,” a Latin term meaning “those who handed over,” the root of the word “traitor.”

Whether and how to welcome such traditores back into Christian communities after the persecutions was a topic of intense debate among Christians.

Traditores were considered to have betrayed their communities to save themselves. This sense of betrayal was particularly felt with respect to clergy members who had become traditores.

The issue came to a head in A.D. 311 in North Africa when Caecilian, the bishop of Carthage, became embroiled in controversy after it was alleged that one or more of the bishops who presided at his consecration had been traditores.

In the eyes of many Christians in North Africa, Caecilian’s virtues did not matter. The presence of a traditor among those who ordained him invalidated his ordination.

The Donatist schism

Caecilian was supported politically and financially by the imperial administration. Caecilian’s opponents pressed their case in regional councils and before local magistrates.

They even appealed to the Emperor Constantine, who wrote in a letter to the Vicar of Africa in A.D. 314 that he had grown tired of receiving requests from Caecilian’s opponents.

Emperor Constantine

They brought charges, which ultimately proved to be false, against Felix of Aptunga, one of the bishops that had ordained Caecilian. Charges against other bishops soon followed.

In A.D. 313, Donatus was consecrated bishop of Carthage and became the leading voice of Caecilian’s opponents. These “Donatists,” as they came to be called, created their own massive network of churches that stood in opposition to those allied with Caecilian and the Roman state.

Constantine soon grew fed up with the Donatists and the schism that they had created in the church. From A.D. 316-321, Constantine used the force of the state to coerce the Donatists back into the fold.

Constantine’s attempts to intervene led to violence that resulted in the deaths of Donatist Christians. His intervention did little to end the schism. Constantine soon gave up state-sponsored persecution of the Donatists.

In A.D. 346, the Emperor Constans, who succeeded Constantine, tried again to end the schism. His agents used imperial funds to woo clergy back, but also used violence. Macarius, one of Constans’s agents, led a campaign of suppression, in which Christians killed other fellow Christians.

Macarius became infamous among Donatist communities. The Donatists considered those who died to be martyrs. These martyrs and their memory were celebrated by Donatist communities.

Donatus was said to have questioned the very role of the emperor in the controversy, saying, “What has the emperor to do with the church?”

By the fifth century, Donatist churches were thriving and sparring with Catholics. And Donatist churches remained active in North Africa until the Islamic conquests of the seventh century.

Donatist beliefs

The Donatists believed the sins of traditores risked the salvation of individual members and the health of the community.

“How,” they asked, “could sacraments administered by an offending priest be recognized by a holy God?” And if those sacraments were not effective, the salvation of the individual and the community were at risk. For the Donatists, only sacraments performed by uncompromised clergy were effective.

Augustine and Donatists

In their attempts to respond to Donatist critique, the Catholic Church settled on a strategy developed by Augustine, an influential fifth-century Catholic bishop in North Africa.

Augustine, who describes the sparring between Donatists and Catholics in his writings, argued that the sacraments were effective regardless of the morality of the clergy involved – a church doctrine known as “ex opere operato.” He said that as the sacraments were the work of Christ, they did not depend on the moral character of the officiating priest.

What can be learned today

Today, in the face of the sex abuse crisis, contemporary Christian communities find themselves asking questions about institutions that condoned, hid and promoted abusive clergy.

This might be a moment to revisit the Donatist critique. They created their own churches because they feared not only for the efficacy of the sacraments but also for the character of a church that made it too easy for traditores to continue to remain leaders.

Widespread sexual abuse by Christian clergy represents a very different crisis from that faced by the betrayal of the traditores.

However, I believe the Donatists offer a lesson for Christian communities about the risks to the integrity and cohesion of institutions when they shield the abuser rather than protect the victims.

Complete Article HERE!