Pope Francis wants every Catholic to have a say. Why haven’t US Catholics heard about it?

By Phyllis Zagano

Pope Francis’ plan is for ordinary Catholics to have their say. It begins with the coming synod, which opens in Rome on Oct. 9 and in every diocese in the world on Oct. 17.

The problem: No one seems to know about it. The bigger problem: U.S. bishops don’t seem to care.

It’s called “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission.” While Pope Francis truly wants all Catholics to pray and talk about the needs of today’s church, his plan depends on diocesan participation. As the U.S. bishops fulminate over which Catholic politician can receive Communion, they’ve done little to plan for the worldwide discussion on the needs of the church. They were asked to get organized last May. They haven’t.

Here’s how things are supposed to work. Last May, Rome asked every bishop for the name of the person managing his diocesan synodal process. The bishop then is to open his local synod Oct. 17, collect input from parishes, and report to his national episcopal conference.

The conferences — in North America the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops — will then gather the results for the members of the 16Ordinary General assembly of the Synod of Bishops, scheduled for October 2023 in Rome.

Folks in Central and South America, as well as in Australia, Germany and Ireland, jumped at the idea. Their meetings are already underway. The USCCB named an elegantly trained and experienced national coordinator, Richard Coll, but U.S. dioceses seem behind the curve.

If a sample of the 10 New York dioceses is any indication, the diocesan synods will have a bumpy start even once they get going. While Rome asked all dioceses to submit the names of their synod coordinators in May, few, if any, seem to have plans.

One week after being queried, only three of the 10 New York dioceses had responded. Two sent the names of diocesan coordinators, and one said it was too early to give any information. (One of the two offered up the bishop and the coordinator for a phone call. But only one.)

To be fair, the Vatican’s synod office published the synod handbook, called a vademecum, and the synod’s preparatory document just a few weeks ago, on Sept. 7.

But “synodality” has been in the air for years, gaining prominence after the Second Vatican Council.

Rome announced the next synod’s theme in March 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic began. Lockdown-time pushed the culminating Rome meeting back one year, to October 2023, giving interested bishops and episcopal conferences more planning time.

So, what does all this talking (or not talking) mean? Synodality — the word comes from the Greek, meaning “common road” — is Francis’ way of listening to the periphery. Francis is known to have said “the periphery is the center,” and he wants the bishops atop the pyramid in the hierarchical church to recognize that. He wants to hear from ordinary Catholics, as well as from their bishops.

Francis has already acted on a few requests for changes from 2019’s Pan-Amazon synod aimed at broadening participation. In January of this year, he changed canon law to allow women to be installed as lectors (readers during Mass) and acolytes (altar servers), lay ministries required prior to diaconal ordination.

The synodal process, when properly done, brings about prayerful discernment and an understanding of what the church needs going forward.

The process itself is the beginning and the end of synodality. If everyone has a voice, not on defined doctrine but on the relatively mundane issues of who gets to do what (married priests, women deacons, parish leadership, control of funds and properties), then the process will have met its goal.

What are the chances of success? That depends on whom you ask.

For bishops cemented in clericalism, they will begin to pay lip service at best to a process deeply inserted into the church. They are likely to survey the usual suspects, choosing whom to hear and what to report. Their “success” will be maintaining control.

Success for bishops not focused on controlling power will be listening and honestly reporting the needs of the people.

What gets to Rome from individual national conferences is critical, but what remains to be seen is how the periphery makes its voices heard. The coming synod may depend more on social media and less on diocesan bishops. But you never know.

Complete Article HERE!

Synod hears calls for ‘radical revision’ of Canon Law

by Sarah Mac Donald

The Church needs a thorough revision of canon law and a commission to oversee this revision should include lay people, one of the country’s top barristers, Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws has said.

Speaking as part of a panel on the theme, Insisting on Sharing Authority at this week’s Root and Branch lay-led synod, the Scottish lawyer, broadcaster and Labour member of the House of Lords said a radical revision of canon law should be a “key call” from the synod.

She said a commission to oversee reform should “systematically go through the structures of the canon law and make them appropriate to the 21st century” and it should sit in public as it heard evidence.

Describing herself as “a firm believer in reform”, she said: “I really feel that we have to persuade the current leadership [in the Church] that they must cede power in order to survive.”

Elsewhere in the discussion, Baroness Kennedy called for an end to mandatory clerical celibacy. “I feel very strongly that you have to have abandon the business of celibacy.” She told the online discussion that clerical celibacy had been “one of the root problems in so many of the issues that we are talking about” and needed to be dealt with “first and foremost”.

“People are sexual beings. Some might choose to be celibate, and so be it. But there should be a possibility to follow a vocation even if you are a married person, male or female.”

She also called on the Church to deal with its “hostility to homosexuality”.

She said: “We have to stop being so preoccupied and fetishistic about sex within the Church and start concerning ourselves with the suffering of the world.

“Our knowledge of humanity has developed, and science has helped us to understand sexuality so much better.”

Recalling the passing of the same sex marriage referendum in Ireland in 2015, Baroness Kennedy said that despite the Church having had such a dominant role in terms of power and authority, the people of Ireland by a majority voted for gay marriage. “It was because Catholic grandmothers and Catholic mothers and fathers said why should our child not have the same right to be with the person they love as our other child.”

She believed that there are “so many good things about the teachings of the church” which had given her a value system.

“The hierarchy has to be persuaded that this [reform] is about sustainability. The Catholic Church is not going to survive if it does not address these issues because the young are just not going to engage.”

Referring to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the need for a global template of values against which every legal system should be measured, including canon law, she asked: “Why has the Catholic Church not embraced it properly, particularly with regard to due process, the idea of access to justice – where was the access to justice for the many victims of sexual abuse within the Church?”

She said Church failures on abuse and moving people on who had committed crimes was one of the reasons so many people are now alienated from the Church.

“They do not see the Catholic Church adhering to that whole framework of human rights, rule of law, and respect for due process, access to justice, and the treatment of people as being equal before the law.”

She also hit out at the Church’s willingness to accommodate Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s desire to marry in a Catholic Church, which she had raised with Cardinal Nichols.

“People were very distressed, and I would say disappointed when they saw the ease with which the prime minister, who is not known for his sobriety when it comes to relationships with women, was able to have a marriage in the Catholic Church, despite the fact of being twice divorced.”

Recalling a conversation with a cab driver in Glasgow whose marriage had failed and who had remarried a catholic, he had told her of his pain at being unable to receive communion and feeling excommunicated.

“These are the things that are such a scar on the Church, and on all the people who still think of themselves as being Catholics, and who want to be able to take up the sacraments, to be a participant, to belong to this family. And yet, they are not able to do so.”

She had told the Cardinal: “Your communications strategy on saying everybody is equal before canon law is not working. You need to do something about that.”

The discussion on Wednesday was chaired by Virginia Saldanha, executive secretary of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences Women’s Desk.

It heard contributions also from Dr Luca Badini Confalonieri, Executive Director at the Wijngaards Institute, and broadcaster, writer and public speaker, Christina Rees, a member of the general synod of the Church of England.

Complete Article HERE!

Fr Mychal Judge, the Saint of 9/11, and his enduring message of compassion

From the midst of hate, war, and violence, Father Mychal Judge’s message points us to another possible path for us as human beings.

Dr. Tom Moulton and his spouse Brendan Fay flank Father Mychal Judge in a favorite photo.

By Brendan Fay

We stood by Father Mychal Judge’s grave in the Franciscan plot in the cemetery in Totowa, New Jersey. The sky was as blue on that September 11 morning 20 years ago. We prayed and sang the prayer of St. Francis. Make me a channel of your peace. 

Me, Frank, and Sam, each of us touched and brought together by Father Mychal Judge. We prayed, we sang, we told our 9/11 stories to each other, and gave thanks for the gift of Father Mychal.

Mychal Judge had a heart as big as New York. There was room for us all. To each he met, from the streets of New York to the White House, he was a man of tender compassion.

From Flight 800 to the AIDS crisis, from firefighters recovering from severe burns or families in grief at funerals, Mychal was a source of hope and healing in the midst of personal pain and national tragedy.

On September 10, 2001, at the rededication blessing of Engine 73 Ladder 42 in the Bronx, he spoke his final homily: “You do what God has called you to do. You show up, you put one foot in front of another, you get on that rig, you go out to do the job, which is a mystery and a surprise. You have no idea when you get on that rig, no matter how big the call, no matter how small, you have no idea what God’s calling you to, but he needs you. He needs me. He needs all of us.”

The world came to know Father Mychal Judge from his death at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. That was a day of profound darkness for the human family, a day of terror and fear, injustice and death.

Yet out of the pit of death and darkness, a light beamed in the iconic image of Father Mychal being carried by firefighters and rescuers. Identified as victim 0001, FDNY Chaplain Mychal Judge became a face of courage, sacrifice, profound hope, of compassion.

On 9/11, he embodied the prayer of his father St. Francis. “Where there is sadness let me sow hope, where there is hatred let me sow love. Where there is darkness only light.”

On 9/11, as most New Yorkers fled the World Trade Center, Father Mychal rushed towards the site with other first responders the brave men and women of the FDNY, EMS, NYPD. This was his calling as Franciscan, FDNY chaplain, to go to the place of human tragedy, pain, suffering, and anguish and be present with comfort and healing.

Father Mychal Judge. (Getty Images)
Father Mychal Judge.

Father Mychal was well known in New York for his ministry with the homeless, recovering alcoholics, people with AIDS, immigrants, the LGBT community, and others marginalized by society. He was a compassionate witness for peace and non-violence in Belfast and in Jerusalem.

While filming for a documentary about Mychal, I visited Stormont just outside Belfast. I sat with Patricia Lewsley, former commissioner for children and young people in Northern Ireland, who recalled her meetings and conversations about conflict resolution and reconciliation with Mychal and NYPD Detective Steven McDonald during their peace pilgrimage to Belfast in 1999.

For the Irish, he was one of our own. And how he loved the FDNY Emerald Society Pipes and Drums. When he was declared Irishman of the Year he called us. “Brendan I want you and Tom there and be sure to get on the dance floor.”

That’s who he was, a bridge person helping people cross divides and distance and bringing us together to celebrate the good of life.

He was a familiar face in New York AA meetings and counseled many like himself struggling with addictions. He was 23 years sober when he was buried. At retreats together, after evening prayers, we would sit up till all hours with Mychal leading the session of folk songs and Clancy Brothers Irish ballads.

For the Catholic LGBT community, he was one with us as well as our priest providing sacraments. We called on him during the darkness of the AIDS crisis. When exiled and excluded by society and the institutional church, he provided compassion and sacraments in our living rooms and community centers.

Father Mychal on the march with his AIDS ministry.
Father Mychal on the march with his AIDS ministry.

It wasn’t long after I arrived from Ireland to study at St. John’s that I met Mychal as he was one of the priests who presided at the weekly Mass for Dignity NY, a group for LGBT Catholics.

This was the middle of the AIDS crisis. I reached out to Mychal when asked for help by a family needing a priest to lead funeral prayers for two brothers who died from AIDS.

Mychal was selectively open about being gay with friars and friends he could trust and people whom he could help by coming out such as parents supporting their child in a world of ignorance and prejudice. In his diary, he wrote, “I thought of my gay self and how the people I meet never get to know me fully.”

He would become a huge supporter of groups working for change. He wrote the checks to AIDS Interfaith NY, to the Parents group PFLAG, to St. Pats for All.

On Skillman Avenue, at that first parade in March 2000, he showed up in his Franciscan. He said a prayer of thanks for the blessings of the day and the welcome for all especially the Irish LGBT group Lavender and Green Alliance. He then walked with the Emerald Isle Immigration Center contingent. He also spent time saying hello with Mary Somoza and her daughter Anastasia.

While proud of being Irish and a much-beloved Catholic priest, he was disheartened by anti-gay prejudice in the church and Irish community, which he called “high levels of madness.”

While researching Father Mychal’s story, people sent me copies of his letters and notes. He was a great letter writer. He would stay up till all hours of the night writing notes and cards – to say thank you, to send a word of comfort, of encouragement in sobriety, to celebrate a new job, the arrival of a new baby, the new home, newfound love.

People remember Mychal’s love, his big-heartedness, and his sense of humor if you got too serious. That was our Mychal Judge.

On this 9/11 20th anniversary, Father Mychal Judge, even in his death, sends a message. From the midst of hate, war, and violence, he points us to another possible path for us as human beings.

Like him and all who gave their lives that day, we too can choose the path of compassion and tenderness. Mychal challenges us to shun the path of violence and engage in the hard work of peacemaking, finding friendship and new ways to live well our brief lives together.

Complete Article HERE!

How women feel undervalued by the Catholic Church

Analysis: there are around 400 women across the island of Ireland ministering in Christian churches as their main life choice

“A study found that a stunning 74% of Irish Catholic women believed that the Church did not treat them with ‘a lot of respect’, compared to just 6% of Protestant women”.

By Gladys Ganiel

The decline of the Catholic Church in Ireland has included a steep drop in vocations to the priesthood. While Ireland once exported its surplus of priests across the world just 13 men began training for the priesthood here last year. Added to that, the average age of priests is 70. Many parishes are staffed by elderly men who would be enjoying retirement in other professions.

Priestly vocations have often been described as a ‘calling’. Is there something about this secularising island, including the impact of clerical abuse scandals, that makes God’s voice hard to hear? Research points to a counter-narrative, one in which some people believe that God still speaks. Anne Francis’s study of women in ministry in Ireland was simply titled Called to emphasize women’s deep conviction that they were responding to a supernatural prompting to serve.

It is a conviction shared by Soline Humbert, who has felt called to the priesthood since she was a student at Trinity College Dublin in the 1970s. While she quietly stifled her call for decades, she celebrated her first public Eucharist 25 years ago – without, of course, the blessing of the Catholic Church. Humbert’s decision to defy official Church teaching was in part stimulated by a 1994 apostolic letter from Pope John Paul II which condemned even discussing women’s ordination. Hopes that Pope Francis would be more open to women’s ordination have not materialized. “It was a big relief when I could be open about [my vocation]”, said Humber. “Before, it was like being in a tomb – gradually you end up dead inside.’

John Paul II later said that those who continued to discuss women’s ordination ‘were effectively excommunicating themselves’. But women around the world have continued to hear a call, with growing numbers organising their own ordinations, celebrating Eucharist and taking responsibilities for parishes, building thriving ministries despite their excommunication.

Across the island, there are around 400 women ‘ministering as their main life choice’, including Protestant clergy, Catholic Religious and laity with formal roles in church structures. While these women reported feeling fulfilled by their calling, 70% across all Christian traditions believed gender issues had negatively impacted their life or work.

Almost all Catholic women thought that a patriarchal Church culture prevented women’s ordination and felt their contributions to ministry were not valued by authorities. Similarly, some Presbyterian clergy believed the validity of female ordination was under attack by conservative elements in their church. Between 2013 and 2020, Rev Dr Stafford Carson, who opposes women’s ordination, was principal of Union Theological College, where ministers for the Presbyterian Church are trained.

Female clergy in the Church of Ireland and Methodist churches were most likely to feel valued. But women remain under-represented among their clergy and in positions of leadership. Pat Storey, Bishop of Meath and Kildare, is the only female bishop in the Church of Ireland; while Rev Dr Heather Morris, a former President of the Methodist Church, serves as the church’s General Secretary. A study found that while 20% of clergy in the Church of Ireland are women, they are less likely than their male counterparts to be employed as rectors of a parish and more likely to be serving in part-time or non-stipendiary posts.

Honouring the contribution of women?

In March 2021, the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference announced a ‘synodal pathway’, which will lead to a National Synodal Assembly in the next five years. Pope Francis has enthusiastically promoted synods as mechanisms for the Church to discern the will of the Holy Spirit, including contributions from lay and ordained.

As part of the process, the Bishops Conference has identified seven areas for ‘listening to what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church in Ireland’, one of which is ‘honouring the contribution of women’. Dr Nicola Brady, a lay Catholic who as General Secretary of the Irish Council of Churches is responsible for administering the island’s national-level ecumenical structures, has been named chair of the synodal steering committee. Her appointment reflects her expertise – and raises expectations that the synod will take women’s perspectives seriously.

Women’s inclusion is an urgent issue. While women are more likely to be regular churchgoers and pray more often than men, they feel undervalued by the Catholic Church. A study found that a stunning 74% of Irish Catholic women believed that the Church did not treat them with ‘a lot of respect’, compared to just 6% of Protestant women. It also found that 84% of Catholic and 95% of Protestant women were in favour of female clergy.

Former President Mary McAleese has captured the mood, describing the Catholic Church as ‘a primary global carrier of the virus of misogyny’. A 2018 poll found that 55% agreed with McAleese that the Church does not treat women equally and 62% agreed with her support for the ordination of women.

But dreams that the synod’s pledge to ‘honour’ women might extend to consideration of women’s ordination are likely to be misplaced. Pope Francis has been very clear that synods are not instruments to change church teaching, but rather to apply teaching more pastorally. It is not yet clear how conversations about women will be framed by the synod. Regardless, the women who feel ‘called’ will continue to bear witness to what they regard as the voice of God.

Complete Article HERE!

Vatican Warns U.S. Bishops: Don’t Deny Biden Communion Over Abortion

Conservative American Catholic bishops are pressing for a debate over whether Catholics who support the right to an abortion should be allowed to take Communion.

A deserted St. Peter’s Square in April. Despite opposition from the Vatican, conservative American bishops have vowed to press ahead with efforts to deny communion to politicians who support abortion.

By Jason Horowitz

The Vatican has warned conservative American bishops to hit the brakes on their push to deny communion to politicians supportive of abortion rights — including President Biden, a faithful churchgoer and the first Roman Catholic to occupy the Oval Office in 60 years.

But despite the remarkably public stop sign from Rome, the American bishops are pressing ahead anyway and are expected to force a debate on the communion issue at a remote meeting that starts on Wednesday.

Some leading bishops, whose priorities clearly aligned with former President Donald J. Trump, now want to reassert the centrality of opposition to abortion in the Catholic faith and lay down a hard line — especially with a liberal Catholic in the Oval Office.

The vote threatens to shatter the facade of unity with Rome, highlight the political polarization within the American church and set what church historians consider a dangerous precedent for bishops’ conferences across the globe.

“The concern in the Vatican,” said Antonio Spadaro, a Jesuit priest and close ally of Francis “is not to use access to the Eucharist as a political weapon.”

Pope Francis, who has explicitly identified the United States as the source of opposition to his pontificate, preached this month that communion “is not the reward of saints, but the bread of sinners.” His top doctrinal official, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, wrote a letter to the American bishops, warning them that the vote could “become a source of discord rather than unity within the episcopate and the larger church in the United States.”

The result is a rare, open rift between Rome and the American church.

Opponents of the vote suspect a more naked political motivation, aimed at weakening the president, and a pope many of them disagree with, with a drawn-out debate over a document that is sure to be amplified in the conservative Catholic media and on right-wing cable news programs.

Asked about the communion issue, Andrew Bates, a White House spokesman, said, “As the American people know well, the president is a strong person of faith.”

Pope Francis met then U.S. Vice President Joe Biden at the Vatican in 2016.Credit…

Pope Francis, along with the rest of his church’s hierarchy, explicitly opposes abortion, which they consider among the gravest sins, and incessantly speaks out against it. But that is not the same as punishing Catholic lawmakers with the denial of communion, which many here believe would be an intrusion into matters of state.

That effort is being led by Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who has been passed over repeatedly by Francis for elevation to the rank of cardinal.

“The focus of this proposed teaching document,” Archbishop Gomez wrote in a memo, “is on how best to help people to understand the beauty and the mystery of the Eucharist as the center of their Christian lives.”

The conservative American bishops are largely out of step with Francis and his agenda of putting climate change, migrants and poverty on the church’s front burner. But Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a Jesuit priest, and a senior analyst with Religion News Service, said conservatives constitute at least half of the American bishops’ conference and could have the votes to begin the process of drafting a teaching document about who can receive communion.

It is unlikely the conservatives would be able to ultimately ratify such a document, which would require unanimous support from all the country’s bishops, or two-thirds support and the Vatican’s approval. But the debate promises to keep the issue alive and present a nagging headache for President Biden and other Catholic politicians who support abortion rights.

A good portion of the bishops want to avoid the question altogether. Already, 67 American bishops, about a third of the conference, and including top cardinals aligned with Francis, signed a letter on May 13 asking Archbishop Gomez to remove the item from the virtual meeting’s agenda.

One of those signees, Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, has the ultimate decision on whether to deny communion to President Biden in the archdiocese of Washington. He has made it abundantly clear he will not.

Cardinal Gregory’s authority in the matter is a result of a compromise in 2004 when he himself led the bishops’ conference.

Pope Francis and Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, the head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office, cautioned the American bishops against moving to deny Communion to Catholic politicians.

That year a group of conservative bishops sought to deny communion to then Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry for his support of abortion rights. Conservatives had more support in the Vatican then; the top doctrinal official, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who soon after became Pope Benedict XVI, wrote that politicians who persistently supported abortion rights were unworthy to receive the sacrament.

But at a meeting in 2004, the American bishops chose instead to let individual bishops decide on a case-by-case basis.

The whole situation took a political toll on Mr. Kerry, who lost the election and now, as President Biden’s climate envoy, would rather not relive those days.

On a recent visit to Rome, during which he saw the pope, Mr. Kerry preferred to talk about the Biden administration and Francis’ shared commitment to combat climate change.

In an interview, Mr. Kerry argued that the political climate in the United States had “matured a lot” since his run-in with the conservative bishops, and that there is tolerance for “people to act on their faith in ways that do not somehow cross a line into politics.” He suggested that it was a misstep for the conservative bishops to try again.

“It’s been there and done that,” he said. “And it doesn’t always work out well for people.”

But if anything, America’s church politics have become more polarized in the last 17 years. Some clergy close to Francis in the Vatican say privately that elements within the American church have become political and extremist.

Francis himself has said it is “an honor that the Americans attack me.” But on this issue, he, like Mr. Kerry, would prefer to talk about something else.

Sandro Magister, a Vatican expert with L’Espresso magazine, said that the issue was uniquely American, and was basically unheard of in Europe. He said, “The pope himself would rather not have this vivid debate.”

But the conservative American bishops have for weeks made clear they want to do more than talk.

On May 1, the archconservative bishop of San Francisco, Salvatore J. Cordileone, issued a letter arguing that “erring Catholic” politicians who supported abortion rights should be excluded from communion. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Catholic and staunch supporter of abortion rights, is a parishioner in his San Francisco diocese.

Soon after, Archbishop Gomez sent a letter to the Vatican’s chief doctrinal office informing it that the American bishops’ conference was preparing to tackle “the worthiness to receive Holy Communion” by Catholic politicians who support abortion rights at their June meeting.

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, wants to move forward on a document that would draw a hard line on who can receive Communion.

The Vatican apparently had seen enough. On May 7, Cardinal Ladaria wrote Archbishop Gomez urging caution. He said it would be “misleading” to present abortion and euthanasia as “the only grave matters of Catholic moral and social teaching.”

If the American bishops were going to crack the door open on the communion issue, Cardinal Ladaria added ominously, they should be prepared to consider extending the policy to all Catholics “rather than only one category of Catholics.”

The matter seemed settled. It wasn’t.

On May 22, Archbishop Gomez sent a letter to the American bishops defending the decision to schedule a vote, arguing — critics say with shocking disingenuousness — that doing so “reflects recent guidance from the Holy See.”

Complete Article HERE!