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Legal group seeks protection for Navy personnel objecting to COVID vaccine on religious grounds

null / Glynnis Jones/Shutterstock.

Denver Newsroom, Jan 24, 2022 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

A Christian legal group has filed a class-action lawsuit with the goal of blocking the Navy’s COVID vaccine mandate for all U.S. Navy personnel who have requested religious accommodation. 

First Liberty Institute, a Christian legal group, had filed a federal lawsuit and motion for preliminary injunction earlier this month on behalf of “dozens” of U.S. Navy SEALs and other Naval Special Warfare personnel, who represent Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant Christianity. 

As a result of the initial lawsuit, Judge Reed O’Connor of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas on Jan. 3 issued an injunction preventing the Department of Defense from taking “any adverse action” against the plaintiffs in the case because of requests for religious accommodation. 

The amended lawsuit, which the group announced this week, seeks to cover all Navy service members who have submitted requests for religious accommodation against the vaccine mandate, almost all of which, up to now, have been denied. The group says at least 3,000 service members have submitted requests. 

In August 2021, the Pentagon announced that all service members would have to be vaccinated against COVID-19. In advance of that announcement, Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services said that receiving one of the COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in the United States was morally permissible, and that a vaccine mandate “seems prudent” and would be “very similar” to mandates already enforced in the military.

First Liberty says the religious objections that the plaintiffs in the initial lawsuit raised fell into four categories: opposition to abortion and the use of aborted fetal cell lines in development of the vaccine; belief that modifying one’s body is an affront to the creator; direct, divine instruction not to receive the vaccine; and opposition to injecting trace amounts of animal cells into one’s body.

Most of the requests made have been denied, O’Connor wrote in his ruling, and some of the plaintiffs report mistreatment as a result of asking for a religious exemption. 

Catholic bishops across the country have issued varying guidance for Catholics wishing to seek conscientious objections to COVID-19 mandates. A few have expressed explicit support for Catholics wishing to seek exemptions; some have said that Catholics may seek exemptions, but must make the case for their own conscience without the involvement of clergy; and some have stated that Catholic teaching lacks a basis to reject vaccination mandates.  

Archbishop Broglio has encouraged Catholics to follow the guidance of the Vatican and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, both of whom have stated that it is morally permissible to receive the COVID-19 vaccinations currently available in the United States, even ones with a remote connection to aborted fetal tissue. 

Archbishop Broglio has also said that service members should not be forced to receive a COVID-19 vaccine against their consciences. 

“The denial of religious accommodations, or punitive or adverse personnel actions taken against those who raise earnest, conscience-based objections, would be contrary to federal law and morally reprehensible,” Broglio said in October.

Walk for Life West Coast brings 15,000+ to San Francisco

The Walk for Life West Coast in San Francisco, Calif., Jan. 22, 2022. / Dennis Callahan via Walk for Life West Coast

San Francisco, Calif., Jan 24, 2022 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone condemned abortion as the equivalent of a sacrament of a “new secular religion” in his homily at the Mass for Walk for Life West Coast on Saturday at the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption in San Francisco. 

More than 15,000 people gathered Jan. 22 for the 18th annual Walk for Life West Coast. 

The event was held on the 49th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, which found that a woman had a legal right to an abortion throughout her pregnancy. 

Cordileone, speaking about how the devil is using a strategy of “divide and conquer” to alienate humanity from both God and each other, said that this form of secularism “has all become a sort of religion on its own, one that takes the form of a hyper-aggressive, anti-Christian kind of a secularism.” 

“This is all around us nowadays, and this kind of secularism has all the marks of a religion: infallible dogmas, rituals, saints, creedal statements and condemnation of heretical teachings along with punishment of the heretics who hold them and dare to speak them in public, index of forbidden books, even sacraments,” he said. 

Abortion, said Cordileone, has become the “blessed sacrament” of this militant secularism. 

It is “what they hold most sacred, the doctrine and practice upon which their whole belief system is built.” This is why, he explained, “we see such visceral and violent reaction to any even minimal regulation of abortion in the law, regulations that even those who believe it should be kept legal would see as reasonable, such as informed consent and parental consent.” 

“It should come as no surprise that the first to challenge the Texas Heartbeat Bill was the Satanic Temple, and precisely on the grounds of deprivation of religious liberty: they need abortion to carry out their religious rituals,” said Cordileone. 

The antidote to this, said the archbishop, is living “according to true wisdom,” meaning “the path to lasting happiness, a path which is walked by means of the virtues, both the natural and the theological virtues.” This is accomplished by a devotion to the sacraments. 

“We have the real Blessed Sacrament,” said Cordileone. “How much of the desecration of human life we witness in our time is due to a loss of the sense of the sacred, even that which is most sacred, the Blessed Sacrament? Do we do all possible to respect the integrity of the Blessed Sacrament and avoid its desecration by receiving reverently and worthily, always giving God our best in worship?” 

Cordileone stated that Christians who are in favor of abortion rights, who have been “mindlessly co-opted by the new secular religion and its false blessed sacrament” are equivalent to the Israelites who worshiped Moloch. 

“But there is only one Blessed Sacrament; to live as if there were two brings desecration of what is sacred on both fronts: the Bread of Life on the altar and human life in the womb,” he said. 

Now, said the archbishop, society is at a “very pivotal moment” with the upcoming Supreme Court Decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Despite this, and the serious potential for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, Cordileone warned that it is not the time to “think we can relax our efforts even with the right decision.” 

“The devil will not stop until he is defeated and returned to hell definitively when our Lord returns,” he said. “There will always be attacks on the dignity of human life, and they will intensify,” noting that California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) pledged to make California a “sanctuary state for abortion.”

“So we will continue to work to build a culture of life, by advocating for life, by providing women in crisis pregnancies love and support and all that they need to know they are valued, respected and have friends walking with them in their time of distress, giving them the opportunity to make the happiest decision of all, the decision for life,” he said.

Finnish MP facing jail after tweeting Bible verse pleads not guilty as trial begins

Päivi Räsänen, Finland’s interior minister from 2011 to 2015, speaks to reporters while holding her Bible at Helsinki District Court on Jan. 24, 2022. / ADF International.

Helsinki, Finland, Jan 24, 2022 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

A former government minister facing jail in Finland after tweeting a Bible verse pleaded not guilty to three criminal charges on Monday.

Päivi Räsänen appeared at Helsinki District Court on Jan. 24, the first day of her trial, alongside Juhana Pohjola, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, who is facing one criminal charge.

Finland’s Prosecutor General filed criminal charges against the pair on April 29, 2020, formally charging them with the crime of “ethnic agitation,” which falls under the section of “war crimes and crimes against humanity” in the country’s criminal code.

The state prosecutor asserted that the statements made by Räsänen, who served as Finland’s interior minister from 2011 to 2015, were “likely to cause intolerance, contempt, and hatred towards homosexuals.”

The charges against Räsänen, a 62-year-old physician and mother of five, relate to her comments in a 2004 pamphlet, her appearance on a 2018 television program, and a Twitter post in 2019.

The charge against Pohjola concerns his decision to publish Räsänen’s pamphlet, “Male and Female He Created Them.”

When the defendants arrived at the court, they were greeted by supporters holding banners.

Supporters of Päivi Räsänen Juhana Pohjola outside Helsinki District Court, Finland, on Jan. 24, 2022. ADF International.
Supporters of Päivi Räsänen Juhana Pohjola outside Helsinki District Court, Finland, on Jan. 24, 2022. ADF International.

ADF International, a Christian legal group supporting the Christian Democrat MP, said that as the trial began, the prosecution argued that the views shared by Räsänen and Pohjola were discriminatory towards minorities.

The defense appealed to the court not to impose its own theological interpretation of scripture on Finland’s 5.5 million citizens, by criminalizing traditional Christian views on marriage and sexuality.

The defense said that a guilty verdict would amount to the de facto criminalization of the Bible verses tweeted by Räsänen.

Around two-thirds of the population of Finland — a country bordering Norway, Russia, and Sweden — belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, one of the country’s two national churches, alongside the Finnish Orthodox Church.

The MP, who was chairwoman of the Christian Democrats party from 2004 to 2015, is an active member of the Finnish Lutheran Church. But she questioned her church’s sponsorship of an LGBT pride event in 2019.

On June 17, 2019, she asked in a Twitter post how the sponsorship was compatible with the Bible, linking to a photograph of a biblical passage, Romans 1:24-27, on Instagram. She also posted the text and image on Facebook.

Discussing the tweet in court on Monday, she underlined that the post was directed at Church leaders and concerned an important topic facing the Church.

Police began investigating Räsänen in 2019. She faced several police interviews and had to wait more than a year for the Prosecutor General’s decision.

The International Lutheran Council has described the decision to prosecute Räsänen and Pohjola as “egregious.”

It said: “The vast majority of Christians in all nations, including Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, share these convictions. Would the Finnish Prosecutor General condemn us all? Moreover, shall the Finnish state risk governmental sanctions from other states based on the abuse of foundational human rights?”

Addressing the pamphlet, which described homosexuality as “a disorder of psycho-sexual development,” Räsänen told the court that she was asked to write a text outlining Lutheran teaching on sexuality for members of her church, from her viewpoint as a politician, doctor, and Christian.

She said that the pamphlet was outdated given changes in research and legislation since 2004. But she argued that it should still exist as a document testifying to the discussions taking place at that time.

Paul Coleman, executive director of ADF International, noted that a guilty verdict would not set an instant legal precedent for other European countries. But he suggested that it would “set a new European low bar for free speech standards.”

He added that similar cases “really could happen anywhere else” because of hate speech laws across the continent.

Closing arguments will take place on Feb. 14.

How St. Irenaeus helped save the early Church from schism

St. Irenaeus depicted in the apse of Holy Ascension Orthodox Church in Charleston, South Carolina. / Andrew Gould via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Vatican City, Jan 24, 2022 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

St. Irenaeus once helped to save the 2nd-century Church from schism. Today, the newly declared “Doctor of Unity” is the patron saint of a group of theologians working on current problems in Orthodox-Catholic dialogue.

According to the St. Irenaeus Joint Orthodox-Catholic Working Group, the newest Doctor of the Church understood that “diversity in practice does not imply disunity of faith.”

During the “Paschal Controversy” in the 2nd century, Irenaeus played a decisive role in mediating the dispute over the date of Easter.

Two principal traditions existed in the early Church at the time. In much of Asia Minor, Easter was celebrated on the 14th Nisan (the Jewish Passover), an observance known as Quartodecimanism. But in Rome and much of the East, the feast fell on a given Sunday — a divergence that also had implications for fasting practices.

When Irenaeus was serving as a presbyter in Lyons, in modern-day France, he was sent to Rome in 177 to mediate a resolution to the controversy.

Irenaeus wrote: “The disagreement in the fast only speaks for our agreement in the faith.”

The saint “successfully intervened with Pope Victor to lift the excommunication of the Quartodecimans and thus avert a schism,” the Irenaeus group told CNA on Jan. 23.

The 26 Catholic and Orthodox theologians who make up the St. Irenaeus Joint Orthodox-Catholic Working Group discussed Irenaeus’ role in the Paschal Controversy during its most recent meeting in Rome.

It was during this meeting that Pope Francis first revealed that he planned to name Irenaeus the 37th Doctor of the Church with the title “Doctor of Unity.”

The pope made this official on Jan. 21 with a decree signed during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Following the decree’s promulgation, the St. Irenaeus Joint Orthodox-Catholic Working Group told CNA why Irenaeus was an apt choice for the title “Doctor of Unity.”

“As a native of Asia Minor who eventually became a bishop in the West, Irenaeus in his person reflects the close interconnection between East and West in the early Church,” the group told CNA.

“His writings address critical issues such as the ‘rule of faith,’ apostolic succession, the canon of scripture, all of which are key elements of the faith held in common by Catholics and Orthodox.”

The St. Irenaeus Joint Orthodox-Catholic Working Group is comprised of 13 Catholic theologians and 13 theologians from various Orthodox Churches (Constantinople, Antioch, Russia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, America).

The group has met annually since 2004, alternating between Catholic and Orthodox majority countries, including Italy, Russia, France, Romania, Austria, and Greece.

In line with the joint working group’s style, its responses to CNA’s questions were co-written by a Catholic and an Orthodox representative of the group and then approved by both of its co-secretaries: Assaad Elias Kattan, chair for Orthodox Theology at the University of Münster, and Johannes Oeldemann, the Catholic director of the Johann Adam Möhler Institute for Ecumenism.

“Irenaeus has left us a magnificent theological legacy written in a way particularly dear to the Orthodox, because it integrates intellectual and spiritual motifs, and at the same time so cherished in the West that his main writings have been preserved in Latin,” the group said.

With the new papal decree, Irenaeus became the first saint to hold both the titles of martyr and Doctor of the Church.

In the wake of the decree, some have raised the question of whether there is historical proof that Irenaeus was truly a martyr.

The St. Irenaeus Joint Orthodox-Catholic Working Group, however, explained why it holds that Irenaeus should have both titles.

“Though he is venerated as a martyr by both Catholics and Orthodox, there is little information about the actual manner of his death,” it said.

“However, martyrdom is not only measured by factual suffering, but also by a love expressing that eagerness to go through whatever God allows to happen. Irenaeus, in this sense, was at least a martyr of desire.”

“Moreover, in his influential writings, he was a powerful witness (‘mártys’ in Greek) to Christian faith, certainly deserving the title of martyr and ‘Doctor of Unity.’”

Cardinal Kurt Koch, the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, has welcomed the St. Irenaeus Joint Orthodox-Catholic Working Group’s work over the past 18 years as a valuable support for the international Roman Catholic-Orthodox dialogue.

The group’s next meeting will be held in Romania in October 2022.

“The teaching of this saintly pastor and teacher is like a bridge between East and West: this is why we call him a Doctor of Unity, Doctor Unitatis,” Pope Francis said in his Angelus address on Jan. 23.

“May the Lord grant us, through his intercession, to work together for the full unity of Christians.”

India’s Catholic bishops urged to highlight anti-Christian violence

Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay and President of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA

Mumbai, India, Jan 24, 2022 / 08:35 am (CNA).

A Catholic group has urged India’s bishops to highlight recent attacks on the country’s Christians.

In a letter dated Jan. 10, members of the Forum for Justice and Peace claimed that the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) had responded to rising anti-Christian violence with “complete silence.”

“During the two days Dec. 24-25, the media reported seven well-planned attacks on Christian institutions across the country,” they wrote.

“In fact, in the year 2021, there were 486 incidents of violence against the Christian community in India, according to the United Christian Front. What shocks us is the complete silence on the part of the official Church, the CBCI.”

The letter was addressed to Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the president of the CBCI and a member of Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinal Advisers.

India, the world’s second-most populous country after China, is ranked as the 10th worst country in the world in which to be a Christian by the advocacy group Open Doors.

According to a 2011 census, 79.8% of India’s 1.38 billion population is Hindu, 14.2% Muslim, and 2.3% Christian.

The country has the second-largest Catholic population in Asia after the Philippines. There are around 20 million Catholics in India, comprising Latin Rite Catholics as well as members of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church.

A report published by three civil rights groups in October 2021 concluded that Christians faced persecution in 21 of the country’s 28 states.

The Forum for Justice and Peace, whose members belong to Catholic religious communities, connected violence against Christians to attacks on Muslims, India’s largest minority community.

“We request you to guide the Catholic community in India to respond to the increasing hate speech and violence against Muslims and Christians,” they wrote.

“When Muslims were lynched by the right-wing groups, the Church in India remained silent. Now, these groups have intensified their attacks on Christians.”

“We are of the view that we Catholics cannot remain silent spectators when the drama of violent attacks against the minorities is unfolding before us. We need to act and fulfill our prophetic role before it is too late.”

The letter was signed by Father Antony F. Thekkiniyath, O.F.M. Cap., and Sister Dorothy Fernandes, P.B.V.M., respectively the national secretary and national convenor of the Forum for Justice and Peace.

The authors asked Gracias, archbishop of Bombay since 2006, to adopt a seven-point plan to help persecuted Indian Christians.

The proposals included writing to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who invited the pope to India in October, urging him to order local leaders “to prevent such atrocities in future and to bring to book the culprits who are involved in these crimes.”

They also called for the swift denunciation of acts of anti-Christian violence by the bishops’ conference, a day of public fasting, and protest rallies.

“The violent acts against the Christian community and Muslim community or any other minority group are in complete violation of the law of the land and the Indian constitution,” the letter said.

“If we do not respond to such acts, the secular fabric of India will be lost, causing irreparable damage to the people of India, and an inclusive, democratic and pluralistic India as envisioned in the preamble of the Indian constitution could be lost forever.”

Catholic bishops of Ukraine and Poland say Russia tensions pose ‘great danger’

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, with Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, president of the Polish bishops’ conference. / episkopat.pl.

Kyiv, Ukraine, Jan 24, 2022 / 06:05 am (CNA).

Catholic bishops in Ukraine and Poland said on Monday that rising tensions with Russia pose “a great danger” to the whole of Europe.

In a joint message on Jan. 24, Church leaders appealed to governments to “refrain from hostilities” in Ukraine, Europe’s second-largest country by area after Russia.

“The current situation represents a great danger for the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the entire European continent, which may destroy the progress made so far by many generations in building a peaceful order and unity in Europe,” said the appeal signed by Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, president of the Polish bishops’ conference, among others.

The bishops issued their message the day after Pope Francis announced that Jan. 26 will be a day of prayer for peace in the Eastern European country.

“I am following with concern the increase of tensions that threaten to inflict a new blow to the peace in Ukraine, and call into question the security of the European continent, with wider repercussions,” the pope said after his Sunday Angelus address on Jan. 23.

Ukraine, which has a population of 44 million people, borders Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Belarus, and Russia.

The Russo-Ukrainian War began in February 2014, focused on the east of Ukraine. The conflict has claimed more than 14,000 lives and driven 1.3 million people from their homes, according to Caritas Internationalis, a Vatican-based confederation of Catholic charities raising funds for those affected.

The warring parties agreed to a cease-fire in July 2020. But Russia has sent an estimated 100,000 troops to the Ukrainian border. U.S. President Joe Biden said on Jan. 19 that he expected Russian President Vladimir Putin to order an invasion.

The U.S. State Department said on Jan. 23 that it had ordered the departure of family members of U.S. government employees at the U.S. embassy in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv.

The Ukrainian and Polish bishops lamented the lack of progress in talks between Western countries and Russia.

“In their speeches, the leaders of many countries point to Russia’s increasing pressure on Ukraine, as massive armaments and troops are gathered on its border. The occupation of Donbas and Crimea has shown that the Russian Federation — in its violation of Ukraine’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity — disregards the binding rules of international law,” they said.

Europe’s Catholic bishops expressed support for Ukraine last week.

“At this extremely delicate time, we ask Christians to pray for the gift of peace in Ukraine so that those responsible may be filled with, and radiate, a peace that is ‘contagious’ and that the crisis will be overcome exclusively through dialogue,” the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE) said.

In their message, the bishops of Ukraine and Poland called for a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

They said: “Today, the quest for alternatives to war in resolving international conflicts has become an urgent necessity, since the terrifying power of the means of destruction are now in the hands of even medium and small powers, and the increasingly strong ties existing between the peoples of the whole earth make it difficult, if not practically impossible, to limit the effects of any conflict.”

“Therefore, drawing on the experience of previous generations, we call upon those in power to refrain from hostilities. We encourage leaders to immediately withdraw from the path of ultimatums and the use of other countries as bargaining chips.”

“Differences in interests must be resolved not by the use of arms, but through agreements. The international community should unite in solidarity and actively support endangered society in all possible ways.”

Pope Francis: Global synodal path ‘a great opportunity to listen to one another’

Pope Francis listens to a boy called Emanuele at St. Paul of the Cross parish, Rome, on April 15, 2018. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Jan 24, 2022 / 04:18 am (CNA).

Pope Francis said on Monday that the two-year global consultation process leading to the Synod on Synodality is “a great opportunity” for Catholics to listen to one another.

Writing in his World Communications Day message, released on Jan. 24, the pope expressed concern that people were “losing the ability to listen,” both in the Church and wider public life.

“A synodal process has just been launched,” he wrote. “Let us pray that it will be a great opportunity to listen to one another.”

“Communion, in fact, is not the result of strategies and programs, but is built in mutual listening between brothers and sisters.”

Pope Francis formally invited the world’s Catholics last October to take part in a consultation process leading to the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in 2023.

In his new message, entitled “Listening with the ear of the heart,” the pope reflected on biblical passages illustrating the importance of listening.

“Among the five senses, the one favored by God seems to be hearing, perhaps because it is less invasive, more discreet than sight, and therefore leaves the human being more free,” he wrote.

“Listening corresponds to the humble style of God. It is the action that allows God to reveal himself as the One who, by speaking, creates man and woman in his image, and by listening recognizes them as his partners in dialogue.”

The pope lamented what he described as an absence of listening in public discourse.

“The lack of listening, which we experience so often in daily life, is unfortunately also evident in public life, where, instead of listening to each other, we often ‘talk past one another,’” he observed.

“This is a symptom of the fact that, rather than seeking the true and the good, consensus is sought; rather than listening, one pays attention to the audience. Good communication, instead, does not try to impress the public with a soundbite, with the aim of ridiculing the other person, but pays attention to the reasons of the other person and tries to grasp the complexity of reality.”

“It is sad when, even in the Church, ideological alignments are formed and listening disappears, leaving sterile opposition in its wake.”

The pope signed the message on Jan. 24, the Memorial of St. Francis de Sales, patron of writers and journalists.

He urged members of the media to develop their listening capacities.

“Communication does not take place if listening has not taken place, and there is no good journalism without the ability to listen,” he said.

“In order to provide solid, balanced, and complete information, it is necessary to listen for a long time. To recount an event or describe an experience in news reporting, it is essential to know how to listen, to be ready to change one’s mind, to modify one’s initial assumptions.”

The pope suggested that listening to society was more critical than ever due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“So much previously accumulated mistrust towards ‘official information’ has also caused an ‘infodemic,’ within which the world of information is increasingly struggling to be credible and transparent,” he said.

He particularly encouraged journalists to tell the stories of migrants.

“Everyone would then be free to support the migration policies they deem most appropriate for their own country,” he wrote.

“But in any case, we would have before our eyes, not numbers, not dangerous invaders, but the faces and stories, gazes, expectations and sufferings of real men and women to listen to.”

Quoting the German Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed by the Nazis in 1945, the pope underlined that there was also a great need for listening in the Church.

He said: “It is the most precious and life-giving gift we can offer each other. ‘Christians have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by him who is himself the great listener and whose work they should share. We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the word of God.’”

World Communications Day, established by Pope Paul VI in 1967, will be celebrated this year on Sunday, May 29, the day that some countries will mark the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, transferred from the preceding Thursday.

The theme of this year’s commemoration, the 56th, is “Listen!”

Concluding his message, Pope Francis compared the Church to a choir.

“With the awareness that we participate in a communion that precedes and includes us, we can rediscover a symphonic Church, in which each person is able to sing with his or her own voice, welcoming the voices of others as a gift to manifest the harmony of the whole that the Holy Spirit composes,” he said.

Benedict XVI confirms he attended disputed 1980 meeting in Munich

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, pictured in summer 2017. / EWTN/Paul Badde.

Munich, Germany, Jan 24, 2022 / 03:38 am (CNA).

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI has apologized for mistakenly saying that he did not attend a disputed meeting in 1980 while serving as archbishop of Munich and Freising.

In a statement published in the German Catholic weekly Die Tagepost on Jan. 24, the 94-year-old retired pope said that the mistake was the result of an editing error, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

Benedict XVI initially told investigators that he was not present at a meeting of archdiocesan officials on Jan. 15, 1980.

But in the statement, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, Benedict XVI’s private secretary, said that the pope emeritus “would now like to make it clear that, contrary to what was stated during the hearing, he took part in the ordinariate meeting on Jan. 15, 1980.”

“The statement to the contrary was therefore objectively incorrect,” he said.

“He would like to emphasize that this was not done out of bad faith, but was the result of an error in the editing of his statement. He will explain how this came about in the pending statement. He is very sorry for this mistake and asks for this mistake to be excused.”

A more than 1,000-page report on the handling of abuse cases in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, issued on Jan. 20, accused the retired pope of mishandling four cases during his tenure as archbishop from 1977 to 1982.

Benedict XVI, who strongly denies cover-up allegations, sent 82 pages of observations to researchers compiling the report.

One of the four cases related to a priest named Father Peter Hullermann, who is accused of abusing at least 23 boys aged eight to 16 between 1973 and 1996.

The case was first highlighted by the media in 2010, when Benedict XVI was pope, and again earlier this month.

Attention has focused on an ordinariate meeting in 1980, in which the priest’s transfer from the Diocese of Essen to Munich archdiocese was discussed.

Gänswein noted in his statement to Die Tagespost that during the meeting it was agreed that the priest, who had admitted to sexually abusing children, should be provided with accommodation in Munich as he underwent therapy.

“Objectively correct, however, and documented by the files, is the statement that no decision was made in this meeting about a pastoral assignment of the priest in question,” he said.

“Rather, only the request to provide him with accommodation during his therapeutic treatment in Munich was granted.”

Hullermann was later permitted to serve without restrictions in a Munich parish. In 2010, former vicar general Msgr. Gerhard Gruber took “full responsibility” for the decision.

After leaving the Munich archdiocese in 1982, the future Benedict XVI served as prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith before his election as pope in 2005. He retired in 2013 and has since lived in relative seclusion at the Vatican.

The Munich report covered not only the period that the future Benedict XVI led the archdiocese, but also the tenures of Cardinal Friedrich Wetter, who succeeded him, and Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who has served as archbishop of Munich and Freising since 2007.

In addition to criticizing the future pope’s handling of four cases, investigators said that Wetter had mishandled 21 cases and Marx two cases.

Marx, a member of Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals, said that he was “shocked and ashamed” at the report’s findings.

The Munich archdiocese is expected to hold a press conference on Jan. 27 to address the study’s conclusions “after a first reading and examination.”

Gänswein’s statement said that Benedict XVI was continuing to read the extensive report by the Munich law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl.

“At present, he is carefully reading the statements made there, which fill him with shame and pain about the suffering inflicted on the victims,” he said.

“Even though he is endeavoring to read the report quickly, he asks for your understanding that it will take some time for him to read it in its entirety due to his age and health, but also because of its large volume. There will be a statement on the report.”

Pope Francis: The Word of God rekindles hope

Pope Francis conferred on Catholics the lay ministries of catechist and lector at a Mass for the Sunday of the Word of God on Jan. 23, 2022. / Vatican Media

Vatican City, Jan 23, 2022 / 15:10 pm (CNA).

On Word of God Sunday, Pope Francis reminded Christians that God speaks to them through scripture, filling them with hope and guiding their journey of faith.

“The word is at the center: it reveals God and leads us to man,” the pope said Jan. 23.

Pope Francis celebrated Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica for the fourth annual Sunday of the Word of God, during which he for the first time formally conferred upon lay Catholics the ministries of lector and catechist.

Pope Francis conferred on Catholics the lay ministries of catechist and lector at a Mass for the Sunday of the Word of God on Jan. 23, 2022. Vatican Media
Pope Francis conferred on Catholics the lay ministries of catechist and lector at a Mass for the Sunday of the Word of God on Jan. 23, 2022. Vatican Media

In his homily at Mass, Francis reflected on the “God of closeness” who guides us by his word.

God “wants to relieve the burdens that crush you, to warm your wintry coldness, to brighten your daily dreariness and to support your faltering steps,” the pope said. “This he does by his word, by the word he speaks to rekindle hope amid the ashes of your fears, to help you rediscover joy in the labyrinths of your sorrows, to fill with hope your feelings of solitude. He makes you move forward, not in a labyrinth, but on a daily journey to find him.”

Following the proclamation of the Gospel, the candidates for the ministries of catechist and lector were called by name, to which they responded: “Here I am.”

Pope Francis established the ministry of catechist as an instituted, vocational service within the Catholic Church last May.

The newly instituted ministry is for lay people who have a particular call to serve the Catholic Church as a teacher of the faith. The ministry lasts for the entirety of life, regardless of whether the person is actively carrying out that activity during every part of his or her life.

The pope changed Church law in January 2021 so that women can be formally instituted to the lay ministries of lector and acolyte.

A lector is a person who reads Scripture — other than the Gospel, which is only proclaimed by deacons and priests — to the congregation at Mass.

Pope Francis conferred on Catholics the lay ministries of catechist and lector at a Mass for the Sunday of the Word of God on Jan. 23, 2022. Vatican Media
Pope Francis conferred on Catholics the lay ministries of catechist and lector at a Mass for the Sunday of the Word of God on Jan. 23, 2022. Vatican Media

In his homily, Pope Francis noted that “in this celebration, some of our brothers and sisters will be instituted as lectors and catechists.”

“They are called to the important work of serving the Gospel of Jesus, of proclaiming him, so that his consolation, his joy and his liberation can reach everyone,” he said.

“That is also the mission of each one of us: to be credible messengers, prophets of God’s word in the world,” he continued.

Pope Francis conferred on Catholics the lay ministries of catechist and lector at a Mass for the Sunday of the Word of God on Jan. 23, 2022. Vatican Media
Pope Francis conferred on Catholics the lay ministries of catechist and lector at a Mass for the Sunday of the Word of God on Jan. 23, 2022. Vatican Media

He encouraged everyone to be passionate about sacred scripture, and to be willing to immerse themselves in the Word of God, which “reveals God’s newness and leads us tirelessly to love others.”

He also warned about the temptation to rigidity, which he called a perversion and an idol.

“Let us put the word of God at the center of the Church’s life and pastoral activity,” he urged. “In this way, we will be liberated from all rigid pelagianism, from all rigidity, set free from the illusion of a spirituality that puts you ‘in orbit,’ unconcerned about caring for our brothers and sisters. Let us put the word of God at the center of the Church’s life and pastoral activity. Let us listen to that word, pray with it, and put it into practice.”

After the homily, Pope Francis continued with the rite of conferral for the ministries of lector and catechist.

He began with the lectors, who knelt one-by-one before him to receive a Bible. Francis prayed over each one with the words: “Receive the book of holy scripture and faithfully transmit the Word of God, so that it may germinate and bear fruit in the hearts of men.”

Pope Francis conferred on Catholics the lay ministries of catechist and lector at a Mass for the Sunday of the Word of God on Jan. 23, 2022. Vatican Media
Pope Francis conferred on Catholics the lay ministries of catechist and lector at a Mass for the Sunday of the Word of God on Jan. 23, 2022. Vatican Media

Those being instituted as catechists also knelt before Pope Francis, who handed them each a silver crucifix, while saying: “Receive this sign of our faith, seat of the truth and charity of Christ: proclaim him by your life, actions and word.”

Two people from the Amazonian region in Peru were formally made catechists by the pope, along with other candidates from Brazil, Ghana, Poland, and Spain.

The ministry of lector was conferred on lay Catholics from South Korea, Pakistan, Ghana, and Italy.

Pope Francis declared the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time a special day for celebrating the Word of God when he issued the apostolic letter “Aperuit illis,” in 2019, on the 1,600th anniversary of the death of St. Jerome, who translated the Bible into Latin in the fourth century.

The Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization is the Vatican department responsible for promoting the Sunday of the Word of God.

Pope Francis conferred on Catholics the lay ministries of catechist and lector at a Mass for the Sunday of the Word of God on Jan. 23, 2022. Vatican Media
Pope Francis conferred on Catholics the lay ministries of catechist and lector at a Mass for the Sunday of the Word of God on Jan. 23, 2022. Vatican Media

Out of concern for the continued spread of COVID-19, around 2,000 people attended the papal Mass, a small percentage of the basilica’s total seating capacity.

Everyone who attended received a book with commentary from the Fathers of the Church on the fourth and fifth chapters of the Gospel of Saint Luke.

Pope Francis calls for day of prayer for Ukraine

Pope Francis gives the Angelus address on Jan. 23, 2022 / Vatican Media

Vatican City, Jan 23, 2022 / 11:55 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Sunday called for January 26 to be a day of prayer for peace in Ukraine, as the threat rises of Russian invasion into the Eastern European country.

“I am following with concern the increase of tensions that threaten to inflict a new blow to the peace in Ukraine, and call into question the security of the European continent, with wider repercussions,” the pope said after his weekly Angelus address Jan. 23.

“I make a heartfelt appeal to all people of good will, that they may raise prayers to God Almighty, that every political action and initiative may serve human brotherhood, rather than partisan interests,” he stated.

Russia has sent an estimated 100,000 troops to the Ukrainian border. U.S. President Joe Biden said at a press conference on Jan. 19 that he expected Russian President Vladimir Putin to order an invasion.

The British government said on Jan. 22 that Russia may be plotting to install a pro-Kremlin leader in Ukraine’s capital city of Kyiv.

“Those who pursue their own interests, to the detriment of others, disregard their human vocation, as we were all created as brothers and sisters,” Pope Francis said. “For this reason, and with concern, given the current tensions, I propose that next Wednesday, January 26, be a day of prayer for peace.”

Catholic bishops in Europe have also expressed support for Ukraine and appealed to Christians to pray for peace.

The pope’s appeal for Ukraine came after he led the weekly recitation of the Angelus, a traditional Marian prayer, from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square.

People wave at Pope Francis during his Angelus address on Jan. 23, 2022. Vatican Media
People wave at Pope Francis during his Angelus address on Jan. 23, 2022. Vatican Media

In his address before the prayer, Francis spoke about the day’s Gospel reading, “the first word of Jesus’ preaching recorded in the Gospel of Luke,” particularly when Jesus says: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled.”

“Let us dwell on this ‘today,’” the pope said. “The Word of God is always ‘today.’ It begins with a ‘today:’ when you read the Word of God, a ‘today’ begins in your soul, if you understand it well.”

Speaking on Word of God Sunday, Pope Francis thanked those who preach and proclaim the Gospel with fidelity and in a way that rouses hearts. He also addressed the problem of religious talks or homilies which are too “generic, abstract.”

There are homilies which “do not touch the soul and the life of the people,” he said, explaining that the reason this happens is “because they lack the power of this ‘today;’ what Jesus ‘fills with meaning’ by the power of the Spirit, is today.”

“Yes, at times one hears impeccable conferences, well-constructed speeches, but they do not move the heart and so everything remains as before,” he noted. “Even many homilies — I say it with respect but with pain — are abstract, and instead of awakening the soul, they put it to sleep. When the faithful start looking at their watches — ‘when is this going to end?’ — they put the soul to sleep,” he said.

Pope Francis encouraged everyone to read and re-read a small passage of scripture every day: “Keep the Gospel in your pocket or your bag, to read it on your travels, at any moment, and read it calmly. In time we will discover that these words are made especially for us, for our life.”

“The Word of God, is indeed alive and effective; it changes us, it enters into our affairs, it illuminates our daily lives, it comforts and brings order. Remember: the Word of God transforms an ordinary day into the today in which God speaks to us,” he said.

Francis suggested that during this liturgical year, it would be good for Catholics to spend time in personal reflection on the Gospel of Luke, the Gospel proclaimed at Mass on Sundays.

“Let us familiarize ourselves with the Gospel, it will bring us the newness and joy of God,” he said.