The Pope’s African pilgrimage

— Does the continent represent the future of Catholicism?


As milestones go, the recent sight of three leading men of God together in Africa was quite something — a rare chance for Christian leaders to spread the word and challenge rivals for hearts and minds.

Pope Francis and the Vatican media machine might have led the way, but alongside him went Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, Iain Greenshields. They shared the Papal plane on the way home with the kind of bonhomie and mutual understanding that highlights the importance of Africa in the contest to be the world’s leading faith.

There they were, the three of them, in the war zone of South Sudan, the Christian stronghold that broke away from the Muslim north amid terrible conflict. Today that newest of countries represents a small but symbolically important piece of the continent’s religious jigsaw that will see Christianity grow by more than 40 per cent, the hierarchy believes, by 2050, and so ensure their faith will continue to stay just ahead of Islam in global per centages.

Some walked for days just to see and hear him

Ahead of that historic appearance of a Christian triumvirate, Pope Francis had spent days in Congo, sub-Saharan Africa’s largest country, home to more than 100 million, half of them Catholic, and the crucible of a conflict that has claimed more than five million lives, displacing millions more. It was a grim sign of the continuing murder and mayhem that the Pope had to cancel a trip to Eastern Congo, the epicentre of the war, because of fighting near the regional capital of Goma.

At his main mass in the capital, Kinshasa, more than a million Catholics joined him, some having walked for days just to see and hear him. Everywhere he went, thousands lined the streets and overpasses to glimpse the man many Congolese call simply “Our Father.” Francis, deeply moved, found the voice that has eluded him in recent times.

“This country, so immense and full of life, this diaphragm of Africa, struck by such violence like a blow to the stomach, has seemed for some time to be gasping for breath,” he told followers, clearly energised by the sight of so many worshippers. “But you are a diamond, believe in yourselves, and your future.”

The numbers do tell. According to the Vatican’s news agency, Africa accounts for 265 million members of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics — 20 per cent, and growing fast. The Anglican church is smaller but with significant followers in those countries with a footprint of the British empire: Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa (think the late Desmond Tutu)

“Africa offers Christianity such opportunity, born out of tragedy and suffering maybe, but such potential,” to quote one of the Pope’s advisers, noting that the Pontiff insisted on making the trip despite poor health of late and being now wheelchair-bound. “Francis, better than anyone, knows where we have lost ground, and where we need to work.”

It is ironic to consider it but, yes, the Argentinian Pope does indeed know where Catholicism has seen the faithful flee elsewhere. In Latin America, once the vanguard of his own Jesuit mission and home to the largest Catholic country on the planet, Brazil, Church leaders acknowledge that tens of millions have been lost to rivals, especially the Evangelical and Pentecostal faiths.

Even in the Pope’s beloved Argentina, you can see the exodus and not just in the major cities, Buenos Aires, Cordoba, Rosario. In the foothills of the Andes, in conservative, rural Mendoza, the Catholic church is often half-empty. In contrast the Evangelical arena, often a large, multi-purpose room on the main street, or a schoolroom not used on the weekends, can be packed to overflowing — with the devout outside in sizable numbers.

“Ours is Christianity that speaks to people’s needs, and people’s lives,” says Evangelical minister Jose Hernandez in Mendoza, pinpointing how Rome’s hard line on “social issues” (code for contraception, abortion, and the role of women in the Church) especially during the long years of the Polish Pope, John Paul the Second, opened the floodgates. “Ordinary people have flocked to us.”

The religious battle for Africa has been joined

Fascinatingly, the attempts of Pope Francis to soften the conservative line of his predecessors — taking for example such a relaxed view of homosexuality (“who am I to judge?” he says, “they are children of God too”) — has produced blowback, the likes of which Christianity may not have seen before. Such appeasement seems to have come too late for his Church in Latin America — and in Africa, his open voice on gay life is the seed of clear dispute between his Vatican and some fiercely traditional Bishops, let alone communities, on the ground in the likes of Congo and South Sudan.

“The Pope can have his view on homosexuality, and we have ours,” said one Catholic Bishop in attendance as the Pope celebrated that mega-mass in Kinshasa. “It is a sin.” Justin Welby and the Anglican church heard likewise in South Sudan from their flock. “Better to have two wives than to be gay or lesbian,” according to one Protestant Archbishop there.

The religious battle for Africa has been joined, and Christianity, losing out elsewhere in the Global South, sees the continent as the go-to arena tomorrow. So much so that inside the Vatican — where I was once a young correspondent back in the day when they dared to elect a Pole as Pope — they say the next Pontiff could well be an African.

Complete Article HERE!

Vatican Removes Anti-Abortion Activist From the Priesthood

Frank Pavone’s work has led to clashes over the years with some Catholic leaders.

Frank Pavone leads the advocacy organization Priests for Life and was once a religious adviser to former President Donald J. Trump.

By Elizabeth Dias and Ruth Graham

A well-known Catholic priest and incendiary leader of the anti-abortion movement was removed from the priesthood by the Vatican, according to a letter from Pope Francis’ representative to the United States that was obtained by The New York Times.

Frank Pavone, who leads the advocacy organization Priests for Life, and was once a religious adviser to former President Donald J. Trump, was dismissed from the clergy on Nov. 9 with no possibility of appeal, the letter states. The letter included a statement about the removal, called laicization, that it said was approved by the Dicastery for the Clergy, a Vatican office.

“This action was taken after Father Pavone was found guilty in canonical proceedings of blasphemous communications on social media, and of persistent disobedience of the lawful instructions of his diocesan bishop,” it states.

The letter did not specify those communications or disobedience, or name the diocesan bishop. Reached by phone on Sunday morning, Mr. Pavone said that he had not been properly notified of the decision.

“I’m waiting for them to point out to me what I did wrong that merits something like this,” he said. And though the Vatican has said there was no possibility of appeal, Mr. Pavone said that ultimately he and his allies “would have to appeal to the next pope” and “to the people of God.”

The punishment of a high-profile Catholic anti-abortion activist comes at a precarious moment for the movement as it plans its future after losses in the midterm election and struggles to unify Republicans around the issue. Mr. Pavone’s anti-abortion activism was not cited in the letter as the reason for his dismissal.

The move also comes a month after the Catholic bishops of the United States said they would redouble their efforts to end abortion and elected new leaders who are expected to continue the conservative leanings of the hierarchy.

Mr. Pavone, a ubiquitous figure at anti-abortion rallies and fund-raisers, is prolific on social media. By his own account, his outspoken anti-abortion activism has won the support of some church leaders over the years but has also led to clashes with others.

He is also known in the anti-abortion movement for his relationship with Norma McCorvey, the ‘Jane Roe’ of Roe v. Wade, whose lawsuit led to the U.S. Supreme Court decision nearly 50 years ago to enshrine the right to abortion in the Constitution. Ms. McCorvey later converted to Catholicism and the anti-abortion cause, at least for a time. The court rescinded the right this summer.

Mr. Pavone was devoted to Mr. Trump and was among those who questioned the results of the 2020 election.

His dismissal was first reported by the conservative outlet Catholic News Agency on Saturday night.

On a live broadcast on social media shortly after the report, Mr. Pavone said he had received no communication from the Vatican about his removal. Wearing a leather jacket over his priest’s collar, he said he would continue his work for the anti-abortion cause.

“I’ve been persecuted in the church for decades, decades. This is nothing new for me,” he said. “They just don’t like the work I’m doing for these babies.”

He seemed to refer to a comment on Twitter from 2020 in which he referred to “supporters of this goddamn loser Biden and his morally corrupt, America-hating, God hating Democrat party.”

“I used the word G-D in a response to somebody in a tweet and for that they want to throw me out of the priesthood,” he said.

The letter about his removal makes no specific reference to this incident, or to abortion beyond his affiliation.

Online, Mr. Pavone seemed to compare his removal itself to abortion.

“In every profession, including the priesthood, if you defend the #unborn, you will be treated like them!” he wrote on Twitter on Saturday night. “The only difference is that when we are ‘aborted,’ we continue to speak, loud and clear.”

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Pope’s representative to the United States, called the apostolic nuncio, addressed the letter dated Dec. 13 to bishops, alerting them of the decision from the Vatican. The New York Times obtained the letter from a person who had access to it but who was not authorized to share it.

“As you will know, Father Pavone was a very public and high profile figure associated with the Right to Life Movement in the U.S.,” Archbishop Pierre states. “His dismissal from the clerical state may, therefore, be a matter of interest among the faithful. In anticipation of that potential interest, the attached statement regarding Father Pavone is provided for your information.”

The statement said that Mr. Pavone was given “ample opportunity to defend himself” as well as “multiple opportunities to submit himself to the authority of his diocesan bishop.”

“It was determined that Father Pavone had no reasonable justification for his actions,” it says.

The statement said the future of Mr. Pavone’s role at Priests for Life would be entirely up to the group, which it described as “not a Catholic organization.”

In his broadcast, Mr. Pavone said, “You can’t cancel this message, you won’t silence this message. It’s only going to grow. We’re only going to get louder.”

During the 2016 presidential election, Mr. Pavone posted a live video on Facebook in which he put an aborted fetus on what appeared to be an altar. The Diocese of Amarillo in Texas, which oversaw him at the time, announced that it opened an investigation into Mr. Pavone as a result. The diocese did not respond to a request for comment on Saturday night.

Mr. Pavone clashed publicly with the bishop of the Diocese of Amarillo, Patrick Zurek, several times over the years. In the fall of 2020, the diocese issued a statement saying Catholics should disregard Mr. Pavone’s rhetoric about the election, including comments online about withholding the absolution of sin from Catholics who voted Democratic.

“These postings are not consistent with Catholic Church Teachings,” the diocese said in a statement at the time. “Please disregard them and pray for Father Pavone.”

In the interview on Sunday, Mr. Pavone said that he believed the removal process stemmed from the Amarillo investigation. He said that he had previously told church authorities he would not participate in the process, which he saw as “tainted.”

Following the report of his dismissal, Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, defended Mr. Pavone as “the one priest devoted most over the years” to taking action and building support for the anti-abortion cause, and said that she would continue to lean on him going forward.

“He and I see it the same way: This is the very beginning of the pro-life movement, and he has only just gotten started,” she said.

Eric Scheidler, the executive director of the Pro-Life Action League, which has a long relationship with Mr. Pavone, said it was “hard to see an organization called Priests for Life headed by a man who’s not recognized as a priest by any local bishop.”

Mr. Pavone’s removal could rattle his fellow activists at a sensitive time, said Mr. Scheidler, who is Catholic.

“It’s a time of real soul-searching and challenges for the pro-life movement as we try to rebuild after the backlash to the overturning of Roe v. Wade,” he said.

Complete Article HERE!

Catholic bishops face a choice: Pastors or politicians?

In this Friday, May 1, 2020 file photo, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez gives a blessing after leading a brief liturgy at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. The nation’s Catholic bishops begin their fall annual meeting Monday, Nov. 14, 2022, where they plan to elect new leaders — a vote that may signal whether they want to be more closely aligned with Pope Francis’ agenda or maintain a more formal distance.

by John Kenneth White

The last two years have been tumultuous ones for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. On Inauguration Day 2021, its president, Archbishop Jose Gomez, sent a churlish message to Joe Biden, condemning him for pledging “to pursue certain politics that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage and gender.”

From there, the conference engaged in a prolonged discussion as to whether Biden and other prominent Catholic politicians, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), should be denied communion — a ban that was imposed by Pelosi’s San Francisco archbishop, Salvatore J. Cordileone. After months of debate, the bishops punted on the issue and are currently spending $14 million to promote a National Eucharistic Revival.

With Gomez’s departure this month, the bishops were faced with selecting a new conference president. Over the past year, the Vatican has made it abundantly clear it is displeased with the American bishops and wants them more in alignment with Rome. In October, President Biden visited Pope Francis, and the pontiff went out of his way to call Biden “a good Catholic.”

A few months earlier, Speaker Pelosi and her husband, Paul, had an emotional meeting with the pope where she received a papal blessing and took communion at a Vatican mass. Prior to the bishops casting their votes for a new leader, the papal nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, pointedly reminded them that they were “cum Petro and sub Petro,” translating, “with Peter and under Peter.” He listed what Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Ky., described as the pope’s “greatest hits,” with an emphasis on the environment, immigration and promoting a greater sense of brotherhood and sisterhood — priorities that Stowe laments the bishops have ignored.

Thirty minutes after Pierre’s remarks, Timothy Broglio was elected as conference president. Broglio is no stranger to the culture wars. As archbishop of the Military Services, he supported a U.S. Air Force chaplain whose homily blamed “effeminate” gay priests for clergy sexual abuse. Broglio has repeatedly claimed that the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandals are “directly related to homosexuality” — a position rejected by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice report, which found that “no single psychological, developmental, or behavioral characteristic differentiated priests who abused minors from those who did not.”

For two years, the worldwide Catholic Church has been engaged in a “synodal process,” a common term used for listening sessions. Repeatedly, the laity have expressed their desire that the church welcome migrants, ethnic minorities, the poor and divorced and remarried couples into its increasingly empty pews.

In its report to the Vatican, the bishops wrote, “Concerns about how to respond to the needs of these diverse groups surfaced in every synthesis.” But it was questions concerning LGBTQ Catholics that were especially troubling to the laity, with “practically all” consultations stating that the lack of welcome contributed to the hemorrhaging of young people from the faith. For his part, Pope Francis has gone to extraordinary lengths to convey his sense of fraternity with gay Catholics. This month, Francis welcomed Fr. James Martin, well-known in the U.S. for his outreach ministry to gay Catholics, to an extraordinary private meeting to discuss his ministry and offer support, previously telling Fr. Martin to “continue this way.”

Addressing the conference, Baltimore Archbishop William Lori, it’s newly elected vice president, said, “We cannot credibly speak in a polarized society as long as our own house is divided.” But like so many other institutions, the Catholic Church has fallen victim to today’s cultural chasms. For some Catholics, the solution lies in a smaller, more homogenous, and culturally conservative church, set apart from a secular world that it so easily condemns, and producing leaders who are willing to wage war with the cultural politics of the moment.

For others, the choice is to be pastoral, listening without condemning and meeting people “where they are.” Pope Francis clearly prefers the latter approach, writing that when “victory consists in eliminating one’s opponents, how is it possible to raise our sights to recognize our neighbors or to help those who have fallen along the way?”

Bishop Stowe laments that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is becoming “more and more irrelevant” to the average Catholic, while other organizations are filling the void — including Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities, Caritas and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

Over the past two decades, one thing is clear: The bishops make for lousy politicians. But they could be pretty good pastors. It’s their choice.

Complete Article HERE!

Top 5 Issues Hounding Today’s Catholic Church

— The Roman Catholic Church led by Pope Francis is arguably at a crossroads during a time of global changes that threaten to leave behind those unwilling to adapt.

There have been several key issues that keep on hounding the Church and serve as existential threats. How the Church responds to these issues could spell the difference between its survival and continued relevance to Catholics or signal its collapse and slide into oblivion

Here are the top five issues hounding today’s Catholic Church:

1. Clergy sexual abuse.

There is perhaps no single issue bigger than the allegations of widespread sexual abuse committed by members of the Catholic clergy. These sexual abuse accusations are shocking and almost systematic, as there have been numerous publicized cases of clergy sexual abuse, many of which were committed against minor-age victims.

Jean-Pierre Ricard, a retired French bishop made a Cardinal by no less than the current pope, recently admitted through a statement to committing “reprehensible” acts with a 14-year-old girl when he was still a priest in the 1980s. Ricard said: “35 years ago, when I was a priest, I behaved in a reprehensible way towards a girl of 14. There is no doubt that my behaviour caused serious and long-lasting consequences for that person.”

Aside from Ricard, 11 other active and retired senior Catholic clergy members are charged with sexual abuse, according to a disclosure by the French Catholic Church leadership. And aside from these recent cases, there have been many other similar accusations of sexual improprieties by men in cloaks who are supposed to embody Christ’s holiness.

2. Abortion stand.

With recent developments, such as the controversial U.S. Supreme Court overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, the Catholic Church is again thrust into a highly divisive and delicate issue. While the Church has traditionally been anti-abortion, some Catholics strongly condemn the Church’s official stand on the matter.

A report revealed that as much as 58% of German Catholics are not happy with Pope Francis’ and the Vatican’s statements critical of abortion. Despite his largely liberal views on many other issues concerning the Catholic Church, Francis opts to take the traditional, conservative anti-abortion stand that past popes have taken.

With this internal conflict of views on this specific issue, it’s interesting to watch for developments on whether the Church and its members could find a common rallying point.

3. Clerical celibacy.

Catholic priests have long been sworn to adhere to the vow of celibacy. This is the doctrine that prohibits Catholic priests from marrying and instead choosing a life of chastity. Celibacy supposedly allows a priest and other clergy members to serve the Church better.

Incidentally, celibacy was among the top issues discussed during the 2019 Catholic Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazonian Region. This issue surfaced amid the shortage of unmarried priests to minister to the Catholic faithful in the region. With the lack of unmarried priests to guide Catholics, the question of whether to allow married men to become priests suddenly gained steam.

4. Church attitude towards LGBTQIA+.

In recent years, the LGBTQIA+ community worldwide has successfully drawn attention to their cause. However, despite such global awareness, individuals who identify as LGBTQIA+ have yet to find the recognition and respect they seek. And it seems they could not count on the Catholic Church to give them the needed acceptance.

There have been several statements and actions from different Catholic leaderships across the world that clearly show discrimination against the LGBTQIA+ community. From an Irish priest who said gay politicians are destined to hell to Denver archdiocese leaders telling Catholic schools not to accept gay or transgender students, there is much left to be desired in how the Catholic leadership and clergy treat the LGBTQIA+ community.

5. Female ordination.

The Catholic Church has been, for technically its entire existence, a male-dominated religion. This setup has been practically unchanged for centuries and does not seem to change in the foreseeable future.This is precisely why ordinating women to become deacons or priests is among the most hotly-debated issues within and beyond the Catholic fold. One small consolation comes in the recent Vatican synod document that included a discussion on women’s ordination, which has long been a taboo subject among Catholic religious.

“Women remain the majority of those who attend liturgy and participate in activities, men a minority; yet most decision-making and governance roles are held by men. It is clear that the Church must find ways to attract men to a more active membership in the Church and to enable women to participate more fully at all levels of Church life,” the document said.

The unwillingness of the Church to put women into a leadership position is eyed by some as a hindrance to the Church’s adaption to modernity. The document quoted the New Zealand episcopal conference report as saying the “lack of equality for women within the Church is seen as a stumbling block for the Church in the modern world.”

This is yet another issue that the Church would have to deal with if it expects to adapt to the changing global sentiment on gender equality in the religious realm.

Complete Article HERE!

The Catholic Church is at a crossroads

— Will it choose renewal or decline?

by John Kenneth White

Pope Francis has concluded a self-described “penitential pilgrimage” to Canada. For the 85-year-old mostly wheelchair-bound pontiff, the journey was taxing but necessary. In 2015, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission reported that for many years a “cultural genocide” occurred in Catholic schools, and confirmed the deaths of at least 3,200 indigenous peoples, with many others emotionally scarred for life. Upon his arrival, a solemn pope said, “I have come to your native lands to tell you in person my sorrow, to implore God’s forgiveness, healing and reconciliation, to express my closeness and to pray with you and for you.”

Throughout his pontificate, Pope Francis has called for a “culture of encounter” that requires more listening than talking. He recently sent a letter to Fr. James Martin commending his outreach toward gay and lesbian Catholics, writing that such encounters, “even with those who think differently or those whose differences seem to separate or even confront us,” leads to a realization “that there is more that unites us than separates us.”

Using earthy language, the pope urges his priests to “be shepherds with the smell of sheep.” To that end, he ordered Catholic churches to begin two-year listening sessions, saying, “It is precisely this path of synodality which God expects of the Church of the third millennium.”

Giving lay people a greater voice has caused Pope Francis to break with precedent and appoint two nuns and one woman to the Congregation of Bishops, a body that recommends candidates to fill vacancies in the 5,300 dioceses around the world. Sister Yvonne Reungoat, one of the new members, said, “I think that to be a bishop one must have the ability to listen, both to those who have the same ideas and to those who protest.”

Pope Francis’s ministry of engagement has caused a great deal of discomfort. Ever since Joe Biden entered the White House, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been torn asunder. On Inauguration Day, its president issued an ultimatum: “Our new President has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender.”

For months, the bishops debated whether the Eucharist should be withheld from pro-choice Catholics. In May, San Francisco’s archbishop instructed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) not to present herself for communion “unless and until she publicly repudiates her support for abortion ‘rights’. . .and [receives] absolution for her cooperation in this evil in the sacrament of Penance.” Such dictums defy Pope Francis’s edict that the Eucharist is “not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”

At the nine-year mark of his pontificate, Pope Francis has acknowledged the unprecedented hostility he has encountered. Catholic scholar Massimo Faggioli calls those hostile to the pope “neo-traditionalists” who want a return to a pre-Vatican II era. Pope Francis, in turn, has described them as “backwardists,” warning, “A church that does not develop its thinking in an ecclesial way is a church that goes backward.” But conservative Archbishop Joseph Naumann pushed back, saying, “I think the pope doesn’t understand the U.S., just as he doesn’t understand the church in the U.S.”

The enmity Pope Francis has encountered is not surprising. Catholics, like most Americans, are creatures of comfort. We seek affirmation from the like-minded, whether it be in religion or politics. It is not surprising to know that MSNBC, whose audience is largely composed of Democrats, led the cable news ratings when the Jan. 6 hearings were televised. It is equally unsurprising that 78 percent of Republicans paid either “little” or “no attention” to the hearings, according to one poll.

Catholics similarly long to be among the like-minded. Today, Catholics no longer abide by church boundaries and seek parishes in which they feel comfortable. Being comfortable, however, often means not listening. In a rapidly changing world, the Catholic Church must encounter those who do not enter its church doors.

The Pew Research Center finds just 26 percent of Catholics attend church weekly, while 65 percent say they attend “a few times a year or less.” Another survey reveals 63 percent of Catholics believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases; only 31 percent think communion should be denied to politicians who support abortion rights; and 77 percent said Catholics who identify as LGBTQ should be allowed to receive the Eucharist.

Natalia Imperatori-Lee, a professor of religious studies at Manhattan College, says the rift between the laity and bishops on these issues “reveals a breakdown in communication and trust — shepherds who are far removed from the sheep.”

In his three-year ministry, Jesus Christ encountered numerous individuals shunned by society — including prostitutes, tax collectors and Roman soldiers. Pope Francis wants similar encounters. These can be discomforting. But it is important to remember that Catholics believe the Holy Spirit guides the selection of popes. The last three pontiffs taught the Catholic Church important lessons. St. John Paul II proved Josef Stalin wrong when he famously asked, “How many divisions does the Pope have?” The power of the Polish pope’s words marked the end of communism in Eastern Europe and the fall of the Soviet Union. Pope Benedict XVI gave Catholics a lesson in humility by becoming the first to lay down his palladium since Celestine V resigned the papacy in 1294. Pope Francis is giving Catholics a lesson in listening.

Whether the Catholic Church starts listening will determine whether it renews itself or begins a long, slow decline.

Complete Article HERE!