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

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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!

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!

‘No turning point in sight’

— Archbishop warns Church is in a ‘dramatic’ decline

Francis Duffy Archbishop of Tuam

By Sean ODriscoll

The Catholic Church is heading ‘dramatically downwards’ with no turning point in sight, the archbishop of Ireland’s biggest archdiocese has said.

Francis Duffy, the Archbishop of Tuam, told parishioners in Westport to look at their priests because they are likely the last generation of priests to be resident in a parish.

He said all figures, from men entering the priesthood to the attendance at Mass, all point to a dramatic decline in the Church.

Francis Duffy, the Archbishop of Tuam, with his predecessor Archbishop Michael Neary.

‘All trends are dramatically downwards with no turning point in sight,’ said Archbishop Duffy.

‘I suggest you look at your priest.

He may be the last in a long line of resident pastors and may not be replaced. I suggest you look at your church. You may be lucky to have a Sunday Mass or several, but for how much longer?

‘I suggest you look at your fellow parishioners at Mass. Who among your neighbours will continue to be the new leaders and carry on pastoral work in your parish, alongside a much smaller number of clergy? Who among them will lead prayer services and keep faith alive and active?’ he asked.

He said the one certainty ‘is the ongoing and sustained decline both in the numbers who practise and in the numbers of those who answer the Lord’s call to priesthood and religious life. ‘Some may think I have painted a somewhat dismal picture. It is the current reality as I see it, and as I know many of you see it too.’

Just nine men entered the seminary last year, and a fifth of all priests and brothers have died in the past three years, according to the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP).

In 2004, there were 3,141 priests in Ireland but this has steadily declined in the past ten years, with 2,627 priests in 2014. The ACP said on Monday that an updated figure is not yet available. It’s believed the current number of priests is about 1,900.

The number of men interested in becoming priests is dwindling year on year, with 13 starting on the path to priesthood in 2020, 15 in 2019 and 17 in 2018.

Just nine men entered the seminary last year, and a fifth of all priests and brothers have died in the past three years, according to the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP).

However, Archbishop Duffy urged people not to lose hope.

‘The landscape of the Catholic Church in Ireland, as you know, has been changing for some time and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future,’ he said.

‘Each diocese has its own story of this reality. Every parish will be affected by this in terms of the number of clergy available and the number and frequency of Masses.

‘While we must face it and work with it, we must not lose hope. We have the Lord with us and He will lead us through this time of transition and restructuring,’ he said.

He recalled that, when he became archbishop in January, he referenced a report on the future of the Church that was being prepared for the Vatican.

Archbishop Dermot Farrell
Archbishop of Dublin Dermot Farrell acknowledged earlier this year that the ‘shortage of vocations… could be discerned as God calling for change in the Church’.

That report, due to be sent by August 15, includes views from Catholics across the country on celibacy, attitudes to the gay and lesbian community, women priests and cohabiting couples.

Father Brendan Hoban of the ACP said more emphasis will have to be placed on lay people.

‘There was a time when a priest had less work to do as he reached retirement age, but not any more. You have priests covering two or three parishes and up to five churches. Their workload is going up and up as the number of priests declines,’ he said.

Fr Hoban said he doesn’t think vocations can be revived and most priests now accept that greater lay participation is required.

Archbishop of Dublin Dermot Farrell acknowledged earlier this year that the ‘shortage of vocations… could be discerned as God calling for change in the Church’.

The Catholic Communications Office said the nine new seminarians bring to 64 the total number studying for the priesthood.

Complete Article HERE!

The Catholic Church should end its policy of celibacy for priests

The Catholic Church is desperately short of priests. If they dropped their celibacy and male-only requirements, it would open up a stimulating new pool.

By Gerry O’Shea

I cannot think of one good reason for the Catholic church to continue its policy of compulsory celibacy for priests. I search my mind in vain for any cogent explanation for maintaining the present damaging discipline.

Up to the Second Lateran Council in 1139, most priests married, sharing that experience with the majority of the families in the pews. It seems that the main reason for the unfortunate policy alteration related to priests’ children claiming inheritance based on parentage. Understandably, this clashed with the church’s commitment to maintain ownership of any accumulated wealth.

The inheritance problem could and should have been dealt with by other means than the extreme prohibition against marriage by priests. Sigmund Freud asserts that after self-preservation, the next most demanding human drive involves procreation, and celibates must find ways to respond to that human sexual imperative as much as married men.

In the last 50 years, the Roman Catholic Church has been battered by a seemingly endless succession of child-abuse scandals. We are talking about priests and brothers demanding a full range of sexual favors from innocent children and using the power of their clerical status to intimidate their victims into silence about their “special relationship.”

If the dire behavior was reported to the church authorities, the bishops and other powerful men in chancery offices sought to protect their institution by moving the culprits around where, in a new setting, they often continued their sexual rampage. Parents trusted these men because of the roman collar they were wearing.

Abused children felt isolated and many suffered long-term negative consequences, including a plethora of suicides. It is hard to imagine the sense of abandonment felt by the church faithful as the depth of the betrayal sank in.

Today, clerical leaders have lost credibility and carry a red question mark on their soutanes.

Predictably, disillusioned Catholics left the church in droves as they realized the early defense metaphor about a few bad apples was fatuous when the reality showed the whole orchard rotting. Trust in the American church among parishioners fell from a credible 70 percent to a measly 20 percent, and weekly Mass attendance folded from 31 percent in 2000 to 17 percent in 2021.

Revelations are still flowing in as major diocesan and national organizations reveal that the rot was not confined to any geographical area. The stories from missionary countries, staffed mostly by Western priests and brothers, are only seeping out now.

Some of these men making their way into cultures with different sexual traditions and expectations found satisfaction with mature local women. Children from these clandestine relationships present new challenges, especially for the welfare of unclaimed children.

A French investigation last year concluded that at least 216,000 children had been abused there over the last 70 years. The numbers from other inquiries are just as damning. Early indications from an ongoing major Portuguese probe suggest that another bombshell revelation is on the way from that Catholic country.

The dismal numbers have fueled calls for change. Already strict instructions from Rome have ensured that any church official – priest, brother, or layman – credibly accused of misbehavior in the sexual area is immediately suspended and the local police are informed of the alleged transgression – very different from past practices.

Church leaders regularly trot out the spurious argument that by forgoing marriage priests emulate Jesus and can devote themselves more fully to their flock. In fact, Christ chose mostly married men among his apostles, and we read in Matthew’s gospel that he healed Peter’s mother-in-law who was suffering from a fever.

The disastrous handling of the abuse crisis by male celibates has raised the important question of how parents would have dealt with it if they had any clout. Would they have hushed up the allegations and shuffled the pervert priests around to other parishes, hoping, somehow, that they would behave differently in a new place?

Sex abusers seem to be unusually common among the clergy, perhaps because the job offers a plenitude of opportunity to meet with children and, until recently, to enjoy unqualified parental approval for this access. Some professionals estimate that between six to nine percent of priests have strong pedophile tendencies by comparison with one to three percent in the general population.

Irish psychologist Marie Keenan argues that abusive priests are products of a twisted formation system that left them fixated at an adolescent level of sexual development.

The first acknowledged Christian theologian, Tertullian, viewed sexuality as a “bubbling cesspit of desire.” For him, it was the sin that transcended all others and women were seen as man’s downfall, a view that was later seconded by Augustine of Hippo whose misogynistic thinking still influences Rome’s approach to females.

Reflecting on this whole area of caring for the young, women are far less likely to engage in sexually abusive behavior than men.

Many Eastern-rite churches, aligned to Rome, let their priests marry before ordination. Significantly, these churches have low levels of reported sex abuse.

The Catholic Church is desperately short of priests. If they dropped their celibacy and male-only requirements, it would open up a stimulating new pool. Many aspirants are unwilling to give up sex and parenting, and that will continue as a deterrent until the Vatican changes the rules.

Priestly celibacy continues as a topic of contentious debate among the 1.4 billion Catholics worldwide. Outside of Africa, a clear majority of the church members want change.

This carries some weight but is not determinative. The prelates, the men with the power, must be convinced of the need for new ecclesial structures, and most will use any phony argument to maintain the status quo and their own continuing authority.

Leave aside for a moment the various power games that many in the hierarchy will continue to play to justify holding on to the status quo, and concentrate instead on the awful damage that mandatory celibacy does to the men who are forced to follow this outdated and dehumanizing rule.

Obligatory virginity for priests may have made sense in the culture of the 12th century, but it certainly does not today.

In a recent speech Desmond Cahill, an Australian professor and expert on world religions, says many priests “are terrorized with their own sexual desire.”

Father Daniel O’Leary from the village of Rathmore in Co. Kerry served as a parish priest and theology professor in England until his death a few years ago. He authored a dozen books, and in his last essay before he faced what he called “the final inspection” he wrote movingly of celibacy as “a kind of sin, an assault against nature and God’s will. This mandatory celibacy does violence to a priest’s humanity and leaves wounds on his ministry.”

Is there any chance that Rome will heed O’Leary’s profound words and move from its antiquated ways?

Complete Article HERE!

Vatican slams German reformers, warns of potential for schism

The Holy See rebuked the progressive “Synodal Path,” which seeks more agency for lay members, saying it has no authority on doctrine. They warned that issues taken up by the group could split the Catholic Church.

Shepherds in Rome have been criticized for the mishandling of scandals but refuse to share power with the flock

The Vatican on Thursday issued a terse statement on the progressive German Catholic movement known as the “Synodal Path.” The statement warned German reformers they had no authority to instruct bishops on moral or doctrinal matters.

Moreover, the Holy See made clear that it views the Synodal Path’s calls for addressing homosexuality, celibacy, and women in the Church as divisive and warned those calls could cause a fracture.

Members of the Synodal Path, a group made up of equal numbers of German bishops and lay Catholics, meet regularly. In February, they called on the Catholic Church to allow priests to marry, women to become deacons, and same-sex couples to receive the Church’s blessing.

The Vatican, or Holy See, said the Synodal Path, “does not have the faculty to oblige bishops and the faithful to assume new forms of governance and new approaches to doctrine and morals.”

To do so, read the statement, “would represent a wound to ecclesial communion and a threat to the unity of the Church.”

German reformers responded to Vatican statement with ‘astonishment’

Speaking on behalf of the Synodal Path, Chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference Georg Bätzig and President of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) Irme Stetter-Karp, said they were “astonished” at the “poor form” the Vatican had shown by releasing such a statement to the public without putting a name to it.

Both Bätzig and Stetter-Karp vowed there would be no “German deviation” but said it is their “responsibility to clearly point out where change is needed.” The two say the problems they are addressing are not unique to Germany, but common to dioceses all over the world.

Bätzig and Stetter-Karp voiced “bemused regret” over the fact that no direct communication with the Vatican had yet taken place.

On Saturday, the German Catholic women’s movement Maria 2.0 (Mary 2.0) said church leaders should not fear confrontation with the Vatican.

Theologian Maria Mesrian, who represents the group, told Deutschlandfunk Radio that the bishops will have to “decide whether they want a living church in Germany or whether they would rather lead a dead institution.”

Mesrian said the Vatican is all about “power and the unity of the omnipresent church.”

Hundreds of thousands leave Catholic Church over lack of reform

The German group, formed in the wake of woefully mishandled clergy sexual abuse scandals, also calls for ordinary Catholics to have more of a say in how the Church operates. The Vatican again warned that if national Churches chose to pursue their own paths they would, “weaken, rot and die.”

In 2021, 360,000 Catholics formally left the German Church— which has 22 million members in the country and rakes in €6.45 billion ($6.58 billion) in church taxes every year — in protest at corruption and abuse

Although progressive European and US Catholics would likely be willing to support progressive issues, such as blessing same-sex relationships and ordaining women, Rome would risk backlash with fast-growing South American and African congregations.

In 2019, Pope Francis warned German bishops against the temptation to change for the sake of appeasing certain groups or ideas. Observers speculate that the reforms could leave the Catholic Church open to a splintering, similar to the one which befell the Anglican and Protestant Churches after they introduced similar changes.

According to the Vatican statement, any changes to teaching on morals or doctrine must be taken up by the Church’s own synodal path. The Holy See said preliminary consultations are already being held globally in preparation for a meeting of bishops next year in Rome.

The next gathering of the German Synodal Path is scheduled to convene on September 8-10.