Archive of October 23, 2013

Report on theology society both 'encouraging, saddening'

Washington D.C., Oct 23, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A spiritual theology professor has said that an internal report acknowledging the Catholic Theological Society of America excludes more-orthodox and conservative thinkers is regrettable, yet an opportunity for change in the group.

The National Catholic Reporter recently published a May 15 report of the Catholic Theological Society of America's committee on theological diversity, which said, “the self-conception of many members that the CTSA is open to all Catholic theologians is faulty and self-deceptive.”

"As one of our members put it, the CTSA is a group of liberal theologians and 'this permeates virtually everything … because the CTSA does not aspire to be a partisan group, both attitudes and practices will have to shift if the CTSA is to become the place where all perspectives within Catholic theology in North America are welcome," the report continued.

Dr. Anthony Lilles, who teaches spiritual theology at St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver, Colo., commented to CNA Oct. 22 that he is “both saddened and encouraged by the report.”

Lilles lamented the news that “a forum is provided in which Catholic scholars deride the views of their peers” and “cheer derogatory remarks against the Magisterium,” saying that “these observations suggest the CTSA has betrayed the very purpose responsible Catholic theology exists to serve.”

The organization's report described a variety of exclusionary tactics aimed at more conservative members, including a failure to invite conservative theologians to speak; the use of the term “thinking Catholics” to refer to theological liberals and “people who would take us backwards” to talk about theological conservatives; and cool attitudes towards theological conservatives in the organization.

In addition, the report continues, members of the society will make jokes “and snide remarks about, or disrespectful references to, bishops, the Vatican, the Magisterium, etc.”

“These predictably elicit derisive laughter from a part of the audience.”

Richard Gaillardetz, president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, explained in an Oct. 4 letter to the members of the organization that while the board does not share all of the concerns of the committee's findings, the report is still “an opportunity for an examination of conscience regarding our treatment of colleagues whose theological and ecclesial commitments differ substantially from our own.”

"As a professional society we are bound to consider the issues highlighted in the committee report with the utmost seriousness. The Catholic Theological Society of America should aspire to be a 'big tent' professional society that models in its attitudes and policies a commitment to the full catholicity of our theological tradition.”

He encouraged members to consider “the advantages of a theologically diverse leadership” when choosing board members, and asked that members refrain “from calling into question the good faith of others” and be respectful

Responding to the report, Lilles, who earned a doctorate in spiritual theology at the Angelicum in Rome, said that a “growing number of scholars like myself are not convinced” that the Catholic Theological Society of America does not have “the respect, or attentiveness, or freedom” needed for authentic theological conversations.

“Theology is a conversation in the Church about the most beautiful truths ever entrusted to humanity, and is to protect and cultivate the living faith of the … most vulnerable of the People of God,” he explained.

“This effort, to be authentic, requires an attitude of mutual respect and attentiveness, as well as freedom from the undue influence of cultural and political powers.”

However, he continued, the report bringing such narrow attitudes to light “is also encouraging.”

The decision to “come together and begin to shed light on this failure” and to share the findings of the ad hoc committee publicly “suggests the beginning of an important new opportunity for this society,” Lilles said.

The report's “thoughtful solidarity of concern for mutual respect” is encouraging, he said, and “is an example that might advance a more constructive and Catholic conversation, not only for this society, but also for other similar professional and academic organizations in the Church.”

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Be pro-life unconditionally, Denver archbishop says

Denver, Colo., Oct 23, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver urged Catholic medical workers to be “unconditionally” pro-life witnesses, criticizing those who support abortion and other forms of medical killing in the name of conscience.

“Any time anyone takes the life of an unborn child, or promotes assisted suicide or euthanasia, or treats others as though they can be thrown away, their conscience is deadened and erroneous, and they are not listening to the voice of God or the voice of truth but rather are listening to the father of lies, to the evil one,” he preached during the Denver archdiocese's Oct. 19 “White Mass” at St. Thomas More parish in Centennial, Colo.

The White Mass is a long-standing tradition for health care professionals, taking its name from the white clothes common in their profession.

“Sadly, what has happened with so many Catholics today is that they have come to understand conscience as listening to their own voice, rather than listening to the voice of God as he has revealed himself in Scripture and in Tradition,” the archbishop said.

He taught that Catholics must form their consciences and understand that their conscience can become “hardened,” “deadened” and “erroneous” when it is “not faithful to God and to the truth.”

“It is essential that we help people to understand that conscience is the voice of God living within the human heart. They must quietly listen for that voice and open their hearts to it.”

Archbishop Aquila cited Pope Francis’ Sept. 20 words to Catholic medical professionals, when the Pope said every child condemned to abortion “bears the face of Jesus Christ.” He condemned negligent attitudes toward both the unborn and the elderly, urging that “they cannot be thrown away.”

Archbishop Aquila also stressed Bl. John Paul II’s words in his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae, where he said that in the conflict between the “culture of death” and the “culture of life,” there is “the inescapable responsibility of choosing to be unconditionally pro-life.”

Archbishop Aquila said this is “true of anyone who claims to be Catholic.”

“One must see the dignity of human life, the beauty and goodness of human life, from the moment of conception until natural death. My brothers and sisters, it is essential for us to be those who proclaim that truth, to be those who give witness to it.”

This “culture of truth and love” springs from the encounter with Jesus Christ, he said.

“And in that encounter with love, in that encounter with mercy, we come to know and to receive he who is the Son of God.”

Countering relativism, the archbishop said human beings are capable of discovering truth and “that the truth is a person, it is Jesus Christ who leads us into all truth, who is valid for every human being.”

“We are called to proclaim that in love. We must propose those truths constantly and courageously, helping people to come to know the truth of Christ.”

Archbishop Aquila stressed the importance of “the gift of faith” given to Abraham and to every Christian. He urged “a deep trust and confidence in Jesus” and also in the promise that the Holy Spirit will guide those who proclaim Christ to the world.

He said Catholics in the Denver archdiocese must be “those who go, as Pope Francis has said so often, to the outskirts,” in order to proclaim Jesus Christ.

Archbishop Aquila closed his speech to the health care workers by quoting Pope Francis: “The credibility of a health care system is not measured solely by efficiency, but above all by the attention and love given to the person, whose life is always sacred and inviolable.”

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Archbishop Müller affirms Catholic marriage, urges care for divorced

Vatican City, Oct 23, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican’s head official on doctrinal matters has reaffirmed that Catholics in irregular marital unions after divorce cannot receive communion, but he urged that this means it is “all the more imperative” to show “pastoral concern” for them.

“The path indicated by the Church is not easy for those concerned,” Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said of Catholics who have divorced and remarried civilly.

“Yet they should know and sense that the Church as a community of salvation accompanies them on their journey.”

Catholics in such unions who try to understand Catholic teaching and abstain from communion “provide their own testimony to the indissolubility of marriage,” he said.

The archbishop wrote on the Catholic approach to remarried divorcees in an Oct. 23 article “The Power of Grace,” published in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano.

The role of remarried divorcees in the Church has been a matter of recurring controversy.

On Oct. 7 in Germany the Archdiocese of Freiburg’s office of pastoral care issued a document saying that divorced and remarried Catholics can receive Holy Communion if they can show their first marriage cannot be reentered, if they repent of their fault in a divorce and if they enter “a new moral responsibility” with their new spouse, Spiegel Online reports.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith responded quickly to the document, saying it is “in open opposition to the teachings of the Church.”

Archbishop Müller’s L’Osservatore Romano article did not address the Freiburg controversy directly. Its preface noted that the Catholic bishops will hold an extraordinary synod on the pastoral care of families in October 2014.

Drawing on the evidence of Scripture and of Church tradition, the archbishop said that only a sacramental marriage between a baptized man and a baptized woman has the characteristic of “unconditional indissolubility.”

“Christian marriage is an effective sign of the covenant between Christ and the Church. Because it designates and communicates the grace of this covenant, marriage between the baptized is a sacrament,” Archbishop Müller wrote. Marriage is “not simply about the relationship of two people to God” but a “reality of the Church” and the Church may decide on its validity.

He noted that the Church Fathers and the Councils of the Church rejected state divorce laws as incompatible with Jesus’ teaching.

“The Church of the Fathers rejected divorce and remarriage, and did so out of obedience to the Gospel. On this question, the Fathers’ testimony is unanimous,” he said.

The Second Vatican Council in the twentieth century also upheld the indissolubility of marriage “clearly and distinctly” in the pastoral constitution “Gaudium et Spes.”

“Marriage is understood as an all-embracing communion of life and love, body and spirit, between a man and a woman who mutually give themselves and receive one another as persons,” the archbishop said. The indissolubility of marriage “becomes the image of God’s enduring love for his people and of Christ’s irrevocable fidelity to his Church.”

The archbishop noted that the Church has defended the indissolubility of Christian marriage “even at the cost of great sacrifice and suffering.” The schism of the Anglican Church came because the Pope’s obedience to Jesus “could not accommodate the demands of King Henry VIII for the dissolution of his marriage.”

Orthodox Christian Churches, he said, have allowed “a great many grounds for divorce” on the grounds of “pastoral leniency.” However, he was critical of the practice, saying it “cannot be reconciled with God’s will” and “represents an ecumenical problem that is not to be underestimated.”

The archbishop warned that the modern mentality is “largely opposed” to the Christian understanding of marriage, its indissolubility, and its openness to children. This means contemporary marriages are “probably invalid more often than they were previously” and so assessment of whether a previous marriage was valid is “important” and can help solve problems.

Archbishop Müller acknowledged that care for the divorced and remarried is a pastoral problem of “significant dimensions.” However, he said that care for remarried divorcees cannot be reduced to the reception of the Eucharist. Rather, they should be encouraged to turn to God.

“God can grant his closeness and his salvation to people on different paths, even if they find themselves in a contradictory life situation,” he said. “As recent documents of the Magisterium have emphasized, pastors and Christian communities are called to welcome people in irregular situations openly and sincerely, to stand by them sympathetically and helpfully, and to make them aware of the love of the Good Shepherd.”

He pointed to Bl. Pope John Paul II’s 1981 apostolic exhortation “Familiaris Consortio” as an example of pastoral concern for remarried divorcees. Pope Benedict XVI also addressed their situation in his 2007 apostolic exhortationn “Sacramentum Caritatis.”

Archbishop Müller also cited the October 2012 Synod of Bishops, whose concluding message addressed remarried divorcees.

“To all of them we want to say that God’s love does not abandon anyone, that the Church loves them, too, that the Church is a house that welcomes all, that they remain members of the Church even if they cannot receive sacramental absolution and the Eucharist,” the synod said. “May our Catholic communities welcome all who live in such situations and support those who are in the path of conversion and reconciliation."

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Pope: Mary is united to Christ in the 'martyrdom' of her heart

Rome, Italy, Oct 23, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - In his weekly general audience, the Pope continued his catechesis on the Church, reflecting today on the importance of Mary as an example of how to respond to God’s plan with fidelity.

“She is also a model of union with Christ, be it in her daily duties, be it in the way of the Cross, until she unites herself with Him in the martyrdom of the heart.”

Pope Francis directed the words of his Oct. 23 general audience to the nearly 100,000 pilgrims gathered in Saint Peter’s Square.

“Dear Brothers and Sisters: In our continuing catechesis on the Church, we now look to the Virgin Mary who, as the Second Vatican Council reminds us, is ‘the model of the Church in the order of faith, charity and perfect union with Christ,’” the Pope stated, quoting Vatican Council document “Lumen Gentium.”

“As a daughter of Israel,” noted the pontiff, “Mary responded in faith to God’s call and became the Mother of his Son.”

Because of her response, he urged, “She teaches us to live a life of faith by her obedience to God’s will and by her unfailing devotion to Jesus and his work.”

Mary obeyed, the Pope recalled, as an “ordinary, humble woman” who “lives immersed in the mystery and her yes, already perfect from the beginning, grows until the Cross, in which her maternity embraces everyone.”

“She is a model of charity, the perfect joy that comes from the Spirit and manifests itself in a sacrificial love.”

This charity, reflected the pontiff, has been “born of faith,” and “brings the joy and peace of Christ’s presence to others and to our world.”

The Pope then turned his reflections to Mary’s constant spiritual attitude and disposition, urging that she “models the Church’s union with Christ through her constant prayer and participation in the mysteries of his life, death and resurrection.”

He then questioned those present, asking them “How does the figure of Mary challenge us? Do we see her far away from us? Do we go to her during trials? Are we capable, like her, of loving by giving ourselves completely? Do we feel united to Jesus, according to her example, in a steadfast relationship or do we only remember Him in times of need?”

“As Mother of the Church,” stressed the Pope, “may Mary, by her prayers, bring us ever closer to the Lord.”

Pope Francis concluded his reflections by praying that Mary “open our hearts to share his transforming and redeeming love, and inspire us to put our firm faith in God’s word, trusting in his goodness and his gracious plan for us and for our world.”

Present among those in attendance at this morning’s audience were pilgrims from England, Ireland, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, India, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, Guam, Canada and the United States.

The pontiff extended special greetings to the members of the United Kingdom’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Holy See, who will be holding meetings in the upcoming days.

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Pope Francis draws non-believers to notice Gospel, cardinal says

Vatican City, Oct 23, 2013 (CNA/Europa Press) - The president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, said that in the first six months of his pontificate Pope Francis “has gotten the world, and non-believers as well, to focus their attention on the Gospel.”

In an interview with Madrid-based news agency Europa Press published Oct. 17, Cardinal Ravasi said this fact is part of the reform that the Pope is carrying out at the pastoral level, but that one of the most important reforms will consist of making the Roman Curia “lighter” and “more essential”, without “so much structure, so many diacasteries, so many people.”

Cardinal Ravasi said the reform is also aimed at making the Curia “more international” and “strengthening the relationships with dioceses, with bishops, with local Churches."

Likewise, he said this would also be a renewal at the administrative and financial levels, at the Institute for the Religious Works, at the economic structures of the Holy See, which are necessary, as the faith is not only about the interior life or about spirituality, but must also be expressed to the exterior world, such as through works of charity.

In his view, Pope Francis' connection with people stems from three elements of communication that he has adopted: the use of simple phrases, as in 'Tweets'; the use of images or symbols employed in advertising in today's television world, such as when he compared the Church to a field hospital; and the use of body language.

Cardinal Ravasi, whose dicastery will organize a Courtyard of the Gentiles in Berlin in November, 2014 on the topic of freedom with and without God, said dialogue between believers and non-believers on issues such as society, the person, and the meaning of life is not about “convincing” others or “proselytism” but about learning from each other's faith and moral elements.  

The celebration of the Courtyard of the Gentiles, he said, is relevant in the “era of Francis” as the Pope himself has given an example by dialoguing with Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari, who is a non-believer.

He said that among the challenges facing the Pontifical Council for Culture are the dialogue between art and faith, and science and faith, the study of communication within the Church in the digital age, and the problem of the economy studied not so much as a financial technique, but as general problem that concerns the organization of society.

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German bishop on leave while 'luxury' charges scrutinized

Limburg, Germany, Oct 23, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A German bishop at the center of intense media controversy for allegedly living a luxurious lifestyle will take a leave of absence from his diocese until the truth can be determined, Vatican officials have said.

The Holy See Press Office said Oct. 23 that “a situation has arisen in which” Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of Limburg “cannot, at the present moment, continue to exercise his episcopal ministry.”

Media reports have claimed the bishop approved spending more than $42 million on renovating his residence, ten times the original estimate.

A commission constituted by the German bishops’ conference will carry out a “detailed examination” of the construction of the bishop’s official residence, according to the Holy See.

“Pending the results of this examination and of an analysis of responsibility for the matter, the Holy See considers it appropriate to authorize for Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst a period of stay outside the diocese.”

The bishop’s family has received death threats daily, ABC News reports.

Bishop Tebartz-van Elst has also come under criticism for flying first-class from India after visiting the poor there. A Hamburg prosecutor has charged that the bishop submitted false affidavits on the matter during a legal dispute between the bishop and the news magazine Der Spiegel.

The allegations are particularly controversial in Germany, where the Church receives significant taxpayer funding from citizens officially registered as Catholics.

However, the allegations are contested and their veracity will be investigated.

The bishop’s defenders say the home on the residence property was in fact ordered to be built by his predecessor. The bishop himself has said that the cost overrun on the ten-building property includes spending on needed work for the sake of historic preservation.

And the diocese reportedly had only paid for a business class seat for the bishop’s flight home from India, but he was upgraded to first class because of flight miles accumulated by his vicar general.

The Bishop of Limburg has come under heavy fire in the press, with some reports characterizing him as the “bishop of bling.”

Bishop Tebartz-van Elst met with Pope Francis to discuss his situation Oct. 21. The Vatican press office said the Pope has been “continually informed in detail and objectively” on the situation.

Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg has supported the Limburg bishop, describing him as “a modest man” who has his “full support.”

“It is a very complicated story and I have heard that the house has been opened now and everyone that sees the house asks themselves why a big circus and theater has been made out of this,” Bishop Voderholzer told CNA in September.

The Regensburg bishop suggested there are “other reasons” for the controversy, alluding to “forces at work.”

It is believed the relatively young bishop – only 53 years of age – is cleaning house in his diocese after its former leader, Bishop Franz Kamphaus, caused controversies with Rome.

For years, Bishop Kamphaus had continued to allow church centers to provide counseling to women wanting to have an abortion, despite a papal order to end the practice. Abortion is technically illegal under German law, though the counselors provided the women with certificates that protect them from prosecution.

Bishop Kamphaus' practice raised concerns that the Church was unethically cooperating in the procurement of abortions and Pope John Paul II urged the practice to stop in a 1998 letter.

In the bishop’s absence, the Holy See has appointed Father Wolfgang Rosch to administrate the Diocese of Limburg. Fr. Rosch was scheduled to become the diocese’s vicar general Jan. 1, but took the position today, temporarily leading the diocese.

Bishop Tebartz-van Elst was ordained a priest for the Muenster diocese in 1985, and at the age of 44 was consecrated as an auxiliary bishop of the same diocese in 2003. He was installed as Bishop of Limburg in Jan., 2008.

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Catholic groups file suit in DC court against HHS mandate

Washington D.C., Oct 23, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Catholic organizations in Washington, D.C., and Thomas Aquinas College, have filed a suit against the Obama administration, asking for a reprieve from the contraception mandate on religious liberty grounds.

“The HHS contraceptive mandate presents a challenge to a Catholic institution such as Thomas Aquinas College that seeks to uphold both the civil law and the teachings of the Church,” Michael McLean, president of Thomas Aquinas College, told CNA Oct. 23.

“The mandate puts those duties into direct conflict, requiring that we take action to protect the College’s Catholic identity and  preserve its financial stability, as the penalties for non-compliance are substantial.”

Thomas Aquinas College is located in Santa Paula, Calif., and is filing with the D.C. district court rather than in California’s 9th district for “prudential reasons,” the college explained in an Oct. 7 press release.

Organizations and persons from the Archdiocese of Washington, including Cardinal Donald Wuerl, an assortment of schools, Catholic Charities Victory Housing, the Catholic Information Center, and the Catholic University of America, as well as Thomas Aquinas College, submitted their formal complaint against the HHS mandate to the D.C. district court Sept. 20, and asked for a preliminary injunction, or reprieve from the mandate’s consequences, on Sept. 24.

This is the second time the Archdiocese has filed suit against the HHS mandate. The first lawsuit was filed in May 2012, but not allowed to proceed when the federal district court granted the government’s request to throw out the case because of the then-“ongoing rulemaking process” of the mandate.

The mandate was issued by the Department of Health and Human Services under the Affordable Care Act and requires employers to provide and pay for contraception, sterilization and abortion-causing drugs and procedures in employee health insurance plans, even if doing so violates the employer's conscience or religious beliefs.

 In June 2013, the government finalized an exemption from the mandate for certain religious organizations, however, the exemption only applies to houses of worship, and not religious non-profit ministries, schools, hospitals or charities, nor does it apply to for-profit organizations run by religious persons.

This distinction, the organizations’ lawsuit says, “seeks to divide the Catholic Church, artificially separating its ‘houses of worship’ from its ministries.”

Additionally, the “shell game” the exemption presents “does not address Plaintiffs’ fundamental religious objection to improperly facilitating access to the objectionable products and services,” the lawsuit explains.

“As before, Plaintiffs are coerced, through threats of crippling fines and other pressure, into facilitating access to contraception, abortion-inducing products, sterilization, and related counseling for their employees, contrary to their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

The government’s reluctance to create an exemption for religious institutions or find a less restrictive means of providing the products and procedures required by the mandate “establishes that the Mandate was part of a conscious political strategy to marginalize and delegitimize” Catholic and other “religious views on contraception by holding them up for ridicule on the national stage,” the organizations claim in their request for a reprieve from the law.

They explain that HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius has mocked the opposition to contraception and abortion-causing drugs at a a NARAL Pro-Choice America fundraiser, and plaintiffs argue that the recommendation to define contraception, sterilization and abortion-causing drugs as a “preventative service” required by federal law revealed the committee members' “subjective determinations filtered through a lens of advocacy.”

In addition, the mandate is based upon a California law “whose chief legislative sponsor made clear that its purpose was to strike a blow against Catholic religious authorities” and coerce Catholic officials into accepting contraceptives' use.

The organizations asked that they receive protection from the targeted law and its consequences because the cause of religious freedom outweighs the harm that could be done to the government while the lawsuit makes its way through the courts.

“The Government has not mandated contraceptive coverage for over two centuries, and there is no urgent need to enforce the Mandate immediately against Catholic groups before its legality can be adjudicated,” the memorandum stated.

Jane Belford, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Washington, told CNA Oct. 23 that “our lawsuit is about one of America's most cherished freedoms – freedom to practice one's religion without government interference … the problem here is that the government is requiring Catholic entities to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

She emphasized that while the archdiocese itself is exempt from the mandate, “our affiliated ministries” which are all “expressions of our faith and … integral to the practice of our faith because they have to do with how we live out our faith through ministries of education, health care, (and) social services,” are not exempted from the mandate's effects.

The mandate distinguishes between “houses of worship” and entities associated with religious houses.

“We dispute that distinction,” Belford said. “The right given to us under the constitution is the right not only to worship, but to freely exercise our faith. The government definition attempts to deny that right.”

“Our Catholic faith teaches us … that we must love God and love our neighbor, and that that involves coming out of our Church into the public square,” she concluded.

“The entities are indisputably religious, they are created by the Archdiocese, they are integral to our mission they are an expression of our mission, and they are required to operate in accordance with the teachings of the Catholic faith.”

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