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!

Father Fulbright and the Catholic Abuse Crisis

By Mary Pezzulo

The discourse on Catholic X/Twitter this weekend was about the priesthood.

This conversation was started by an obvious troll account and nobody learned anything, but it got me thinking about the abuse crisis.

On about Saturday or Sunday, a cutesy-looking Twitter account with an AI profile picture tweeted an obnoxious bit of piosity: “You should never attack a priest, even when he’s in error, rather you should pray and do penance that God grant him grace again. When a priest falls, extend him a helping hand through prayer. God will be his judge. Whoever voices judgement over a priest has judged it over Christ.” This account was named “Fr. Fulbright,” and he claimed to be a real Catholic priest who was operating under an assumed name and photo so as to avoid being “canceled.”

Plenty of people jumped on Father Fulbright to tell him how dangerous it is to give priests a carte blanche in that way. Plenty more yelled at him because he’s previously supported Pope Francis and they were afraid this was more of the same. I also saw an alarming number of people retweeting the post in earnest, which frightened me.

As you’ve already guessed, it turns out that “Father Fulbright” is just some edgelord from Missouri with a troll account. But it got me thinking, because everybody took it so seriously. It was easy to assume he was a real priest because it’s the kind of thing a certain type of priest and his lackeys say. And there are still an awful lot of lay people who assume it’s correct.

If you’re Catholic, you’ve heard this exact line before.

I remember a similar page in the Pieta Prayerbook, growing up– a supposed locution from Christ Himself, demanding that we respond to priests’ errors by praying for them instead of correcting them.

I remember so many occasions where a friend or I would try to speak up against something  a priest was doing, and a pious person would darkly hint, “It’s important to pray for priests” and not let the conversation go any further.

I remember standing up to bully priests here around Steubenville, before the full truth of all the sexual abuse around here was known, and people being shocked at me because you’re not supposed to stand up to priests.

I think about the entire rigmarole with my reporting on Frank Pavone, from his 2016 sacrilege until late 2023 where I was ultimately proven right. I was harassed and criticized endlessly for that, because you’re not supposed to criticize a priest, even when the priest is an obvious fraud.

And this is exactly how the Church got where it is today.  This is how we got the sexual abuse crisis. This is why it happened and is still happening.

I’m not saying we can’t examine and question the rules regarding priestly celibacy; we ought to. But we did not get the sexual abuse crisis because priests can’t marry. We certainly can revisit the reasons women aren’t allowed to be priests and scrutinize them as well, but the all-male priesthood isn’t how we got the sexual abuse crisis. We absolutely need to look at how the Church treats queer people, and we have a lot of conspiracy theories to debunk, but neither gay men supposedly sneaking into seminaries nor the Church’s restrictions on queer people caused the sexual abuse crisis. The sexual abuse crisis came about because we were afraid to criticize priests.

Every community of people has had abusers in it. This has been true since caveman times and will continue until Jesus returns. A certain small percentage of the human population just don’t have functioning consciences, and they like to hurt the vulnerable. When humans form groups, those groups will have abusers in them. The abusers will always try to seek positions of authority, because those are the positions from which they can more easily abuse. This is constant. This happens in countries, political parties, schools, churches and clubs. One difference between a good and a bad community of people is that the good community admits they are vulnerable to abusers and is vigilant about stopping abuse when it happens. A bad community pretends that abuse doesn’t happen there and shields the inevitable abuser when he comes along. And the Catholic Church has been a bad community, because we have done the latter.

When you put priests on pedestals and insist they mustn’t be criticized, you’re grooming the whole community for abuse: not because all priests are abusers, but because abusers will see and take advantage of that pedestal.

When you claim that “attacking a priest” is the same as attacking Christ, you’re giving predators a convenient place to hide.

If you shame somebody who’s demanding accountability of a priest, you’re signaling to every rapist and child molester that the priesthood is an excellent place to shop for victims.

Besides, if you claim that a priest is the same as Christ– not as a clumsy way of saying that priests are in persona Christi when they administer the sacraments, but as if being ordained permanently transubstantiates a fallible person into Jesus– you’re committing idolatry and blaspheming Christ the Victim.

Christ IS a victim. We cannot deny this. Christ came to earth on purpose to suffer and die with other victims of injustice. He’s also a Priest, but He didn’t come to earth to aggrandize himself as a respectable authority nobody’s allowed to question. That’s not what priesthood is supposed to be about. When you stand up for a victim of injustice, you’re standing up for Christ. Claiming to be serving Christ by silencing victims is blasphemy.

And priests are not God. That’s not what being in persona Christi means. Only God is God. Only God is without sin or error. For everyone else, we have to follow the Golden Rule and treat them with respect, but we must demand accountability.

Holding priests accountable, and making it known that they’re held accountable, is the only way to stop abuse.

Complete Article HERE!

Reaction to Fiducia in US has revealed ‘enduring animus’ to ‘LGBT persons’, says key Pope ally

Newly elevated Cardinal, Monsignor Robert Walter McElroy gestures as he attends a courtesy visit of relatives following a consistory for the creation of 20 new cardinals by the Pope, on August 27, 2022 in The Vatican.

By John L Allen Jr

One of Pope Francis’s most vocal allies in the Church hierarchy in the United States has criticised the reaction among some Catholics in the country to Fiducia Supplicans.

Cardinal Robert McElroy of San Diego has said that while it’s fine for a priest concerned about protecting the institution of marriage to refuse to offer blessings of persons in same-sex relationships, much of the opposition in the US to a Vatican document authorising the non-liturgical blessings of couples in irregular situations, including same-sex couples, is rooted not in doctrinal principle but what he called an “enduring animus” against gays and lesbians.

“It is wholly legitimate for a priest to personally decline to perform the blessings outlined in Fiducia because he believes that to do so would undermine the strength of marriage,” the cardinal said on 16 February.

But, he went on to say, “it is particularly distressing in our own country that the opposition to Fiducia focuses overwhelmingly on blessing those in same-sex relationships, rather than those many more men and women who are in heterosexual relationships that are not ecclesially valid.”

McElroy, who’s widely seen as a leader of the progressive wing of the US Church and a strong Francis supporter, added: “It is crucial to emphasise that Fiducia simply clarified questions about the permissibility of a priest pastorally blessing persons in irregular or gay unions in a non-liturgical setting and manner. No change in doctrine was made.”

McElory didn’t specify which sorts of non-ecclesially valid relationships he had in mind, but couples who live together outside of marriage would come under this.

“If the reason for opposing such blessings is really that the practice will blur and undermine the commitment to marriage, then the opposition should, one thinks, be focusing at least equally on blessings for these heterosexual relationships in our country,” he said.

“We all know why it is not,” McElroy said, attributing it to “an enduring animus among far too many toward LGBT persons”.

Noting that Fiducia Supplicans has stirred intense debate around the world, including a statement from the bishops of Africa to the effect that such blessings would be inappropriate in their cultural context, McElroy cited these “diverging pastoral paths” as a positive example of decentralisation.

“We have witnessed the reality that bishops in various parts of the world have made radically divergent decisions about the acceptability of such blessings in their countries, based substantially on cultural and pastoral factors as well as neo-colonialism,” he said.

“This is decentralisation in the life of the global Church,” McElory said, implying that such differences in principle can be positive, reflecting adaptation to local cultures.

Nonetheless, he insisted that decentralisation should not become an excuse for anti-gay prejudice.

“This decentralization must not obscure in any manner the religious obligation of every local church in justice and solidarity to protect LGBT persons in their lives and equal dignity,” he said.

McElroy, 70, was speaking during a session of the Religious Education Congress sponsored by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the largest annual Catholic gathering in North America, on the subject of Pope Francis’s ongoing Synod of Bishops on Synodality.

McElroy said that in the listening sessions which led up to last October’s month-long meeting of the synod in Rome, issues related to the LGBT+ community loomed large.

“The searing question of the Church’s treatment of LGBT+ persons was an immensely prominent facet of the synodal dialogues,” he said. “Anguished voices within the LGBT communities, in unison with their families, cried out against the perception that they are condemned by the Church and individual Catholics in a devastating way.”

McElroy conceded that among the bishops and other participants gathered in Rome, there was disagreement on the subject, listing it among what he called areas of “deep divide” in the assembly. The other areas included how to empower laity without undercutting the hierarchical nature of the Church, the extent and limits of inculturation and decentralisation, and the possible ordination of women deacons.

McElory also described areas of strong consensus in the meeting, such as the need to open up more roles in the Church to laity. He cited the example of how in his own diocese he was unable to name a veteran administrator to the role of “moderator of the curia” because, under existing church law, that role is restricted to priests.

As a result, McElroy told the crowd, he simply appointed the layman as “vice-moderator of the curia” and refused to select a moderator. He predicted that when the Synod of Bishops reaches its conclusion this October, reforms on such matters could come quickly.

“I think there will be a lot of progress on questions like this,” he said.

In terms of the single most powerful theme to emerge from last October’s summit, McElory said it was the sense that the time has come for a “paradigm shift” with regard to the inclusion of women in the Church.

McElroy said that while there were contrasting opinions on women deacons, a more “full-bodied” discussion ensued beyond a “binary” yes or no. For example, he said there was some discussion of perhaps ending the transitional diaconate, which would make ordination as a deacon the final step before priesthood.

Doing so, McElroy said, might sever the connection between the diaconate and the priesthood, which “could make it easier to have women deacons”.

In response to question about the perception that certain American bishops are anti-Francis, McElroy said the political dimension is less important than a bishop having a pastoral orientation.

“The ultimate criterion for a bishop is, is he pastoral? The question of whether he’s strongly pro-Francis, medium Pope Francis, Okay but not great with Pope Francis, leaning for or against, is secondary,” he said.

Going forward, he explained, a major practical challenge for the Church will be to find ways to make it more participatory and rooted in listening, but without replicating the cumbersome system of the synod itself.

“The process of discernment used in Rome is far too time-consuming to use with regularity in parish and diocesan life and decision-making,” he said. “It won’t work here.”

Instead, McElroy called for “analogical methods of discernment” which would be “practical for general use in our diocese and our parishes and groups of faith”.

With regard to Catholic doctrine, without offering specific examples McElroy suggested that in general it is time for change.

“It is becoming clear that on some issues, the understanding of human nature and moral reality upon which previous declarations of doctrine were made were in fact limited or defective,” McElroy said.

N.Y. Archdiocese Condemns Funeral of Transgender Activist at Cathedral

— In a statement, the pastor of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan said the church was not aware of Ms. Gentili’s background, or her avowed atheism, when it agreed to host the Thursday service.

Cecilia Gentili, an activist and actress well known for her advocacy on behalf of sex workers, was celebrated at the funeral as “Saint Cecilia, the mother of all whores.”

By Liam Stack

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York condemned the funeral of a transgender community leader that was held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Thursday, calling the event an insult to the Catholic faith and saying it was unaware of the identity of the deceased — or her vocal atheism — when it agreed to host the service.

The funeral, which drew well over 1,000 people, celebrated the life of Cecilia Gentili, an activist and actress well known for her advocacy on behalf of sex workers, transgender people and people living with H.I.V. She was also a self-professed atheist, a topic around which she built a one-woman Off Broadway show.

The service on Thursday was an event that most likely had no precedent in Catholic history. The pews were packed with mourners, many of them transgender, who wore daring high-fashion outfits and cheered as eulogists led them in praying for transgender rights and access to gender-affirming health care.

People guide a coffin down the center aisle of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Catholic liberals, including some parishioners at St. Patrick’s, said the church had done a good thing by hosting the funeral of a transgender person. Some conservative Catholics vehemently disagreed.

One eulogy, a video clip of which was widely shared online Friday, remembered Ms. Gentili as “Saint Cecilia, the mother of all whores,” to the thunderous cheers of a nearly full cathedral.

Catholic liberals, including some parishioners at St. Patrick’s, said that regardless of how some mourners behaved, the church had done a good thing by hosting the funeral of a transgender person. But the response from conservatives was fiery.

CatholicVote, a conservative group, called the funeral “unbelievable and sick” and said it was “a mockery of the Christian faith.” The Rev. Nicholas Gregoris, a co-founder of the Priestly Society of Saint John Henry Cardinal Newman, called it “revolting,” a “blasphemous & sacrilegious fiasco” and “a deplorable desecration of America’s most famous Catholic Church.”

On Saturday, the archdiocese released a statement saying it shared the anger of conservative Catholics over what it called “the scandalous behavior” at Ms. Gentili’s funeral. The Rev. Enrique Salvo, the pastor of St. Patrick’s, said the church was not aware of Ms. Gentili’s background or beliefs when it agreed to host the service.

“The cathedral only knew that family and friends were requesting a funeral Mass for a Catholic, and had no idea our welcome and prayer would be degraded in such a sacrilegious and deceptive way,” the pastor said.

A priest stands and speaks at a pulpit. In front of the pulpit is a large photograph of Cecilia Gentili.
In its statement on Saturday, the archdiocese of New York said it shared the anger of conservative Catholics over what it called “the scandalous behavior” at Ms. Gentili’s funeral.

The funeral’s organizer, Ceyenne Doroshow, said on Thursday that Ms. Gentili’s family had kept her background “under wraps” because they feared the archdiocese would not host a funeral for a person it knew was transgender.

Ms. Doroshow said the family wanted Ms. Gentili’s funeral to be at St. Patrick’s because “it is an icon, just like her.”

On Saturday, the Gentili family was incensed by the church’s criticism and accused the archdiocese of “hypocrisy and anti-trans hatred” in a statement.

The family said the L.G.B.T.Q. community would continue to celebrate Ms. Gentili for how she “ministered, mothered and loved all people.”

“Her heart and hands reached those the sanctimonious church continues to belittle, oppress and chastise,” the family said. “The only deception present at St. Patrick’s Cathedral is that it claims to be a welcoming place for all.”

Members of Ms. Gentili’s family stand in a line holding hands just outside a cathedral door.
The Gentili family accused the New York archdiocese of “hypocrisy and anti-trans hatred” in a statement on Saturday.

The day before the funeral, the archdiocese described the service as a routine event, even after it was informed by a reporter that Ms. Gentili was a transgender activist.

On Wednesday, a spokesman for the archdiocese, Joseph Zwilling, said that “a funeral is one of the corporal works of mercy,” a part of Catholic teaching the church has described as “a model for how we should treat all others, as if they were Christ in disguise.”

But on Saturday, Father Salvo said in the statement that the cathedral had held a special Mass of Reparation to atone for the funeral. Mr. Zwilling said the event happened that day.

“That such a scandal occurred at ‘America’s parish church’ makes it worse,” Father Salvo said, referring to the funeral. “That it took place as Lent was beginning, the annual 40-day struggle with the forces of sin and darkness, is a potent reminder of how much we need the prayer, reparation, repentance, grace and mercy to which this holy season invites us.”

New York City is home to roughly a dozen gay-friendly Catholic parishes that in many ways reflect the church’s softer tone on sexuality under the leadership of Pope Francis. But St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the seat of the powerful archdiocese, is not one of them.

Ms. Gentili, who died on Feb. 6 at age 52, had a complex relationship with religion, which she explored last year in her Off Broadway show, “Red Ink.”

After a religious upbringing, Ms. Gentili said in an interview last year, she came to identify as an atheist because she felt rejected by so many Christian denominations as a transgender woman.

“I used to go with my grandmother to the Baptist Church, and they didn’t want me there,” she said, adding: “I used to go to the Catholic Church, too, and both were such traumatic experiences for me as a queer person. So I came to identify as an atheist, but I know that so many trans people have been able to find a relationship with faith in spaces that include them.”

Complete Article HERE!

Victims advocacy group says Washington AG is investigating clergy abuse by Catholic bishops

The Catholic Accountability Project lined up pictures outside the Attorney General’s Office Tuesday of the 151 clergy members in Washington who have so far been convicted of sexual abuse. The organization said they believe the AGO opened an investigation in August 2023 of three other Bishops in the state.

by Shauna Sowersby

The state Attorney General’s Office may have subpoenaed three Catholic bishops in Washington state seeking “abuse-related documents and evidence,” the Catholic Accountability Project said at a news conference Tuesday.

The subpoenas were delivered in late August, according to the group who said they learned of the AGO’s involvement through a “highly credible source.”

“If this is true, (Attorney General) Bob Ferguson has joined 23 other state attorneys general, both Democrats and Republicans, in investigating sexual abuse in faith-based organizations since 2018,” said Tim Law, a Catholic Accountability Project (CAP) founding member.

Bellingham affordable housing units flood during January's record freeze

The Attorney General’s Office declined to comment or confirm whether or not an investigation has in fact been opened.

“As a longstanding policy, the Attorney General’s Office generally does not comment on ongoing investigations, including confirming or denying their existence,” said Brionna Aho, communications director for the office.

CAP is an advocacy and support group for survivors of clergy sexual assault and aims to hold perpetrators in churches accountable, their website says.

The group was told subpoenas were sent to bishops in Yakima, Spokane and Seattle, Law said. He said the investigation is occurring thanks to an organization called Heal Our Church that brought evidence forward to the AGO a few years ago.

Law said the accusations against some of the bishops date back as far as the 1960s.

Survivors of clergy abuse spoke at the news conference.

“The only way to get large organizations like this to change their policies to stop enabling abusers is through incentives,” said Marino Hardin, a former Jehovah’s Witness and abuse survivor. “If they face accountability from their victims and from society, they can change those policies.”

Advocates are also urging other victims, whistleblowers and concerned residents to contact the AGO.

“If you care about justice you need to know that it’s the church’s job to forgive — it’s the Attorney General’s job to ensure justice for our children,” Sharon Hurling said.

Members of CAP told reporters that the AGO and the state are the “only hope” because the Catholic church does not police itself.

Complete Article HERE!