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Pope Francis: God forgets our sins after confession

Vatican City, Sep 15, 2019 / 07:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said Sunday that God forgets sins absolved within the confessional.

“How do you defeat evil? Accepting God's forgiveness … It happens every time we go to confession; there we receive the love of the Father who overcomes our sin. It is no longer there, God forgets it,” Pope Francis said in his Angelus message Sept. 15.

“God, when He forgives, loses His memory. He forgets our sins, forgets. God is so good with us,” he added in a departure from his prepared remarks.

In the sacrament of confession, God completely erases the evil confessed, making one new inside, reborn in joy, Pope Francis explained.

“Brothers and sisters, have courage. With God, no sin has the last word,” the pope said.

Pope Francis reflected upon Sunday’s Gospel from Luke in which the Pharisees complain that Jesus “welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

“Jesus 'welcomes sinners and eats with them.' This is what happens to us, in every Mass, in every church: Jesus is happy to welcome us to his table, where he offers Himself for us,” Pope Francis said.

“It is a phrase that we could write on the doors of our churches: 'Here Jesus welcomes sinners and invites them to his table,’” he added.

The pope focused on the lessons of God’s mercy and justice contained within Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. He said that the elder brother’s rejection of the father’s mercy for the prodigal son contains an important warning.

“The eldest son, who does not accept the mercy of his father ... makes a worse mistake: he is presumed to be just … and judges everything on the basis of his thought of justice,” he said. “It is also a risk for us: to believe in a more rigorous than merciful god, a god who defeats evil with power rather than forgiveness.”

“We are also wrong when we believe ourselves to be right, when we think that the bad ones are the others. Let us not believe ourselves good because alone, without the help of God who is good, we do not know how to overcome evil,” Pope Francis said.

“Our Lady, who unties the knots of life, frees us from the pretense of believing we are righteous and makes us feel the need to go to the Lord, who is always waiting for us to embrace us, to forgive us,” he said.

After praying the Angelus, Pope Francis expressed his joy because of two beatifications this weekend. Benedetta Bianchi Porro, an Italian laywoman, who died in 1964 of a lifelong illness at the age of 28, was declared blessed on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

At her beatification Sept. 14, Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu called Porro a shining example of “what the cross can and must be for us Christians.”

On Sept. 15, Father Richard Henkes will be beatified in Limburg, Germany. Henkes was a Pallottine priest, who died a prisoner in the Nazi concentration camp in Dachau in 1945 while caring for sick prisoners in the camp.

“The example of these two brave disciples of Christ also supports our journey to holiness,” Pope Francis said.

“Don't be afraid: God loves you, loves you as you are,” the pope said. “Only His love can change your life.”

A bowl of soup, and a chance for compassion

Elmira, NY, Sep 14, 2019 / 04:25 am (CNA).- For nearly 15 years, a Catholic charity in south-central New York has sold ceramic bowls to raise both money for a local food pantry and awareness about the problem of homelessness in the region.

Catholic Charities of Chemung and Schuyler Counties is preparing for its 14th annual Empty Bowls Luncheon on Oct. 15, where donors will eat soup and hear the stories of homelessness.

Lindsay Baker, director of development for Catholic Charities in the area told CNA that the project informs people on poverty statistics and provides them with a souvenir bowl as a reminder of all the “empty bowls in the community.”

The project is a major event for the region. Local artists, including high-schoolers and students and faculty from nearby Elmira College, handcraft commemorative bowls for the luncheon.

“[We have partnered] with our local potters. They create commemorative bowls for each participant to take home with them. It’s meant to be a reminder of hunger in the community,” Baker said.

Most of the bowls are made by professional artisans, like Gene Carr, a local artist who helps each year with the pottery. Bowls are also made by two Elmira professors - Doug Holtgrewe, a former teacher of ceramic, and Chris Longwell, a professor of art. So far, they have made more than 200 bowls for the event.

Participants choose a custom-created bowl when they enter the luncheon, and are served soup from a local deli. Baker said last year the soup was chicken noodle and pumpkin squash.

“The idea is that you are satisfied but you are not stuffed. It’s a hunger awareness event so you may not leave extremely full, but people leaving the soup kitchen don’t always leave full too,” she told CNA.

During the event, those who have been homeless, or whose family members have been homeless, tell their stories.

“Last year, we had a woman share her story. Her son had been in a homeless shelter and he’s a heroin addict. She talked about the struggle she went through and how Catholic Charities met him where he is at and how is on a much better path,” Baker said.

She said the testimonies are a cause for personal reflection, but they’re also fun.

During lunch this year, Baker will read three testimonies from community members who have struggled with poverty. After the three people gather on stage, the crowd will guess which story belongs to whom.

She said the testimonies emphasize the work of Catholic Charities and the success of people who have overcome homelessness. She said stories help contextualize the reality of poverty because the testimonies are from ordinary people in the local community.

“I think this is one of the few events that highlight that it can happen to anybody. We have community members, we have volunteers, we have donors who will share their story. It’s not just somebody else’s problem. It’s actual human beings you can see.”

Proceeds will go to the Samaritan Center, an emergency shelter and a food pantry for homeless families and individuals. According to Catholic Charities, $40, the cost of a single ticket, will allow the organization to feed a family for a week, and $320, the cost for a table of eight, will cover the cost to temporarily shelter 15 people.

Baker said the event is a force for good in the region. She said the project is not only a fundraiser for the Samaritan Center, but it also promotes mental healthcare and awakens people to a reality which is often neglected.

“I think people are kind of numb to the reality of what life is like for some people,” she said. “[This event], in a nice way, slaps them in the face and tells them what life is like. People really leave moved. They have a better appreciation for what is going on behind the scenes.”

Violence, displacement on the rise in Sahel region of Africa

Washington D.C., Sep 14, 2019 / 12:00 am (CNA).- Catholic Relief Services is warning of increasing violence and displacement in the Sahel— the vast area of western and north-central Africa stretching from Senegal to Sudan.

In 2018, more than 320,000 people in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger were forced to leave their homes, CRS reports. Burkina Faso, in particular, saw a four-fold increase in displaced persons since the start of this year.

“The increase of violent attacks has been devastating to so many families,” Jennifer Overton, CRS’ regional director for West Africa, said Sept. 12.

 “People are struggling not only to keep their families safe and together, but also to meet basic needs like food and shelter.”

Ethnic tensions in the region, as well as threats from extremist groups including al-Qaeda affiliates, have boiled over in recent months.

Attacks by jihadist groups have increased since 2015, and AFP reported that almost 400 people have been killed in the past four years. The groups include Ansarul Islam, the Group to Support Islam and Muslims, and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara.

Last December, the government of Burkina Faso declared a state of emergency in several northern provinces as a result of these ongoing attacks, Reuters reports.

Pope Francis has offered prayers for victims of attacks on Catholic churches in Burkina Faso, including a May 12 incident when a group of gunmen burned down a church building in Dablo while Mass was being celebrated, killing at least six people including a priest.

Four died in an April 5 attack on a parish in the Diocese of Dori. Fr. Joel Yougbaré, pastor of Djibo, was kidnapped in March. Six were killed in an April 29 attack on a Protestant church in Silgadji.

Several more attacks on Catholic Churches, with additional fatalities, took place at Catholic Churches in Burkina Faso in the weeks after that attack in early May.

“Let us unite our prayers for the repose in God of the martyrs, for a prompt recovery of the wounded, for the consolation of the weeping families, for the conversion of the tormentors and for peace in our country of Burkina Faso,” Bishop Justin Kientega of Ouahigouya said after a May 26 attack that killed four.

CRS is working the region to supply aid for those forced to leave their homes, in the form of clean water and sanitation services, food, shelter and household items, as well as long-term aid in the form of healthcare, education, and agricultural and peacebuilding projects, the group reported.

“Very simply, unless this trend is reversed, we risk losing so many development gains over the last decade,” Overton warned.

“The window to prevent this backsliding is rapidly closing and demands urgent attention from the international community.”

 

Missouri AG refers 12 former clerics for prosecution

St. Louis, Mo., Sep 13, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- Missouri attorney general Eric Schmitt released Friday a report on his investigation into sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clerics in the state, and referred 12 former clerics for potential criminal prosecution.

“Since I took office, one of my top priorities has been conducting a thorough, exhaustive review of allegations of abuse by clergy members in the Roman Catholic Church. Today, as a result of that review, we are announcing that we will refer 12 cases of alleged abuse to local prosecutors for further investigation and possible prosecution – more referrals than any other state attorney general,” Schmitt, who is a Republican and a Catholic, said Sept. 13.

He added that his office will assist any local prosecutors who want to pursue charges.

“Additionally, we’ve provided concrete recommendations to the Catholic Church moving forward,” he added. He noted that his “suggestions for reform” are “aggressive and substantive.”

The attorney general's office made five recommendations in its report, the first of which was that “the Church should assume greater responsibility and oversight over all religious order priests and priests visiting or relating from other dioceses to subject them to the same procedures and oversight with regard to youth protection and clergy abuse as if they were diocesan priests.”

The report said that dioceses have less oversight over religious priests than their secular counterparts, and stated: “this arrangement has prevented the AGO from conducting a complete review of religious order priests working in Missouri. The AGO has had to rely on the scant diocesan records provided to it regarding these priests, along with information gathered from victims presenting evidence relating thereto.”

“Before granting faculties to a religious order priest or a priest from another diocese, the IRB should complete a meaningful and thorough review of the prospective priest’s records, rather than simply accepting a simple attestation from another bishop or provincial,” the office said.

It also recommended that each diocese ensure its “Independent Review Board is composed entirely of lay people and its determinations of credibility and sanctions will be given authoritative weight with respect to the ability of an offending priest to minister in its diocese.”

The third recommendation was that dioceses review all claims of abuse from before the 2002 adoption of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, subjecting them to the Charter's standards.

The office said that when the review boards have found credible allegations against priests, this “should be publicly disclosed without delay.” It stated that an offending priest's age and health should not be considered a reason to forgo dismissal from the clerical state, and that dioceses “should advocate for reforms of the laicization process so that it may be completed within one year after the IRB makes its decision,” or that “discussions of reform within the church should include proposals for expediting the process of laicizing priests after the completion of a diocesan review of misconduct and the establishment of a complete corroborating factual record.”

Finally, the attorney general's office recommended that “a robust program on notification and supervision of priests removed from public ministry or from the clerical state should be undertaken.”

The report said it recommendations would “strengthen oversight and protect victims from future abuse.”

The Archdiocese of St. Louis said that it is “taking the Attorney General’s recommendations to the Catholic Church into careful consideration and will continue to evaluate and enhance our safe environment programs for the safety of all of our families.”

Bishop W. Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City commented that “it is my sincere hope the report assists the Catholic Church in Missouri in achieving our goals of accountability and transparency, while respecting the legal standards for privacy of all affected by the report.”

“I will take into consideration the recommendations from the report on how we can improve our efforts to keep our children safe and in healthy environments,” he added.

Schmitt's investigation was begun last year by his predecessor, Josh Hawley.

His office reviewed the personnel records of priests serving in the state's four dioceses dating back to 1945, and spoke to abuse victims or their families who contacted the office.

The investigation found credible allegations of 163 instances of sexual abuse or misconduct by diocesan clerics against minors. The offenses range from boundary violations, such as inappropriate discussion or correspondence, to forcible rape.

Of the credibly accused, 83 are dead. Of the remaining 80, 46 are past the statue of limitations for prosecution, 16 have already been referred for prosecution, 12 will be referred for prosecution, five have been or are being investigated by prosecutors, and one is still under investigation by the Church.

The instances of misconduct “overwhelmingly” occurred before 2002, the report notes, and since that year the dioceses in Missouri “have implemented a series of reforms that have improved their response to, and reporting of, abuse.”

It added, however, “that since 2002, the church has, on occasion, failed to meet even its own internal procedures on abuse reporting andreporting to law enforcement,” citing Bishop Robert Finn's failure for five months to report possession of child pornography by one of his priests. Finn resigned from office in 2015.

The report said that since 2002 “the church has generally taken a much more pastoral approach to engaging with victims and has, in most instances, promptly reported suspected abuse.”

The attorney general's office identified what it called “certain internal and systematic failures of the dioceses,” saying first that “there is no independent oversight of a bishop’s day-to-day implementation of church protocols. Bishops report to no one below the Pope in the hierarchy of the church and, while uncoordinated and sometimes overlapping networks of associations and working groups exist throughout the states, regions and country, there is simply no single source of outside oversight over each bishop and no means by which best practices are effectively implemented.”

It asserted that “the lack of independent oversight of the bishops’ implementation of protocols, as well as the lack of independent review of allegations against bishops themselves, remain significant impediments to reform and improved protections.”

Judgment reached in Knights of Columbus contract lawsuit

Denver, Colo., Sep 13, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- A federal jury concluded Thursday that the Knights of Columbus breached a verbal contract with a technology company that hoped to become a “designated vendor” for local councils and other organizations connected to the Catholic fraternal organization. The jury awarded plaintiff UKnight Interactive $500,000, far less than the $100 million its lawsuit petitioned for.

In a statement released Sept. 12, the Knights of Columbus said they were pleased that the jury saw the lawsuit as a “garden variety contract case,” and not the complex case of conspiracy or fraud alleged by the plaintiff.

In the course of litigation, the plaintiff alleged that the Knights of Columbus pad membership numbers, a charge the Knights of Columbus called “baseless.”

“As testimony and evidence during the trial revealed, the plaintiffs sought in this contract case to concoct a narrative about the manner and intent behind the way the Knights track its membership numbers. We defended ourselves vigorously against these false claims because we believe we owe it to the men who volunteer their time as members of this organization and to the many people who give generously to our charities to remove any doubt about the honesty, character and integrity of our organization,” the Knights of Columbus said.

UKnight Interactive first filed suit against the Knights of Columbus in 2017, claiming a verbal contract worth $100 million to UKnight had been broken, and that the fraternal organization used the company’s proprietary website design elements to seek contracts with other technology companies.

The Knights of Columbus denied that claim.

The Knights of Columbus, founded in 1882, are a Catholic fraternal and service organization, offering life insurance and other financial products to members. The organization began, in part, to provide insurance to Catholic immigrant laborers and their families. The Knights of Columbus claim nearly two million members worldwide, and announced in August that the organization gave $185.7 million in charity in 2018.

 

Bishop Bransfield's life of luxury

Wheeling, W.V., Sep 13, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- New details have emerged about the lavish lifestyle enjoyed by disgraced Bishop Michael Bransfield. Bransfield spent nearly one million dollars on private jets and over $660,000 on airfare and hotels during his 13 years as bishop of his former diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.

A new investigation by the Washington Post, published Sept. 12, reported that during his last year in active ministry, Bransfield took at least 19 trips in what was described as a chartered luxury jet. Those trips cost the diocese more than $142,000. 

In accord with canon law, Bransfield submitted his resignation as bishop of Wheeling-Charleston was to Pope Francis last September following his 75th birthday. It was accepted immediately.

Following his resignation, Pope Francis ordered Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore to conduct an investigation into allegations that Bransfield had sexually harassed adult males and misused diocesan finances during his time in West Viginia. 

Following that investigation, Lori banned Bransfield from public ministry within the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and Archdiocese of Baltimore in March, and the Vatican announced a series of sanctions in July. 

In addition to restrictions on publicly celebrating Mass within the diocese, Bransfield was also prohibited from living in his former diocese ordered to “make personal amends for some of the harm he caused.” These “personal amends” are to be determined by Bransfield’s successor, Bishop Mark Brennan, who took office on September 3, 2019. 

Other examples of financially irresponsible conduct highlighted by the report included a diocesean pilgrimage to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC,  which is just under a five-hour drive from St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Wheeling. Pilgrims who opted to spend the night in DC paid $190 each for bus, hotel, and breakfast, while others paid $30 for a day-trip ticket. 

Bransfield did not take the bus with the other pilgrims. Instead, he chartered a private plane for the 33-minute trip between Wheeling and Dulles International Airport, taking a limousine to and from the airport. Bransfield’s travel costs of nearly $7,000 were paid by the diocese. 

The Post also found that Bransfield had a pattern of travelling first-class when flying on commercial airlines and stays in luxury hotel suites - including a weeklong stay in The Colony Hotel’s “Presidential Penthouse” in January 2018 that cost the diocese $9,336. 

Bishop Bransfield told the Post that he was not the one who made the reservations at luxury hotels, and instead placed the blame on his staff. He declined to say who was responsible for making reservations. 

On trips to Europe, both for work and personal vacation, Bransfield stayed in luxury accommodation, and often travelling with young priests in their 20s. Bransfield was accused of sexual harassment by at least one of his travel companions. 

Some of the bishop’s travel was connected to his work with the Papal Foundation, the board of which he led until his retirement last year. 

Bransfield also spent thousands of dollars on jewelry and other clothing, including spending more than $60,000 of diocesean money at a boutique jeweler in Washington, DC during his time in office. 

In an interview with the Washington Post, Bransfield said that West Virginia was unable to provide “the lifestyle [he] lived in Washington.” 

The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston met the costs for Bransfield’s travels to visit his family, and much of his month-long stays on the Jersey Shore. The diocese paid for a $276 purchase at a liquor store, as well as a month-long car rental for $2,975. 

He also chartered a jet to and from the Jersey Shore to Washington, DC, for a meeting following the announcement that he was being investigated for financial improprieties. 

During Bransfield’s time as bishop, the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston either shut down or ceased funding more than 20 parishes and parochial schools.

Pope Francis: Tradition is ‘the guarantee of the future’

Vatican City, Sep 13, 2019 / 01:11 pm (CNA).- Fidelity to tradition ensures a fruitful future, Pope Francis said in a meeting Thursday with a contemplative-missionary community rooted in the spirituality of St. Augustine.

“To be modern, some believe that it is necessary to break away from the roots. And this is their ruin, because the roots, the tradition, are the guarantee of the future,” Pope Francis said Sept. 12.

In an audience with nearly 200 members of the General Chapter of the Discalced Augustinians, the pope explained that “true tradition” is like the roots that bring a tree sap that allows it to grow, flourish, and bear fruit.

“Never break away from your roots to be modern, that's suicide,” Francis told the Augustinians.

The Order of the Discalced Augustinians (OAD) was founded 1610 as a reform movement of the Order of St. Augustine (OSA), which dates back to 1244.

“In this long religious tradition begun by St. Augustine, you Discalced Augustinians have your roots,” the pope said. “I encourage you to love and deepen your roots again and again.”

“St. Augustine is one of those figures who make us feel fascinated with God, who attracts us to Jesus Christ and attracts us to the Word of God,” he said.

In addition to the normal vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, the contemplative-missionary order based on the Rule of St. Augustine takes a fourth vow of humility, which the order has chosen to emphasize and reflect upon this year with their motto: “Happy to serve the Most High in a spirit of humility.”

Pope Francis said that he is enthusiastic about their decision to focus on humility this year.

“Humility is a ‘key’, a key that opens the heart of God and the hearts of men,” he said.

“And, first of all, it opens your own hearts to be faithful to your original charism, to always feel yourselves disciple-missionaries, available to God's call,” he added.

Pope Francis said we are living in an age in which the mission ad gentes is being renewed, necessitating docility to the Holy Spirit.

“We must always be attentive and docile to the voice of the Spirit: He is the protagonist, it is He who makes the Church grow! Not us, Him. The Holy Spirit is the wind that blows and keeps the Church going with that great strength of evangelization,” he said.

Bishops say reducing refugee numbers 'wholly counter to our values'

Washington D.C., Sep 13, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- As the Trump administration reportedly considers further cuts to U.S. refugee admissions, the leader of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee has stated his opposition to any such plan.

Any “further reductions in the number of refugees” accepted into the U.S. “would be wholly counter to our values as a nation of immigrants,” Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration said on Friday, in a joint statement with conference president Cardinal Daniel DiNardo

The bishops were responding to reports by the New York Times that the White House is considering further reductions to U.S. refugee admissions from the current cap of 30,000, which is already the lowest cap on record for the U.S. refugee resettlement program.

Some of the reported considerations range from accepting zero refugees altogether, unless in case of emergency, to reducing the admissions cap to a range of 10-15,000. In July, POLITICO also reported that administration security officials had suggested in a meeting of lowering the cap on refugee admissions to 10-15,000, or even zero.

The administration’s previous ceiling for refugee admissions for FY 2018 was 45,000; in FY 2017, the Obama administration set the ceiling at 110,000 but the Trump administration instituted a freeze of the resettlement program, and ultimately admitted 53,716 refugees.

The current cap on refugee acceptance for the 2019 fiscal year is 30,000; as of August 31, the U.S. had accepted 28,062 refugees for FY 2019, according to State Department data.

“America welcomes refugees; that is who we are, that is what we do. Such reductions would undermine America’s leadership role as a global champion and protector of religious freedom and human rights,” Vasquez and DiNardo said.

They cited the Catholic Church’s history of helping resettle refuges in the U.S., “beginning with European refugees in the aftermath of World War I.”

“The 3.4 million refugees that America has welcomed since 1975 have paid billions of dollars in taxes, founded companies, earned citizenship, and bought homes at notably high rates,” the statement added.

“As the Catholic Church prepares to celebrate the World Day of Migrants and Refugees on September 29th, we are reminded of Pope Francis urging us all to work for a ‘globalization of solidarity’ with refugees, not a globalization of ‘indifference’,” they said.

Search for God should be 'first apostolate', Pope Francis tells Augustinians

Vatican City, Sep 13, 2019 / 11:47 am (CNA).- Pope Francis told members of a men’s religious order Friday that the first goal personally and in their apostolates should be an orientation of their hearts toward God, who is Love.

“Your hearts always reaching out to God. Always! Each member of the community should be oriented, as the first ‘holy purpose’ of every day, to the search for God,” the pope told about 150 members of the Order of Saint Augustine Sept. 13.

“This ‘direction’ should be declared, confessed, witnessed among you without false modesty,” he continued.

“The search for God cannot be obscured by other purposes, although generous and apostolic. Because that is your first apostolate. We are here – you should be able to say among yourselves every day – because we walk towards God. And because God is Love, we walk towards Him in love.”

Members of the Order of Saint Augustine, also referred to as Augustinians, live as mendicants directed by the Rule of St. Augustine. The order was gathered in Rome this week for its general chapter.

In the order’s audience with Pope Francis, he noted a writing of Fr. Agostino Trapè, now deceased, who was prior general of the Augustinians from 1965 to 1971.

Fr. Trapè wrote that according to the Rule of St. Augustine, “charity is not only the end and means of religious life, but it is also its center: from charity it must proceed and charity must be oriented, with a perennial movement of circular causality, every thought, every affection, every attitude, every action.”

Pope Francis advised thinking on a meditation St. Augustine once gave on the Church as “‘mater charitas,’ a mother who cries for the division of children and calls and calls for unity of charity.”

St. Augustine wrote to St. Jerome about the experience of charity in community, the pope noted. St. Augustine said he finds it “very natural to abandon myself entirely to the affection of such people, especially when I am oppressed by the scandals of the world: in their hearts I find rest free of concern, being convinced that there is God in it.”

“Dear brothers, this is also the challenge and responsibility for you today,” the pope urged, “to live in your communities in such a way as to make the experience of God together and be able to show it alive to the world!”

He explained that this is a big responsibility and asked them to focus on living their community life well, so that they can show God to the outside world “in a clear, courageous way, without compromise or hesitation.”

“You Augustinians have been called to bear witness to that warm, living, visible, contagious charity of the Church, through a life of community that clearly shows the presence of the Risen One and his Spirit,” he said.

He quoted his 2018 apostolic exhortation on the call to holiness in today's world, Gaudete et exsultate, saying, “Community life ... is made up of many small daily details ... The community that preserves the small details of love, where the members take care of each other and constitute an open and evangelizing space, is the place of the presence of the Risen One who is sanctifying it according to the plan of the Father.”

German bishops respond to Vatican intervention, but documents indicate ongoing disagreement

Vatican City, Sep 13, 2019 / 10:38 am (CNA).- The German bishops’ conference has responded to the Vatican’s intervention in preparations for a binding synodal process to be held in that country beginning in Advent. The conference said Friday that detailed criticisms from the Vatican’s legal department concerned older draft documents, and did not take into account changes made to the German plans.

But a review of conference documents indicates that issues flagged by the Vatican remained unaddressed by the German bishops’ draft statutes, provisionally approved Aug. 19, and still unchanged Aug. 30, 5 days before the Vatican’s intervention.

On Sept. 4, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, wrote to Cardinal Marx as head of the German bishops’ conference, expressing concerns at the German plans to form a Synodal Assembly as part of the “binding process” announced by Marx earlier this year.

CNA reported that the letter, and an accompanying four-page legal assessment of the German plans by the Pontifical Commission for Legislative Texts, expressed reservations about the German plans, especially the intention to consider and pass binding resolutions on matters of universal Church teaching and discipline.

On Sept. 13, the German bishops’ conference published both Ouellet’s letter and the accompanying legal assessment, but rejected the concerns expressed in them, saying the Vatican’s critique was not based on the current version of German plans.

“The opinion of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts addresses the draft version of the Statutes as of June 2019 and does not take into account the version updated July and after the Permanent Council meeting in August, which already no longer contains some passages to which the opinion refers,” a statement from the conference released said Friday.

Cardinal Marx will travel to Rome next week to meet with Ouellette and to “dispel any misunderstandings” about the German plans, the German bishops’ conference said Sept. 13.

Several key “misunderstandings” which could be addressed in that meeting appear to be reflected in the version of the synodal plan approved by the German bishops’ executive committee on Aug. 19.

That document, obtained by CNA, shows that nearly all provisions flagged as problematic by the PCLT assessment remain a part of the German bishops’ plans. 

The Vatican’s legal critique, dated Aug. 1, explained that both proposed content areas and the method proposed for addressing them exceed the German bishops’ authority.

The analysis draws attention to the intention that the Synodal Assembly pass resolutions on four areas concerning universal Church teaching and governance: “authority, participation, and separation of powers,” “sexual morality,” “the form of priestly life,” and “women in Church ministries and offices.” 
All four subject areas remain intact in the August version, passed by the executive committee.

The Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts' assessment also responded to the proposal that the synod would have deliberative power, saying that the German plan seemed to convene a particular council “but without using this term.”
 
“How can a particular Church deliberate in a binding way if the topics dealt with affect the whole Church?” asked Archbishop Filippo Iannone, head of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts.

“The episcopal conference cannot give legal effect to resolutions, this is beyond its competence,” his analysis said.

Despite the German bishops’ insistence that the Vatican had critiqued an earlier version of the proposed statutes, the version passed by the executive committee in August provides, in Article 3, that “The Synodal Assembly is the superior body and has deliberative power. Members of the synodal assembly have an equal right to vote in decision-making matters.”

Also retained in the August draft were provisions for the co-equal representation in the assembly for the German bishops' conference and the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK).

Iannone’s analysis said this particular arrangement would not be acceptable.

“There is an impression that the Episcopal Conference and ZdK are equal to each other: they send an equal number of participants, belong with equal rights to the presidency [of the Assembly], have a deliberative vote, and so on.”

“This parity between bishops and laity is not ecclesiologically valid,” Iannone concluded.

Another key point of concern in the Vatican’s assessment is the lack of Vatican involvement in ratifying any resolutions presented.

“Article 12, 2, determines with respect to the publication of decisions, that those which concern issues that are reserved to the Universal Church are to be transmitted to the Apostolic See. As has already been said, the aforementioned topics exceed the competence of a particular Church,” Iannone wrote, before drawing particular attention to the intent to “transmit” the decisions to Rome.

“One asks: what does it mean, ‘transmit’? Is it only a matter of making the deliberations known, or is it a request for the recognitio [formal approval] as foreseen for the decrees of a particular Council? The draft of the statutes leaves many open questions.”

In the revised draft, approved by the executive committee of the German bishops on Aug. 19, Article 11, 2, states that “Resolutions that concern issues that fall under the authority of the Universal Church will additionally be transmitted to the Apostolic See.”

The Friday statement from the German bishops’ conference said that PLCT concerns are largely moot after revisions made to the synodal statutes in “July and after the Permanent Council meeting in August.” But internal documents of the German bishops’ conference, obtained by CNA, say the most recent version of the statutes was “drafted Aug.1, 2019” with “no changes through Aug. 30, 2019.”

It is not known whether relevant changes were made between Aug. 31 and Sept. 4, when Ouellet sent his letter to Cardinal Marx.