The Catholic Church is increasingly diverse – and so are its controversies

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There is a lot of talk about “synodality” in the Catholic church these days. Synodality refers to a process in which bishops and priests consult with lay Catholics about issues in the church.

In 2021, Pope Francis called for the “Synod on Synodality,” a worldwide discussion of issues that impact the church, which will culminate with a bishops’ meeting in Rome. A final report is scheduled for October 2023.

The Catholic Church in Germany has also moved forward with a national “synodal path” to restore trust after its own sexual abuse scandal.

The German synodal path has been controversial. On Sept. 8, 2022, a minority of German bishops blocked a motion to redefine Catholic teaching on homosexuality, bisexuality, gender identity and masturbation. In response, some proponents of these liberalizations warned they would “take it to Rome.”

Church leaders around the world and in the Vatican have closely watched the German meetings. There has been sharp debate over calls by German Catholics for priests to ordain women and bless same-sex unions. These proposals have been embraced by some German church bishops, but criticized by the Vatican as well as by an international group of 74 bishops.

As a scholar of global Catholicism, I believe this controversy reflects much wider tensions within Catholicism. In 1910, two-thirds of the world’s Catholics lived in Europe. Today, just one in four do. The church’s numbers have grown most quickly in Africa and Asia. As more power shifts to the global south, the church sometimes struggles to chart a path forward for all regions, each of which has its own distinct perspectives.

The German meeting spotlights particularly difficult topics about sexuality and women’s roles, where some Catholics in Europe, North America and Australia clash with Catholics elsewhere.

Continental divides

The Catholic Church is often assumed to look and feel the same everywhere. But Catholicism is culturally quite diverse.

The most public disagreement involves African Catholics and those in the United States and Europe. For example, Ghanaian Catholic bishops have criticized advocates for LGBTQ rights for imposing “their so-called values and beliefs.” Other African bishops have said they feel betrayed by liberal sentiments in European Catholicism, such as the push to allow Holy Communion for divorced church members.

People in white robes kneel near the altar in a brightly colored church with a teal and orange wall.
A bishop blesses worshippers during an early morning mass at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Yamumbi, Kenya.

Polygamy continues to be a pressing issue in some regions of Africa. While Catholic doctrine prohibits polygamy, polygamous unions are still common in many countries with significant Catholic communities.

A crucial question is how to welcome polygamous families into the church. Some African bishops have suggested that the church’s most important rites, called sacraments, should be available for at least some polygamous Catholics.

Tribalism also remains a challenge. For example, a Nigerian priest published a social media video asserting the superiority of the Igbo tribe. In rejecting such attitudes, other African priests have emphasized that African Catholics should draw on the philosophy of “ubuntu” that affirms collective belonging to humanity.

Looking East

Issues in Asia, home to 12% of Catholics, are diverse.

In Japan, for example, where Catholics make up less than 1% of the population, the main dilemma is how Catholics can maintain their community identity. In the Catholic-majority Philippines, recent meetings for the Synod on Synodality have focused on how poverty and corruption impact the Catholic community and the nation as a whole.

In India, where 20 million Catholics live, the Dalit Catholic community is especially important. Dalit means “oppressed” or “crushed” and refers to the marginalized groups once known as India’s “untouchables.” It was only recently that a Dalit, Anthony Poola of Hyderabad, was named a cardinal, even though Dalits have long made up a majority of India’s Catholics. Caste discrimination in the church is a reality that Dalit Catholics have joined together to protest.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church in East Timor, where Catholics are 95% of the population, has experienced its own divisive sex abuse crisis connected with a highly regarded American priest.

A woman in a pink shirt and green sari touches a statue of the Virgin Mary covered with garlands of flowers.
Catholics offer prayers in front of a statue of Virgin Mary in Hyderabad, India.

Catholic churches in China face unresolved disputes over who has final say in the appointment of bishops – the Vatican, or the Chinese government. Also, there are continuing issues about the status of the underground Catholic churches, which worship outside the purview of the state-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

In parts of Oceania, climate change is an existential concern. The spread of HIV/AIDS in Papua New Guinea remains an important issue as well.

Stronghold no longer?

Latin America is home to almost 40% of the world’s Catholics. But the rise of Protestantism has concerned many priests and laity. Many new Protestants in Latin America believe that evangelical and Pentecostal communities are more sensitive to their needs, prompting soul-searching for Catholics.

Another crucial question in Latin America is whether to ordain married men in regions where priests are scarce, like the Amazon. The Catholic church in Latin America still struggles with its colonial past and calls to apologize for that violent history. This legacy makes it particularly important to hear the voices of Indigenous peoples.

A global conversation

The worldwide Synod on Synodality is focused, in Pope Francis’ words, on creating a church that “walks together on the same road.”

It would be a mistake to see this “walking together” from an exclusively Western perspective. The debate in Germany reflects how ideologically divided Catholicism has become in the Western world alone. And it is not as though churches elsewhere are simply areas of potential problems or disagreements; their faith and rich theological traditions are an important resource for Catholics worldwide.

Still, given the cultural diversity of Catholicism, there are many potential flash points as the Synod on Synodality moves forward: poverty, adapting to local culture, sexuality and gender, church governance and the continuing sexual abuse crisis – just to name a few.

This has left some commentators wondering if anything meaningful can be discussed or achieved. In my view, whether Synod conversations turn into controversies will ultimately depend on how Catholics see themselves as part of a church that is truly global.

Complete Article HERE!

German Bishops Fail To Pass Document Radically Altering Church Teaching On Sex

By John Rigolizzo

Liberal Catholic bishops in Germany failed to approve a document changing the Church’s teachings on sex and sexuality.

The 30-page document, entitled “Life in succeeding relationships – The principles of renewed sexual ethics,” was brought to a vote at a meeting of the German Bishops’ Conference’s “Synodal Way” in Frankfurt Thursday. The resolution to approve needed a two-thirds majority to be adopted, but it did not meet that threshold. The document would have radically reformed the Church’s teachings around same-sex relationships, gender identity, and masturbation, among others.

“We are convinced that it will not be possible to re-orientate pastoral care without re-defining the emphasis of the Church’s sexual teaching to a significant degree,” the preamble to the document stated. “This is why we are suggesting such a major re-emphasis, as we consider it urgently necessary to overcome some of the restrictions in questions of sexuality, for reasons of sexual science as well as theology. In particular, the teaching that sexual intercourse is only ethically legitimate in the context of a lawful marriage, and only with a permanent openness to the transmission of life, has caused a wide rift to open up between the Magisterium and the faithful. This threatens to completely obscure other important aspects of God’s Good News which could have a liberating effect on shaping dignified sexuality.”

A total of 33 bishops voted to approve the document; 21 voted against it. Three bishops abstained from voting, The Pillar reported.

The leaders of the conference expressed outrage at the result. Delegates took the floor for two hours after the vote concluded, blasting those who voted to disapprove, and claiming that the move would foment division in the Church.

Bishop Georg Bätzing, the president of the bishops’ conference, threatened to take the document to Pope Francis’ worldwide bishops’ synod in 2023, despite failing to approve it. “We will take it to the level of the universal church when we are in Rome in November for the ad limina visit when we go about preparing the World Synod with the continental bishops’ conferences in January,” he said, via Fox News.

The first reform the German bishops pushed was for the Church to honor all forms of personal sexual identity, including gender identity. The German bishops’ document also affirms non-binary and so-called “intersex” identities: “[b]iological gender cannot be clearly determined in binary terms in some cases,” the document states, noting that intersex people have physical and chromosomal variance, while transgender people have a difference of “gender perception” from their biological sex. “As a Church, we must respect the individual self-perception of the sexual identity of any person as an inviolable part of their uniqueness as made in God’s image,” the document says.

The document went on to call for a radical reform of the teaching on homosexuality. Church doctrine declares homosexual acts as a mortal sin that completely separates the individual from God. The document called on the Church to reject that. “Same-sex sexuality – also expressed in sexual acts – is therefore not a sin that causes separation from God, and it is not to be judged as intrinsically bad,” the document declared.

The document would also have radically altered Church teachings on masturbation, which is also a mortal sin under Church doctrine. “Experiencing one’s own body through self-stimulation in a pleasurable way can be an important building block of self-acceptance for everyone,” the document declares instead.

Complete Article HERE!

Surprises in the Irish Synod Report

Archbishop Eamon Martin

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About five years ago, I attended a lecture in Manhattan by an Irish Redemptorist priest, Fr. Tony Flannery. The event was sponsored by Call to Action, an organization that is critical of the Catholic Church because of its ineptitude in applying the gospel message to the realities of our time. Fr. Flannery was and still is banned from speaking publicly in any church-owned facility.

In his speech he explained why he is considered a persona non grata, an outcast, by the powers in Rome. He named three areas of disagreement, pointing out that he does not question any of the traditional Catholic dogmas.

He objects especially to the second-class status accorded to women in all areas of ecclesiastical life. He cautioned that while he favors full ordination rights for females the focus for now should be on achieving deaconate status, a step below the priesthood.

He favors ending mandatory celibacy and welcoming married priests, and he was adamant that his church’s attitude to the homosexual community could only be described as pathetic. He spoke with conviction and left no doubt about his continuing commitment to radical changes in his church.

Amazingly and ironically, in response to Pope Francis’ Synodal Way, the Irish church recently submitted what they call the National Synthesis of its recommendations to Rome, and they have come out in favor of the positions which led to Flannery’s exclusion from practicing as a priest.

The big boys in Rome silenced him, but what will they do now with the whole Irish church?

The National Synthesis document was based on reports prepared by all 26 Catholic dioceses on the island of Ireland following widespread consultations with the people over many months, culminating in a countrywide national symposium in Athlone in June.

Over 19,000 people participated in Dublin with about 5000 in Limerick and a few hundred in the mini-diocese of Achonry in the west of Ireland. Reports from all sides suggested enthusiastic involvement throughout the country with members over the age of 60 showing the highest level of interest.

Cynics warned that the submission to Rome would be a watered-down version of the ideas for change that emerged from the consultations. The bishops would wrap the radical concepts in language acceptable to the Vatican hierarchy.

Not this time! The National Synthesis document pulls no punches and fairly represents the thoughts and feelings expressed up and down the country, as well as during the big weekend in Athlone.

In a cover letter sent with the report, Archbishop Eamon Martin explained to Cardinal Mario Gresch, the secretary general of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican, that that there is a crying need in Ireland for healing, especially “among those who have suffered abuse by church personnel and in church institutions.”

He stressed that clear calls were heard in every diocese for “fresh models of responsibility and leadership which will especially recognize and facilitate the role of women. Our listening process has identified the need to be more inclusive in outreach, touching those who have left the church behind and, in some cases, feel excluded, forgotten or ignored.”

Pope Francis’ words are genuine. We believe him when he says he wants to hear from ordinary parishioners. Will he lead the response when the cry for change arrives in Rome from people all over the world?

In order to dampen expectations, he insists that the church is not a democratic institution. So, despite the strong support for radical changes, backed by a clear majority of the faithful, their ideas may well be set aside as traditionalists assert the pre-eminence of the church’s historical beliefs and practices.

During the struggle for democracy in Europe in the 19th and early 20th century, successive popes favored the old European autocracies with single strong leaders, which, of course, defines the Vatican. They still diminish the democratic process which claims that, despite its limitations, the people’s wisdom is the nearest we can get to an optimal system for selecting leaders and determining policy. Why is the church so dismissive of this approach? What are they afraid of in Rome? Is it just a power game?

Take the widespread belief that women should be ordained at a time when their services as pastors are clearly needed in many parishes. Most people in the United States and in Europe strongly support this needed alteration of church discipline. The Women’s Ordination Conference (WOC), a very credible Catholic organization, affirms the many women who feel called to priestly service.

A tribute to Francis, information about WOC is included in the Vatican website as part of the synodal discussions. However, it is very unlikely that he will overrule John Paul II’s arrogant and dogmatic statement that women should never be permitted to say Mass.

Back to the real world of male hierarchies who preach their openness to the Spirit of Wisdom, but always seem to revert back to glorifying tradition. In October 2019 the Amazon Synod of Bishops met in Rome to consider the church crisis in that region of South America. The people in large parts of a few countries there have very irregular access to the sacraments.

The Synod passed, with a big majority, two recommendations to help ameliorate the situation. First, open the deaconate to permit nuns and other dedicated women who are serving there to provide communion for the people. Second, allow viri probati, married men of sterling character from the local communities, to be ordained to the priesthood. Pope Francis took their recommendations under advisement. No action. That was almost three years ago. Tough luck on the people pleading for communion in the Amazon region.

Mary McAleese. RollingNews.ie photo.
Mary McAleese.

Former Irish president Mary McAleese, who has had a conflicted relationship with the church, especially with John Paul II, was elated by the document and congratulated the hierarchy for not doctoring the recommendations to placate Rome. The adjectives she used to commend it left no doubt about her satisfaction: “explosive, life-altering, dogma-altering, church-altering.”

Mrs. McAleese has a particular peeve with the church’s puerile insistence that the gay lifestyle is unnatural and sinful. Her son is a homosexual. This demeaning thinking has been repudiated by science for more than half a century. Rome, however, keeps beating the old drum based on an outmoded belief in their version of natural law.

Fr. Tim Hazelwood, one of the leaders of the Irish Association of Priests, described the document as “stunning” because “it is not trying to uphold any of the old negatives from the past.” Those “old negatives” did immense harm to the preaching of the gospel message.

Pope Francis will meet with a full synod of bishops in October of next year to decide what changes they will institute, based, supposedly, on the recommendations from Catholics all over the world. We live and hope!

Complete Article HERE!

Robert McElroy Becomes San Diego’s First Cardinal, With Vision Akin to Pope

Pope Francis speaks with Cardinal Robert McElroy at the consistory in St. Peter’s Basilica.

by Chris Stone

Robert W. McElroy became the first cardinal of San Diego Saturday, receiving his scarlet skullcap, ring and silk hat as he knelt before Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

McElroy, 68, was inducted along with 19 cardinals from around the world in a ceremony, known as a consistory, that was live streamed from 7-8 a.m. San Diego time (4-6 p.m. Rome time).

Among those in attendance was Bishop John Dolan, former auxiliary bishop of San Diego until he assumed duties of bishop of Phoenix this month.

After the consistory, the new cardinals met with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Afterwards, the cardinals were scheduled to greet the faithful of Rome and those visiting from their home countries for the customary post-Consistory congratulatory visits, according to Vatican News.

On Sunday, McElroy will celebrate his first Mass (live streamed) as a cardinal. On Monday and Tuesday, he will join the College of Cardinals for an in-depth study of Praedicate Evangelium regarding on the Roman Curia, and Tuesday evening they will celebrate Mass together with Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Basilica (live streamed).

The pope chose men from five continents who mostly agree with his vision of a more progressive and inclusive Roman Catholic Church and influencing their choice of his eventual successor.

Francis, 85, presided , telling the new cardinals to show concern for ordinary people despite the high rank that will bring them into contact with the powerful of the earth.

The ceremony marked the eight time Francis has put his stamp on the Church’s future with a new intake of cardinals who will serve as his top advisors and administrators at the Vatican and around the globe.

Pope Francis speaks during a consistory ceremony to elevate Roman Catholic prelates to the rank of cardinal, at Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, August 27, 2022.
Cardinal Robert McElroy (left) at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Screenshot of Vatican Media
Cardinal Robert McElroy (left) at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

The College of Cardinals now consists of 226 cardinals, including 132 electors and 94 non-electors. 52 cardinals were created by John Paul II of whom 11 are electors; 64 created by Benedict XVI of whom 38 are electors; and 112 created by Francis of whom 83 are electors, according to Vatican News.

Across the world they are distributed as: 106 in Europe, of whom 54 are electors; 60 in the Americas, of whom 38 are electors; 30 in Asia, of whom 20 are electors; 27 in Africa, of whom 17 are electors; and 5 cardinals in Oceania, of whom 3 are electors, according to Vatican News.

Those under 80 — 16 among the 20 newcomers — can enter a conclave to elect a new pope from among themselves after he dies or resigns. Cardinals over the age of 80 are not electors.

Among the significant appointment from the richer countries is that of McElroy, who is seen as a progressive. By giving San Diego its first cardinal, Francis bypassed conservative archbishops in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

McElroy has been an outspoken ally of Francis’ pastoral approach to social issues, such as protection of the environment and a more welcoming approach to gay Catholics.

He also has opposed conservative U.S. clergymen who want to ban Catholic politicians, including President Joe Biden and House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, from receiving communion because of their support of abortion rights.

Four new countries will be granted a new cardinal: Mongolia, Paraguay, Singapore and East Timor.

Besides the United States, the the new cardinals come from Britain, South Korea, Spain, France, Nigeria, Brazil, Italy, Ghana and Colombia.

Cardinal Robert McElroy receives his skullcap and biretta from Pope Francis. Screenshot from EWTN.
Cardinal Robert McElroy receives his skullcap and biretta from Pope Francis.

One bishop to be named cardinal, Bishop Richard Kuuia Baawobr, 62, of Wa, Ghana, became ill after arriving in Rome and was unable to attend the ceremony.

“A Cardinal loves the Church, always with that same spiritual fire, whether dealing with great questions or handling everyday problems, with the powerful of this world or those ordinary people who are great in God’s eyes,” Francis said.

Sitting before the main altar of St. Peter’s Basilica, Francis asked them to remember “poor families, migrant and homeless persons.”

He read his homily in a strong voice, often going off script, even to joke about a Rome priest who was so close to his parishioners that he knew not only all their names, but also the names of their dogs.

Francis, elected as pope in 2013, has now chosen 83 of the 132 cardinal electors, or about 63%.

With each consistory, Francis has continued what one diplomat has called a “tilt towards Asia,” increasing the likelihood that the next pope could be from the region that is a growing economic and political powerhouse.

Resignation not at Hand

The 85-year-old pontiff told Reuters in an interview last month that if he does resign in the future for health reasons — instead of dying in office — he has no plans to do so anytime soon. This means he could name even more cardinals as soon as next year.

After reading his homily, Francis gave them each their ring and red hat, the color of which, along with their vestments, is to remind them that they should be willing to shed their blood for the faith.

Since his election as the first Latin American pope, Francis’ has often broken the mould used by his predecessors in picking cardinals. Often he has preferred men from developing nations and smaller cities, rather than from major capitals where having a cardinal used to be considered automatic.

Archbishop Leonardo Steiner of Manaus, Brazil, becomes the first cardinal from the Amazon region, underscoring Francis’ concern for indigenous people and the environment.

Rings to be given to the new cardinals at the consistory in Rome. Screenshot of Vatican Media

Another unexpected new cardinal elector is Archbishop Giorgio Marengo, an Italian who is the Catholic Church’s administrator in Mongolia. At 48, he is the youngest of the new cardinal electors.

Mongolia has fewer than 1,500 Catholics but is strategically significant because it borders with China, where the Vatican is trying to improve the situation for Catholics.

“The Holy Father cares for the Church wherever it is in the world. (We) feel that a tiny community is as important as a large community,” he told Reuters before the ceremony.

Complete Article HERE!

The meaning behind Pope Francis’ meeting with transgender people

By: Newsy

Father James Martin has taken his message of prayer and inclusivity everywhere, from “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” to the halls of the Vatican. In May, he wrote to Pope Francis with a few questions.

“I just wanted to give him a time to briefly talk to LGBTQ Catholics,” Martin said.

Francis has extended apologies to the abused and a welcome to the historically rejected. According to the Vatican News, he recently met with transgender people near Rome, Italy.

So Martin’s questions aren’t so random.

“I asked him, ‘What would you most like them to know about the church?'” Martin said. “He said, ‘Read Acts of the Apostles,’ which was really interesting because there’s a church that’s kind of mixing it up. Then also, ‘What would you say to an LGBTQ Catholic who felt rejected by the church?’ And he said very interestingly to remember that it’s not the church that rejects you, the church loves you, but it might be individual people in the church.”

It isn’t the first time Francis has corresponded directly with Martin on LGBTQ relations or the first time he has spoken up about their place within the Catholic church.

In 2016, Francis agreed the church should apologize to not only gay people but other marginalized groups, like the poor. He’s also called for parents to accept their LGBTQ children.

Francis’ gestures are one thing; changing church doctrine, which teaches that the act of homosexuality is sinful, is another.

“What would have happened really, in a sense, is for theologians working together, along with church officials, to come to some newer understanding of how they can accommodate for older church teaching on these issues, to show that the church evolves rather than dramatically changing,” said Michele Dillon, professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire. “Because the church is not going to say, ‘Oh, we were wrong.’ It’s very rare.”

“If he were to do that, which I don’t think Pope Francis will, but if he were to do that, he would not want to do it without support from the Curia and the College of Cardinals,” said Cristina Traina, professor of Catholic theology at Fordham University. “He would not want to do it without tracing a pathway theologically.”

Instead, Francis has gone another direction: one met with both criticism and praise, uplifting LGBTQ Catholics while simultaneously reiterating church doctrine.

NEWSY’S AMBER STRONG: Is he sort of riding the line between saying that this is doctrine and doctrines not going to change? But, we also still need to love and affirm people as well.

FATHER JAMES MARTIN: I think that’s a good question, and I think he is kind of trying to straddle that line. But I think one thing to remember is that what seems very bland and tepid in the United States — overseas is a big deal. In the U.S., we might say, ‘Oh, big deal. Of course, you should welcome your kids.’ If you’re in Eastern Europe or sub-Saharan Africa or Latin America or India, that’s a big deal. So, we have to remember that he’s speaking to the whole church.”

According to Pew Research, 76% of U.S. Catholics say society should be accepting of homosexuality. That’s below the rate of Catholic support in countries like Spain and the Netherlands but far higher than places like Lebanon and Nigeria.

Some theologians argue that Francis’ support could have a trickle-down impact on individual Catholics and parishes.

“These things can do a lot to encourage Catholics to embrace LGBTQ people with love and compassion and mercy and not to see them as the Antichrist, the anathema, the enemy of salvation,” Traina said.

In 2021, a group of Catholic leaders, including a cardinal and archbishop, signed a statement calling for widespread support of at-risk LGBTQ youth. According to an NCR analysis of recent listening sessions among U.S. Catholics, there was a growing call for LGBTQ inclusion and more opportunities for women.

“To me, there’s no such thing as an empty gesture because, yes, many times people want to see more clear-cut evidence of change and of their acceptance within the church, but sometimes it’s in small steps,” Dillon said.

In 2021, Martin, a Vatican appointee under Francis, launched Outreach: a website that provides resources to LGBTQ Catholics and leaders. It’s an effort Pope Francis has encouraged.

“He hasn’t changed any church teaching,” Martin said. “I’m not advocating for any church teaching, but he’s advocated a more pastoral response, listening to them, welcoming them, treating them with respect.

Complete Article HERE!