Pope Francis sets off a contest over the future of the Catholic Church

— An unprecedented global consultation of the faithful is galvanising rival liberals and conservatives

By

The American priest and author Andrew Greeley once said: “The opposite of Catholic is not Protestant. The opposite of Catholic is sectarian.” But just as secular politics in western countries is a battleground between mutually suspicious conservatives and liberals, so Greeley’s appeal to respect differences of religious opinion is drowning in a doctrinal struggle for control of the Roman Catholic Church.

The contest is all the sharper because Pope Francis turns 86 next month. Even if he does not emulate his predecessor Benedict XVI, who abdicated in 2013, the question of who will replace him looms large.

Papal infallibility, a doctrine proclaimed in 1870, is not rigorously applied these days, but the pontiff’s views carry unique authority. Disputes in Francis’s reign over women’s ordination, the Church’s treatment of divorcees, use of the Latin mass, sex abuse scandals and financial irregularities at the Vatican are therefore conducted with one eye on the cardinals’ conclave that will at some future date select the next pope.

Francis is no darling of progressive Catholics, for whom his approach to issues such as women’s role in the Church and homosexuality is too cautious. Still, conservatives correctly regard him as more reformist than Benedict or John Paul II, whose 1978-2005 pontificate made him the second-longest serving pope in the Church’s more than 2,000-year history. A case in point is Francis’s clampdown on the old Latin mass, which reversed Benedict’s decision to permit the celebration of some sacraments according to ancient rites.

Throughout his reign, however, Francis has emphasised healing the Church’s divisions as much as modernising its outlook and practices. In this spirit, he last year launched a global consultation of the faithful — an attempt to gauge the mood of the world’s Catholics, estimated by the Vatican at more than 1.3bn people, and chart a path for the Church’s future. He may have unleashed more than he bargained for.

From dioceses across the world a torrent of reports has poured in. Many call for reforms, blocked since the 1962-1965 Second Vatican Council, to allow married clergy, women priests and acceptance of artificial birth control. A Vatican document last month observed: “Almost all reports raise the issue of full and equal participation of women.” On the other hand, conservative regions of the world — usually outside Europe and North America — are urging the Vatican not to yield to liberal pressure.

Francis’s consultation goes by the unwieldy name of the “synod on synodality”, implying inclusive discussion of pressing issues, though certainly not binding democratic votes. Yet the synod represents uncharted waters for the Vatican — and there is a cautionary historical parallel for Francis’s initiative. It is to be found in France on the eve of the 1789 revolution.

With the monarchy in crisis, Louis XVI summoned the Estates General — the future national assembly — to break the deadlock on reform. All across France, constituencies submitted so-called cahiers de doléance, or lists of grievances, as Catholic dioceses have done over the past year. A sort of nationwide opinion survey, the process prompted delegates meeting in Versailles to conclude that there was a public mood in favour of representative institutions, individual liberty, equality under the law and an end to absolutism. In the second half of 1789, the tide of revolutionary change became unstoppable.

It is premature to expect anything so world-shaking in the Catholic Church, where opinion appears more equally balanced between shades of radical reformism, moderate liberalism, mild conservatism and reaction. To take one example, the US consultation revealed deep splits on LGBTQ inclusion, clerical sexual abuse and the liturgy. “Participants felt this division as a profound sense of pain and anxiety,” the US bishops’ conference reported in September.

However, the central point is that both liberals and conservatives are discovering the force of public opinion. Cardinals, bishops and lay pressure groups frame their arguments for or against change in theological language but, as in France in 1789, notables and activists are seizing on the mood of society to advance and legitimize their causes.

The synod was supposed to end next year, but Francis recently extended it until October 2024. By then, either he will still be pope or an as yet unknown successor will be wearing his mitre. Either way, the struggle over the Church’s direction that has rumbled on since the Second Vatican Council and is being amplified by his synod may well be fiercer than ever.

Complete Article HERE!

Accused Albany bishop asks to be removed from priesthood

Bishop Howard Hubbard swings incense during an Ash Wednesday communion service at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Feb. 25, 2004, in Albany, N.Y. Hubbard, now retired and who has admitted to covering up for predator priests and has himself been accused of sexual abuse, has asked Pope Francis to laicize him, or remove him from the priesthood. Hubbard, 84, announced the decision in a statement Friday, Nov. 18, 2022, the day the United Nations has designated as the World Day for Previous of Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation.

BY NICOLE WINFIELD

The retired bishop of Albany, New York, who has admitted to covering up for predator priests and has himself been accused of sexual abuse, has asked Pope Francis to remove him from the priesthood.

Emeritus Bishop Howard Hubbard, 84, announced the decision in a statement Friday, the day the United Nations designated as the World Day for the Prevention of and Healing from Child Sexual Exploitation, Abuse, and Violence.

Hubbard said he wanted to be laicized, or returned to the lay state, because he could no longer function as a priest, given U.S. church policy that bars accused priests from ministry. If accepted, laicization would relieve Hubbard of his celibacy obligations.

Asking the pope for voluntary laicization is unusual, especially for a bishop and particularly for a cleric who denies abuse allegations against him. Usually, priests ask to be laicized if evidence of abuse against them is overwhelming or if they want to leave the priesthood to get married. The Vatican can forcibly laicize priests, or defrock them, as a punishment for such crimes as clergy sexual abuse.

Hubbard has acknowledged covering up allegations of sexual abuse against children by priests in part to avoid scandal and protect the reputation of the diocese. He did so in a deposition for one of the dozens of claims by hundreds of people who have sued the Albany diocese over sexual abuse they say they endured as children, sometimes decades ago.

But he has strongly denied accusations that he himself abused minors. In his statement Friday, Hubbard repeated that claim of innocence.

“I hope and pray I will live long enough to see my name cleared once and for all,” he said.

Hubbard ran the diocese in New York’s Capital District from 1977 to 2014.

Other U.S. bishops have asked Francis to resign over their mishandling of predator priests, but not be removed altogether from the priesthood. Francis in 2019 forcibly defrocked ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick after a church investigation determined he sexually abused adults and children.

Attorneys for abuse survivors hailed Hubbard’s request to leave the priesthood entirely as the culmination of efforts by victims to hold the Catholic hierarchy accountable for abuse and cover-up. While the U.S. church has had a “one strike and you’re out” policy in effect for two decades, it spared bishops from sanction.

Only in 2019 did the Vatican pass in-house norms to investigate accused bishops, but those cases have been shielded in secrecy with no full public accounting of who has been investigated or sanctioned and leaving it to individual dioceses or bishops’ conferences to release information.

“We feel Hubbard’s removal is not only justified but necessary. This signals to survivors that their voices are being heard,” said attorney Cynthia LaFave in a statement issued by the law offices of Jeffrey Anderson, who has represented hundreds of abuse survivors in the U.S.

Complete Article HERE!

Women Priests, Homosexuality, Not Closed Debate In Church, German Bishop Says

Chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, Bishop of Limburg and President of the Synodal Way Georg Bätzing holds a news conference in Frankfurt, Germany, February 5, 2022.

By

A leading German Catholic bishop on Saturday contested the Vatican’s view that debates about women priests and homosexuality were closed, saying they will have to be confronted in the future.

Bishop Georg Bätzing spoke at a news conference at the end of a week of talks between Pope Francis and Vatican officials on one side, and all of Germany’s bishops on the other.

They centred on a controversial German progressive movement, known as the “Synodal Path”, that aims to give lay Catholics a say on some doctrinal matters as well as the appointment of bishops.

The movement has alarmed Catholic conservatives and moderates around the world, who fear that it could lead to massive splintering similar to what happened in Anglican and Protestant Churches after they introduced similar changes in recent decades.

“As far as the ordination of women is concerned, for example, (the Vatican’s) view is very clear, that the question is closed. But the question exists and it has to elaborated and discussed,” said Bätzing, who is bishop of Limburg and head of the German Bishops Conference.

The Catholic Church teaches that women cannot be priests because Jesus chose only men as his apostles and that while same-sex attraction is not sinful, homosexual acts are.

Some Church progressives want the Catholic catechism to be changed so that it does not condemn homosexual acts in a committed relationship and to open a process leading to women’s ordination.

“All these questions are on the table (of the German Synodal Path) and all attempts of cancel them will not have success,” Bätzing said.

“Popes have tried to say the question (of women priests) is closed but the fact is that the question exists. Many young women say ‘a church that refuses all of this cannot be my church in the long run,'” he said.

In 2021 the Vatican’s doctrinal office ruled that priests cannot bless same-sex unions.

In September, Flemish Roman Catholic bishops issued a document allowing the practice.

Asked if he would bar priests in his diocese from blessing same-sex unions Bätzing said: “I will not deny God’s blessing from those in committed relationships who are seeking it”.

In July, the Vatican tried to slam brakes on the German movement, saying it risked causing a schism in the universal Church.

Bätzing said he did not see such a risk.

“It (schism) is not an option for any bishop or lay person in Germany. We are Catholics and we will remain Catholics but we want to be Catholics in a different way,” he said.

Complete Article HERE!

Vatican urges German Catholic Church to put brakes on reform

FILE – The chairman of the Catholic German Bishops Conference, Cardinal Georg Baetzing, speaks to the media in Bonn, Germany, Feb. 25, 2021. Top Vatican cardinals called for pause in the on the German Catholic Church’s controversial reform process during an unusual Vatican summit Friday, Nov. 18, 2022, fearing proposals concerning gays, women and sexual morals will split the church. Bishop Georg Baetzing, who heads the German bishops conference, explained the work undertaken so far, stressing that it was based on listening to the “people of God and the pain over abuses committed by clergy”.

By NICOLE WINFIELD

Top Vatican cardinals tried to put the brakes on the German Catholic Church’s controversial reform process Friday, fearing proposals concerning gays, women and sexual morals will split the church and insisting they would be better debated later.

The Vatican and the German bishops conference issued a joint statement after a week of meetings that culminated with an unusual summit between the 62 German bishops and top Vatican officials, including the No. 2 secretary of state, the head of the bishops’ office and the head of the doctrine office.

The pope, who met separately with the German bishops on his own on Thursday, was originally supposed to attend Friday’s summit but did not, leaving it to his cardinals to toe the Vatican line.

Germany’s church launched a reform process with the country’s influential lay group to respond to the clergy sexual abuse scandals, after a report in 2018 found at least 3,677 people were abused by clergy between 1946 and 2014. The report found that the crimes were systematically covered up by church leaders and that there were structural problems in the way power was exercised that “favored sexual abuse of minors or made preventing it more difficult.”

Preliminary assemblies have already approved calls to allow blessings for same-sex couples, married priests and the ordination of women as deacons. One has also called for church labor law to be revised so that gay employees don’t face the risk of being fired.

The German “Synodal Path” has sparked fierce resistance inside Germany and beyond, primarily from conservatives opposed to opening any debate on such hot-button issues and warning that the German reforms, if ultimately approved in the final stage, could lead to schism.

Such warnings were echoed by Vatican Cardinals Marc Ouellet, in charge of bishops, and Cardinal Luis Ladaria, in charge of doctrine, in the meeting Friday.

According to the joint statement, they “spoke with frankness and clarity about the concerns and reservations of the methodology, content and proposals of the Synodal Path and proposed, for the sake of unity of the church,” that they be dealt with later, when the global Catholic Church takes up such issues in a universal way next year.

The statement said a “moratorium” was proposed, but was rejected.

Francis has since launched a global “synodal path” which involves soliciting input from lay Catholics around the globe that has echoed many of the same themes as the German process, including the role of women in the church and homosexuality. But there is no indication the global church is prepared to go as far as the German church in pressing for change.

Francis, for his part, has personally intervened on the German process and recently pointed to a 2019 letter he wrote to the German faithful as summarizing all he has to say on the matter. In that letter, Francis offered support for the process but warned church leaders against falling into the temptation of change for the sake of adaptation to particular groups or ideas.

Bishop Georg Baetzing, who heads the German bishops conference, for his part, explained the work undertaken so far, stressing that it was based on listening to the “people of God and the pain over abuses committed by clergy,” the statement said.

Baetzing is scheduled to give a press conference on Saturday.

Complete Article HERE!

Baltimore Archdiocese might contest Md. clergy sexual abuse report

Baltimore Catholic Archbishop William Lori greets parishioners after delivering Sunday Mass at Holy Family Catholic Church in July 2019, in Randallstown, Md.

By

The Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore signaled Friday that it might object to a still-unreleased report by the Maryland attorney general into clergy sexual abuse of minors.

The report, by the office of outgoing Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, took nearly four years to complete and tallies more than 600 young victims and 158 abusive priests over 80 years, according to a court filing Thursday.

Because the 456-page report includes testimony that resulted from grand jury subpoenas, a judge must approve its release. The filing in Baltimore City Circuit Court requests its release.

Christian Kendzierski, a spokesman for the archdiocese led by Archbishop William E. Lori, wrote back Friday to The Washington Post’s asking if the church would contest the report’s release.

“The Archdiocese does not object to the release of a report which accurately details the heinous crime and sin of child sexual abuse perpetrated by members of the clergy and also fairly and accurately details how the Archdiocese responded to such allegations, even when the response fell far short of how such allegations are handled today,” his statement read. “The motion filed by the Maryland Attorney General does not reflect the Archdiocese’s current and decades-long strong pastoral response and handling of allegations of child sexual abuse.”

The report is the second of its kind, following an explosive one from a Pennsylvania grand jury in 2018 that led to the arrest of priests, early retirement for an archbishop and new policies. It also included many decades-old cases, something victims and their advocates said was essential since in most cases higher-ups were never held responsible and often priests retired and were still paid and remained clergy. Even if statutes of limitation made civil, canonical or criminal cases unfeasible, advocates said, the detailed compiling of how the cases happened and were handled, and the cost to the abused, was a kind of justice.

The archdiocese since January 2019 has cooperated with Frosh’s office, turning over more than 100,000 pages, the statement from the archdiocese’s spokesman said.

On Friday Kendzierski’s statement said the archdiocese would “continue to cooperate with any legal processes relating to the Attorney General’s investigation. The Archdiocese is participating in the court process and understands that the courts rightly expect the law on grand jury materials to be followed and due process to be respected.”

Requests to the archdiocese for greater clarity weren’t answered late Friday.

It wasn’t clear what legal argument the archdiocese might be planning to make. In Pennsylvania, church officials fought the attorney general over the inclusion of specific names of accused clergy who had not been charged, saying that to name them violates their constitutional rights. For weeks, court and state lawyers were in court arguing about the redacting of names and entire sections and what could be released.

Frosh spokeswoman Raquel Coombs said, “It is our hope that the Archdiocese will not oppose release of the report to provide victims long awaited relief and healing.”

Complete Article HERE!