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!

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!

So what went wrong in Rome over same-sex blessings?

An analysis by Christopher Lamb following Bishop Johan Bonny’s comments at The Tablet webinar.

by Christopher Lamb

The high cost of the Vatican’s ruling against same-sex blessings has been laid out in stark terms by the Bishop of Antwerp. During a discussion with The Tablet, Bishop Johan Bonny explained that in his diocese large numbers of young people had cancelled their baptismal registrations because of the ruling. Across the traditionally Catholic heartlands of Belgium’s Flemish dioceses, he believed the number who have disaffiliated from the Church stands at around 2,000. Similar findings are likely to be found in other places.

So what might be done to retrieve the flock who are leaving? During the 28 April webinar hosted by The Tablet, Bishop Bonny and a panel of theologians explored how the Church could include and recognise same-sex couples and LGBT Catholics. Yet this question goes deeper than whether or not it is possible to bless gay unions. Instead, it raises profoundly important ecclesiological issues including how to live the “Catholicity” of the Church differently.

Three areas of discussion are emerging as crucial to the debate.

First, is the process the church adopts when making decisions on contentious topics. It is now crucial for time and space to be given for discernment rather than Rome panicking and issuing premature judgements. This is where synodality, which Pope Francis wants to see at every level of the Church, comes in.

Some voices argue that synodal processes such as the one in Germany will result in “schism” because it will lead local churches into divergent stances on questions of sexuality or that challenge official teaching. But Bishop Bonny, who once worked at the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, pointed out the threat to unity is in the other direction.

“You cannot have real unity or communion unless local churches can find the best solutions for their problems,” he said during the webinar. “There are basic lines, that’s clear, but for so many questions like ministry in the Church or moral theology, we need more differentiated solutions since the questions are not the same.”

On same-sex blessings, Bonny said there would have been “a different outcome” if Rome had invited bishops from a group of countries where gay marriage is the law to “sit together and make a common proposal”.

He went on: “We could have gone to Rome to discuss [the matter] with the Pope, not with all the cardinals, but the Pope himself, to find the best way possible, according to the Gospel, and what Jesus is teaching us, in the general interests of the Church and the Salus Animarum [good of souls]…That would be real collegiality.”

This requires a different role for Rome and a reimagined relationship between the papacy and local churches. Just issuing a repetition of old formulas to complex pastoral questions is inadequate. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s document, which said same-sex blessings are impossible because “God cannot bless sin”, was issued without consultation with bishops or the relevant Vatican departments.

By contrast, Amoris Laetitia, the Pope’s family life teaching, emerged after two synod gatherings on the family. Synodality offers ways for a discerned judgment to be reached. Rather than issuing condemnations, Amoris Laetitia focussed on accompaniment, integration and discernment and the positive elements in so-called “irregular” relationships. Fr James Alison, another of the webinar panellists, sees this as the magisterium of the Church walking alongside people. The learning process, he said, happens “sideways” and through “dialogue”. He explained: “It is sideways that we learn who we are. It is from and who each other.”

The second area is how Catholic teaching on homosexuality could be updated. Fr Alison, who is openly gay, argued that the stumbling block on the Church’s ministry to LGBT Catholics remains the definition in the Catechism that same-sex orientation “is objectively disordered” and that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered”.

He added: “Until someone lets them off having to treat us as a negative definition from the heterosexual act, we are never going to move on. That is at the root of this.” A proposed amendment to the catechism could be to change the phrase “objectively disordered” to “differently ordered”, something which Jesuit priest Fr James Martin has called for.

Bishop Bonny pointed out that the catechism can be updated, adding: “I think there are paragraphs that in a very reasonable, collegial way could be changed for the good of the Church and for the pastoral work we have to do.”

Moral theologian Professor Lisa Sowle Cahill, another panellist, argued that change is more likely to come from the “bottom-up” in the Church, and less from top-down changes.

“I think it’s a mistake to keep trying to work out the reality of same-sex couples or gay and lesbian people within this older terminology which is so concerned with tying everyone down into very careful definitions so that we know exactly where to put everyone and how to set boundaries around them,” she said.

“The Catholic Church never changes its teaching by rejecting or revising what is from the past. Instead, we allow it to die a decent death.”

Professor Cahill, who teaches at Boston College, Massachusetts, said the Pope was offering a Gospel-based morality of “care, compassion and closeness” which should be at the centre of decision making. Amoris Laetitia, she points out, draws from the teaching of St Thomas Aquinas on the application of the natural law and the way it takes into account different factors even in “what is objectively true and right.” Professor Cahill pointed out that Amoris Laetitia states that even couples in “irregular” situations are not deprived of “sanctifying grace”.

The third area is which model of the Church people are using. Bishop Bonny says he likes to see the Church as a family seeing his role as a father or grandfather. It is his responsibility, he said, to make LGBT Catholics “feel part of the family that is the church, not only by welcoming them, but also by giving them a responsibility.” He also recommended that bishops take the time to meet with same-sex couples in their homes.

“Invite your bishop for an evening meal at home and talk with him. It will be a conversion for him”, he advised gay Catholics.

“Once I was invited by two women in a civil marriage with two children, that evening changed my ideas about what it means to live together as a homosexual couple, even having children. I can have many questions, but it changed my ideas.”

If the Church is a family, then it cannot adopt the characteristics of a sect. Sects tend to see themselves as a club and are willing to exclude or throw out people who don’t conform. If the Church is a family then it will always be distressing to hear of people leaving.

Sr Gemma Simmonds of the Margaret Beaufort Institute in Cambridge said the Church cannot operate a system of “you don’t have a ticket” so you are not welcome.

“We are losing people, we are bleeding people…who find that the reality in which they live no longer finds a response within the church of acceptance and blessing,” she said. She offered 1 John 4:16 as encouragement for same-sex couples: “God is love, and anyone who lives in love lives in God, and God lives in them.”

The Vatican’s doctrine office may have thought that issuing a ruling against same-sex blessings would be enough to close down further discussion about the topic. In fact, it has had the opposite effect, only sparking more debate which go to the heart of what it means to be the Church.

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!

Catholic priest interrupts Palm Sunday mass to protest Vatican ban on same-sex unions

Father Giulio Mignani refused to bless the palms on Palm Sunday in response to the Vatican’s ban on blessings for same-sex couples.

By Patrick Kelleher

A Catholic priest refused to bless the palms on Palm Sunday in protest against the Catholic Church’s ban on blessings for same-sex unions.

Father Giulio Mignani of Bonassola, near La Spezia in Italy, is an ardent supporter of same-sex marriage, according to local media reports.

The priest told his congregation on Palm Sunday that he would not be doing the routine blessing, which occurs on the Sunday before Easter, in protest after the Vatican forbade clergy from blessing same-sex couples because God “cannot bless sin”.

“If I can’t bless couples formed by persons of the same sex, then I won’t bless palms or olive branches either,” Father Mignani told the crowd that had gathered for mass on Sunday (28 March).

Catholic Church ban on same-sex blessings has ignited fury

Mignani’s intervention is just the latest in a string of furious responses from figures within the Catholic Church to the Vatican’s ruling.

There was widespread condemnation when the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith issued an explanatory note on 15 March telling priests that they must no longer bless same-sex couples.

The letter, which was approved by Pope Francis, said a blessing can only be conferred on a couple that lives according to “the designs of God inscribed in creation”.

While the note insisted that God loves all his children equally, it went on to say he “cannot bless sin”.

James Martin, a Jesuit priest known for his LGBT+ advocacy, said he hasn’t seen so many people ready to leave the church since the child-sexual abuse scandals hit.

“Not since the anger over sex abuse in 2002 and 2018 have I seen so many people so demoralised, and ready to leave the church, as I have this week,” Martin wrote on Twitter.

“And not simply LGBT+ people, but their families and friends, a large part of the church.”

Meanwhile, former Irish president Mary McAleese – a vocal Catholic who also has a gay son – hit out at the Vatican’s statement as “unbearably vicious”.

In a letter to Catholic archbishop Eamon Martin, McAleese said Pope Francis’ “chummy words to the press often quite reasonably realise hopes of church reform which hare subsequently almost invariably dashed by firm restatements of unchanged church teaching”.

She said the Vatican’s statement was “fired like a missile from the centre of governance of the church” and had caused “heartache and hurt” for many.

Complete Article HERE!