Benedict XVI Recalls Blessed John Paul II’s Sanctity in New Interview


jpiib16Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has shared some personal recollections of Blessed John Paul II in a new interview that appears in a book of tributes to the soon-to-be canonized Polish Pontiff.

In extracts of the interview, published today by ZENIT, Benedict XVI says it became “ever clearer” to him that John Paul II was a saint. He recalls his first meeting with Karol Wojtyla, their working relationship, and how – contrary to what some theologians thought at the time – John Paul II firmly backed the former prefect at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith during the blowback that followed publication of the 2000 declaration, Dominus Iesus.

The interview, which runs to 12 pages under the heading “It Became Ever More Clear to Me that John Paul II Was a Saint”, is one of 21 that appear in “Beside John Paul II – Friends and Collaborators Speak”. The book is so far only available in Italian.

Here below is a key extract in answer to a question on John Paul II’s sanctity :

BENEDICT XVI: [The idea] that John Paul II was a saint came to me from time to time, in the years of my collaboration with him, ever clearer. Naturally, one must first of all keep in mind his intense relationship with God, his being immersed in communion with the Lord, of which he hardly spoke. From here came his happiness in the midst of the great labors he had to sustain, and the courage with which he fulfilled his task at a truly difficult time.

John Paul II did not ask for applause, nor did he ever look around, concerned about how his decisions were received. He acted from his faith and his convictions and he was ready also to suffer the blows.

The courage of the truth is in my [judgment] the criterion of the first order of sanctity.

Only from his relation with God is it possible to understand his indefatigable pastoral commitment. He gave himself with a radicalism which cannot be explained otherwise.

His commitment was tireless, and not only in the great trips, whose programs were dense with appointments from beginning to end, but also day after day, beginning with the morning Mass until late at night. During his first visit to Germany (1980), for the first time I had a very concrete experience of this enormous commitment. So during his stay in Munich, I decided he should take a longer break at midday. During that interval he called me to his room. I found him reciting the Breviary and I said to him: “Holy Father, you should rest”, and he said: “I can do so in Heaven.”

Only one who is profoundly filled with the urgency of his mission can act like this.

[…] But I must render honor also to his extraordinary kindness and understanding. Often I had sufficient reasons to blame myself or to put an end to my job of Prefect. And yet he supported me with absolutely incomprehensible fidelity and kindness.

Here, too, I would like to give an example. In face of the turmoil that developed around the Declaration Dominus Iesus, he told me that he intendedto defend the document unequivocally at the Angelus. He invited me to write a text for the Angelus which should be, so to speak, watertight and not consent to any different interpretation. It should emerge, in an altogether unequivocal way, that he approved the document unconditionally.

Therefore, I prepared a brief address. I did not intend, however, to be too brusque and so I sought to express myself with clarity and without harshness. After having read it, the Pope asked once again: “Is it really sufficiently clear?” I answered yes.

Those who know theologians will not be astonished by the fact that, this notwithstanding, afterwards there were those who held that the Pope had prudently distanced himself from that text.

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Cardinal Müller Discusses Divorced-Remarried Reception of Communion and Liberation Theology


Consistory 118Many of the faithful have become uneasy over reports speculating that the Vatican may change the Church’s approach to its teaching on the indissolubility of marriage — and in particular the status of divorced and remarried Catholics.

In an email interview with the Register, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, addressed the concern. The newly named cardinal also discusses his work as prefect, concerns among some Catholics that politics is increasingly emphasized over salvation in the Church’s preaching and the beneficial aspects of liberation theology.


Your Eminence, how will being a cardinal help you in your work as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith?

There are two central liturgical moments of the consistory that are, as you may imagine, still fresh in my mind: when the new cardinals were created and, the following day, Mass with the Holy Father.

The Holy Father’s homilies on both occasions are marked by his wisdom and zeal for the Church. On [Feb. 22], he challenged my brother cardinals and me, saying: “The Church needs your courage to proclaim the Gospel at all times, both in season and out of season, and to bear witness to the truth.” And I feel that challenge to witness to the truth of the Gospel in a particularly special way as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In his homily the following day, Pope Francis said: “Dear brother cardinals, may we remain united in Christ and among ourselves! I ask you to remain close to me, with your prayers, your advice and your help.” Obviously, these words were directed to all the cardinals, but being united to the Pope takes on a special significance for those who work in close collaboration with the Holy Father in the Curia.

I think, therefore, these would be the two aspects of being made a cardinal that bear most specially on my role at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: being united to the Holy Father in an uniquely binding way and also the call to be faithful to the Gospel, even usque effusionem sanguinis [unto the shedding of blood].


What is the most important priority for you at the moment, in terms of defending doctrine?

If you will allow me, there are three presuppositions in your question I would like to qualify.

First of all, you talk about “the most important priority for you.” I think it is important to point out that my role of the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is not dependent upon my priorities. This role has been entrusted to me by Pope Francis, and I carry it out in the service of the Pope and the universal Church. Moreover, as Pope Francis himself has said, in his recent address to the plenary session of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “your dicastery is known for its practice of collegiality and dialogue.” The work of the CDF is the fruit of many people working in collaboration in the communion of the Church and in the service of the Holy Father.

Secondly, you talk about a “priority.” This way of speaking is open to misunderstandings, as if there is a single issue or point of doctrine that must be addressed. In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis has affirmed the “harmonious totality of the Christian message.” He stresses that “all of the truths [of the Catholic faith] are important and illumine one another” (39). Although, depending on circumstances, certain questions come more sharply into focus, nonetheless, the priority of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is the integrity, the wholeness, of the Gospel message.

Finally, you talk about “defending” the Church’s teaching. This is important, but the role of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as laid out in Pastor Bonus, is also “to promote” the Church’s teaching.

In synthesis, then, the priority for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is to promote, to make better known and to foster a deeper understanding of the fullness of the Church’s teaching. In this way, the congregation performs a service to the Church, because, in promoting the integrity of the faith, it helps to bring to light the inner beauty and attractiveness of what God has, in his generosity, given to us in Jesus Christ.


Some are concerned that changes will be made with regards  to the Church’s teaching on divorced and remarried Catholics. Can you reassure the faithful that the changes will be pastoral rather than doctrinal?

I would like to answer this question in three parts.

First, I am grateful that your question gives me the opportunity to clarify an important point. The idea that doctrine can be separated from the pastoral practice of the Church has become prevalent in some circles. This is not, and never has been, the Catholic faith.

Recent popes have been at pains to stress the personal lived reality of the Catholic faith. Pope Francis has written, “I never tire of repeating those words of Benedict XVI, which take us to the very heart of the Gospel: ‘Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction’” (Evangelii Gaudium, 7). Within this personal relationship with Christ, which embraces our minds, our hearts, the totality of our lives even, we can grasp the profound unity between the doctrines we believe and how we live our lives, or what we might call the pastoral reality of our lived experience. Opposing the pastoral to the doctrinal is simply a false dichotomy.

Second, we have to be very careful when we talk about Church teaching. If by “change,” one meant denying or rejecting that which has gone before, then this would be misleading. I would prefer to talk about the “development” of Church teaching. The Church does not invent for herself that which she teaches. The teachings of the Church are rooted in the person of Christ, in the mystery of God’s self-revelation.

It may be that, in the course of time, the Church comes to a deeper appreciation of this mystery. It may also come to pass that new circumstances in human history throw a particular light on the implications of this mystery. But, because it is always rooted in the same mystery of Christ, there is always continuity in what the Church teaches.

Third, specifically on the issue of the admission of divorced and remarried Catholics being admitted to Communion, I would refer you to the article I published in the English edition of L’Osservatore Romano Oct. 25, 2013. However, I would like to reiterate several points I make there. First, the teaching of Christ and his Church is clear: A sacramental marriage is indissoluble. Second, those persons whose state of life contradicts the indissolubility of sacramental marriage cannot be admitted to the Eucharist. Third, pastors and parish communities are bound to stand by the faithful who find themselves in this situation with “attentive love” (Familiaris Consortio, 84).

The Church’s concern for her children who are divorced and remarried cannot be reduced to the question of receiving the Eucharist, and I am confident that, rooted in truth and in love, the Church will discover the right paths and approaches in constantly new ways.


There seems to be a growing sense that other aspects of Church teaching might be changed. Why, in your opinion, is there this feeling?

Sometimes it is necessary to distinguish between reality and its presentation in the media. In particular, the secular media often misunderstand the Church. Unfortunately, the media often applies the mindset of secular politics to the Church.

A newly elected leader of a political party might change or reverse that party’s policies. This is not how it works with the pope. When the pope is elected, his mission is to be faithful to the teachings of Christ and his Church. He may find new and creative ways of being faithful to these teachings, but for the pope, the deepest reality is the continuing fidelity to the person of Christ. If the media has created misplaced expectations, then this is unfortunate.


Others have also claimed that the Church has focused too much on politics instead of the salvific aspects of doctrine, leading to the adoption of socialist principles. Do you think this is true? And is this a concern of yours?

I would want to stress that salvation and the just ordering of society are not mutually exclusive concerns. On the contrary, Gaudium et Spes teaches us, “Far from diminishing our concern to develop this earth, the expectancy of a new earth should spur us on. […] [A]lthough we must be careful to distinguish earthly progress clearly from the increase of the kingdom of Christ, such progress is of vital concern to the kingdom of God, insofar as it can contribute to the better ordering of human society.” How we live in this life is, therefore, intimately related to our final end.

Moreover, I think it is certainly false to say the Church has ignored the issue of salvation. In fact, far from being ignored, just this question has been addressed in Benedict XVI’s encyclical Spe Salvi. There are cultural reasons, as diagnosed in this encyclical, that tend to obscure the true nature of Christian hope.

Our present culture tends to base all its hopes for the future on purely human ingenuity and activity, and this emphasis obscures the truth that salvation is not the fruit of man’s technical ingenuity; rather, it is won for us by Jesus Christ. This is the authentic teaching of the Church.

Confronted with the strident voices competing for our attention today, we Catholics must be more especially attentive to the authentic teachings of the Church.
You’ve supported a certain kind of liberation theology in the past. What aspects of it can the faithful embrace?

If one reduces liberation theology to a purely secular political ideology, then you deform and undermine its character as theology. For this reason, some aspects of liberation theology were rightly criticized by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1984, in its instruction Libertatis Nuntius. The categories of liberation theology are fundamentally theological and Christian. Although, in the secular world, the term “liberation” has many different nuances, for a Christian theologian, this term can never be removed from its scriptural roots. It was this Christian understanding of freedom that was emphasized in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s instruction of 1986, Libertatis Conscientia.

In the Bible, liberation most profoundly means the freedom from the forces of sin and death won for us by Jesus Christ. True Christian freedom is, therefore, not license; it is freedom from sin, the freedom to become the children of God. Sin always undermines our humanity, and sin’s ultimate fruit is death; that is, the destruction of our humanity. Whereas, our destiny as children of God involves the full realization of our humanity and in fact the lifting of our humanity to a new and more privileged way of existing.

Liberation theology was born in the context of Latin America and born out of the question: How can we talk about God in the face of suffering, premature death and the continual violation of the human dignity of the poor in South America? It, therefore, addresses the question of human dignity in the light of the dehumanizing forces of unjust economic oppression. These forces, precisely because they are dehumanizing, are, in the light of the redemption won for us in Christ, revealed not just as purely secular evils, but also as opposed to God’s will for his children.

In so far as liberation theology concerns itself with that liberation brought to us through Jesus Christ — what St. Paul calls “the freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:21) — it is of enduring interest to the Church.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

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Cardinal Nichols: We’re Not Policemen But Helping Build a Community of Life


Cardinal Vincent Nichols was one of 19 new cardinals appointed by Pope Francis last week. The Archbishop of Westminster, who is also president of the bishops’ conference of England and Wales, sat down with ZENIT on Feb. 26th to discuss his new role, concerns over the upcoming synods of bishops on the family, and how he approaches the challenging task of disciplining heterodox bishops and priests.  

ZENIT: How will your elevation to the College of Cardinals change your work as archbishop?

Well I’m just going to have to find out; I’m not entirely sure. Clearly it’s easier to attract attention in the media, that’s the first thing I’ve learned. Obviously there are additional responsibilities here in Rome. I’m a member of the Congregation for Bishops which meets here fairly regularly and I’ve just been appointed to the Congregation for Eastern Churches. I’m not quite sure what that means. And then, thirdly, I think there are probably more expectations around England and Wales just for very special occasions, so we’ll have to wait and see.

ZENIT: There are quite a few episcopal vacancies in England and Wales. Do you plan to play a key role in helping to fill those positions now you are a member for the Congregation for Bishops?

I’ve been to one meeting of the Congregation and it’s a big meeting, so it’s not as though one person can shape or dominate it. The process that was used I personally found quite impressive – for the first meeting. So I will play my part and obviously I have some things very much in mind, but it’s a Congregation for the Church throughout the world and we have to, you know, take our turn.

ZENIT: Have your plans and priorities changed, or will they change, as cardinal?

I don’t think so. Over the last couple of years, what I’ve focused on more and more have been three things: one is service of the poor, because both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis clearly give that priority. For Pope Benedict, he said our service to the poor is what gives credibility to the Gospel. That’s a strong statement. So that’s a very real priority and in the diocese, certainly, we’re developing a Caritas over-arching umbrella to help parishes to focus and bring their resources to that service of the poor.

The second thing comes from being in London: I want to continue the engagement I have with the business community because London is a city of plenty. Along with the poverty, one has got to be engaged with the business world and, for the most part, I’ve found a real positive response, especially with business leaders who to some extent know they have faced a crisis of trust and are ready to look again at their underlying sense of purpose and to recognise that a clear, purpose-driven business is a better business. So we have this project going under the title of ‘Blueprint for a Better Business’.

And the third priority for me is parish life. That’s where most people experience and live their faith, where it’s enriched. That obviously needs the support and preparation of priests and the encouragement of parishes who are looking ahead, looking at what their challenges are, and trying as it were to respond as best we can. So, for example, the theme of the next two synods on family and marriage – that’s a priority for every parish and I view these times as a good examination of conscience as to how we’re doing in those areas of ministry in our parishes.

ZENIT: When you say the poor, do you also include the unborn, the vulnerable, and not necessarily those who are materially poor?

In the document [of Pope Francis] the ‘Joy of the Gospel’, it’s quite startling the Pope actually says that the most tragic form of poverty is spiritual poverty – [poverty in] a kind of a way of life where the spiritual dimension is really the source of such enrichment and sense of purpose when we get up each morning. If that’s squeezed out, then what is left is a rather dried-out form of human living. So there’s that poverty certainly, and then there are those who are most vulnerable – as you say, the unborn, and the very elderly. So we are constantly – especially as a bishops’ conference – battling on the front of euthanasia, and on the front of abortion.

ZENIT: There are concerns about possible changes in doctrine under this pontificate connected with the two synods on the family coming up and particularly with regards to administering the sacraments to divorced and remarried Catholics. Should the faithful be concerned about this?

What is clear in the mind of Pope Francis is that he wants us to engage in a kind of two year process of reflecting on the reality of marriage, on a renewed teaching about marriage and the family, and a renewed pastoral care characterised, he says, by the words intelligent, courageous and full of love. So I think that’s the agenda, if you like, that he’s given. I don’t think for a minute that fundamental teachings of the Catholic Church are going to change. I think what we will be looking at – and the signs were there in some of the two days of conversations [last week] which have opened this – of the need to be more sensitive to the cultural and social circumstances in which people have come to marriage, and therefore the degree to which they are fully and, at a sufficient level, aware of the consent they are giving. So for example, I think it would be true that many people enter marriage with the hope that it will last, but not necessarily with a commitment to its indissolubility. I think that’s the kind of area where there are all sorts of implications. It has implications for marriage preparation, it has implications for the support that family and marriage life gets, it has implications for the patterns of the justice of the Church: that people have a right to have the validity of their marriage looked at that’s sufficient and seeking the truth.

ZENIT: Cardinal Kasper mentioned the possibility of the Sacrament of Penance being used to help address this sensitive issue of divorced and remarried Catholics. Do you think that’s a real possibility?

Having listened to Cardinal Kasper and all the speeches that followed, it is clearly a line that’s to be explored. But as Cardinal Kasper said, what he did was an overture, and an overture just picks up some of the key themes that the opera or symphony will develop later on. So it’s not a good idea to try and second guess the process.

ZENIT: But is there a danger in sending out a questionnaire because, as happened during the Second Vatican Council, it allows the media to raise false expectations and can ultimately influence the outcome or consequences of the synod?

The great issue around that questionnaire was that it was so easily interpreted as an opinion poll, and therefore put into that pattern of political life that we’re very familiar with. Opinion polls are taken in order to guide the formulation of policy because policies have to have the support of the public. Now it wasn’t anything like that.

ZENIT: Some say it seemed to be like that.

Well it can be interpreted to be like that, I agree. But what it was, and it was in my view right to do it, was a structured attempt to listen to the experience of Catholic life and every priest has to do that. Every priest, as he visits people, as he meets them at the back of the Church, is always listening to the experience of the people. And it was put on a big stage. I think most Catholics will begin to understand that distinction and certainly, when I’ve talked about it in public, people do know that this is not an opinion poll designed for a reshaping of policy because we don’t have policies. We have teachings and we have pastoral practice, and the pastoral practice is something that in my view has lost a bit of focus in the Church. So for me it’s quite lovely that the titular church I’ve been given is the church of St. Alphonsus, and St. Alphonsus was one of the great masters of pastoral practice in the Church. So we have things to recover from our own treasury that can help us in the pastoral care of the family.

ZENIT: Was it kind of inevitable that those countries, such as Switzerland and Germany where there is a great deal of dissent, would make their results public in an effort to try and change the Church’s teaching on these issues?

Well I wouldn’t sit here attributing intentions to the people. We were asked quite clearly – I don’t know about the bishops’ conference of Germany – not to make our formal response to the Holy See public and I agreed to that because I said if every bishops’ conference makes its response public, then it limits the space in which the synod process can operate. But we will reflect on the questions we have heard to see exactly what the challenges are for parishes because this is not a process in my mind directed towards synods of bishops. It’s also telling us what the challenge is Sunday by Sunday.

ZENIT: One concern increasingly heard over the years is that those bishops or priests who are heterodox don’t receive as severe sanctions as those, for example, on the traditionalist side. What’s your view on this? Would you like to see more even-handed discipline?

The relationship between a bishop and any particular priest is quite sensitive. It can be quite subtle and, in my mind, I view that as quite a personal relationship. My aim is always to try and help this priest to live his ministry to which he’s been called, and ordained by the action of God, in the best way possible. I think if you engage with priests, they know what the teaching of the Church is. Sometimes they’re very obstinate, and sometimes, though not very often, I have said: ‘No, you can’t do that. You can’t do that.’ I think they’ve understood and reluctantly accepted. But we’re not policeman. It’s a communion of life, and a priest and people accept, if you like, the authority of a bishop. You don’t have much choice about the rules of a nation, you have to [accept them], but this is something that builds and grows and is nurtured more through relationships than anything else.

ZENIT: But if a priest or bishop is teaching heresy, he’s placing possibly many souls’ at eternal risk. Isn’t that so serious that it needs heavy sanction?

Yes it is, and as I say, sometimes I’ve said: ‘You can’t do that.’ I’m also aware that when I sit and talk with priests, those who have claimed it is heresy have only partly heard, and partly heard what they’ve wanted to hear.

(February 27, 2014) © Innovative Media Inc.

Cardinal Burke Praises Pope Francis’ Efforts to Re-Christianize the West


VATICAN CITY — The most senior U.S. official in the Roman Curia has said Pope Francis is seeking to remove obstacles to Christ so the faithful can redouble their efforts for the New Evangelization in the face of a “galloping de-Christianization” in the West.

In a Feb. 21 article in the English edition of L’Osservatore Romano, Cardinal Raymond Burke, prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, firmly denied media perceptions that the Holy Father plans to change the Church’s teaching on important moral issues of our time.

Instead, he said, the Pope was placing these non-negotiable truths in the context of nurturing a relationship with Christ, from which they can become more “generously embraced.”

Writing in his capacity as president of the advisory board of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, a Rome-based pro-life think tank, Cardinal Burke said he felt compelled to write after a recent trip to the United States.

“I was repeatedly impressed by how deeply Pope Francis has penetrated the national conversation on a whole range of issues,” he explained. “His special gift of expressing direct care for each and all has resonated strongly with many in my homeland.”

But he also noticed a “certain questioning” about whether the Pope was intent on changing the Church’s teaching on “critical moral issues of our time,” such as the “inviolable dignity of innocent human life and the integrity of marriage and the family.”

A perception had developed that was “quite different” to the reality, he said, and he attributed it to “the popular presentation of Pope Francis and his views.”

Noting that the Pope “clearly” needs a “fitting tool of interpretation” if we are to understand correctly what he intends to teach, the cardinal said it is important to recognize Francis’ gift for drawing near to all people of goodwill and showing his care for each individual person.


Moral Teachings Reaffirmed

Many Catholics, especially in the pro-life movement, were unsettled by Francis’ comments made in La Civilta Cattolica last year, in which he said “we cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods.” He said that these issues must be talked about “in context,” and they do not need to be addressed “all the time.” The Holy Father insisted that an individual’s relationship with Christ must come first.

Cardinal Burke assured in his article that the Pope “cannot change the duty of the Church and her shepherds to teach clearly and insistently about the most fundamental moral questions of our time.” Moreover, he highlighted the times the Pope has warned against a “throwaway culture” and identified the victims of such a culture as the “most fragile human beings: the unborn, the poorest people, sick elderly people, gravely disabled people.”

Francis, he continued, has also reaffirmed the Church’s “perennial teaching on the indissolubility of marriage,” and the cardinal recalled a recent address the Pope made to the Apostolic Signatura, in which he stressed the “effective connection” between the way the Church evangelizes and the way it administers justice.

“Pope Francis has clearly reaffirmed the Church’s moral teaching, in accord with her unbroken tradition,” Cardinal Burke said, but stressed that he “first wishes to have people set aside every obstacle which they imagine to prevent them from responding with faith.”

“The Holy Father, it seems to me, wishes to pare back every conceivable obstacle people may have invented to prevent themselves from responding to Jesus Christ’s universal call to holiness,” he asserted. “We all know individuals who say things like: ‘Oh, I stopped going to church because of the Church’s teaching on divorce’ or ‘I could never be Catholic because of the Church’s teaching on abortion or on homosexuality.’”

“The Holy Father is asking them to put aside these obstacles and to welcome Christ, without any excuse, into their lives,” Cardinal Burke continued. “Once they come to understand the immeasurable love of Christ, alive for us in the Church, they will be able to resolve whatever has been troubling them about the Church, his Mystical Body, and her teaching.”


An Invitation to All

The cardinal said persons “hardened against the truth” will read the Pope’s approach differently, claiming the Holy Father wants to change Church teachings that today’s secularized culture rejects. The cardinal also said their “false praise” mocks the fact that Francis is Successor of Peter and that the Pope “rejects the acceptance and praise of the world.”

“It is not that the Holy Father is not clear in his opposition to abortion and euthanasia or in his support of marriage as the indissoluble, faithful and procreative union of one man and one woman,” Cardinal Burke said in L’Osservatore Romano. “Rather, he concentrates his attention on inviting all to nurture an intimate relationship, indeed communion, with Christ, within which the non-negotiable truths, inscribed by God upon every human heart, become ever more evident and are generously embraced.”

And he said that in “seeking to put the person of Jesus Christ at the heart of all of the Church’s pastoral activity, the Holy Father is following closely the teachings of his predecessors in the See of Peter.”

Cardinal Burke pointed out that one should not “be silent about fundamental truths of the natural moral law,” but instead recognize that their proclamation “is always an essential dimension of the proclamation of the Gospel.” He also underlined the importance of the call to repentance in order to accept the mercy of God.

Noting that proclaiming the moral law provides an “essential service” to the Church’s mission of evangelization, the cardinal said Pope Francis’ pontificate should therefore be seen as a “radical call to redouble our efforts for the New Evangelization.”

Christ must be at the center, and, quoting Francis, he said the cross must be present if such evangelization is to be authentic.

“In the face of a galloping de-Christianization in the West,” Cardinal Burke said, “the New Evangelization, as Pope Francis underlines, must be clearly grounded in Christ crucified, who alone can overcome the world for the sake of its salvation.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

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Vatican Consistory Mulls How to Repair the Catholic Family


VATICAN CITY — Administering the sacraments to remarried divorcees figured highly in the extraordinary consistory on the family last week, but no decisions were made on the issue, the Vatican said.

In a statement on the second day of the two-day meeting in the Vatican’s Synod Hall, Father Federico Lombardi, Holy See Press Office director, said there were broad-ranging and detailed discussions, but “no decisions or pronouncements” were made on the issue.

Church teaching on this sensitive topic, which some fear may be altered during the Extraordinary Synods on the Family in October and in 2015, was addressed “from the perspective of canon law,” Father Lombardi said. He also said the cardinals spoke about the procedures for annulment “with a view to their improvement and simplification.”

“There was neither tension nor anxiety in relation to this matter,” Father Lombardi stressed, “but, rather, a positive approach characterized by discernment and a concerted search for the best way to combine fidelity to the words of Jesus with Divine Mercy and attention to specific situations, always with great sensitivity.”

He repeated that a single direction should not be expected of the consistory, but, rather, an encouraging introduction to the path of the October Synod on the Family, which, by working with this breadth of vision, will be able to advance the Church’s pastoral response to the heartfelt hopes held by many in this area.

The Feb. 20-21 gathering, attended by about 150 cardinals, began with an introduction from Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, who pledged the support of the cardinal fathers “with a vision of faith and hope” in this “complex period in human history.”

During the consistory, the Pope and the College of Cardinals raised a special prayer for the many Christians suffering persecution. They also recalled the difficult situation in Ukraine and prayed that all violence would cease immediately and harmony and peace would be restored.


‘Fundamental Cell’ of Society

In his opening address, Pope Francis recalled that the family is the “fundamental cell” of society and a “reflection of the Triune God.” He said the consistory’s reflections should “always keep in mind the beauty of the family and of marriage, the greatness of this facet of human life, so simple and at the same time so rich, made up of joys and hopes, strife and suffering, like all of life.”

Furthermore, he said the intention was to “deepen the theology of the family and the pastoral ministry that we must undertake in these current conditions” and that the cardinal fathers would do so “without falling into the trap of ‘case studies,’ as this would inevitably lead to a lowering of the level of our work.”

Noting how the family is today “regarded with disdain and maltreated,” the Holy Father said it was important to recognize “how beautiful, true and good it is to form a family, to be a family today” and how “indispensable” it is for the life of the world and the future of humanity.

“We are asked to make evident God’s luminous plan on the family and to help married couples experience this with joy in their existence, accompanying them in many difficulties, with a pastoral ministry that is intelligent, courageous and full of love,” he said.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, gave the keynote speech that occupied almost the entire first morning of the consistory, followed by questions and discussions that followed in the afternoon.

The text of the cardinal’s speech has not been published, as it was intended for use within the context of the meeting by participants only. But Father Lombardi stressed it was “in harmony” with the words spoken earlier by Pope Francis. He approached the issue of the family from “an extremely positive point of view” and underlined how the family can be seen as a “small domestic church” and a “privileged route to evangelization.”

Father Lombardi said the speech did not address all themes related to the family, nor did it anticipate the upcoming synod, but was “a form of ‘opening.’” It focused on the “rediscovery of the Gospel of the family” and covered the “structures of sin within the family,” as well as the family “in the Christian order of redemption.”

Cardinal Kasper also referred to the question of remarried divorcees, considering the theme “in depth and in a structured, nuanced fashion,” Father Lombardi said. The cardinal reiterated that in this area it is necessary “to bring together pastoral care with the inseparable duo of faith and the words of Jesus and an understanding of Divine Mercy.”

He also referred to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s work on this issue, when he asked if, beyond rigor and laxity, the sacrament of penance could perhaps offer the path to accommodating difficult situations. Cardinal Kasper also recalled Pope Francis’ address to the prelates of the Roman Rota at the beginning of this year, in which he spoke about the validity of marriage, when he affirmed that the legal and pastoral dimensions are not in opposition.

Father Lombardi said by emphasizing that the cardinal accorded great importance to the “law of gradualness” or the “advancement towards new forms in exploring in depth the mystery of redemption in Christ and in understanding the Gospel law of truth.”


John Paul II’s Theology of the Body

In the discussions that followed, the Vatican said cardinals approached the concept of the family according to a Christian anthropological perspective in the context of a secularized culture, which presents a different concept. But Father Lombardi said the reflections “did not take place in a climate of complaint, but, rather, of realism, observing the difficulty faced by Christianity in a culture that tends to go in another direction.”

John Paul II’s theology of the body was quoted on a number of occasions, as well as the encyclical Familiaris Consortio and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Preparation for marriage and matrimonial and family spirituality was also a focus for discussion. Throughout the entire consistory, 69 cardinals spoke on a broad range of themes regarding the family.

Father Lombardi said, “The assembly took place and concluded in an atmosphere of great serenity and satisfaction on the part of all those present for the breadth and depth of the presentations.”

In his concluding address, the Holy Father thanked those present and invited them to pray that the Lord accompanies the Church on this path during the first synod on the family as well as a second one in 2015.


Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

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Pope Francis to New Cardinals: This Is a Church, Not a Royal Court


VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis used his homily at a Mass for new cardinals to hold up a vision of holiness for the 19 new recipients of the red biretta, exhorting them to be docile to the Holy Spirit, to love their enemies and to answer the call to conversion.

During the Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Sunday, he also stressed that each member of the College of Cardinals enters the Church of Rome rather than a royal court.

“A cardinal — I say this especially to you — enters the Church of Rome, my brothers, not a royal court,” the Holy Father told a packed basilica. “May all of us avoid, and help others to avoid, habits and ways of acting typical of a court: intrigue, gossip, cliques, favoritism and partiality.”

He said their language should be that of the Gospel: Yes when we mean Yes and No when we mean No — and that their attitudes should be “those of the beatitudes and our way be that of holiness.”

“Let us pray once more: ‘Merciful Father, by your help, may we be ever attentive to the voice of the Spirit. All of us want to listen to the voice of the Spirit,” the Pope said.

Stressing that without the Holy Spirit all of our efforts are in vain, he exhorted the new cardinals to “make the effort to be converted, to experience a heartfelt conversion.” This is something that “all of us — especially you cardinals and myself — must do,” he said. “Conversion!”

Referring to the day’s Gospel reading from the Book of Matthew, Pope Francis reminded them to love their enemies and to “seek generously to do good to them.”


‘The Quicksand of Sin’

“My brother cardinals, Jesus did not come to teach us good manners, how to behave well at the table,” he said. “To do that, he would not have had to come down from heaven and die on the cross. Christ came to save us, to show us the way, the only way out of the quicksand of sin and this way of holiness is mercy, that mercy which he has shown and daily continues to show to us.”

“To be a saint is not a luxury,” the Pope added. “It is necessary for the salvation of the world. This is what the Lord is asking of us.”

He stressed that Christians “do not aim to assert ourselves,” but, rather, “oppose arrogance with meekness” and “forget the humiliations that we have endured.” Guided by the Spirit of Christ, he urged the cardinals to be “channels” through which his charity might flow.

“This is the attitude of a cardinal; this must be how he acts,” he said.

The Pope also stressed the importance of “goodness, forgiveness, service” and not to neglect duties towards one’s neighbor. He urged the cardinals not to shut out their brothers or sisters, for then it is God himself who is not being welcomed.

“A heart without love is like a deconsecrated church, a building withdrawn from God’s service and given over to another use,” he said.

He closed by calling for unity in Christ and among themselves, and he implored the Holy Spirit, that they may be “ever more fervent in pastoral charity and filled with holiness.”


Always Bear Witness to the Truth

The Pope shared further instructions to the cardinals during the ordinary public consistory on Saturday, urging them not to conform themselves to a worldly mentality but instead to be courageous in proclaiming the Gospel and bearing witness to the truth at all times.

Following the thinking of the world results in “rivalry, jealousy, factions,” the Pope said, but the word of Jesus “purifies us inwardly” and enlightens our consciences “to unite ourselves fully with Jesus.”

As in his Mass homily the next day, he urged the cardinals to allow themselves to be taught by the Holy Spirit and be united in Christ. He also underlined how much the Church needs the cardinals’ cooperation, communion and gifts.

“The Church needs your courage, to proclaim the Gospel at all times, both in season and out of season, and to bear witness to the truth,” the Pope said. “The Church needs your prayer for the progress of Christ’s flock, the prayer that, together with the proclamation of the Word, is the primary task of the bishop.

“The Church needs your compassion, especially at this time of pain and suffering for so many countries throughout the world. We want to express our spiritual closeness to the ecclesial communities and to all Christians suffering from discrimination and persecution.

“The Church needs our prayer for them,” he continued, “that they may be firm in faith and capable of responding to evil with good. And this prayer of ours extends to every man and woman suffering injustice on account of their religious convictions.”

Finally, he said the Church “needs us also to be peacemakers, building peace by our words, our hopes and our prayers: Let us therefore invoke peace and reconciliation for those peoples presently experiencing violence and war.”


Surprise Presence

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI surprised many by also being present at the consistory. Pope Francis warmly embraced his predecessor, who was seated not far from the new cardinals.

Some have speculated whether Benedict XVI will attend the canonizations of John XXIII and John Paul II on April 27. His presence at Saturday’s consistory has certainly increased the probability that he will.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

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Council of Cardinals Presents Proposals to Pope


VATICAN CITY — The eight-member council of cardinals set up by Pope Francis to advise him on Church governance and reform of the Roman Curia has presented preliminary proposals to the Pope on economic and administrative reform at the Holy See.

The Vatican said the Holy Father is now free to “follow or to modify” the proposals, the fruit of two commissions he set up last year.

The reports were presented this week to the so-called “C8” council of cardinals during their Feb. 17-19 meeting in Rome — the third such meeting since the council began its work in October 2013.

The three-day meeting, which mostly took place in the St. Martha guesthouse, began with a thorough examination of the first report, drawn up by the Pontifical Commission for Reference on the Organization of the Economic-Administrative Structure of the Holy See.

Three representatives of the commission presented their findings to the cardinals on Feb. 17 — the results of eight months’ work. Their report was further examined in the afternoon, but without the three representatives present.


‘Simplification and Rationalization’

The task of the commission of seven lay experts and one Curial official has been to study the organizational and economic health of the Holy See, in order to draft reforms of Holy See institutions. Their more specific aim has been “simplification and rationalization” of existing bodies and “more careful planning” of economic activities throughout the Vatican.

Some of the most serious cases of misconduct have taken place in this area in recent years, mostly associated with the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA). Msgr. Nunzio Scarano, an official charged with allegedly plotting to smuggle 20 million euros ($30.8 million) from Switzerland to Italy, was an accountant at the APSA.

The office, created by Pope Paul VI in 1967, looks after properties owned by the Holy See in order to provide the funds necessary for the Roman Curia to function.

The commission has offered specialist advice and strategic solutions for improvement, so as to avoid the “misuse of economic resources” and to “improve transparency.” The body has also been working with the C8 to draft a plan for the reform of the apostolic constitution Pastor Bonus — John Paul II’s instruction on the general running of the Roman Curia.


Reforming the Vatican Bank

On Tuesday, the cardinals turned their attention to the Vatican Bank, officially known as the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR). The cardinals heard from representatives of the Pontifical Commission for Reference on the Institute for Works of Religion, which was also set up by Pope Francis last year.

The commission’s task has been to provide the Holy Father with an “exhaustive” report into the juridical standing and activities of the IOR so that it can be better harmonized with the mission of the Church and the Holy See. The report is also aimed at helping the process of reform.

Composed of five people, the commission includes two U.S. citizens, Harvard Law professor Mary Ann Glendon and Msgr. Peter Brian Wells, who usually serves as the Vatican’s deputy chief of staff. Cardinal Raffaele Farina, who heads the commission, presented the work carried out so far.

The Vatican said the cardinals received the report with “great interest” and heard details about the current situation of the institute and the problems that it must face.

“Suggestions were offered for future changes, although no decisions were made following the hearing,” the Vatican said, adding that one of the key points was “the mission of the IOR in relation to the action of the Church in the world and not only from the perspective of economic performance.”

The IOR has had a checkered history: It most famously became embroiled in a banking scandal in 1982, and, between 2009 and 2012, it was subject to a money-laundering investigation, although the allegations were never confirmed. In 2012, IOR’s then-president, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, was unceremoniously ousted. The true reasons behind his dismissal remain murky at best, and the episode is still a mystery, even to those directly affected.

On Wednesday, the commission representatives, the C8 and the so-called C15 council of cardinals set up by John Paul II to oversee Holy See finances and the governorate of Vatican city state, met in the Sala Bologna of the apostolic palace. Representatives from two commissions briefly presented their reports.

The C15 will hold its ordinary meetings Feb. 24-25 to discuss the matters within its remit. The Vatican said the final day of the C8 meeting was for “communication, information and coordination.”


Cardinals ‘Worked Intensively’

Holy See Press Office’s director, Father Federico Lombardi, said the C8 cardinals “worked intensively” over the three days and have taken a “number of questions” into consideration as well as “formulated proposals to be presented to the Holy Father in various fields.”

He added that it will now be up to the Holy Father “to follow or to modify these proposals, but the council has completed its task.”

The Holy See spokesman stressed it is important to bear in mind that the two commissions’ aims are different but that they “both fit into the contextual reality of the Holy See.” For this reason, he said, the Holy Father wishes to obtain “an overall view with regard to the reorganization of its governance and structures.”

The next C8 meetings will begin the day after the canonizations of John Paul II and John XXIII, April 28, and will last for three days. The fifth meeting is scheduled for July 1-4.

The Vatican says much work is still to be done and stressed the cardinals “have in no way completed their reviews of the different dicasteries of the Holy See,” a major next step in the reform process.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

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Benedict XVI’s Decision to Step Down ‘an Act of Great Courage’


VATICAN CITY — “Let’s just say there was a fair amount of surprise,” said a senior Vatican official, speaking on condition of anonymity, about the shock of Pope Benedict XVI announcing his intent to resign.

Like the rest of the world, the official, who works in the heart of the apostolic palace, never saw the announcement coming last year.

“Just a handful of people knew,” he said. “The person who told me the news didn’t even believe it.”

It was a Vatican holiday that day, and officials required to work expected a light workload, but that’s not how it turned out. “It was crazy — I was taking phone calls nonstop for the next three days,” the official recalled.

Benedict XVI made the nearly unprecedented announcement at 11:41am local time on Feb. 11, 2013, in the consistory hall of the apostolic palace. Speaking in Latin, he told the small gathering of cardinals who were present to hear the announcement of three new saints that he would resign the Petrine ministry on Feb. 28 due to declining health.

“I have convoked you to this consistory not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church,” Benedict declared. “After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.”

He added that, “in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith,” both strength of mind and body are necessary to proclaim the Gospel, “strength which in the last few months has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”

“For this reason,” he continued, “and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom, I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of St. Peter, entrusted to me by the cardinals on April 19, 2005, in such a way, that, as from Feb. 28, 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of St. Peter will be vacant, and a conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.”


‘Act of Love for the Lord’

Not since Pope St. Celestine V in 1294 had a reigning pope chosen on his own initiative to resign the papacy rather than die in office.

“It was an act of great courage, even a revolutionary act, which opened up possibilities that no one at that moment could see,” said Archbishop Georg Gänswein, Benedict XVI’s personal secretary, in an interview with Vatican television released today. The resignation was a “very special day,” he continued, adding that Benedict had told him about his decision shortly before the announcement, but gave him strict orders not to tell anyone.

But even though Archbishop Gänswein had advance knowledge, he was still “shocked.” The German archbishop believes it was “an act of love for the Lord, for the Church and for the faithful, to step aside, to open up the possibility to a person who has more strength, who can continue his work.”

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told Vatican Radio on Feb. 10 that Pope Benedict’s decision was “a great act of government,” made with “great spiritual depth.”

For most people, it was an “unusual and surprising gesture,” he said, but for those closest to him, it was a decision he had “prayed about, reflected and evaluated with spiritual discernment.” Father Lombardi pointed to the fact that Benedict had hinted at the possibility in Light of the World, his 2010 book-length conversation with the German journalist Peter Seewald.


‘Adequate and Clear’ Reasons

The reasons Benedict gave for his decision were also “absolutely adequate and clear,” Father Lombardi added, despite speculation that he resigned for ulterior reasons, possibly connected to the Vatileaks scandal or the sexual-abuse crisis.

It is now widely known that Pope Emeritus Benedict first took the possibility of resigning seriously when he suffered a small fall during the night on his papal visit to Mexico in March 2012. He was further convinced when doctors advised him to no longer go on lengthy trips, ruling out World Youth Day in Rio last July.

Father Lombardi said the decision to resign required “great courage,” because taking such an unusual decision can lead to “problems or doubts about ‘what’ it would mean” and unknown “consequences for the future, as regards the people of God or the general public.”

“The clarity and, I would say, faith with which Benedict XVI prepared this gesture gave him the serenity and strength required to implement it,” Father Lombardi said, “proceeding with courage and serenity, with a true vision of faith and of waiting for the Lord, who continually accompanies his Church.”

The Vatican spokesman said it was quite clear to Benedict that there was “absolutely no need to fear. Why? Because the fact is: The papacy is a service and not a power. If power is what motivates, then it is clear that two people may find it difficult to coexist in the same role, because it could be difficult to renounce power and live with one’s successor.”

“But if service is what motivates,” Father Lombardi continued, “then a person who has done his duty before God and in full consciousness of this service passes on the testimony to another person with that attitude of service and full freedom of conscience.”

If this happens, “there is absolutely no problem,” the papal spokesman said. “There is a deep spiritual solidarity among the servants of God who seek the good of the people of God in the service of the Lord.”


Reaction to Pope Francis

Archbishop Gänswein said he “strongly” believes that Benedict’s gesture had a great impact on the faithful’s emotional reaction to Pope Francis, saying that it “is an aspect that should not be underestimated.”

Francis’ impact on the world was also “facilitated” by Pope Benedict in his resignation. “He opened up a possibility that, until then, was not there, and we see that Pope Francis has taken up this situation, and we are pleased that today it is so,” he said.

Reflecting on the life of Benedict XVI today, Father Lombardi said he “lives discreetly, without a public dimension, but this does not mean that he is isolated, closed, as if in a strict cloister.”

His activities “are normal for an older person,” he said. As well as reading, praying, studying and answering correspondence, the Vatican spokesman said Benedict also meets people “who are close to him, whom he willingly meets, with whom he believes it is useful to have a dialogue, who ask for advice or spiritual closeness.”

He is, therefore, a person “who is spiritually rich” and living in a “discreet relationship with others.” Gone is the public dimension, he said, but in its place is “a normal life of relationships.”

One of those, of course, is with Pope Francis. Both are regularly in contact with each other. It’s a “completely normal relationship,” he said, “and, I would add, one of solidarity.”

“I believe those rare images of the two popes together and praying together — the current Pope and the pope emeritus — is a truly beautiful and encouraging sign, the continuity of the Petrine ministry in the service of the Church,” he concluded.

To mark the anniversary, Pope Francis sent out a tweet today, calling on the faithful to “join me in prayer for His Holiness Benedict XVI, a man of great courage and humility.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

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UN ‘Riding Roughshod’ Over Religious Freedom


“The Holy See often acts like we’re back in the early days of international institutions,” says Robert Royal. “We’re not, and the situation will only become worse.”
Royal, the founding president of the Faith and Reason Institute, a Catholic think tank, was responding to a U.N. committee’s harsh criticisms this week of the Holy See and its handling of clerical sex abuse.

The recommendations, made by the auditing Committee of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, were roundly criticized for failing to acknowledge the many steps already taken by the Holy See to root out clerical sex abuse, and for ignoring evidence given by Holy See officials to the committee at a hearing in Geneva last month.

Church leaders were even more surprised by what they saw as the committee’s brazen suggestion — one it wasn’t authorized to give — that the church change its teaching on abortion, homosexuality and contraception. Such a statement, the Holy See said, was an “attempt to interfere” in the church’s teaching on the dignity of the human person and in the exercise of religious freedom.

A Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi said on Feb. 7, the report showed a “serious” lack of understanding of the Holy See that warranted “amazement.” And like other Vatican officials, he blames the committee’s criticisms on the meddling of NGOs whose prejudices against the church are “well known.”

But such a clash doesn’t come as a great surprise to many Catholic observers. For Royal, the U.N. and other international institutions are merely adopting new social mores that the global body couldn’t have envisaged when it was founded in 1945.

“The central problem, one that will grow quite rapidly now, is that the new set of values in international institutions and the developed nations individually is going to continue to creep into all U.N. deliberations,” Royal said. “This is not the relativism of the past. It’s a new set of substantive views that somehow have come to trump earlier fundamental values.”

The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Royal believes, could not be adopted today because these new views within international institutions “ride roughshod” over different cultures and religions.

Many see the U.N. committee’s recommendations as just the latest example. “These committees are simply out of control,” said Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, a group defending the Catholic view of the family at the U.N. “They routinely go beyond the scope of the treaties they are supposed to monitor.” Such reports, he added, are used as “cudgels by our enemies to beat us with.”

“It is happening right now,” he said. “This is a very serious attack on international law, human rights and religious freedom.”

Ruse would like to see all governments “speak out and push back” against such treaty monitoring bodies. Regarding this particular committee, he believes the Holy See should wait five years and then “quietly withdraw” from the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the Holy See signed up to in 1990.

But he doesn’t believe it should leave the U.N. The Holy See, which this year marks 30 years of permanent observer status, is “desperately needed” at the international body, he said. “Without them, the deluge.”

Benjamin Harnwell, director of the pro-life think tank the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, agrees but takes a slightly harder line, saying the UN has become an “undemocratic bureaucratic behemoth whose day job is population control with a little international peacekeeping on the side.”

He believes the Holy See should consider withdrawing from this Convention, but that the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon should first be given the opportunity to “state formally that this committee has acted ultra vires [beyond its powers], and misinterpreted and misrepresented the convention that it exists to protect.”

He doesn’t expect Ban to issue such an admonishment, as he is likely to back the committee’s recommendations. But that would leave Holy See with no choice but to ask for its signature to be removed.

For many Catholics, greater hope rests with developing nations, which continue to resist a “moral revolution” being foisted on them by the developed world.

Royal believes if this continues, it would start a “counterrevolution that might rip the whole U.N. system apart.” He points out that Ban has just called on world nations to stop persecuting homosexuals. “If what he means is to stop harassing, jailing, and so on, that’s only right,” Royal said.

But he added that for some people, not persecuting “then goes on to mean affirming which goes on to mean restricting and even ‘persecuting’ those who maintain older sexual values.”

“It will take a while for that process to work its way through the U.N. system, but it’s clear many leaders would like to implement it right now,” Royal said.

“Church leaders know this, but they should do something about it before the steamroller flattens Catholic churches.”

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The Legion of Christ Elects New Leader


ROME — The Legion of Christ has elected a new general director, issued multiple apologies and published conclusions of investigations into the congregation founded by the disgraced Mexican priest Father Marcial Maciel.

The congregation, whose leaders are currently meeting in an extraordinary general chapter in Rome, has elected 61-year-old Mexican priest Father Eduardo Robles Gil as its new general director.

The election took place during the meeting on Jan. 20 and was subsequently confirmed Feb. 6 by Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo, secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

Father Robles Gil, who has spent much of his priestly life in Latin America, takes over from Father Sylvester Heereman, who becomes one of the Legion’s general councilors.

The Vatican has also taken the unusual step of making two appointments itself: that of the vicar general, Father Juan José Arrieta, and one of the general councilors, Father Juan Sabadell.


Apologies Issued

The Legion of Christ was thrown into turmoil in the late 2000s after the extent of Father Maciel’s corruption and sexual abuse came to light. The congregation has also had to deal with historical cases of sexual abuse by some other Legionary priests, as well as trenchant criticisms of the way the Legion has been run.

The Legion attempted to address all of these issues in a Feb. 6 communiqué, which it describes as a “conclusive pronouncement.”

The Legion begins by saying it wishes to express its “deep sorrow” over Father Maciel’s sexual abuse, immoral acts and corruption, saying it found the “incongruity” of his being a priest while hiding his immoral behavior “incomprehensible.”

“We firmly condemn this,” the communiqué stated. “We are grieved that many victims and other affected persons have waited so long in vain for an apology and an act of reconciliation on the part of Father Maciel. Today, we would like to issue that apology as we express our solidarity with these persons.”

The communiqué contains various other apologies: first, to the “many victims” of Father Maciel, who have “waited so long in vain” for an apology and to whom the Legion now expresses “solidarity.” It then acknowledges “with sadness the initial incapability of believing” the testimonies of Father Maciel’s victims and the “long institutional silence” and “errors of judgment” that followed. “We apologize for these shortcomings, which have increased the suffering and confusion of many,” the communiqué says.

The Legion then apologizes to “our brothers, religious and priests” who have left the congregation, saying it is sorry for the times “we have not listened to you or been there for you in the spirit of the Gospel.”

Lastly, the Legion apologizes to, and desires to reconcile with, “all those who in one way or another were hurt by the sad events of these years and our shortcomings.”

The Legion admits giving “undue, universal value” to Father Maciel because of an “inadequate understanding of the concept of founder” and an “excessive exaltation and uncritical way of considering his person.” The communiqué goes on to say that a religious congregation does not have its origins in the person of the founder, but sees the congregation as a “gift of God” that the Church “accepts and approves.”


Revised Constitutions

Concerning the Legion’s charism, the congregation stresses it has revised its constitutions, ensuring conformity of governance with the universal norms of the Church.

A “prolonged examination of conscience” has led to a discovery and purification of those elements “not proper to religious life,” the communiqué states, including “insufficient collaboration” with the local Church, “a striving for prestige” and an “indiscriminate fulfilling of minute norms.” All of this, the Legion says, demands “not only a change in legislative texts, but also a continual conversion of mind and heart.”

The Legion says it has tackled problems regarding authority by, among other things, creating “active councils” and implementing “formal consultations” prior to naming superiors. By suppressing one of its vows (the communiqué doesn’t specify which one, but most probably the fourth, which forbade criticism of superiors), it says the congregation is “learning how to share reflections and suggestions with our brothers and freely debate about any issue that affects the life and mission of the congregation.” It also acknowledges “shortcomings” in formation, which will be “one of the priorities” of the next government.

Turning to the Outreach Commission — a body established in 2011 by pontifical delegate Cardinal Velasio De Paolis to attend to those affected by Father Maciel’s abuses — the Legion says it has “completed its task.”

“No case pertaining to its area of responsibility remains open,” it says, and the congregation has acted “in accord” with the commission’s proposals, which have helped “relieve [victims’] wounds and foster reconciliation.”

The communiqué also offers a summary of the conclusions of the Economic Affairs Commission. Also established by Cardinal De Paolis in 2011, its task was to examine “the handling of funds and the financial situation of the congregation.”

The commission “underlined that they did not find embezzlements of money or other irregularities in the fiscal actions that were reviewed,” the communiqué says. But it said an urgent task is to reduce the congregation’s debt caused by the congregation’s “rapid expansion,” the world economic crisis and the falloff in donations.  In some countries, the debt is “very high” but “manageable,” according to the communiqué, although it says the “administrative structure” needs adapting and simplifying.

Finally, the communiqué says the chapter fathers “repeatedly express” their awareness that there is still “much to be done” before the conclusion of “this process of renewal and conversion.”

“The consideration of all of these issues has led us to conclude that the journey towards an ‘authentic and profound renewal,’ confirmed by Pope Francis, has advanced, but has not yet ended,” the Legion says.


The Legion’s New Leader

In a separate statement, Father Robles Gil said that he hoped his election and the results of the general chapter marked “a new beginning” for the Legionaries of Christ. But in order for it to be so, he said it is “necessary to put the challenges of the past in their place.”

“We can’t erase the past,” he said. “We have to learn the lessons, mourn what occurred, trust in God’s mercy and, like St. Paul, run forward in pursuit of the goal of reaching Christ.”

Born in Mexico City on Sept. 18, 1952, Eduardo Robles Gil received a degree in industrial engineering before becoming a member of Regnum Christi in 1975. He joined the Legion of Christ in 1977, made his perpetual profession in Rome in 1981 and was ordained a priest on Aug. 20, 1983. He holds a licentiate in philosophy from the Gregorian University.

The Mexican priest has been a superior of Legionary communities in Brazil and Chile, as well as a territorial administrator for two years in Mexico and a section director of Regnum Christi. He helped found the Legion and Regnum Christi’s presence in Brazil in the 1980s.

In 2011, he was named to the Outreach Commission to work with Father Maciel’s abuse victims. He began to serve as a major superior in the Legion in August 2013, when he assumed the post of territorial director of Mexico.

Along with his election, two other new senior Legion of Christ leaders — its vicar general, Father Juan José Arrieta, and one of the general councilors, Father Juan Sabadell — were named by the Holy See. Two more general councilors, Father Sylvester Heereman and Father Jesús Villagrasa, were elected by the chapter members.

Father José Gerardo Cárdenas and Father Clemens Gutberlet were elected general administrator and general procurator, respectively.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

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