Pope Francis Faces Growing Revolt

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Pope Francis is facing growing dissent among members of the Catholic Church over recent decisions that opponents portray as contrary to traditional church doctrine.

The most controversial has been the publication of a document in December by a Vatican bishop, with the pope’s approval, mooting the “possibility of blessing couples in irregular situations and same-sex couples.” While the document stressed that it did not change the church’s stance on homosexuality, it brought a joint letter from Catholic clergy and scholars calling on others to disregard it.

Previously in his 11-year tenure as the head of the church, the pontiff has raised eyebrows by suggesting that even atheists could go to heaven and saying that he did not judge homosexuals, as well as taking a softer stance on abortion and remarriage.

Experts who spoke to Newsweek cast these tensions as an ideological clash between those in the church who wish to reform its message and those who want to conserve its traditional teachings, which reflects a broader culture war between liberal and conservative ideals.

Pope Francis Faces Growing Revolt
Pope Francis has provoked controversy and growing dissent over some of his stances on church doctrine, including allowing same-sex couples to be blessed.

They said that rather than departing from the core principles of the faith, Francis was attempting to reach out to those who might not conform to a traditional view of family life to give them greater spiritual guidance without seeking to alter church doctrine.

While the dissent is expected to continue, Francis is unlikely to face calls for his removal, the experts said, and a split within the church is highly unlikely, owing to its historical structure.

“When Pope Francis first became pope, I’d say very early on he really distinguished himself from his immediate predecessors Benedict and John Paul II,” Michele Dillon, a sociologist and dean of the University of New Hampshire’s College of Liberal Arts who specializes in the Catholic Church, told Newsweek.

“He said that, really, the church needs to go and walk with people where…they’re at, and that the church needs to be pastoral,” she said.

Dillon said this approach was designed to “recognize the complexity of everybody’s lived reality” in the modern world, allowing the clergy to continue “working with them to keep them close to God, close to the church.”

In the open letter opposing the possibility of same-sex blessings, which was published in February, over a hundred Catholic thought leaders called on Francis to “urgently withdraw this unfortunate document, which is in contradiction with both Scripture and the universal and uninterrupted tradition of the Church.” They argued that this would be tantamount to condoning “objectively sinful” relationships.

The pope in turn accused the naysayers of “hypocrisy,” arguing that they were willing to let him bless someone who exploits people despite it also being considered a sin.

He also recently provoked criticism for suggesting Ukraine should be willing to negotiate a peace settlement with Russia, but Dillon said this was a political controversy rather than a religious one.

She interpreted Francis’ sentiments on the invasion as arising from “his commitment to [the] sanctity of life, basically that war is not a good thing and, being realistic, to what extent can the valiant efforts of the Ukrainians…actually defeat Russia.”

In particular, Dillon said, the sentiments came from an understanding of “how much the Ukrainians have suffered and continue to suffer.”

The other controversies surrounding Francis primarily concern the church’s teachings and could be viewed as an attempt to keep the church relevant in a changing world. While the number of Catholics worldwide has more than tripled in the past century, the proportion of Catholics compared with the total global population has decreased slightly in that time.

In August last year, the pontiff called out the “backwardness” of some Catholic conservatives in the United States, arguing that they had replaced faith with political ideology.

His opponents appear to accuse him of the same. Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas—a firebrand who has frequently railed against what he has described as “woke” values and has been critical of the pope—was among the loudest voices to oppose the idea of same-sex blessings.

He has previously said that “we must be first-century Christians in the 21st century” and that “corruption” had a “devastating stranglehold” on the church.

Strickland was removed from his diocese in November following an investigation earlier in the year. The Vatican has not disclosed why it chose to remove him. Strickland said he had “threatened some of the powers that be with the truth of the gospel.”

Darrell Bock, a senior research professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, told Newsweek that Francis “represents a lean of the Catholic Church that tends to be more liberal and less traditional, and so some of the pushback is coming from the more traditional-oriented Catholics.”

Dillon said that the pope wanted to “find a way forward that can be inclusive rather than condemnatory.”

However, there is “a narrow segment—but it’s a loud segment—of very strongly conservative Catholics, including in the U.S….who really demand this [other] approach, even though the development of doctrine is something that is so essential to the Catholic Church,” she said.

Pope cardinals
Pope Francis appears alongside his cardinals to preside over the funeral of German cardinal Paul Josef Cordes on Monday in Vatican City.

Dillon described Catholic doctrine as a “living tradition” and said that Francis was seeking a discussion on how to interpret the religion’s teachings “in light of the realities of the time.” But others have argued that he has shown an intolerance for disagreement.

“So far, no doctrine has been changed,” she said. “He’s not talking about the core principles of the Catholic faith. He’s not talking about anything to do with the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus.”

Dillon argued that if Pope John Paul II—considered a more conservative pontiff—had been subjected to a similar form of public dissent by liberal bishops, “that would be seen as being heretical by the very same bishops who now seem to be calling out Pope Francis and exaggerating what it is he is doing.”

While Bock casts Francis’ softening of the church’s rhetoric on key issues as a bid to maintain relevance, Dillon argues it is more to appeal to Catholics who may have been overlooked by the church in the past.

“What you’re seeing is an attempt to be more modern, more sensitive to the position of the church that’s been marginalized in a modern world. I think that’s the main thing that we’re seeing,” Bock said. “He is less bound by tradition as historically the Catholic Church has been and is willing to think through handling things differently than the way they’ve been handled, and I think that’s part of what you’re seeing.”

Dillon said, “It’s not trying to be relevant because he’s looking for votes at an election, so it’s not the relevance of a cynic.”

She added that a lot of sociological work in the 1990s investigated why gay individuals wanted to remain Catholic despite being stigmatized by the church and found that they saw its theology and rituals as a “very important part of their identity.”

“Despite the challenges that a lot of people have living out the letter of church teaching in terms of some of these issues, there’s still, nonetheless, a hunger for the spirituality and the theology…that the Catholic Church, over centuries, offers them,” Dillon said. “I think the challenge is for church leaders to try to harness people’s longing.”

But if the dissent over Francis’ leadership continues to grow, those more conservative voices might start calling for him to be replaced.

Pope Francis
Pope Francis gestures to pilgrims as he arrives in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly audience on Wednesday in Vatican City. The pontiff has rebuffed the idea of stepping down.

“I am not sure how much power exists to try and challenge a pope within the structure of the Catholic Church,” Bock said. “I think the pressure that comes is just the pressure that will come from the internal debates among the leaders in the Catholic Church, and there are very much two sides. His election reflects that.”

Dillon said that removing a pope was ultimately precluded for theological reasons. “Catholics believe in the Holy Spirit,” she said. “From this perspective, there is a reason why he is chosen to be pope.”

Even though internal politics was likely at play in his election, the conclave of cardinals that select a new Catholic leader is supposed to be guided by divine inspiration in their choice. “They don’t have the authority to override what might be seen as the work of the Holy Spirit,” Dillon said.

But if the dissent became pronounced enough, Francis’ position might be seen as untenable. Questions have already been raised about his health and the possibility of his abdicating on such grounds, as his predecessor did.

But in recently published excerpts of his autobiography, the pontiff said that he did not see “any conditions for renunciation” and disregarded criticism of his leadership. Bock said Francis would likely see stepping down “as an abandonment of what [he’s] trying to achieve.”

Much of the conservative dissent against the pope’s decisions appears to come from the U.S. Many of those who signed the open letter were American. While there has not been a significant split in the Catholic Church in hundreds of years, could there be another on the way?

“The Catholic Church, precisely, is not a schismatic church,” Dillon said, adding that it has always had diversity. “To me, the talk of schisms is really attention-grabbing, and, in my assessment, it’s very un-Catholic to even have that thought.”

Bock agreed, saying, “The Catholic Church is structured in a very traditional and historical way, and I just don’t see it getting to the point of an absolute break of any kind. What you’ll get is just that sound of protesting voices in the internal dialogue within the church. This has been going on for a long time.”

Complete Article HERE!

Despite church prohibitions, Catholics still choose IVF to have children


The Catholic Church officially opposes in vitro fertilization, yet many Catholics don’t view IVF as morally wrong.

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After first meeting while in Catholic high school, Erin and Mickey Whitford dated for 12 years: through college, grad school and early into their careers. Then, three years ago, the Cleveland couple married.

“We did make a promise to ourselves in front of our whole congregation at our wedding that we were going to accept children and love them and raise them Catholic,” Erin says. “It just seems that our journey is a little different.”

Different because Mickey, due to a genetic condition, has a low sperm count.

“We had tested the other options as much as we could,” Mickey says. “And we knew that it was more important for us to bring life into this world than to get the OK from someone on how to do so.”

Meaning they knew about the Catholic Church’s objection to in vitro fertilization but decided to use the procedure anyway.

“We prayed,” Erin says. “We talked to each other. We talked to our families.”

Doctors created three embryos that the couple could use to have children.

“One is obviously inside me now about to be born in the next month,” says Erin, as she smiles and places her hand on her stomach.

Erin and Mickey plan to use the other embryos in the coming years to grow their family. But they did have to tell their fertility specialists what should become of the embryos if they end up not using them. The Whitfords decided to donate them for medical research.

“Our intent is solely to bring life into this world,” Mickey says. “We understand the few points that the church has around separating the conjugal act from the creation of life. And trust us that if things could have been that way we would have wanted it to be that way as well.”

IVF raises concerns about what is natural and what is moral

Religious objections to in vitro fertilization came into sharp focus after the Alabama Supreme Court afforded frozen embryos the same legal protections as children. While many religious groups in the U.S. have no specific prohibition to the procedure, the Catholic Church clearly opposes it. But many Catholic couples turn to IVF despite their church’s teaching.

The Catholic Church has two main objections to IVF.

“Procreation is intrinsic to the physical union of the couple,” says Roberto Dell’Oro, professor of theological studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and director of the school’s Bioethics Institute. He says the first objection to IVF is that it manipulates what should be a natural process.

“In this case manipulation of human life for the sake of the desire of a child,” he says, “but one in which the end does not justify the means.”

Because IVF usually creates more embryos than the couple needs or wants, Dell’Oro says the church’s chief moral objection is what becomes of those “extra” embryos. Often they are kept frozen for years, but then discarded when a couple decides to not have more children. Other times, those additional embryos are donated to scientific research.

“Though embryos should not be looked at as children,” says Dell’Oro, “they should, however, be seen as having the promise of life that develops into a child.”

Conscience is a guiding principle for reproductive decisions

It’s a conundrum for Catholics with fertility problems who want to have children and want to abide by their church’s teachings. But the church has a variety of teachings about reproduction, and for many the issue has become which church teaching to uphold.

“The church takes motherhood very seriously,” says Jamie Manson, president of Catholics for Choice, a group that advocates for abortion rights and other forms of reproductive health care, including IVF.

“But the church also creates shame for the very people who are trying to do what the church says it wants them to do, which is have children and create families,” she says.

Manson worries that shame leads people away from the Catholic Church. She’d like to see congregations support couples during the religious questions and emotional stresses that arise during infertility.

And in the end, if a couple decides to use IVF to help them have children, Manson says that decision should be considered a valid and defensible religious choice.

“Conscience is a core tenant of the Catholic faith,” she says. “The Catechism of the Catholic Church is very, very specific. It says in all that we say and do, we must have our individual conscience as our guide, and that it’s our individual conscience that must determine what is just and right.”

One’s conscience, of course, is formed in large part by the teachings of one’s religion. But it is also informed by reason, emotion and experience. Data show that while the Catholic Church teaches one thing, the practice and belief of Catholics is quite another.

A Pew Research survey in 2023 found that 55% of white, non-Hispanic Catholics say they or someone they know personally have used fertility treatments. And according to a 2013 Pew survey, just 13% of U.S. Catholics believe in vitro fertilization is morally wrong.

Fertility treatments could be considered gifts from God

More than two decades ago, suburban Minneapolis couple Heidi and Dan Niziolek decided to start a family with the help of IVF.

“We got married a little bit later in life,” Heidi says. “We both knew that we wanted to have children and we were up against a clock.”

Dan is a lifelong Catholic. Heidi joined the church when they married.

“We wanted children out of love to really bring up and nourish and love and have,” Dan says. “The entire way it was really all about that.”

As they began IVF treatments, the couple asked their congregation to pray for them during a difficult time. But Heidi, who’s a registered nurse, says they did not ask their priest for approval.

“It really, really kind of makes me feel very nauseated to have people that are not in the medical profession telling people going through this process that there’s something wrong with it,” she says.

The couple speaks tenderly of the entire process, from meeting with the fertility specialists to the actual appointment at which doctors implanted two embryos.

“The nurses and doctors were extremely caring and loving,” Dan says.

“They turned down the lights,” Heidi says. “It was sort of romantic. There was wine.”

“They had us choose the music we wanted playing,” Dan says. The couple picked Enya’s song “Only Time.”

“We didn’t have sex, but it was very intimate,” Heidi says.

“A beautiful moment,” Dan says.

Their decision to have kids with the help of the procedure was deeply shaped, says Dan, by Catholic values — values the couple gives thanks for every time they think about their now 22-year-old twins — a boy and a girl they consider gifts from God.

“If this isn’t about love, if this is not about compassion and the commitment we’ve made and the joy we’ve had with our kids,” says Dan, “I don’t know what’s more of a miracle than that.”

Complete Article HERE!

Pope meets with child protection board as events outside Vatican show abuse scandal isn’t going away

By Nicole Winfield

Pope Francis sought to encourage his child protection board on Thursday to continue helping victims, as new developments outside the Vatican underscored that the Catholic Church’s clergy sex abuse scandal isn’t going away anytime soon.

Francis met with his Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which is expected to soon release the first-ever audit of safeguarding procedures and policies church-wide.

But as that report is being compiled, church officials in Switzerland reported a surge in victims coming forward since the September publication of a bombshell report that found over 1,000 cases of abuse since the mid-20th century in a country with a relatively small Catholic population.

The diocese in northwestern Basel, for example, reported that more than half of the suspected 183 cases in the last 13 years emerged in the last six months. Swiss news agency SDA-Keystone reported at least 70 other cases across four other dioceses since the report was issued.

Closer to home, a criminal court in Sicily handed down an important verdict this week against a priest whom the Vatican apparently exonerated on a technicality even after one of his victims wrote to Francis, begging for him to intervene.

The case was being closely watched since Italy’s Catholic hierarchy has only recently and reluctantly begun confronting its legacy of abuse in a country where the issue is still somewhat taboo.

The verdict by the tribunal in Enna sentenced the priest, the Rev. Giuseppe Rugolo, to four and a half years in prison for attempted sexual violence and violence-related charges against three minors. The court also held his diocese, Piazza Armerina, Sicily, responsible for paying civil damages and legal fees, according to the sentence on Tuesday.

Piazza Armeria Bishop Rosario Gisana was caught on intercepted wiretaps confessing to having covered up for the priest. But a lawyer for the diocese, Gabriele Cantaro, stressed in a statement Thursday that the liability didn’t stem from the actions of Gisana or his predecessor, but merely from the diocese’s general responsibility for the actions of its priests.

According to the newspaper Domani, which covered the case closely, the Vatican’s sex abuse office shelved the case on technical grounds because Rugolo was only a seminarian when the abuse occurred. The Vatican’s in-house norms at the time only called for canonical sanctions against priests who abused minors, not seminarians.

Il Messaggero newspaper reported in 2021 that one of Rugolo’s victims wrote to Francis directly, begging him to intervene after he and his parents had spent years trying to get the church to take action against Rugolo, who was sent to a diocese in northern Italy after the accusations were raised.

Amid Italian media coverage of the case, Francis on Nov. 6 heartily praised Gisana when the bishop led a group of pilgrims to the Vatican.

“This bishop is great. He was persecuted, calumnied but he’s been firm, always correct, a correct man,” Francis said in remarks that outraged victims’ advocates.

Francis told his child protection advisers on Thursday that listening to victims was crucial to helping them heal.

“In our ecclesial ministry of protecting minors, closeness to victims of abuse is no abstract concept, but a very concrete reality, comprised of listening, intervening, preventing and assisting,” he said in remarks read by an aide as Francis continues to recover from the flu.

Complete Article HERE!

Polish Catholics get a new leader as the church struggles to reckon with sexual abuse

— The leaders of Poland’s influential Catholic Church have chosen moderate Archbishop Tadeusz Wojda to be their new principal, at a time when the church is struggling to reckon with the abuse of minors by some Polish clergy

Archbishop Tadeusz Wojda

The leaders of Poland’s influential Catholic Church on Thursday chose moderate Archbishop Tadeusz Wojda to be their new principal, at a time when the church is still struggling to reckon with the abuse of minors by some Polish clergy, while the number of Poles going to church has fallen sharply.

At a two-day conference, bishops and archbishops elected Gdansk Archpishop Wojda, 67, to replace the conservative Archbp. Stanislaw Gądecki, of Poznan, as the head of the Polish Episcopate, for a five-year term, a communique said.

More than 90% of Poles, a nation of some 38 million, are still officially members of the Catholic Church, but figures from 2022 showed less than a third of Catholics attended mass, according to the church’s statistical institute.

For 27 years, from 1990 until 2017, Wojda served at the Vatican’s Congregation for the Evangelizations of Peoples, during the terms of three popes: Polish-born John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis. He was then appointed archbishop of Bialystok, in eastern Poland, bordering Belarus. In 2021, he was made archbishop of Gdansk.

During his tenure in Bialystok, when thousands of migrants arrived at the border with Belarus, Wojda called for openness and tolerance, but also stressed that borders must be protected. At that time he also spoke strongly against equality parades of the LGBT+ community in the region and said homosexuality was a “sin.”

Observers do not expect Wojda to change the Church’s strongly defensive course in the face of revealed cases of abuse of minors by priests.

A number of Poland’s archbishops and bishops have retired or stepped down, with the Vatican’s approval, for ignoring or trying to cover up abuses cases and for downplaying the trauma of the victims.

In some of the cases, the perpetrators have been indicted in court cases and ordered to pay damages to the victims. In a recent case, the diocese of Kalisz paid 300,000 zlotys ( $76,000) to the victim of a pedophile priest, in September.

The previous right-wing government forged close ties with the Church and supported some of its institutions financially, winning the gratitude of many believers. That government was also of similar mind with the Church on condemning abortion and promoting traditional family values.

The current pro-European Union government is seeking to cut the Church’s links to politics and also to limit its privileged financial position that exempts the church from taxation.

Historically, the Catholic Church has been held in high esteem by Poles, having been close to the nation and supporting its culture and freedom drives during the country’s division in the 19th century, during World War II and during more than 40 years of Moscow-controlled communist rule, until 1989.

Complete Article HERE!

Banned priest Tony Flannery to break silence on fate of the Catholic Church

Fr Tony Flattery has been unable to celebrate mass publicly since his faculties were revoked in a Vatican crackdown on liberal views.

By Lorna Siggins

Banned Redemptorist priest Tony Flannery plans to question the survival of the Roman Catholic church at a public talk in Galway shortly before Easter Sunday.

Fr Flannery (77), who was suspended from public ministry by the Vatican in 2012, intends to give his views on whether “religious belief as we have known it can survive in modern Ireland”.

He also intends to pay tribute to Pope Francis for “freeing up discussion, areas of study and the search for the truth”.

The Redemptorist priest had been disciplined in 2012 for publicly expressing support for women’s ordination and same-sex marriage, and for expressing more liberal views on homosexuality.

Although he has been outspoken since his suspension and was profiled in a recent TG4 documentary, he has not given a public talk with a question and answer session in six years.

He says the talk he intends to give in the Clayton Hotel, Galway on March 27 was scheduled to be given in church property several months ago.

However, when the organisers learned that the ban imposed on him applied not only to speaking in churches but to speaking in “all church-owned property”, a new venue had to be found.

Fr Flannery says that in spite of his suspension, he has “studied and read” and has been contemplating “how best to address the falling attendances at Mass” and “the falling away in general from the Catholic faith”.

“If we take the traditional indications of the health of the faith as measured by the Catholic Church… then all the signs are that it is in serious trouble, and that the faith is in the terminal stage of ill health,” he says.

“Churches are emptying or are being frequented only by the older generation,” he says, noting that “seminaries are closing down, and priest numbers are declining rapidly”.

“There appear to be few, if any signs of new growth – but that is by no means the full story.

“We are living in a really interesting time in the [Catholic] church since the arrival of the papacy of Francis. Even in the 11 years since his appointment he has brought about a great deal of change,”he says.

“I have no doubt that the biggest legacy Pope Francis will leave from his time in charge is that he has freed up discussion, areas of study and the search for truth in the church – all of which had been seriously restricted for many centuries by rigid imposition of official teachings.

“The “pre-Francis” church had adopted the position that it had the full truth, and that it had nothing to learn from the world.

“Francis, on the other hand, realised that in order for the church to be relevant, it must engage with modern life, and be part of the debate about the future of the world and of people.”

He cites as examples of that attitude change “the extent to which Francis has engaged in the debate about the destruction of the environment and the necessity of facing up to climate change”.

Fr Flannery says all are welcome to his talk in Galway’s Clayton Hotel, Briarhill, on March 27, and will allow for a question and answer session.

Last year, the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) and Lay Catholic Group (LCG) called for him to be restored to the ministry and said he had experienced a “grave injustice”.

Complete Article HERE!