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!

Cork priest in call for conversation to be held in church on pastoral outreach to gay Catholics

Fr Tim Hazelwood, who is the parish priest of Killeagh, is one of four signatories to a letter sent by the Association of Catholic Priests.

By Ann Murphy

A CORK priest has written to Bishops asking that a conversation be held in the Irish Catholic Church about a sensitive and pastoral outreach to gay Catholics.

Fr Tim Hazelwood, who is the parish priest of Killeagh, is one of four signatories to the letter sent by the Association of Catholic Priests.

It follows the publication of a document in March by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which said Catholic clergy cannot bless same-sex unions because God “cannot bless sin.”

Letter to bishops

In the letter, the priests said the need for the conversation “has been underlined recently by the insensitive and unnecessary intervention by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) that has brought such pain and distress to gay women and men, to their families and friends.”

It said that “the content, language and judgemental tone of the CDF’s statement reflect an increasingly out of touch and uncaring Church and exactly the kind of attitude that provokes more and more Catholics into walking away from our Church.

“Messages we have received from gay people and family members spoke of the hurt and anger they are made to feel and they write of the struggle they have remaining part of the church. Only one Irish Bishop had the courage to respond to the CDF statement and his words were deeply appreciated.”

The letter continued: “More worryingly, the CDF intervention runs counter to ‘the synodal path’ that Francis has told us is God’s way of being Church in the future and which the Irish Bishops have recently endorsed through their commitment to move the Irish Church along that pathway in preparation for a national synodal event within the next five years.”

‘A conversation that needs to take place’

In pointing out that times are changing, the priests said that a recent ACP webinar on the pastoral care of members of the LGBTQ+ community as memorable, continuing: “There were many heartfelt contributions from people who continue to feel hurt and shame. Stories that could be replicated in every parish but sadly are often unwelcome or unheard.”

The letter added: “Why are we so cold and uncaring in the Church around this topic? Why the lack of knowledge and understanding that still informs inappropriate sermons and comments? Why are we afraid to welcome gay Catholics? Why are we afraid to listen to their stories?

“There is a listening and a conversation that need to take place in our Church and we respectfully request the Irish bishops to facilitate it and to participate in it. A refusal to engage runs counter to the synodal pathway.”

Complete Article HERE!

German Catholic Priests Defy Rome to Offer Blessings to Gay Couples

More than 100 Roman Catholic parishes in Germany held services to bless gay couples, in defiance of the Vatican’s refusal to recognize same-sex unions.

The Rev. Wolfgang Rothe blesses Christine Walter and Almut Muenster during a service at St. Benedict’s Catholic Church on Sunday in Munich.

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More than 100 Roman Catholic parishes in Germany offered blessings to gay couples on Monday in defiance of church teaching and their own bishops.

The call for nationwide blessings came in response to a decree issued by the Vatican on March 15, reinforcing the church’s prohibition of priests asking for God’s benevolence for gay couples, stating that God “does not and cannot bless sin.”

A group of 16 German priests and volunteers organized a petition that within days collected more than 2,000 signatures. Encouraged by the response, they decided to take their action one step further and declare May 10 — chosen because of its association with Noah, who in the Bible is recognized by God with a rainbow, a symbol that has more recently been adopted by the L.G.B.T.Q. community — as a day to hold blessing ceremonies for any and all couples, but especially those in same-sex unions.

“In view of the refusal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to bless homosexual partnerships, we raise our voices and say: We will continue to accompany people who enter into a binding partnership in the future and bless their relationship,” the group said in a statement. “We will not refuse a blessing ceremony.”

The Vatican had no comment on Monday, but the head of the conference of Roman Catholic bishops in Germany, Georg Bätzing, who is also the bishop of Limburg, rejected using public blessing ceremonies as what he called “instruments for symbolic actions on church policy or for protests.”

“It is part of the pastoral ministry of the church to treat all of these people fairly in their respective concrete situations on their life’s journey and to accompany them pastorally,” Bishop Bätzing said in a statement, speaking for the country’s bishops. “In this context, however, I do not consider public actions such as those planned for 10 May to be helpful or a way forward.”

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, because that is God’s plan for the creation of life. Church doctrine says that while gay people must be treated with dignity, homosexuality is “intrinsically disordered.” Pope Francis has not changed this teaching, but has occasionally raised the hopes of gay Catholics by speaking of the need to love and welcome gay and transgender people.

The German church is among the most powerful and liberal in the world, and Roman Catholics everywhere were watching the response to the blessings for signals of how the church might respond to attempts at reform from those in the pews and from the priests who are often among those most active in finding ways to include gay men and lesbians in the church.

“There has been this incredible discussion in Germany about same-sex couples specifically that has not taken place anywhere else,” said Francis DeBernardo, the executive director of New Ways Ministry, which represents gay and lesbian Catholics in the United States. “No other group has done something like that.”

A few German parishes held blessing services on Sunday and dozens more took place Monday, many of them in churches in the heavily Roman Catholic western regions of the country, home to many of Germany’s most liberal Catholics. Some were streamed live, while others offered virtual blessings over social media, “whenever and wherever you want.”

By contrast, only a few parishes in the heavily Roman Catholic southern state of Bavaria, the more deeply conservative region where Pope Benedict XVI grew up, held services.

Churches that were not offering ceremonies were encouraged to fly a rainbow flag or other banners recognizing and celebrating love in all of its forms as worthy of God’s graces.

The Rev. Bernd Mönkebüscher, pastor in the Church of St. Agnes in the western town of Hamm and one of the initiators of the campaign, said that every Valentine’s Day, his parish holds blessings for all couples, including those from same-sex unions and those who remarried after a divorce.

“We held a blessing service this Valentine’s Day, but it was important to us in view of this story from Rome to send a clear signal that the church must recognize, honor and appreciate life in all of its many colors,” said Father Mönkebüscher, who identifies as gay. “It is an important gesture toward those people who the church for years, if not decades, has viewed as second-class citizens.”

At least 30 couples had registered to take part in the ceremony in his parish on Monday, he said, adding that the number of participants was limited because of restrictions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. “We are fully booked out,” he said.

During the ceremony, Father Mönkebüscher walked around the nave, approaching couples who sat in pairs, socially distanced and masked. They rose as he placed a hand on their shoulders and spoke a blessing as they bowed their heads. After one lesbian couple had received their blessing, they dropped their masks and shared a kiss, wiping away tears.

Not everyone has been receptive of the initiative. One parish in Bavaria received threats from members of an arch-conservative Roman Catholic group and had to call the police to ensure the safety of participants at their ceremony.

The initiative is the latest strain between the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church in Germany. Many parishioners in Germany have left the church, including those frustrated with what they see as an outdated approach to sexual morality and a failure to punish priests accused of abusing children.

According to official statistics, 272,771 people formally quit the Church in 2019, a record number that helped to galvanize efforts among the bishops to discuss with the church a series of issues they believe were contributing to the loss of members. Among them were the role of women in the church, its teachings on sexual morality, priestly celibacy and clerical power structures.

In 2019, they began a series of talks on these topics, discussions of which would be off-limits for the church in many other countries. The talks were to take place among the faithful and church leaders over the course of two years but were extended because of restrictions on gatherings that were introduced last year at the outbreak of the pandemic. They are now to continue into February 2022.

Among those leaving the Church in Germany are many same-sex couples, who are tired of feeling they are not accepted for who they are, said the Rev. Reinhard Kleinewiese, who held a blessing at the Church of St. Mary in the western town of Ahlen on Sunday evening. Ten couples attend, all of them heterosexuals.

“We can’t ignore the fact that a lot of homosexual couples have already left the church. There are many who don’t come anymore,” Father Kleinewiese said. “Nevertheless, it is good and important for this situation and beyond that we make clear that we are not in agreement with Rome on certain issues and prohibitions.”

Complete Article HERE!

German Catholic Priests Defy Pope Francis with Public Blessings of Same-Sex Couples

Priests across Germany will publicly bless same-sex partnerships on Monday, May 10

By Ashley Boucher

A group of German Catholic priests will publicly bless same-sex couples across the country on Monday in defiance of the Vatican’s decree in March that the Catholic Church cannot bless same-sex marriages.

“In view of the refusal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to bless homosexual partnerships, we raise our voices and say: We will continue to accompany people who enter into a binding partnership in the future and bless their relationship,” the statement says. “We do not refuse a blessing ceremony. We do this in our responsibility as pastors, who promise people at important moments in their lives the blessings that God alone gives. We respect and value their love, and we also believe that God’s blessings are on them.”

Pope Francis leaves the Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation (Sayidat al-Najat) in Baghdad
Pope Francis leaves the Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation (Sayidat al-Najat) in Baghdad

“Theological arguments and knowledge gained are sufficiently exchanged,” the statement continues. “We do not accept that an exclusive and outdated sexual morality is carried out on the back of people and undermines our work in pastoral care.”

The priests have also organized several church services, including live-streamed blessings of same-sex couples, to take place on May 10 across the country.

One of the organizers, Klaus Nelissen, told the Wall Street Journal that a Monday was chosen because that is traditionally a priest’s day off: “No bishop can tell them not to do it, since they are doing it on their own time,” he said.

The correlating events on Monday are making public what has been a quiet defiance over the last several years.

“It always has been a little bit kind of a secret,” Rev. Christian Olding told the Wall Street Journal of German priests’ blessings of same-sex couples. “This is the first time that we are going this way in society, to do it visibly for everyone.”

In March, the Vatican said in a statement approved by Pope Francis that the Catholic Church cannot bless same-sex unions because God “does not and cannot bless sin.”

While the community should welcome gay people with “respect and sensitivity,” their unions would not receive the same embrace, as under Catholic teachings, marriages as per “God’s plan” should be between a man and a woman to create new life, said the statement, which was a formal response to a question regarding the Church’s power to bless same-sex marriages.

“For this reason, it is not licit to impart a blessing on relationships, or partnerships, even stable, that involve sexual activity outside of marriage, as is the case of the unions between persons of the same sex,” the statement said.

In October, he said he would support a civil union law, saying in a documentary that gay people are “children of God and have a right to a family.” And he famously said in 2013: “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?”

Complete Article HERE!

Austrian Catholics fly rainbow flag after same-sex blessing ban

This church in Vienna’s Breitenfeld neighbourhood is among those flying the rainbow flag

By Jastinder KHERA

The Catholic church of the parish of Hard is one of many in Austria which decided to fly the rainbow flag in solidarity with the LGBT community after the Vatican ruled last month that the Church couldn’t bless same-sex partnerships.

The powerful Vatican office responsible for defending church doctrine, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), handed down a ruling that same-sex unions could not be blessed despite their “positive elements”.

The office wrote that while God “never ceases to bless each of His pilgrim children in this world… he does not and cannot bless sin”.

Hard’s parish priest Erich Baldauf says he and the hundreds of other clergy who belong to the reform-oriented “Priests’ Initiative” movement decided to fly the flag to show “that we do not agree with this outdated position”, with many other churches also making the gesture.

Soon after the rainbow flag in Hard was put up, there was an attempt to damage it, and last Tuesday Baldauf was saddened to discover that it had been burnt.

“We were shocked… it pains us,” Baldauf said.

While the perpetrator has not been caught and there is no proven motive, Baldauf notes that other flags that have flown in the same place were never subject to attack.

In the following days, another rainbow flag outside a church, also in the far western state of Vorarlberg, was burnt, while a third was stolen.

In the following days, two other rainbow flags hanging outside churches, also in the far western state of Vorarlberg, were also burnt.

Contrary to the impression that these incidents may give, surveys show that Austrian public opinion is firmly on the side of equal treatment for same-sex couples.

Same-sex marriage has been legal in Austria since 2019 and a survey last week found that a full 64 percent of Austrians opposed the Vatican’s recent decision.

A mere 13 percent said they could understand the Vatican’s stance.

Austria is still a majority Catholic country, with the Church counting just under five million adherents in a country of 8.8 million.

But this represents a steep decline from the decades after the war, in which almost 90 percent of Austrians belonged to the Church.

Experts say differences between Austrian social attitudes and Church teaching on issues such as homosexuality and abortion contribute to tens of thousands choosing to leave the Church each year.

– ‘Hurts to the core’ –

It’s not just the explicitly reform-oriented Priests’ Initiative who have spoken out on the CDF ruling.

No less a figure than the Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, said he was “not happy” with the Vatican’s pronouncement.

“The message that went out via the media to the whole world was a simple ‘no’ and in fact a ‘no’ to blessing, which is something that hurts many people to their core,” he explained to the Catholic newspaper Der Sonntag.

Toni Faber, the priest of Vienna’s iconic St Stephen’s Cathedral, was even more forthright.

“If I had the job of causing the most damage possible to the Church with two pages of text, I would write exactly the sort of letter that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has written,” he told the Profil news magazine.

The CDF’s statement “totally misfired” in the aim of “upholding the sacrament of marriage”, Faber said, adding that none of the heterosexual couples he marries “feel diminished by the fact that I give blessings to same-sex couples”.

The unhappiness has found an echo among Germany’s Catholics, with priests using a hashtag calling for “disobedience” online.

While some prominent German bishops have supported the Vatican’s stance, others accused the CDF of seeking to stifle theological debates which have been active among German Catholics in recent years.

A German petition calling for the CDF’s ruling to be ignored has been signed by 2,600 priests and deacons, as well as 277 theologians.

The reaction in Germany and Austria speaks to broader global fault lines on social issues between socially conservative and liberal congregations.

However, according to Jesuit priest and former head of Vatican Radio’s German section Bernd Hagenkord, German-speaking countries also have “a very particular tradition of theology which acts very independently” and is less amenable to being overruled by Church hierarchy.

Back in Hard, the parish church decided to leave the remnants of the burnt flag in place for several days after the attack.

“It had the effect of a cross,” says Baldauf.

But in time for Good Friday, a new rainbow flag once again flew proudly outside the church, a sign of welcome for all parishioners at Easter.

Complete Article HERE!