Pope announces mandate to audit church’s progress on fighting abuse

Pope Francis speaks as he attends the Easter Vigil in Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican


Pope Francis gave a new mandate to his sex abuse advisory commission Friday, telling its members to work with bishops around the world to establish special welcome centers for victims and to audit the church’s progress on fighting abuse from its new perch within the Vatican.

Francis warned that without more transparency and accountability from the church, the faithful would continue to lose trust in the Catholic hierarchy after decades of revelations about priests who raped and molested children and bishops and religious superiors who covered up those crimes.

Francis issued the new marching orders during a meeting with the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which he created in 2013 as an ad hoc body to advise the church on best practices to protect minors and prevent abuse.

“The testimony of the survivors represents an open wound on the body of Christ, which is the church,” he told them.

Despite the fanfare that greeted its creation, the commission’s limited mandate has frustrated survivors, its outsider status generated resistance in the Vatican and one of its biggest initial recommendations — a special Vatican tribunal to prosecute bishops who covered up for pedophiles — went nowhere.

But Francis has sought to breathe new life into the commission. In his recent reform of the Vatican bureaucracy, he gave it greater institutional weight by making it part of the newly named Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican office that processes clergy sex abuse cases around the world.

In his speech to its members Friday, Francis said he decided to ground the commission in the church’s central government to prevent it from being some “satellite commission.”

He assured them he wasn’t trying curb their freedom or limit their mandate — quite the opposite. He stressed that the commission’s leadership would continue to report directly to him and enjoy full independence.

“It is your responsibility to expand the scope of this mission in such a way that the protection and care of those who have experienced abuse may become normative in every sector of the church’s life,” he said.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley, who heads the commission and helped craft Francis’ reforms, said the commission’s new location inside the doctrine office represented a “watershed moment in the life of the commission” and would let it “animate the entire church.”

The institutional legitimacy means the commission now has access to reports the bishops conferences prepare for the Vatican about their work, and can engage with the doctrine office on how cases are being handled, said O’Malley’s deputy, the Rev. Andrew Small.

“There have been some conversations, preliminary albeit, to see how we grasp this mantle of access to information of criminal processes,” Small said. “I’m enthusiastic that that will be a priority.”

One of the new mandates for the commission is to help bishops conferences establish survivor welcome centers where victims can find healing and justice. That could help answer a long-standing complaint from survivors who often report negative experiences with the church hierarchy when they report a priestly abuser.

“So many survivors around the world are asking, ‘Where is my case? What is happening?’” said Juan Carlos Cruz, a commission member and Chilean abuse survivor. He said the “dark hole” where canonical cases remain in limbo for years without any information given about their status “can be incredibly retraumatizing” for survivors.

Francis, who has had a mixed record on fighting abuse himself, in 2019 passed a new church law explicitly saying survivors have the right to know the outcome of their cases. He also lifted the pontifical secret that covered such investigations to facilitate transparency with victims as well as law enforcement agencies.

But advocates for victims say the church still has a long way to go to adequately address the long-term trauma victims experience.

Francis also called for the commission to conduct an annual audit of what is being globally done by the Catholic hierarchy, and what needs to change, to better protect children and vulnerable adults from abuse.

“Without that progress, the faithful will continue to lose trust in their pastors, and preaching and witnessing to the Gospel will become increasingly difficult,” Francis warned.

Small said the audit would look at individual bishops conferences as well as Vatican offices to ensure their policies are up to standard, and he expected it would be made public.

“Ultimately, verifiable data has to be at the heart of rebuilding trust,” Small said.

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Should Women Be Ordained Catholic Deacons?

Yes, says renowned expert Phyllis Zagano (COM’70), as Vatican ponders the issue

Pope Francis has a commission studying whether women deacons, part of the church until the Middle Ages, should be revived.

By Rich Barlow

In 2020, Pope Francis created a second Vatican commission to consider ordaining women as deacons—clergy who may read the gospel and preach at Mass, baptize, witness marriages, preside at funerals, and work with the needy. (A prior commission had ended two years earlier with no action taken by the Vatican.) One media report said the move signified that “women deacons in the Catholic Church are closer to reality than ever before.”

Correction: women deacons were reality in the early church. The diaconate, male and female, was abolished in the Middle Ages, then restored for men only by the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s as “a ministry of service.”

Phyllis Zagano (COM’70), a scholarly authority on, and advocate for, women deacons, served on the first iteration of the pope’s commission. Her new book, Women Religious, Women Deacons: Questions and Answers is a collection of five essays for women in religious orders who aspire to the diaconate. She wrote a longer book on the topic, Women: Icons of Christ, published in 2020. A Hofstra University adjunct professor of religion and a senior research associate in residence, Zagano summarized her argument for Bostonia.

A photo of Phyllis Zagano in a brown blazer jacket with a microphone on a podium in front
Phyllis Zagano (COM’70) says Catholicism ordained women deacons early in its history and could do so again.


With Phyllis Zagano

Bostonia: What’s the case for ordaining women deacons?

Phyllis Zagano: We have a great history of women ordained as deacons in Christianity up until the 12th century. You’ll remember that Phoebe, in Romans 16:1-2, is introduced by St. Paul; she is the only person in scripture with the job title “deacon.” What the church has done, the church can do again.

Why did deacons go away? Basically because they controlled the money, and they were very, very, very powerful between the 10th and the 12th century, particularly in Rome. The priests did not like the deacons. They wanted to get rid of the deacons. As you move through the 10th, 11th, 12th centuries, no one who is not eligible to become a priest is ordained a deacon. So there was no more permanent diaconate.

In 1976, a [church] document said women can’t be priests because Jesus chose male apostles, and secondly, women can’t image Christ. Then in 1994, another document said we can’t ordain women as priests because Jesus chose male apostles. Where did the argument that women can’t image Christ go? They dropped it. [Opponents of women deacons] say they can’t be sacramentally ordained because they can’t image Christ. They’re overlooking the fact that the argument about imaging Christ has been dropped.

Bostonia: You write, “Is the church capable of seeing women—both secular and religious women—as bearers of the gospel and as icons of Christ?” What if the answer is no? Can misogynists in the church be overcome?

Phyllis Zagano: One would hope so. I was on the commission for the study of women in the diaconate for two years. I was seated at lunch across from a Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith official. I said, “Why can’t women be ordained as deacons?” He said, “Because women can’t image Christ.” I said, “Watch me.”

[His was] an heretical statement: I don’t see Christ in you, I don’t see Christ in the woman next door, the little boy, and—God help me—in Putin. The Incarnation comes to us every day, and the Resurrection comes to us every day. For them to deny the ability of women to be sacramentally ordained as deacons because women can’t image Christ—they have left the church. I haven’t. That is an example of clericalism, the understanding that I belong to a special group and you don’t.

I think misogyny in the church must be overcome. Students and young people will not deal with an organization where women are either mistreated or ignored.

Bostonia: Could diaconal ordination for women increase the church’s problem with clericalism?

Phyllis Zagano: It depends on the personality. If you’re worried about clericalism, you should have no clerics. But we need clerics. We need individuals who will serve the people of God.

Bostonia: Some critics might say that absent priestly ordination, women will inevitably be second-class citizens. How would you respond?

Phyllis Zagano: [Traditionalists fear that] if you can sacramentally ordain a woman as a deacon, you can sacramentally ordain her as a priest, and eventually ordain her as a bishop. And I say, then you don’t believe church teaching. The church teaches that it does not have the authority to ordain women as priests [because Jesus chose only male apostles]. If you say they can, that’s your argument, not mine.

The church needs ministry more than it needs priests. It needs ministry of charity. It is assumed that only priests can have governance and jurisdiction in the church. Actually, a cleric can have governance and jurisdiction, and a deacon is a cleric.

Who would you prefer to preach—the priest who talks about his golf game and Netflix, or the deacon who talks about running the soup kitchen? Not to begrudge priests, but I do want to hear, once in a while, the deacon who has been in prisons and ministering to people there, who has been in the hospitals visiting the sick, who is teaching catechism to five-year-olds. You need to look at the diaconate not as deacon-priest-bishop, but rather the deacon works for the bishop and the priest works for the bishop. These are separate but equal orders.

Women deacons did participate in baptism, whereas male deacons didn’t for the most part; women deacons did visit the sick. Women deacons also anointed ill women; male deacons never anointed. There are sacraments that, historically, women deacons performed that men deacons never did and still can’t do. It’s not that women are second-class citizens. It’s that the church has not appropriated the full understanding of what the diaconate is.

Bostonia: What is the likelihood that the current deliberations will result in Francis approving women’s diaconal ordination?

Phyllis Zagano: Because I do not know what the new commission is tasked with, I cannot predict what effect their work might have. I do know that the restoration of women to the ordained diaconate is a topic of serious synodal discussion around the world.

Complete Article HERE!

Why Queer Latinxs Aren’t Giving Up on the Catholic Church


Latinxs make up 34 percent of all American Catholic adults. As of 2022, the Catholic Church still does not recognize gay marriages, and according to Pew Research, Latinx Catholics tend to be more aligned with the church than European American Catholics. They are also more likely than European American Catholics to view various behaviors, such as homosexuality, as sins. For many queer Catholic Latinxs, navigating faith, community, and emotional well-being within the church can be like walking a tightrope.

In the last few years, Pope Francis has been vocal about being more accepting of queer people in the church – or at least creating spaces for pastoral care. He declared early in his papacy, “If someone is gay, and he searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?” Pope Francis even went so far as to openly thank the cofounder of New Ways Ministry, Sister Jeannine Gramick, who was barred from community work because she supported LGBTQ+ Catholics. However, the Pope has also upheld church doctrine that calls for LGBTQ+ chastity and refers to homosexual acts as “disordered.” Just last year, the Vatican’s doctrinal body declared that Catholic priests could not bless same-sex unions, much to the frustration of those who saw the Pope’s previous comments as a step in a more accepting direction.

With the Vatican refusing to change its stance on homosexuality being a sin, how do LGBTQ+ individuals fit into and navigate a religion that’s set not only on their expulsion, but on their destruction? The answer isn’t black or white, but queer Latinx Catholics who stick to their faith and parish do so for many reasons.

Family and Community Acceptance Versus Tolerance

When Andy Ruiz came out as trans, the first thing her mother did was find a parish that would be loving to and accepting of her children. “With my queer identities, that’s why my mom took a more active role to find a church that was supportive of [my siblings and me]” Ruiz tells POPSUGAR. “Coming out trans to my family, it was like, ‘Well, if the priest says you can come through, come through,'” she laughs. Ruiz’s family comes from a little pueblo in Guanajuato, Mexico, and her Catholicism was heavily mixed with Indigenous practices and more centered on local traditions and feminine deities. “I got to see another side of Catholicism,” she says. “We believed in spirits and other saints that are not recognized by the church . . . my mom always told me as a kid to not look at the Bible at face value or to take the Bible’s teachings directly from someone else,” Ruiz says.

Queer Latinas and Latinx Catholics are not a monolith, but for many, there tends to be a focus on the written word of Jesus over acceptance from the Church itself. Catholic Latina/xs who come from families or parishes that are affirming of their identity might also find it easier to stay in the Church regardless of what the Vatican mandates. “What matters to me is what Jesus said,” Victoria Jiminez, who identifies as gender nonbinary, says. “Jesus was a Black anarchist illegal immigrant who was undermining the state, who was anti-capitalist and emphasized community and loving your neighbor.”

Jimenez, who comes from a strict, non-accepting Cuban household, says that their personal spirituality is what got them through the hurtful things people say about LGBTQ+ individuals. “What else do you have when you’re gay except your internal monologue and your spirituality?” Jimenez says. “It’s not like you can rely on the community, because you see how they react to other people – kids internalize that. We grew up listening to that – some people have amazing families, but again, everyone’s interpretation [of the scripture] is really different.”

Everyone Picks and Chooses

According to Pew Research, 53 percent of US Catholics have never read the Bible or seldom read the Bible. That’s led some to think that the opinions of many US Catholics are based more on the biblical interpretations of priests than on their own understanding of the scripture. “It’s hard to separate culture from religion. The problem, in my opinion, [is that] a lot of people who are very religious discriminate against the LGBT community based on what they believe are religious tenets, but most people haven’t studied the Bible,” Yunuen Trujillo, a lesbian Catholic lay minister and author of “LGBTQ Catholics: A Guide to Inclusive Ministry,” says.

To understand queer Catholics’ presence in the church, we have to look no further than the example set by non-queer Catholics in the church. “Everyone picks and chooses,” Trujillo tells POPSUGAR. “For the issue of queer identities, everybody will tell you, ‘Well, doctrine says this.’ But what does doctrine say about helping the poor? There are more quotes about that in the Bible than anything else.”

A Guttmacher Institute analysis of federal government data from 2012 found by their early 20s, 89 percent of never-married Catholic women had had sex, and virtually all of them were using some form of contraception: things strictly forbidden by the Church. A 2020 study found that among US Catholic women, 25 percent use sterilization, 15 percent use long-acting reversible contraceptives (such as IUDs), and 25 percent use hormonal methods (such as birth-control pills). It also found that 24 percent of women who obtained abortions in 2014 identified as Catholic.

Many queer Catholics ask: why fixate on this hateful interpretation of the scripture while turning a blind eye to other “sins” – such as the child abuse, discrimination against women, genocide, and colonization committed by and on behalf of the Vatican. Sodom and Gomorrah is the main scripture cited to justify homophobia, but even that, according to many, is open to interpretation.

“In college, one of the really fascinating things that my professor was teaching me was that the Hebrew translation of the Old Testament versus New Testament was really off,” Ruiz says. “The New Testament side says that it was sodomy and homosexuality that really smited [sic] [the city], but in the Torah, it’s focused on the act of rape itself. This simple mistranslation could have changed our world drastically. Rape was seen as such a vile thing that God decided to destroy a city over it? Imagine if that would have been our moral law now?”

“My Relationship With God Can Exist Without the Church”

Often, queer Catholic Latinxs must keep their sexuality a secret or consider “chastity” to stay in the church. But more often than not, they either find a more accepting parish or leave the Church altogether. “You want to keep your community, but you don’t want to not be yourself,” Trujillo says. “It shouldn’t be a trade-off. Just like parents shouldn’t have to choose between the church and their children, gay people shouldn’t have to choose between having a partner and living a happy and healthy life and continuing to have the community they were raised with. Why should they have to lose that community? It’s not fair.”

There are directories of accepting parishes, but these can be outdated, and the trial-and-error process of finding accepting priests can be too emotionally exhausting for some. LGBTQ+ Catholics may find it easier to leave or to practice “domestic church” – which is when people organize and get together to worship in their living rooms. Many queer Catholics stay and fight for their rights within the church, but Trujillo says that there is still a long way to go – both in the church and in Latinx culture.

Trujillo says that there is no shame in leaving if your mental and emotional health is suffering. “You don’t have to go to church to be Catholic. In Catholicism and Christianity, there is a lot of common theory, [but] the only thing that matters is what Jesus said,” she says. “When I go to the gospel, [Jesus] was eating with everyone who was discriminated against; he would talk to women and put women in positions of leadership. He would break all the rules: he did the opposite of whatever religious and social rules were at the time. You have to love yourself, and you have to love others – that’s what justifies staying in the Church. That’s the biggest teaching.”

Irish priest appointed to senior Vatican role investigating abuse

Msgr John Kennedy will examine clerical child abuse allegations after shake-up

By Patsy McGarry

An Irish priest, Msgr John Kennedy has been put in charge by Pope Francis of leading investigations into child abuse allegations against the Catholic clergy worldwide.

The 53-year-old monsignor is the new secretary of the disciplinary section at the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, which has responsibility for dealing with credible allegations against clergy.

He had been serving at the office since being appointed there by Pope Francis in 2017 and his appointment is part of a major shake-up of the Vatican curia being undertaken by Pope Francis.

The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith has two new sections: a doctrinal section and a disciplinary section. Italian priest Msgr Armando Matteo has been appointed secretary at the doctrinal section.

Msgr Kennedy, from Clontarf in Dublin, was born in 1968 and ordained in 1993 for the Dublin archdiocese. He worked in Crumlin and Francis Street parishes before undertaking postgraduate studies in canon law in Rome in 1998.

Ratzinger role

He entered the service of the Holy See in September 2002 and began working with the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in 2003, beginning his service there under its then prefect, Joseph Ratzinger, now pope emeritus Benedict XVI.

In an interview with the website Zenit, he described his reaction to hearing of the resignation of Benedict in February 2013: “You sometimes meet people who ask you: ‘Do you remember where you were on the day when JFK was shot, or the Twin Towers came down, or when World War II ended?’ I can think very clearly of exactly where I was.”

He was “in the north of Italy, and I was just ready to leave the hotel after a two-day ski trip, and my brother phoned and said: ‘What’s going on in Rome?’ I said: ‘I don’t really know. I’m not there.’ He said: ‘Switch on the TV as soon as you can, and you’ll see exactly what’s going on.’ ”

Benedict, who turned 95 on April 19th, is “a shy, but extremely intelligent man, a person who was very sincere, very gentle”, he said.

Complete Article HERE!

A First in 643 Years? Anti-Gay Denver Archbishop Warns of Catholic ‘Schism’

Archbishop, Samuel J. Aquila


Denver’s Archbishop, Samuel J. Aquila, has entered the fray in an internecine battle which some fear could split the Catholic Church. Last week, Aquila joined 73 other bishops from around the globe in signing an open letter to the bishops of Germany regarding a series of reform-minded conferences in the German church known as the Synodal Path.

Triggered by revelations of priestly sexual abuse in the German Church, the Synodal Path–also translated as Synodal Way–is intended to bring together clergy and laypeople to address the exercise of power and authority within the church, and has waded into topics regarding sexual morality, priestly celibacy, and the role of women in the church. The assembly first met in 2019 and is scheduled to conclude in 2023, per Catholic News Agency.

Georg Bätzing, chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, emphasized the importance of the process in healing the church from years of scandals and abuse, saying, “only in this way will we achieve new credibility and new trust in the public and among the faithful, which we have squandered.”

In February, the assembly signaled its support for amending church teachings on homosexuality and same-sex relationships. According to reporting from ABC after the synod’s February meeting, the group “approved at an assembly last week calls to allow blessings for same-sex couples, married priests and the ordination of women as deacons. It also called for church labor law to be revised so that gay employees don’t face the risk of being fired.”

It was this stance which elicited the response from Aquila and the others.

The letter, titled a “Fraternal Open Letter of Correction,” lists as its primary concern that the German bishops’ actions “undermine the credibility of Church authority…and the reliability of Scripture.” The bishops who signed the letter warn that the Synodal Path process “has implications for the Church worldwide,” and that “the potential for schism” in the church will “inevitably result.”

Dovetailing neatly with current culture war issues in American politics, the signatories of the letter accuse the German bishops of being influenced not by Scripture but by “contemporary political [and] gender ideologies.” The letter goes so far as to say that the reform-minded German bishops, “display more submission and obedience to the world and ideologies than to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.”

Aquila, Archbishop of a diocese which encompasses all of northern Colorado, is more than a signatory to the letter, though. He is also featured in the text. In the opening paragraphs of the letter, the bishops recommend that the German church leaders read a previous open letter published by Aquila in May 2021, which covered much of the same ground.

For church observers, it’s no surprise that Aquila is featured prominently in the recent letter. The socially conservative clergyman, no stranger to controversy, has waded into a number of culture war battles over the years. Aquila, who famously blamed LGBTQ people for priestly sexual abuse of children, is a staunch opponent of abortion rights for women and was a driving political force behind the anti-abortion ballot measure, Prop. 115, in 2020. Abortion is not the only issue on which Aquila is outspoken, though. In 2019, he opposed a sex-ed bill at the state legislature. In May 2021, he made headlines again when he argued in favor of denying Communion to President Joe Biden, a practicing Catholic. Later, in August of the same year, Aquila came out in strong opposition to vaccine mandates as the Delta variant of Covid-19 spread worldwide.

Now that high-ranking church officials–the German bishops, archbishops, and cardinals participating in the Synodal Path process–are attempting to bring some of these more open-minded, liberal social positions into the Catholic church, it is to be expected that Aquila will remain on the front line of the internecine dispute.

Asked about the Denver Archbishop’s role in drafting the text of the letter which has sent waves through the global church, Aquila’s office declined to comment.

As for the German bishops engaged in the synodal process, they do not seem to make much of Aquila’s broadside. “I can reassure you with an open heart: these fears with regard to the synodal path of the Catholic Church in Germany are not correct,” Bätzing wrote in a reply on Saturday, adding that the Synodal Path, “in no way undermines the authority of the Church.”

With the synodal process not scheduled to conclude until 2023, it’s likely that the ongoing saga will continue to pit traditionalist elements of the Catholic church against a more reform-minded generation of clergy who are seeking to rehabilitate the church and its work after decades of scandal. It is this conflict–between the old and the new, as much as between the old and the young–which has prompted concerns of schism.

If indeed the Catholic church did schism, or split, it would be the first such event since the Western Schism of 1378 gave rise to the Avignon Papacy 643 years ago. At the time of that schism, the Catholic church was the dominant political force in western Europe, and the seven decades of chaos caused by the split helped to decide the future of the continent.

Governments no longer rise and fall by the power of the Papacy, though, and the new cries of schism are more about deciding the future of the church than the future of Europe. Catholic church membership has declined precipitously in the past two decades, with a 2021 Gallup survey showing a nearly 20% slide since the year 2000 with little sign of stopping.

Last month, Bätzing criticized “certain elements” within the church for being “ill-suited for a multicultural world in a culturally diverse era.” The warning is one Aquila might do well to heed as he presides over an increasingly diverse congregation, with research showing that Hispanic churchgoers account for 55% of the Archdiocese’s membership–and 70% of its membership under the age of 30.

The German bishops engaged in the Synodal Path believe the church must adapt and present a vision for the future if it’s going to reclaim its relevance.

On the other side of the conflict to determine the future of the church, however, Aquila and his co-signatories have a vision for the future which looks strikingly like the past.

As for which faction will chart the course for the globe’s 1.2 billion Catholics, or preside over an historical schism , only time will tell.

Complete Article HERE!