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Jesuit priest responds to statement of pro-abortion Catholic members of Congress

Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), one of the signers of the "Statement of Principles" of Catholic House Democrats / ev radin/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Jun 24, 2021 / 12:40 pm (CNA).

A Jesuit priest and radio host on Thursday critiqued a recent statement by Catholic House Democrats, who had asked not to be denied Communion for their pro-abortion policy stances.

In a column published Thursday in the National Catholic Register, Fr. Robert McTeigue, SJ, host and producer of the radio show “The Catholic Current,” argued that appeals to “conscience” and the “common good” by pro-abortion Catholic members of Congress were faulty.

Key to this debate, he said, was a discussion of the U.S. bishops last week on “Eucharistic consistency,” the Church’s teaching on worthiness to receive Communion. At their annual spring meeting, held virtually this year, the bishops voted decisively to approve the drafting of a teaching document on the Eucharist.

Included in a proposed outline of the document was a subsection on Eucharistic consistency; the bishops’ doctrine committee, which proposed drafting the document, has said it would also include a “special call for those Catholics who are cultural, political, or parochial leaders to witness to the faith” and uphold Church teaching in public life.

“What the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops debated last week, and what the advocates of the Statement hold, touch upon human dignity and divine sovereignty.  There really is a truly Catholic way of getting this right, and no one can afford to get this wrong,” Fr. McTeigue wrote.

Fr. McTeigue is a priest in the Eastern Province of the Society of Jesus. His radio show airs through The Station of the Cross radio network and on the iCatholicRadio app. He is also a member of the National Ethics Board of the Catholic Medical Association.

Last week, 60 House Democrats published a “Statement of Principles” during the meeting of the U.S. bishops, asking not to be denied Communion because of their stances on abortion. While the bishops discussed worthiness to receive Communion at their meeting, they voted simply to begin drafting a document on the Eucharist that would include a subsection on Eucharistic consistency. They did not vote on any national policy of denying Communion.

The Catholic members last Friday stated their commitment to a “living Catholic tradition,” the common good, and the “primacy of conscience,” while asking that politicians not be denied Communion because of support for “a woman’s safe and legal access to abortion.”

Fr. McTeigue responded to their statement in his column.

Citing the members’ professed commitment to the “common good,” he warned against a “utilitarian” view of the common good, and said that abortion can never be a part of the common good.

“All of our striving — and all of our individual, communal, public and private actions — ought to facilitate virtue and holiness in this life so that we may enjoy beatitude in the next,” he wrote. “Properly understood, the common good cannot possibly tolerate, much less advocate abortion.”

He quoted the members’ appeal to conscience: “In all these issues, we seek the Church's guidance and assistance but believe also in the primacy of conscience.” 

In response, Fr. McTeigue wrote, “A careful placing of the word ‘but’ in the statement above makes the loophole a six-lane highway aimed away from the Church. “

“The work of conscience is primarily the work of reason,” he said, and is supposed to operate prior to emotion and in accord with Church teaching.

“Reason (rightly exercised) and faith (rightly understood) do have primacy, inasmuch as one can’t do good and avoid evil consistently without them,” he wrote. “At the same time, right reason and true faith preclude the use of the word ‘but,’ when that word is used to separate the conscience from sacred Revelation entrusted by Christ to the Church he founded.”

Noting the members’ professed membership in the “living Catholic tradition,” Fr. McTeigue offered a critique of that phrase.

The phrase “connotes that we aren’t bound to honor or preserve tradition, but that we’ll do what we want while keeping only the name of the tradition,” he wrote. “The ‘living’ part is expedient change; the ‘tradition’ part is we’re keeping the brand name.”

He invited signers of the statement onto his radio show on Friday.

“Let’s talk about it.  In the spirit of 1 Peter 3:15, write to [email protected] to set up an on-air conversation with me,” he wrote. “I promise to be fair, polite, and charitable.”

In their statement, the 60 Catholic House Democrats urged not to be denied Communion.

“We solemnly urge you to not move forward and deny this most holy of all sacraments, the source and the summit of the whole work of the gospel over one issue,” they stated, addressing the “Church” in their statement.

They said to deny Communion to pro-abortion politicians amounted to a “weaponization of the Eucharist,” and said that to do so “would indeed grieve the Holy Spirit and deny the evolution of that individual, a Christian person who is never perfect, but living in the struggle to get there.”

The members stated that their faith informs their actions, through “helping the poor, disadvantaged, and the oppressed, protecting the least among us, and ensuring that all Americans of every faith are given meaningful opportunities to share in the blessings of this great country.” They added that “we have a claim on the Church's bearing as it does on ours.”

Individual bishops have spoken out recently about the issue of Communion for pro-abortion politicians.

Regarding claims that issuing a statement on worthiness to receive Communion might be controversial and imperil the unity of Catholics, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois said this week that “There should be no unity with iniquity.”  

Eucharistic consistency isn’t simply about “abortion and euthanasia,” he said, but the problem of grave sin “of any kind.”

“It has been the constant teaching of the Catholic Church for the past two thousand years that those persons conscious of grave sin must first repent, confess their sins to a priest, and receive sacramental absolution before receiving holy Communion,” Paprocki said.

“This teaching is reflected in the Church’s canon law and sacramental discipline,” he noted.

Cardinal Cupich to conduct visit of Vatican dicastery on behalf of Pope Francis

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Vatican City, Jun 24, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago will conduct an apostolic visitation at the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, the Vatican said Thursday.

The inspection will begin in a few days, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni told journalists June 24.

He said that the visit was taking place “in the context of a normal examination of the activity of the dicasteries, aimed at acquiring an updated representation of the conditions in which they operate.”

Cupich has been a member of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops since 2016.

The visitation will be the third to take place at offices of the Roman Curia in recent months.

In March, a visitation was conducted at the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments before Pope Francis appointed its new prefect, Archbishop Arthur Roche.

The pope is said to have also ordered an inspection of the Congregation for the Clergy ahead of the transition to its new leadership, Bishop Lazarus You Heung-sik.

The 69-year-old bishop was appointed earlier this month and is the first Korean to lead a Vatican congregation.

Several other curial departments could see new leaders appointed this year as their prefects reach retirement age.

Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, and Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, will both turn 78 this year.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, and Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, recently turned 77.

Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, the president of the Vatican City State administration, turned 78 last October.

The Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development is led by the 72-year-old Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson.

Another shake-up in the Roman Curia could include the long-awaited publication of a new apostolic constitution, expected for later this year.

Praedicate evangelium will replace the 1988 constitution Pastor bonus.

Catholic columnist: ‘Brave new world’ of embryo experimentation could sharpen Communion debate

viewimage/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Jun 24, 2021 / 11:00 am (CNA).

Recent developments regarding experimentation on human embryos could force a larger conflict between Catholic Democratic politicians and U.S. bishops on ethical issues, a New York Times columnist wrote on Tuesday.

In May, the influential International Society for Stem Cell Research relaxed its guidelines on human embryo experimentation. The society said it would be permissible to perform research and experiments on lab-grown embryos that are older than 14 days, provided certain conditions are met first. 

The society did not place a ceiling on when it would be inappropriate to research and experiment on embryos. 

“The issues raised by this shift could fill several bioethics journals, but for today I’m interested in a single political and religious question,” wrote columnist Ross Douthat of the New York Times on June 22. “Is there any scenario in which this kind of future would attract much opposition from Catholic politicians in the Democratic Party?”

“I think the answer is no: There is just too little daylight now between secular utilitarianism and liberal Catholicism in its political and partisan form,” he wrote. 

The International Society for Stem Cell Research set a previous limit on embryo experimentation at either 14 days or the formation of the first primitive streak, “whichever occurs first.” The new guidelines call for public conversations on not only the ethical concerns but also the “scientific significance” of the embryo experimentation. 

If local regulations and public opinion are in favor of experimentation past 14 days, “a specialized scientific and ethical oversight process could weigh whether the scientific objectives necessitate and justify the time in culture beyond 14 days,” the society said. 

Douthat’s column came several days after the U.S. bishops met virtually for their annual spring meeting. A key topic of discussion among bishops was over “Eucharistic coherence,” or worthiness to receive Communion; the bishops held the discussion as part of their vote to move ahead on a proposed teaching document on the Eucharist. 

President Joe Biden, only the second Catholic U.S. president, supports taxpayer-funded abortion. His administration has also moved to recognize sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes in federal law, possibly setting up religious freedom conflicts with individuals and organizations that believe marriage to be between one man and one woman, and humans to be two sexes, male and female, from birth.

Individual bishops have recently brought up Eucharistic coherence with respect to Biden’s policies that contradict Church teaching. 

“Sadly, there are some bishops and cardinals of the Church who not only are willing to give holy Communion to pro-abortion politicians, but who seek to block the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops from addressing the question of Eucharistic coherence,” said Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, in May.

The matter of “Eucharistic coherence,” he said, “has taken on heightened urgency with the election of President Biden, a Catholic who promotes the evils of abortion, same-sex marriage, and transgenderism.”

Last week, 60 Catholic House Democrats issued a statement professing their Catholic faith, and asking not to be denied Communion because of their support for legal abortion.

Douthat, in his column, compared the shift in bioethics to the present debate over admitting pro-abortion politicians to Communion. 

“The justification for withholding communion is straightforward, however clouded by ideological disagreements,” he said. He noted that while both of America’s political parties take policy positions against Catholic teaching, “no Republican failure to spend enough on health care of education” has the same “directly lethal consequence” as legal abortion, which has resulted in “tens of millions” of deaths.

“There are many good reasons to avoid a political confrontation over communion and abortion right now, many reasons to expect that any effort will backfire or just fail,” he noted. 

However, if a future conflict over embryo experimentation on a mass scale arises, Douthat argued that the bishops’ actions now on Communion for pro-abortion politicians could possibly have an effect on such a future conflict.

“But if, over the next few generations, we move into a world where the liberalism of Catholic politicians requires them to support not just abortion rights but a brave new world of human life manufactured, commodified, vivisected and casually snuffed out — well, then the bishops of tomorrow may look back on today and wish they’d found a way to say ‘enough,’” he wrote. 

Breaking: European Parliament backs ‘extreme’ abortion report despite protests

A plenary session of the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium. / MichalPL via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Brussels, Belgium, Jun 24, 2021 / 10:31 am (CNA).

The European Parliament voted Thursday in favor of a report describing abortion as “essential healthcare” and seeking to redefine conscientious objection as a “denial of medical care.”

Members of the European Parliament, the EU’s law-making body, voted on June 24 by 378 votes in favor, 255 against and 42 abstentions, to adopt the text, known as the Matić Report, at a plenary session in Brussels, Belgium.

The report also declares that violations of “sexual and reproductive health and rights” are “a form of violence against women and girls.”

Parliamentarians had earlier rejected two attempts to block the controversial report.

An alternative motion for a resolution by the EPP Group in the European Parliament failed, with 288 votes in favor and 373 against, reported the German weekly Die Tagespost.

Another motion for a resolution by the ECR Group, together with members of Hungary’s Fidesz party, gained 267 votes in favor, but 402 against.

Catholic leaders and pro-life groups had urged the European Parliament to reject the report, presented by the Croatian politician Predrag Fred Matić and debated on June 23, the day before the vote.

Speaking in the debate, Matić said: “Tomorrow is a great day for Europe and the entire progressive world. Tomorrow we decide on positioning Europe as a community that chooses to live in the 21st or the 17th century. Don’t let history remember us as the latter ones.”

The Parliamentary Network for Critical Issues (PNCI), based in Washington, D.C., described the report as “extreme” and “radical.”

The Secretariat of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE) expressed alarm at the text, saying that that it was “ethically untenable” to classify abortion as an “essential” health service.

Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, the president of the Polish bishops’ conference, also criticized the report.

“Abortion is always a violation of the fundamental human right to life, a violation even more abhorrent because it concerns the life of the weakest and completely defenseless human being. It is, therefore, a manifestation of the most unjust discrimination,” he said.

The Matić Report, officially known as the “Report on the situation of sexual and reproductive health and rights in the EU, in the frame of women’s health,” was adopted by the European Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality on May 11.

An accompanying “explanatory statement” claimed that the report “comes at a crucial moment in the EU, with backlash and regression in women’s rights gaining momentum and contributing to the erosion of acquired rights and endangering the health of women.”

Two Members of the European Parliament, Margarita de la Pisa Carrión and Jadwiga Wiśniewska, set out a “minority position,” arguing that the report had “no legal or formal rigor.”

“It goes beyond its remit in addressing issues such as health, sexual education, and reproduction, as well as abortion and education, which are legislative powers belonging to the member states,” they wrote.

“It treats abortion as a purported human right that does not exist in international law. This is a breach of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the main binding treaties, as well as of the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the European Union.”

They noted that 154 amendments were tabled against the text.

The European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ), an NGO based in Strasbourg, France, suggested that the report’s supporters were seeking “to introduce a new norm without it appearing at first sight to be imposed.”

It said: “The choice of the institution in this strategy is not to be underestimated, because although the resolutions of the European Parliament have no binding legal value, they are the expression of an opinion that the Parliament wishes to make known.”

“A resolution may subsequently serve to politically legitimize action by the member states or the institutions; it is intended to produce practical effects.”

“More importantly, it can express a pre-legislative intention that can later be used to justify binding acts. There is, therefore, no doubt that an act of the European Parliament represents the gateway to the heart of the normative system.”

David Sassoli, president of the European Parliament, is expected to meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican this weekend.

Coalition of state attorneys general ask Congress to restore Hyde Amendment

Capitol / Lucky-photographer/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Jun 24, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).

A coalition of 22 state attorneys general asked Congress this week to restore a prohibition on federal funding of abortions, after it was omitted from President Joe Biden’s budget request for the 2022 fiscal year.

The coalition, led by Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall (R), sent a June 21 letter to congressional leaders defending the pro-life Hyde Amendment. The policy prohibits federal funding of elective abortions in Medicaid.

Marshall told CNA in a phone interview on Wednesday that he and his colleagues want to show “a strong consensus of Republican attorneys general who not only believe this is incorrect fiscal policy for the country, this is a reversal of what was very much a bipartisan position.” 

“We are attempting to make a very strong stand on principle relating to the position of life,” he said.

Marshall argued that state attorneys general should work to protect a policy that offers conscience protections to taxpayers. “Taxpayers who fundamentally oppose abortion shouldn’t have their tax dollars pay for abortion on demand,” Marshall said. 

The Hyde Amendment, named for the late Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois, is a federal policy first enacted in 1976, three years after the Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision. It prohibits the use of taxpayer funds for elective abortions; exceptions were added in 1993 for cases involving rape, incest, or a maternal mortality risk. 

Since the amendment is not permanent law, it must be attached to individual appropriations bills each year as a funding condition, in order to take effect. 

As a candidate for president in 2020, Biden called for an end to the use of the Hyde Amendment, reversing his previous support of the policy that he had even outlined in a 1994 letter to a constituent.

In their letter this week, the attorneys general took aim at Biden’s reversal of support for Hyde, arguing that Congress “should not indulge it.”

“We were disappointed to find the conspicuous omission of the Hyde Amendment in the budget proposal that President Biden delivered to Congress earlier this month,” they wrote, adding that that they “have a unique interest in the Hyde Amendment as an important protection for the consciences of the millions of Americans who oppose public funding of abortion.”

Earlier this year, the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus, the Democratic Women’s Caucus leaders, and some Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to Biden calling on him to eliminate the Hyde Amendment and comparable policies, describing them as part of “long-standing structural racism and inequities in our health care system.” House Appropriations Committee chair Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), a Catholic, has advocated for the repeal of the policy as well.

A Knights of Columbus/Marist poll released in January found most Americans oppose the use of tax dollars to pay for elective abortion procedures.

An effort to codify Hyde as permanent law failed on Wednesday, as House Democrats used a procedural maneuver to block a vote on H.R. 18, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act of 2021, authored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.).

Police investigate after two Catholic churches burn on British Columbia tribal lands

St. Gregory Mission, Osoyoos Indian Reserve, British Columbia, Canada / Roman Catholic Parish of Christ the King, Oliver, British Columbia, Canada

Denver Newsroom, Jun 24, 2021 / 08:15 am (CNA).

Two Catholic churches in the same region of British Columbia burned down in suspicious circumstances early Monday morning. 

“On behalf of The Diocese of Nelson, I am very saddened by the recent fires that destroyed two Catholic churches – Sacred Heart Mission at Penticton Indian Band and St. Gregory Mission at Osoyoos Indian Band – and for the hurt that it has caused,” Bishop Gregory J. Bittman of Nelson said June 23.

“For many years, our priests have been welcomed to minister in these mission churches and it is our hope that this ministry will continue. Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by the fires and we are grateful that no one died or was physically injured,” he said.

The churches, located in the southern Okanagan region of British Columbia, served some indigenous First Nations families, but there are concerns the fires could have been targeted attacks. 

Investigators are considering whether arson caused the attacks. Possible motives could include someone targeting the Indigenous communities, or someone angry at the Catholic Church after the discovery of the undocumented graves of 215 Indigenous children at the grounds of a former Catholic-run residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia.

Penticton Indian Band Chief Greg Gabriel spoke at the burned remains of Sacred Heart Mission Church, Parksville Qualicum Beach News reported.

“This church has been here since 1911. It was a fixture in our community,” he said June 21. “Many in our community were members and involved in services. Some of our elders are attached to the church and have come here today very sad. They are hurting but also they understand.”

“There are some mixed feelings. I understand there is a lot of anger in our community with the discovery of those 215 innocent, poor children’s graves. There is a lot of hurt,” said Gabriel. “But this type of action doesn’t help if in fact it is found to be deliberate.”

At 3:10 a.m. on Monday, over an hour after Sacred Heart Church burned down, Oliver Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) were notified that St. Gregory’s Church on Nk’mip Road was on fire. Sacred Heart is located on Penticton Indian Band, while St. Gregory’s is on Osoyoos Indian Band land about a 40-minute drive away. 

The Penticton Indian Band responded in a statement, saying: “We, along with the Osoyoos Indian Band ... are in disbelief and anger over these occurrences as these places of worship provided service to members who sought comfort and solace in the church.”

Father Thomas Kakkaniyil, whose parish churches include St. Gregory’s, said that Sunday marked the first Mass at the church in over a year due to the coronavirus epidemic. While the church had provided daytime security for the Mass, there was no security on the premises later that night.

“Somebody from outside came and burned it as I understand it,” Fr. Kakkaniyil said, according to the Vancouver Sun. “It was done on the Osoyoos First Nation land but not by those people. It was somebody else.”

Gabriel told the New York Times that some are upset at the history of Catholic relations with Canada’s Indigenous peoples, including the recent discovery at Kamloops; others are also upset that a place of worship and integral part of the community had been burned down. Many families, including his own, held funerals, marriages and baptisms in the church that burned.

Chief Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos Indian Band also addressed the burnings.

“I don’t believe in the church. I don’t believe in those symbols, but some of our people do,” he said.

Sgt. Jason Bayda, media relations officer for the Penticton South Okanagan RCMP, said that if an investigation deems the fires to be arson, the police “will be looking at all possible motives and allow the facts and evidence to direct our investigative action.”

“We are sensitive to the recent events, but won’t speculate on a motive,” he said, according to Parksville Qualicum Beach News.

The Penticton Indian Band rejected speculation that the person or persons responsible “had any connection to the Indigenous communities in our region,” adding, “all we can do is to be there for one another in this unbelievably hard time.”

“Please do not approach our Indigenous members and ask how we feel about it,” said Dawn Russell, communications coordinator for the Penticton Indian Band.”

“This is a fresh wound that needs time to heal and contextualize our feelings as we will support the investigative efforts,” she said.

Gabriel said there’s “anger across Canada” in response to the discovered graves. “Myself, I’m very angry. I will do whatever I can in our leadership to make sure people are held accountable for those atrocities. It has to be a criminal investigation because that evil act is criminal. There needs to be a full criminal investigation and people need to be held criminally responsible,” he said.

Father Sylvester Obi Ibekwe, the parish priest of the Catholic parishes of Penticton, including Sacred Heart Mission, had announced a candlelight vigil for June 18 at St. Ann Church, “during which we will honor and pray for the repose of the souls of the 215 children who died in Kamloops and for their families.”

The priest asked people to bring teddy bears or children’s shoes to place on the steps of St. Ann Church or the nearby St. John Vianney Church. 

In a June 1 message, posted on the parish website, he reported waking up one morning to find a sheet spray-painted in orange letters covering the church sign board. Its message said: “Your assets should be seized; have you no response?”

He said he had spoken by phone with a chief at the Penticton Indian Reserve “to express our sadness over the tragic event that happened in Kamloops. We stand in solidarity with all our Indigenous brothers and sisters.

On the weekend of May 22, the remains of 215 Indigenous children were found in unmarked graves at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. The discovery was made with ground-penetrating radar. It is unclear how the children died.

A previous government commission report found that 51 children had died at the school, which operated from 1890 until 1978. The school was established by the federal government and was initially overseen by lay Catholics. The Oblates of Mary Immaculate ran the school beginning in 1893. In 1969, the government took back control of the school.

The Kamloops school was at one point the largest school in the entire residential school system, which was established in Canada beginning in the 1870s, with many schools operated by Catholic organizations or Protestant denominations. The last operating residential school closed in 1996.

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which operated from 2008 until 2015, reported on a history of abuses in the system and faulted both the churches and the government.

Children from First Nations and other Indigenous communities were separated from their families and placed in the residential schools as a means of forcible assimilation, which was meant to strip them of family and cultural ties. The children suffered from poorly built, poorly heated and unsanitary housing and facilities, which the report attributed largely to government efforts to cut costs. Many students had no access to trained medical staff and faced harsh, often abusive punishments.

An estimated 4,100 to 6,000 First Nations and other Indigenous children died as a result of neglect or abuse in the system, the commission found. In 1945, the death rate for children at residential schools was nearly five times higher than other Canadian schoolchildren. In the 1960s, residential school children suffered a mortality rate double that of their peers, the commission report said.

Pope Francis on June 6 expressed sorrow over the discovery of the unmarked graves at the site of the Kamloops school and prayed for all children who died in the residential school system. 

“These difficult times are a strong call for all to turn away from the colonizing model, and even the ideological colonizations of today, and walk side by side in dialogue, mutual respect, and recognition of the rights and cultural values of all the daughters and sons of Canada,” Pope Francis said after the Sunday Angelus in St. Peter’s Square.

The archbishop of Ottawa-Cornwall on June 17 apologized for the role of the Catholic Church in administering the country’s residential school system, and requested a formal apology by Pope Francis, joining calls from Indigenous groups and others.

Pope Francis encourages us to continue on ‘Synodal Way,’ says German bishops’ leader after audience

Bishop Georg Bätzing, chairman of the German bishops’ conference, meets with Pope Francis at the Vatican, June 24, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Jun 24, 2021 / 06:50 am (CNA).

Pope Francis encouraged the German Catholic Church to continue on its controversial “Synodal Way,” Bishop Georg Bätzing said Thursday after a private audience at the Vatican.

Bätzing, the chairman of the German bishops’ conference, said June 24 that he assured the pope that “rumors” that the German Church was seeking to diverge from the worldwide Church were untrue, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

“I informed the pope in detail about the status of the Synodal Way and made it clear that the rumors that the Church in Germany wants to go its own way are not true,” he said in a statement on the German bishops’ conference website.

“Pope Francis encouraged us to continue on the Synodal Way, to discuss the questions at hand openly and honestly, and to come up with recommendations for a change in the way the Church acts.”

“At the same time, he called for the Church in Germany to help shape the path of synodality he proclaimed toward the Synod of Bishops in 2023.”

According to the Holy See press office, Bätzing saw the pope after Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, which recently intervened in Germany over a proposal for intercommunion between Catholics and Protestants.

The German bishops’ conference posted a photograph of Bätzing, the bishop of Limburg, walking up a flight of stairs to his audience with the pope.

A photograph of the audience showed Bätzing greeting the pope with his head bowed and his zucchetto, or skullcap, in his hand.

The meeting came at a time of considerable upheaval in the German Church, after the influential Cardinal Reinhard Marx tendered his resignation to the pope, saying that the Church had reached a “dead end.”

The pope declined the offer, but acknowledged that the abuse scandal had plunged the Church into crisis.

In his statement on Thursday, Bätzing recalled his first private audience with the pope after his election as chairman of the German bishops’ conference, which took place in June 2020.

He said: “After my inaugural visit to Pope Francis as president of the German bishops’ conference a year ago, I was able to meet the Holy Father again today -- after the long pandemic.”

“Our conversation focused first on the situation of the Church in Germany in view of the processing of the sexual abuse cases and the difficult situation in several dioceses. Pope Francis is well aware of the situation of the Church in Germany. He hopes that tensions can be overcome.”

/ Vatican Media.
/ Vatican Media.

German Church leaders and Vatican officials have clashed repeatedly over the Synodal Way, a process bringing together German bishops and lay people to discuss four main topics: the way power is exercised in the Church; sexual morality; the priesthood; and the role of women.

The German bishops initially said that the process would end with a series of “binding” votes -- raising concerns at the Vatican that the resolutions might challenge the Church’s teaching and discipline.

The Vatican sent a letter to the German bishops declaring that the plans were “not ecclesiologically valid.”

After a back and forth between the bishops’ conference and Vatican officials, the Synodal Way began on Dec. 1, 2019. It is expected to end in February 2022.

A number of senior Church figures outside Germany have voiced fears that the Synodal Way will lead to a breach between German Catholics in Rome.

Three Catholics from the German Diocese of Essen have submitted a “dubium” to the Vatican asking if the Church in Germany is in schism.

Bätzing has insisted that the country’s Catholics are not “schismatics.”

CNA Deutsch reported that the theologian Katharina Westerhorstmann, a Synodal Way participant, recently suggested that the process should be suspended in light of plans to involve the worldwide Church in preparations for the 2023 synod on synodality in Rome.

In his statement, Bätzing said that he had informed the pope about the recent Ecumenical Church Congress in Frankfurt.

The Vatican had expressed concern in the run-up to the event that it would promote intercommunion between Catholics and Protestants despite significant theological obstacles.

The event culminated with the Catholic and Protestant leaders of the initiative publicly receiving communion in each others’ churches.

/ Vatican Media.
/ Vatican Media.

Concluding his statement, Bätzing said: “As I did a year ago, I feel strengthened by Pope Francis in my office as bishop of Limburg and in my task as chairman of the German bishops’ conference.”

“I am impressed by the balanced knowledge with which he perceives the situation of the Church in Germany and puts the problems into words. Pope Francis will accompany the Church in our country on the way out of the crisis.”

Adoration is like radiotherapy for our sinfulness, says Vatican’s new liturgy chief

Adoration to the Blessed Sacrament. / Sidney de Almeida/Shutterstock

Vatican City, Jun 24, 2021 / 06:17 am (CNA).

The Vatican’s new liturgy chief has recommended the practice of adoration to help increase awareness of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist.

In an interview with EWTN News, Archbishop Arthur Roche, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, said that he was not pessimistic about the prospect of people returning to Mass after pandemic lockdown restrictions.

“People’s longing, people’s thirst, [and] absolute hunger for God has increased in this desert experience, which we’ve all experienced,” Roche said June 22.

The archbishop said that it was “important to recognize the presence of the Lord in the Eucharistic presence of the Lord and to develop that within your own life.”

One way he recommended to “develop a sense of the presence of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament” is the practice of Eucharistic adoration.

He said: “One of the great theologians of the modern world used to say: when I’m sitting in front of the Blessed Sacrament, it’s almost as if I’m sitting in front of a presence that’s somehow, rather like radiotherapy. Somehow it radiates my life in such a way that my sinfulness becomes less. That my capacity to sin becomes less, that my will not to sin becomes less.”

“And I think it’s a wonderful image of the presence of Christ irradiating our lives, even when we sit there perhaps with no words, with little to say to Our Lord,” Roche commented.

“We’re there with Him because in one sense, the only thing we can give God is our time and the way that we use our time, and to be there voluntarily in front of the Lord … letting Him come into our lives and change us.”

Archbishop Arthur Roche at the Vatican press office on Feb. 10, 2015. / Bohumil Petrik/CNA.
Archbishop Arthur Roche at the Vatican press office on Feb. 10, 2015. / Bohumil Petrik/CNA.

Roche recently succeeded Cardinal Robert Sarah as the head of the Vatican’s liturgy office. Pope Francis appointed him prefect on May 27. Roche had worked in the congregation since 2012.

The new prefect said that even the name of his congregation has something to teach Catholics.

“When we come to Mass, when we come to any liturgy of the Church, the focus is always God. We come there to worship Him,” he said.

“That’s why the Church would be very wise in retaining in the title of this congregation, Divine Worship -- not just simply liturgy -- Divine Worship. Making it very clear that the focus is God. And we come to God to worship Him.”

The 71-year-old archbishop said that each pope since the Second Vatican Council had “brought to life, as it were, a characteristic that already exists within the Roman Rite.”

“Pope Benedict, whose reign was very short, was concerned with the beauty of the liturgy and presenting that in a way that also appreciated the culture of the day and brought into effect within the liturgy the culture of the day,” he said.

“Pope Francis, as we know, is a very pastoral man. And I think you will see him celebrate the Mass with immense attentiveness. Many say, and I think this is true, that he has a mystical character in the way that he celebrates Mass. He’s very, very focused. He’s very, very attentive to the words. He’s very, very attentive to his preaching also.”

The archbishop also said that it was necessary to keep in mind that liturgical prayer is a communal experience.

“It’s never simply the prayer of the individual. And if you don’t have an appreciation for what the Church is, the pilgrim people on a journey to the Lord, then you don’t quite sort of get the implications that are there within the liturgy that this isn’t just a private act,” he said.

“This is the prayer of the Church. And what is the Church? The Church is the Body of Christ. It is the Son of God in those who are baptized giving praise and worship to our heavenly Father.”

Kidnappers free Catholic priest and four others in Mali

The flag of Mali. / Railway fx via Shutterstock.

Bamako, Mali, Jun 24, 2021 / 05:00 am (CNA).

Kidnappers freed a Catholic priest and four other people on Wednesday in the West African nation of Mali.

Gunmen released Fr. Léon Douyon on June 23, 72 hours after seizing him, reported the French public radio service RFI.

The five kidnap victims were dropped off at the roadside between Bankass and Bandiagara, in the village of Parou within the Diocese of Mopti.

All five are said to be in good health, reported ACI Africa, CNA’s African news partner.

Major Abass Dembélé, the governor of the Mopti region, central Mali, said that the five were freed after the kidnappers’ vehicle broke down not far from Mali’s border with Burkina Faso.

“The kidnappers therefore decided to abandon the vehicle somewhere in the bush and, thanks to the mediation of local Dogon and Fulani notables, they agreed to free their five hostages, who had become very cumbersome,” he was quoted as saying.

Douyon, a priest of the Diocese of Mopti, was abducted by gunmen on June 21.

Fr. Alexis Dembélé, a Malian priest, said June 22 that “the group disappeared on Monday while traveling from Ségué in the center of the country, to the funeral of Fr. Oscar Thera in the town of San.”

He continued: “The poor road network requires one to go up north and then back down to the south to the town of San.”

The group was seized about 20 miles north of Ségué, in the vicinity of Ouo.

“The group was made up of Fr. Léon Douyon, the parish priest of Ségué, Thimothé Somboro, the village chief of Ségué, Pascal Somboro, deputy mayor, and two other members of the community, Emmanuel Somboro and Boutié Tolofoudié,” Dembélé said.

Mali, a country with a population of 19.66 million people has experienced a surge in violence involving both civilians and the military since 2012.

Kidnappings have become common, with militants seeking either to obtain ransom money or exert political pressure.

The country has seen clashes between the Malian army and a group fighting for independence, as well as jihadist insurgencies led by groups linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. Mali has also suffered inter-communal violence. The fighting has left thousands dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.

The violence has spread to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.

Sr. Gloria Cecilia Narváez Argoti, a member of the Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary Immaculate who was kidnapped in southern Mali in 2017, is believed to be in the hands of jihadists linked to al-Qaeda.

Mali is currently under the leadership of Colonel Assimi Goïta who has led two coups in a span of nine months, first ousting the country’s elected President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta last August and, in May, the interim leaders who were to head the country’s transitional government.

Following the May 24 coup, Mali’s constitutional court named Goïta as transitional president until the country holds elections.

The move has attracted criticism, with Catholic leaders calling it a “seizure of power outside the legal process.”

A version of this story was first published by ACI Africa, CNA's African news partner, written by Jude Atemanke. It has been adapted by CNA.

Louisiana governor vetoes women’s sports bill 

Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Jun 23, 2021 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) on Tuesday vetoed a bill that would have prohibited student athletes from competing in single-sex athletic events opposite their biological sex.

The state’s Senate Bill 156, the “Fairness in Women's Sports Act,” would have required publicly-funded schools to permit student athletes to compete only on teams corresponding with their biological sex, not their gender identity. Students identifying as transgender would have had to compete in the sport of their biological sex.

The governor, a Catholic, said in a statement that “discrimination is not a Louisiana value,” explaining his decision to veto the bill. The legislation, he said, was “a solution in search of a problem that simply does not exist in Louisiana.” 

“Even the author of the bill acknowledged throughout the legislative session that there wasn’t a single case where this was an issue,” Gov. Edwards said of athletes identifying as transgender participating in sports opposite their birth sex.

He said the bill “would make life more difficult for transgender children, who are some of the most vulnerable Louisianans when it comes to issues of mental health.” 

“We should be looking for more ways to unite rather than divide our citizens,” he said. “And while there is no issue to be solved by this bill, it does present real problems in that it makes it more likely that NCAA and professional championships, like the 2022 Final Four, would not happen in our state. For these and for other reasons, I have vetoed the bill."

The bill passed by wide margins in the state legislature, by a vote of 29-6 in the state Senate and 78-19 in the state House. According to Baton Rouge’s The Advocate newspaper, those margins would be sufficient to override a governor's veto.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry (R) on Wednesday called for a veto session by the legislature.

"The passage of the Fairness in Women's Sports Act (SB156) was a common-sense approach by the Legislature to protect women,” Landry said. “The Governor's disrespect for women by vetoing this bipartisan bill was both disappointing and irresponsible.”

In a statement, Christiana Holcomb, legal counsel for the group Alliance Defending Freedom, said the group is “disappointed by Gov. Edwards’s decision to ignore the best interests of women and girls and veto the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act.” 

Alliance Defending Freedom is fighting a state interscholastic athletics policy in Connecticut that allows athletes to compete in sports based on their gender identity. Four girls sued over the athletics policy, saying they were discriminated against in having to compete against biological males identifying as transgender females. 

“This legislation ensures that female athletes in Louisiana are able to compete on a level playing field,” Holcomb said of the Louisiana bill. “Allowing males to compete in girls’ sports is discriminatory and destroys fair competition and women’s athletic opportunities.”

“We’ve seen increasing examples across the country of males dominating girls’ athletic competitions when competing as females, capturing championships and shattering long-standing female track records,” she said. In Connecticut, two biological male runners captured a combined 15 state track championship titles after the state’s policy went into effect in 2017.

“While we are disappointed by the governor’s veto, we are thankful to Sen. Beth Mizell for sponsoring this important legislation and to Louisiana legislators for taking a strong stand for female athletes,” Holcomb stated.

Opponents of the bill said it discriminated against transgender athletes. 

In a statement, Alphonso David, president of the LGBT advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, called the legislation “nothing more than a politically motivated bill that seeks to dehumanize transgender children.” 

Holcomb added that she hopes the Louisiana legislature will override the veto and “join states like Florida, Arkansas, West Virginia, Montana, and Idaho that have codified protections for women’s sports into law.”

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 35 comparable bills have been introduced in 31 states this year, an increase from 29 such bills in 2020 and just two in 2019.