Despite reforms, victims say church’s in-house processes to handle sex abuse cases retraumatizes

Pope Francis prays at the beginning of the third day of a Vatican’s conference on dealing with sex abuse by priests, at the Vatican, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Five years ago this week, Francis convened an unprecedented summit of bishops from around the world to impress on them that clergy abuse was a global problem and they needed to address it, but now, five years later, despite new church laws to hold bishops accountable and promises to do better, the Catholic Church’s in-house legal system and pastoral response to victims has proven again to be incapable of dealing with the problem.

By Nicole Winfield

Five years ago this week, Pope Francis convened an unprecedented summit of bishops from around the world to impress on them that clergy sexual abuse was a global problem and that they needed to do something about it.

Over four days, these bishops heard harrowing tales of trauma from victims, learned how to investigate and sanction pedophile priests, and were warned that they too would face punishment if they continued to cover for abusers.

Yet five years later, despite new church laws to hold bishops accountable and promises to do better, the Catholic Church’s in-house legal system and pastoral response to victims has proven incapable of dealing with the problem.

In fact, victims, outside investigators and even in-house canon lawyers increasingly say the church’s response, crafted and amended over two decades of unrelenting scandal around the world, is downright damaging to the very people already harmed — the victims. They are often retraumatized when they summon the courage to report their abuse through the church’s silence, stonewalling and inaction.

“It’s a horrific experience. And it’s not something that I would advise anyone to do unless they are prepared to have not just their world, but their sense of being turned upside down,” said Brian Devlin, a former Scottish priest whose internal, and then public accusations of sexual misconduct against the late Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien marked the cardinal’s downfall.

“You become the troublemaker. You become the whistleblower. And I can well understand that people who go through that process end up with bigger problems than they had before they started it.”

At the end of his 2019 summit, Francis vowed to confront abusive clergy with “the wrath of God.” Within months, he passed a new law requiring all abuse to be reported in-house (but not to police) and mapped out procedures to investigate bishops who abuse or protect predator priests.

But five years later, the Vatican has offered no statistics on the number of bishops investigated or sanctioned. Even the pope’s own child protection advisory commission says structural obstacles are harming victims and preventing basic justice.

“Recent publicly reported cases point to tragically harmful deficiencies in the norms intended to punish abusers and hold accountable those whose duty is to address wrongdoing,” the commission said after its last assembly. “We are long overdue in fixing the flaws in procedures that leave victims wounded and in the dark both during and after cases have been decided.”

At the 2019 summit, the norms enacted by the U.S. Catholic Church for sanctioning priests and protecting minors were held up as the gold standard. The U.S. bishops adopted a get tough policy after the U.S. abuse scandal exploded with the 2002 Boston Globe “Spotlight” series.

But even in the U.S., victims and canon lawyers say the system isn’t working, and that’s not even taking into consideration the new frontier of abuse cases involving adult victims. Some call it “charter fatigue,” or a desire to move beyond the scandal that spawned the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

The Rev. Tom Doyle, a U.S. canon lawyer who worked for the Vatican embassy in Washington but now provides legal consulting for victims, says he no longer even advises they pursue church justice and instead work through secular courts.

Why? Because “the church will screw them every which way from Sunday,” he said.

Nearly every investigation into abuse in Catholic Church that has been published in recent years – church-commissioned reports in France and Germany, government inquests in Australia, a parliamentary one in Spain and law enforcement investigations in the U.S. — has identified the church’s in-house legal system as a big part of the problem.

While some reforms have been made – Pope Francis lifted the official pontifical secret covering abuse cases in 2019 – core issues remain.

—The structural conflict of interest. According to church procedures, a bishop or religious superior conducts an investigation into allegations that one of his priests raped a child and then renders judgement. And yet the bishop or superior has a vested interest in his priest, since the priest is considered to be a spiritual son in whom the bishop has invested time, money and love.

It is difficult to think of any other legal system in the world where someone with a personal, paternal relationship with one party in a dispute could be expected to objectively and fairly render judgment in it.

The independent commission that investigated the abuse scandal in the French church said such a structural conflict of interest “appears, humanly speaking, untenable.”

Even the pope’s own Synod of Bishops came to a similar conclusion. In its November synthesis document after a monthlong meeting, the world’s bishops identified the conflict between a bishop’s role as father and judge in abuse cases as a problem and called for the possibility of assigning the task of judgement to “other structures.”

—The lack of fundamental rights for victims. In canonical abuse investigations, victims are mere third-party witnesses to their cases. They cannot participate in any of the secret proceedings, have no access to case files and no right to even know if a canonical investigation has been started, much less its status.

Only as a result of a Francis reform in 2019 are victims allowed to know the ultimate outcome of their case, but nothing else.

The Spanish ombudsman, tasked by the country’s congress of deputies to investigate abuse in the Spanish Catholic Church, said victims are often retraumatized by such a process, which it said falls far short of national or international standards.

The French experts went even further, arguing that the Holy See is essentially in breach of its obligations as a U.N. observer state and member of the Council of Europe, which requires it to uphold the basic human rights of victims.

— No published case law. The Vatican’s sex abuse office doesn’t publish any of its decisions about how clergy sexual abuse cases have been adjudicated, even in redacted form.

That means that a bishop investigating an accusation against one of his priests has no way of knowing how the law has been applied in a similar case. It means canon law students have no case law to study or cite. It means academics, journalists and even victims have no way of knowing what types of behaviour gets sanctioned and whether penalties are being imposed arbitrarily or not.

The legal experts who investigated abuse in the Munich, Germany church said the publication of canonical decisions would help eliminate uncertainties for victims in how church law was being applied; Australia’s Royal Commission, the highest form of inquest in the country, similarly called for the redacted publication of its decisions and to provide written reasons for their decisions “in a timely manner.”

In-house, canon lawyers for years have complained that the lack of published cases was deepening doubts about the credibility and effectiveness of the churches’ response to the church scandal.

“All we can conclude is that this lack of systematic publication of the jurisprudence of the highest courts in the church is unworthy of a true legal system,” canon lawyer Kurt Martens told a conference in Rome late last year.

Monsignor John Kennedy, who heads the Vatican office that investigates abuse cases, said his staff was working diligently to process cases and had received praise from individual bishops, entire conferences who visit and religious superiors.

“We don’t talk about what we do in public but the feedback we receive and the comments from our members who recently met for the plenary are very encouraging. The pope also expressed his gratitude for the great work that is done in silence,” he said in a message to AP.

Complete Article HERE!

Pope Francis’s “all-out battle” against clerical abuse has been a failure

— Five years ago, the Pontiff railed against “abominable crimes that must be erased from the face of the earth…” His record since has been abysmal and even scandalous.

Pope Francis celebrates a Mass attended by the heads of bishops’ conferences from around the world on the last day of the four-day meeting on the protection of minors in the church at the Vatican Feb. 24, 2019.

By Christopher R. Altieri

The largest single gathering of the Catholic Church’s hierarchical leadership to combat clerical sexual abuse and coverup closed five years ago–five years to the day, if you are reading this on Saturday, February 24, 2024–with Pope Francis calling for “an all-out battle” against “abominable crimes that must be erased from the face of the earth.”

What have we seen in the way of leadership from Pope Francis in the intervening quinquennium?

Five years of failure

Pope Francis has refused to defrock a confessed child molester or even remove him from the College of Cardinals.

Pope Francis has protected a favorite Argentinian prelate he himself raised to the episcopate and threatened those who sought justice from the Church.

Pope Francis has presided over the appalling miscarriage of justice that has allowed a powerful celebrity artist-cleric not only to escape punishment for the abuse of as many as forty-one victims over three decades but even to remain in ministry as an extern priest resident in Rome.

Pope Francis has done more.

He has issued paper reforms–including one major piece of procedural legislation–and refused to use them except very sparingly, selectively and never transparently.

Before the year that preceded and precipitated the gathering in February 2019 was out, Pope Francis demonized men and women who demand vindication of their right to know the true character and conduct of their rulers in the faith.

More recently, Pope Francis has praised others–those who would be known as guardians and sentinels of the truth–for their perceived reticence in the face of appalling misdeeds.

He has paid lip service to impartial justice while he promoted an unready and thoroughly compromised favorite to high office, discouraging that hapless fellow from taking the interest in the administration of justice that his very office demands.

Were Pope Francis’s every other act of governance redolent with Solomonic wisdom, these alone–one may adduce many others– would be sufficient to measure his conduct of the Church’s government and find it sorely wanting.

Watchword or buzzwords?

Responsibility, Accountability, Transparency: This was the threefold watchword of the great gathering in 2019.

The meeting itself had little in the way of a real agenda. Ahead of the meeting, Pope Francis talked a great game from one side of his mouth. From the other, he was at pains to tamp down hopes for it. The chief organizers of the meeting were about the work of managing expectations for months before the thing even opened.

Almost immediately, opportunities presented themselves for Pope Francis and other senior churchmen to prove their earnest, but there were no real takers. By 2021, it was apparent that the watchword was no more than a collection of buzzwords.

Responsibility under Pope Francis had definite form by the bottom half of 2023, when the world stood witness as the Pope’s own Commission for the Protection of Minors lambasted the Vatican for “tragically harmful deficiencies in the norms intended to punish abusers and hold accountable those whose duty is to address wrongdoing.”

That statement came the very same day France’s La Croix reported that the disgraced former Archbishop of Bordeaux, Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, would be keeping his red hat and voting rights, and–as far as the Vatican was concerned–could keep his faculties to minister within the confines of the diocese where he resides, even though he admitted to molesting a fourteen-year-old girl.

Accountability under Pope Francis finds its most eloquent expression in his remark to the Associated Press regarding the impossibly sordid matter of Fr. Marko Rupnik: “I had nothing to do with this.”

“Nothing” was all Pope Francis had to do in order to see that his depraved olim confrère escape justice.

Francis’s late decision to change course and waive the statute of limitations behind which Rupnik had found refuge only made matters worse. The volte-face followed the explosion of worldwide outrage at news that Rupnik would be incardinated in a diocese of his native Slovenia after his expulsion from the Jesuits for disobedience.

Transparency under Francis was a Catholic bishop–Michael J. Hoeppner, insufferably emeritus of Crookston, Mn.–accused of interfering in a canonical or civil investigation into clerical sexual abuse, getting early retirement with honor and going to live with relatives in the Sun Belt.

Pope Francis allowed Hoeppner to preach at his own farewell liturgy, billed as a “Mass of Thanksgiving” for his time in office. “It’s been a real joy and a treat,” Hoeppner told the congregation in Crookston’s Immaculate Conception cathedral.

Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin

Just this past week, stories from Texas in the United States to the Australian outback either broke or saw major development. A simmering crisis spanning Europe and Asia also began to boil.

It has long since become inescapably evident that the rot in the Church’s clerical and hierarchical leadership culture is systemic. The clerical culture we have right now–without respect to ideological leanings or theological inclination–is utterly in thrall to the intrinsically perverse libido dominandi.

“The Church’s house will be clean,” this journalist wrote in the autumn of 2018–annus horribilis in which the carelessness of the hierarchy was already on garish display–the only questions then being whether Francis or Caesar would be holding the broom and whether the cleansing would come before or after the fire sale.

Those questions have not yet received a definitive answer, though the experience of the past five years has provided unequivocable indications.

The Church under Pope Francis is simply unable or unwilling to get its own house in order.

Complete Article HERE!

He led an anti-gay Catholic site.

— Staffers say he sent them racy selfies.

Michael Voris, founder of Church Militant, at a conference in Baltimore in November 2021.

At the far-right Church Militant, Michael Voris accused liberal Catholics and others he opposed of being gay until he resigned over unspecified ‘morality’ concerns. Staffers now say he had shared shirtless gym photos.

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In his 17 years as a self-appointed enforcer of what he viewed as traditional Catholicism, Michael Voris developed a go-to strategy for taking on his targets: accusing them of being gay.

The head of far-right website Church Militant, Voris often claimed the Catholic church was secretly run by an “international gay-crime syndicate.” In a 2020 webcast, he referred to the Black archbishop of Washington as a term many viewed as both a racial and gay slur, provoking an outraged backlash from church scholars and officials.

“Are you homosexual, yes or no?” Voris demanded in 2017 on a typical episode of his online show, in which he monologued furiously about a prominent Jesuit priest with liberal political beliefs. A year earlier, Voris had floridly repented for his own past relationships with men, calling homosexuality abhorrent.

Over the past decade, Church Militant also waged war on secular liberals and moderate Catholics, but most emphatically on LGBTQ+ people and causes. It was Voris’s platform for publicizing photos of a gay church employee in San Diego with his husband after they were already facing harassment, and raising money to support a priest who was removed from his job after burning a rainbow banner. Church Militant had more than 300,000 YouTube subscribers, dozens of employees, and listed $3.6 million in annual revenue in its 2022 tax filings — thanks in large part to donations raised by its charismatic founder.

Then it all came crashing down. In November, Voris resigned over what his board described as a breach of Church Militant’s “morality clause,” with no other public explanation of his offense.

Interviews with staff and documents viewed by The Washington Post, though, reveal that employees had complained that Voris had sent shirtless workout photos of himself to Church Militant staff and associates.

Voris’s trouble began April, when strange images appeared on Church Militant’s cloud-storage account, according to several staff members: shirtless selfies of Voris, some of them cut off just above his pelvis, along with a screenshot of a text-message exchange screenshot from someone expressing that they found the images sexually arousing.

On a Dropbox account typically reserved for matters such as the syllabus for an online class about the book of Ephesians, these new images stood out. Employees speculated that they had been uploaded unintentionally from Voris’s phone along with business documents meant for staff viewing.

Voris and Church Militant did not respond to requests for comment. Days after his resignation, several staffers were laid off and escorted out of their suburban Detroit offices. In a Dec. 15 email to supporters, its board acknowledged Voris was embroiled in an unspecified “scandal,” and said it has launched an independent audit of his financial management.

Voris is a former local television reporter who was raised Catholic but committed himself more deeply to the faith after his mother died of cancer 20 years ago, he has said. In 2006, he launched Church Militant under the name “Real Catholic TV” — a name it kept until 2011, when the Archdiocese of Detroit asked the fractious outlet to drop “Catholic” from its name.

It found its footing in a conservative strain of American Catholicism rebelling against Pope Francis’s liberalization efforts — especially recent measures signaling greater acceptance of LGBTQ+ people, such as granting permission for priests to bless same-sex couples. In 2014, Voris railed against a decision to allow gay organizations to march in Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade and fumed a year later after openly gay comedian Mo Rocca delivered a reading at a mass officiated by Francis in New York.

“He was convinced that everything had to be destroyed in the Catholic Church in order for everything to be rebuilt,” said Alejandro Bermudez, the former head of Catholic News Agency, now a consultant for Catholic media outlets, who described Voris as a “flamethrower.”

Church Militant hit a new level of prominence after what some Catholics have dubbed the 2018 “Summer of Shame,” when the church was deluged with new sexual abuse allegations. Voris ratcheted up his attacks on issues of sexuality.

“He knew he was going to get eyeballs on content that was controversial in nature,” said Marc Brammer, an early Church Militant investor who has since distanced himself from Voris.

>And as a supporter of then-president Donald Trump, Voris bolstered his profile with other conservative figures. Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon hailed him as a “fighter,” and he hosted friendly interviews with MAGA power players like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and American Conservative Union head Matt Schlapp.

But Voris’s own personal history frequently complicated his stance on gay people. In 2016, he publicly acknowledged on his show that, decades earlier, he had lived an “extremely sinful” life of “live-in relationships with homosexual men.” Voris said the admission was meant to preempt attacks from his enemies within the church and that he was no longer in sexual relationships with men, having come to “abhor all these sins.”

Voris kept up his attacks on LGBTQ+ people even after his admission about his own past, and Church Militant continued to grow. But the workout selfies brought old questions about Voris’s sexuality back to the surface — in addition to raising concerns about workplace harassment — for a conservative cohort that largely disapproves of homosexuality, according to ex-employees and three letters from staffers to Church Militant’s board that were reviewed by The Post.

Former employees told The Post that the dozens of shirtless images that showed up in the office Dropbox account appeared to have been uploaded accidentally, and that someone at the organization took quick steps to shut down access.

In early November, fellow Church Militant webcast host Christine Niles warned the board that Voris had also sent pictures directly and apparently intentionally to other men, including some of his employees. (In April, a rival personality on far-right Catholic Twitter had already called out Voris for his alleged selfie-sharing habit, posting an image he had obtained of Voris photographing himself shirtless at a gym and asking why the Church Militant leader was sending “half-nude selfies to his young, single male employees.”)

“I’ve learned Michael has been in the habit of sending shirtless selfies to multiple men inside and outside the apostolate,” Niles wrote in the letter, announcing her resignation, a copy of which was reviewed by The Post. “They reveal an unhealthy obsession with his physique, not to mention the terrible optics — particularly considering his former lifestyle.” She also warned that copies of the photos still existed on employee hard drives, posing the risk of a scandal.

A group of Church Militant employees sent their own unsigned letter to the board that same month, complaining that Voris had sent a selfie to a prominent potential donor that they believed had cost them a sizable contribution, according to a copy reviewed by The Post.

In a separate letter to Church Militant’s board also viewed by The Post, ex-employee Hunter Bradford said there was a “cult” of fear around Voris at the office.

Niles and Bradford did not respond to requests for comment.

“I don’t know if it was a gym bro thing or what,” Joe Gallagher, a former Church Militant employee, told The Post. (Gallagher quit in November 2022 after he said Voris accused him of plotting a coup against him.) “A whole bunch of young guys got them, I know that.”

After Voris resigned, Church Militant sold two of its office buildings in late December, according to court records. But the organization remains in financial jeopardy. A lawsuit from a priest suing Church Militant for defamation in New Hampshire is scheduled for trial in March.

In its December fundraising email, the board said that “the Evil One” had taken a “huge bite” out of the company, suggesting the whole outlet could collapse without more donor support.< “We would hate to lose this place to the Devil,” the fundraising email read. Yet after years of Voris’s scorched-earth tactics and dancing around controversy, few of Church Militant’s old supporters seem to be mourning the loss of its leader. “Nobody is saying ‘Oh, what a shame, so sad,’” said Bermudez, the Catholic-media consultant. “Nobody, not one.” Complete Article HERE!

Former nuns call on pope to launch inquiry into priest they say sexually abused them

— Mirjiam Kovac and Gloria Branciani want independent inquiry into Marko Rupnik, who was expelled from Jesuit order in 2023

Gloria Branciani, left, and Mirjam Kovac reported Rupnik to senior Catholic church officials in the early 1990s but say they were rebuffed and dismissed.

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Two former nuns have called on Pope Francis to initiate an independent investigation into a once-prominent Jesuit artist-priest who they allege sexually abused them, including by forcing them to have threesomes and making them watch pornography so they would “grow spiritually”.

Speaking publicly for the first time, Mirjiam Kovac and Gloria Branciani said the wall of silence surrounding Marko Rupnik, who has been accused by several women of sexual, psychological and spiritual abuses dating back three decades, had finally “crumbled”.

The women are former members of the Ignatius of Loyola community, an order co-founded by Rupnik, whose mosaics adorn the walls of some Vatican chapels and other churches.

“We were all young girls, full of ideals,” Kovac said during a press conference in Rome. “But these very ideals, together with our training in obedience, were exploited for abuses of various kinds: of conscience, of power, spiritual, psychic, physical and often sexual.”

Both women reported Rupnik to senior Catholic church officials in the early 1990s, but claim they were repeatedly rebuffed and dismissed.

Rupnik was excommunicated in 2020 for absolving a woman with whom he had sex; the absolution of a “sexual accomplice” is among the most serious crimes under canon law. But he was reinstated two weeks later after he repented.

In 2022, allegations against Rupnik made by nine women were dismissed by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF), citing the canonical statute of limitations.

It was only later that year, after it was reported in the press that Rupnik had been treated with “kid gloves” by the church, that the Jesuits issued a public call for victims to come forward. Rupnik was finally expelled from the order in June 2023 after the “degree of credibility” of the allegations against him was found to be “very high”.

Rupnik, however, remains a priest and was accepted into a diocese in Koper, in his native Slovenia, in October 2023. That same month, Pope Francis ordered the DDF to reopen the case, although Laura Sgrò, a lawyer representing Kovac and Branciani, said she had received no information relating to the new investigation.

Branciani alleged on Wednesday that she and another nun were forced to have a threesome with Rupnik “because he said it was like the [Holy] Trinity”.

The incident allegedly occurred in the home of a friend of Rupnik in Gorizia, a city in northern Italy. “The most terrible aspect of this threesome was that afterwards, we never spoke to each other about it,” she said. “We were both completely blocked … I was very tired, I felt empty and could no longer feel feelings of any kind other than a deep pain and sense of failure.”

Anne Barrett Doyle holds up printed pictures of Marcial Maciel, Theodore McCarrick and Marko Rupnik.
Anne Barrett Doyle, a co-founder of BishopAccountability, at the press conference. She said the church’s handling of the allegations bore the earmarks of ‘an old-time cover-up’.

Branciani also alleged to journalists that Rupnik forced her to watch pornography “to help me ‘grow spiritually’”.

Rupnik has not publicly commented on the accusations. The Guardian did not receive a response to an email sent to the Aletti Centre, a religious art centre in Rome founded by Rupnik with which he is still associated. Maria Campatelli, the director of the Aletti Centre, said last year that the accusations were “defamatory and unproven”.

The Koper diocese said it was unable to provide a statement on Wednesday, and referred to one made in October last year which said: “So long as Rupnik is not found guilty in a court of law, he enjoys all the rights and duties of a diocesan priest.”

A Holy See spokesperson, Matteo Bruni, told journalists the Vatican was gathering “all available information on the case” to “determine which procedures it would be possible and useful to implement”.

In February 2019, Francis became the first pontiff to publicly admit that priests had sexually abused nuns and pledged to do more to fight the problem.

Anne Barrett Doyle, a co-founder of BishopAccountability, which tracks alleged clergy sexual abuse cases, said the church’s “secret” handling of the allegations against Rupnik bore all the earmarks of “an old-time cover-up”, similar to that of Theodore McCarrick, a former archbishop whom the Vatican defrocked in 2019 after finding him guilty of sexually abusing children.

“This case represents not only the church’s continued protection of powerful abusers, but its particular indifference to the sexual abuse of adult women,” said Doyle. “The pope made abuse of vulnerable adults a church crime, but we see little evidence that the new rule has made a difference.”

It is rare for nuns to speak publicly about alleged abuse by priests, an issue that has blighted the Catholic church for decades. There is also scant care for abused nuns, many of whom have been thrown out of their orders and made homeless. Some have claimed to have become pregnant by priests and then forced to have abortions.

Complete Article HERE!

Belgian bishops could back women deacons and ending priestly celibacy in a Church more ‘present in the digital world’

David Nas (right) pictured during a ceremony for the ordination to the priesthood of the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels, at the National Basilica of the Sacred Heart (Basilique nationale du Sacre-Coeur – Nationale Basiliek van het Heilig-Hart) in Brussels, Belgium, 3 February 2024. Newly ordained priest Nas, 32, is married and has three children; he is a member of the Chaldean Catholic Church.

By Elise Ann Allen

In the lead up to this year’s closing session of the Synod of Bishops on Synodality, Belgian bishops have reportedly opened a national discussion on allowing women deacons and ending the requirement of priestly celibacy.

According to Belgian Catholic news site Kerknet, the Belgian bishops’ conference ahead of the October 2-27 synod happening later in the year have sent a letter to all dioceses proposing, among other things, an openness to the women’s diaconate and an end to mandatory priestly celibacy.

The draft text, apparently sent to various diocesan discussion groups and councils throughout Belgium, makes three basic points, the first of which is that “a synodal missionary church requires open dialogue with the world around us”.

The Church, it says, cannot limit itself “to a one-way street” when it comes to sharing the Gospel with the world.

In a second point, the bishops ask that the Synod of Bishops “define our Church tradition(s) as dynamic and in constant development”.

They also asked for encouragement in pursuing “concrete form to the decentralisation” of certain topics of discussion in the Church, “allowing us to work together in unity with more legitimate diversity”.

“We ask for a concretisation of the ‘accountability’ of the bishops in a synodal church,” they said.

The bishops then apparently call for a deeper reflection on the role of women in the Church, proposing that the decision regarding women deacons be left up to individual dioceses or national or continental bishops’ conferences.

Asking for “the green light to take certain steps per bishops’ conference or continental bishops’ meetings”, the bishops said that by doing this, “the giving of increasing pastoral responsibility to women and the ordination of women to the diaconate need not be universally obligatory or prohibited”.

They also weighed in on the longstanding debate over priestly celibacy, saying: “There have long been strong questions about the obligation of celibacy for priests and deacons who become widowed.”

In this regard, they said there is a need to “rediscover the symbolic-sacramental nature of the ordained ministry”.

They said the relationship between priestly ordination and absolute authority in decision-making requires new clarification and asked that both priests and deacons involve more laypeople in the decision-making process, working “within teams in which lay people also have their place and task”.

Regarding the controversial debate over ordaining viri probati, or tested married men of proven faith and virtue, to the priesthood – one of the major proposals of the 2019 Synod of Bishops on the Amazon that Pope Francis chose not to act on – the bishops also weighed in, signalling an openness to the proposition.

“The priestly ordination of viri probati should not be universally obligatory or prohibited,” the bishops said in their memo.

They also stressed the need to prioritise communication with young people and to invest more resources in how to spread the Gospel in and through the digital world.

To this end, they suggested that a mechanism local bishops’ conferences and continental assemblies be established, “so that every local church has the necessary opportunities to be present in the digital world”.

Going forward, according to Kerknet, the Belgian bishops’ letter containing the proposals will be submitted for discussion in the country’s various dioceses. The results of this discussion must be gathered and submitted to the bishops by 7 April 2024, and will then be sent to the Synod of Bishops office in Rome.

A theological committee within the Belgian bishops’ conference will also explore the issues addressed in the letter, delving further into questions surrounding Church tradition and the various offices and ministries in the Church.

A multi-year process formally opened by Pope Francis in October 2021, the Synod of Bishops on Synodality is based on a global consultation process that has unfolded at the local, continental and universal levels, and is set to close with this year’s second Rome gathering, scheduled for Oct. 2-27.

Aimed at making the Catholic Church a more collaborative, welcoming and inclusive place for all of its members, the synod has been controversial due to the hot-button topics being discussed, including women’s priestly ordination, the female diaconate, the married priesthood, and outreach to the LGBTQ+ community.

Issues related to women, specifically women’s ordination to the priesthood and the diaconate, and LGBTQ+ issues have so far been the most divisive and contentious, with synod participants sparring far more than they agree.

The Belgian bishops have previously pushed for more liberal reform in the Church, openly going against the Vatican at times, amid a country considered one of the most secular in the whole of Europe.

While Pope Francis has welcomed discussion on women deacons and the ordination of viri probati throughout his nearly 11-year papacy, and has had repeated occasions to take action, he has yet to make a move on either, and has not indicated what decision he will make, if any, at the close of this year’s synod process.

Complete Article HERE!