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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.

Catholic bishops, leaders lament U.S. decision to deny Bahamian immigrants TPS

Miami, Fla., Sep 13, 2019 / 09:15 am (CNA).- U.S. officials announced Wednesday that a protective immigration status will not be extended to Bahamian migrants, despite the small country’s ongoing recovery from a destructive storm this month. Catholic leaders have condemned the decision, and two Florida bishops say that Bahamians need help from U.S. Catholics.
 
Jose Magaña-Salgado, TPS Campaign Coordinator for CLINIC, said the move lacks compassion, especially while thousands of Bahamians are still missing as a result of the Category 5 Hurricane Dorian.

“There is not even a sense of [the range] of destruction here or the chaos that these individuals are all facing, and to dismiss TPS out-of-hand so prematurely is just a very cruel and unnecessary action,” Magaña-Salgado  told CNA.

Established in 1990, “Temporary Protective Status” (TPS) allows immigrants from an unsafe country to reside in the United States for up to 18 months. Immigrants from a TPS-designated nation would not face deportation and would have permission to work. If the country’s problems continue after the initial period, TPS-designates can apply to extend their stay.

“Temporary Protective Status is an immigration humanitarian protection that was created by Congress for situations where it was unsafe to return nationals back to their home country because of extraordinary and temporary positions, like an armed conflict [or] environmental disaster,” said Magaña-Salgado.

“We are strongly urging the administration to use Temporary Protective Status to protect, at least, the 4,000 Bahamians who have already arrived in the United States,”  he added.

Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice also expressed concern over the government’s decision for Bahamian immigrants. He said, as a Florida resident, he has witnessed hurricanes and has sympathy for all those affected by this natural disaster.

“The United States has a long history of granting some kind of status to refugees who might come to us because of natural disasters,” he said.

“I think it would have been appropriate, and there was every ability of the government to grant TPS. However, they’ve chosen not to,” Dewane told CNA.

“Florida has the greatest number of Bahamians outside of the Bahamas themselves, so for us, it would have been a natural way in. I think the population of Florida has always been helpful” for people in similar situations, he said.

Hurricane Dorian made landfall in the northwestern Bahamas on Sept. 1 and it churned atop some of the country’s islands for two days. In the Bahamas, the storm’s death toll is officially 50, but that number is expected to climb. 2,500 people are still missing after the storm.

Catholic Relief Services said the hurricane struck the country with winds between 185 mph and 220 mph. More 76,000 people have been displaced or severely impacted; there is not yet power or clean water in the northwestern islands of the country.

According to a recent statistic from The Migration Policy Institute, an estimated 33,000 Bahamian immigrants are living in the United States, a majority of whom are in Florida. Since the storm hit, an additional 4,000 Bahamians have arrived in the U.S.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami told CNA that about 80 percent of the Bahamas is unaffected by the hurricane. However, he said the islands like Abaco and Grand Bahama are devastated.

He said people are displaced from their homes seeking shelter in the southern regions of the country, like the capital Nassau. He said these places are running out of space.

“The Bahamians need assistance with rebuilding after the hurricane,” he said. “A lot of people are concerned. I talked to the [Archbishop of Nassau] twice already and he’s lost a couple of schools on the islands there and he’s lost a church.

“I have taken up a collection in all my parishes. I gave the pastors the option to do either last week or this week.”

The archbishop said he is not surprised that the current administration denied TPS to Bahamians, noting that Venezuelans who face a dangerous dictatorial regime were also denied the temporary status earlier this year.

While TPS has allowed more than 300,000 people to reside in the U.S., the Trump administration has discouraged the use of TPS and tried to remove six countries from the TPS list, USA Today reported. These countries make-up 98 percent of the TPS immigrant population.

Wenski said, in the Parable of the Last Judgment, Christ encourages people to care for the vulnerable. In the Gospel of Matthew, Christ compares the services rendered to those in need as a charity done towards himself. Wenski said, likewise, Christ is reflected in the immigrant.

“We remember that Jesus was the immigrant … not only because he was a refugee in Egypt, but, since God became man, you could say that Jesus immigrated from Heaven to come live among us,” he said.

“So being welcoming to the immigrant is in the DNA of our Catholic faith.”

Pope Francis explains decision to give relics of St. Peter to Orthodox

Vatican City, Sep 13, 2019 / 05:11 am (CNA).- In a letter to Bartholomew I of Constantinople, Pope Francis has explained the unexpected gifting of a relic of St. Peter to the leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church in June, a gesture which generated controversy among some Catholics.

The pope wrote to the ecumenical patriarch Aug. 30, saying the decision to give the relic was born out of prayer and intended as a sign of the ongoing work and prayer toward visible communion between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.

Pope Francis gave the relic to a member of a delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, which attended a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica for the feast of Saints Peter and Paul June 29.

After the Mass, Pope Francis brought Eastern Orthodox Archbishop Job to a chapel in the papal apartments and offered the chapel’s reliquary as a gift. The bronze box contains nine fragments from what are believed to be the bones of St. Peter in the necropolis beneath St. Peter’s Basilica.

The box bears the inscription, “From the bones found in the hypogeum of the Vatican Basilica, which are believed to be of Blessed Peter the Apostle.”

When Pope St. Paul VI discovered St. Peter’s relics during excavations in 1939, he had the fragments removed to keep in the private chapel of the papal apartments.

“This gesture is intended to be a confirmation of the journey that our Churches have made in drawing closer to one another: a journey at times demanding and difficult, yet one accompanied by evident signs of God’s grace,” Francis wrote to Bartholomew Aug. 30.

“I sensed that this thought came to me from the Holy Spirit, who in so many ways prompts Christians to regain that full communion for which our Lord Jesus Christ prayed on the eve of his glorious Passion.”

Pope Francis said he was reflecting on the “mutual determination to advance together towards full communion,” and thought of a gift Patriarch Athenagoras gave to St. Paul VI of an icon of Saints Peter and Andrew embracing.

This icon, he said, “has become for us a prophetic sign of the restoration of that visible communion between our Churches to which we aspire and for which we fervently pray and work.”

“Hence, in the peace born of prayer, I sensed that it would be highly significant were some fragments of the relics of the Apostle Peter to be placed beside the relics of the Apostle Andrew, who is venerated as the heavenly patron of the Church of Constantinople.”

The Orthodox delegation brought the reliquary to Istanbul, where Monsignor Andrea Palmieri, undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, personally gave it to Bartholomew.

Bartholomew, as patriarch of Constantinople, is regarded as “first among equals” within the Orthodox communion and is seen by many as the worldwide leader of Orthodoxy.

Orthodox Archbishop Job called the gesture “another gigantic step towards concrete unity.”

Pope Francis wrote that the joining of the relics of Andrew and Peter can serve “as a constant reminder and encouragement that, on this continuing journey, our divergences will no longer stand in the way of our common witness and our evangelizing mission in the service of a human family that today is tempted to build a purely secular future, a future without God.”

Pope Francis to visit Thailand and Japan in November

Vatican City, Sep 13, 2019 / 03:40 am (CNA).- The Vatican confirmed Friday that Pope Francis will travel to Thailand and Japan in November with stops scheduled in Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Pope Francis will visit Thailand Nov. 20-23 in commemoration of the 350th anniversary of the Vatican Mission to Siam in 1669. The pope will then travel Nov. 23-26 to Japan, where the theme of his visit is “Protect all life.”

In recent years, the Church has been working in Japan to respond to life issues and protect the most vulnerable. The Holy See Press Office said that the trip’s motto “protect all life” not only applies to respect for all human dignity, but also extends to the environment.

“In Japan today as well there are a pile of problems related to life and peace, in addition to the issues of economy, environment and relations with neighboring countries. Moreover, recovery from natural catastrophes and nuclear plant accidents remain as persisting problems,” according to the Vatican statement.

The papal trip to Japan has been much anticipated after Pope Francis told journalists in January he was planning to travel to the country. AP reported Sept. 13 that Pope Francis will meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the Japanese Emperor Naruhito during his visit to the country.

Catholics in Japan make up less than 0.5% of the country’s population. Christianity was first introduced to Japan in the 16th century by Catholic missionaries, most notably St. Francis Xavier. In the years that followed the Catholics in Japan suffered many waves of fierce persecutions with hundreds martyred, including 26 canonized saints who were executed by crucifixion in 1597 in Nagasaki.

In Thailand, the small Catholic community -- representing less than 0.5% of the mostly Buddhist population --  has been celebrating the 350th anniversary of the Vatican Mission to Siam with events throughout 2019.

In May, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, the prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, celebrated Mass with four thousand Thai people in Sampran, outside of Bangkok.

“Asia is a sector of humanity rich in cultures and organized religions but with more than 85% of its members un-baptized,” Filoni said at the opening ceremony of the anniversary celebration.

“Asia is the missionary continent par excellence. The universal Church requests your willing cooperation for missionary activities in this vast continent,” he said.

“We need to reflect that our mission as baptized persons in Asia, is indeed a true mission...when the witnessing of our faith brings us into confrontation with the multitude of non-baptized persons, with their mentality and lifestyle, if not, at times, contrasting with the Gospel and the dignity of the person,” Filoni added.

Pope Francis will be the second pope to visit both Japan and Thailand. St. John Paul II visited Thailand in 1984 and Japan in 1981. During his visit to Japan, St. John Paul II visited Tokyo,  Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, including a stop in the town of the Immaculata established by St. Maximilian Kolbe.

In 2019, Pope Francis has already visited nine other countries outside of Italy, including Panama, Morocco, Madagascar, Romania, and the United Arab Emirates.

On the return flight from his trip to Mozambique, Madagascar, and Mauritius in Africa earlier this week, the pope told journalists that he does plan to visit more European countries, but he will prioritize visits to smaller countries within Europe.

Academics object to pro-choice federal appointment in Argentina

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Sep 13, 2019 / 12:00 am (CNA).- The deans of five Argentine law schools have protested the appointment of a supporter of legalized abortion as Argentina’s Ombudsman for the Rights of Girls, Boys and Adolescents since “it's a clear violation of the federal juridical order.”

On June 26 the Argentine House of Representatives confirmed Marisa Graham, a well-known abortion advocate in Argentina, to lead the nation’s Ombudsman's Office for Boys, Girls and Adolescents.

Graham’s appointment now awaits confirmation by Argentina’s senate.

The signatories to a letter of objection are the deans of the law schools of the Argentina Catholic University, the Catholic University of  La Plata, the Saint Thomas Aquinas University of the North, the University del Salvador, and Fasta University.

Graham's “public and manifest advocacy in support of the legalization of abortion is discriminatory with respect to countless people who would be unprotected, helpless and deprived of the defense of their most elementary rights,” the deans said.

These rights are contained in the articles of the National Constitution, the American Convention on Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Civil and Commercial Code.

The regulations recognize “that people's lives begin with conception and from that moment they are already children up to 18 years of age; that all children have the intrinsic right to life from conception and that their survival and development are to be guaranteed from that moment to the maximum extent possible, by the State and without any discrimination,” they said.

“The arguments invoked by Dr. Graham that her position on the legalization of abortion would not influence the exercise of her office are unsustainable, while it is not understood how she will defend the right to life of the unborn child, that they are persons according to the norms of the highest level in our legal system,” they warned.

The Ombudsman Office for Boys, Girls and Adolescents monitors public policies on childhood and ensures that the State guarantees compliance with the rights of minors.

This office has been vacant since it was created in 2005 with the Law on the Comprehensive Protection of the Rights of Girls, Boys and Adolescents.

 

This story was initially published by ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish-language partner agency. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.