Cardinal Napier: Next Year’s Synod Will Feature ‘Truth, Fidelity and Authenticity’


CNA/Bohumil Petrik

VATICAN CITY — Last month, Pope Francis appointed South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, the archbishop of Durban, as one of the presidents of next year’s synod on the family. His appointment was viewed as part of a push to have more African bishops represented in key leadership positions and immediately preceded the Pope’s appointment of GuineanCardinal Robert Sarah as prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

Cardinal Napier was one of the most high-profile and outspoken critics of some aspects of the recent extraordinary synod on the family. In this Dec. 23 email interview with the Register’s Rome correspondent, Edward Pentin, he discusses why he chose to speak out, his hopes for the next synod and what African Catholicism has to offer the universal Church.



Pope Francis recently appointed you as one of the presidents of next year’s synod. What do you hope to bring to the role, especially with regards to a perspective from Africa?



My understanding is that when the Holy Father appoints a person to a key leadership position, it is primarily because he is committed to giving collegiality a real expression in the Church of today. Therefore, in appointing someone from Africa, it is to give the Church in Africa a real voice at the universal Church level. Second, it is because he, or those who are close to him, have become aware of the person’s ability to contribute to the task at hand.


Cardinal Sarah was recently appointed prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship. Do you foresee more Africans gaining important roles during this pontificate, and if so, why?

Cardinal Robert Sarah has years of experience in office in Rome, first at Propaganda Fidei and then at Cor Unum. Both offices give him a wide vision of the Church in Africa, but also in other parts of the world.

Giving him a leadership role in the Congregation for Divine Worship is an acknowledgement of this, plus the fact that Africa has for years been celebrating the liturgy with its own particular flavor and flair, a living expression of faith and feeling at home with God.


What can the African Church offer in particular to the Church in the West, and how important is it that the West heeds what the African Church has to offer?

The first thing of note about the Church in Africa is that it is a Church made up of people who know and acknowledge that they need God. Because of that, God has a real and living place in their lives. Secondly, the Church in Africa is much more committed to living the faith than to arguing or debating about it. I believe the Church in the West could benefit from putting faith in God, especially the sacrifices that are implicit in that faith, before and above niceties of explanations of doctrines, etc.


You were one of the most outspoken critics of how the recent synod was run. What disturbed you most about the proceedings and any developments since then?

When I spoke at the media briefing and criticized elements of the synod proceedings, I was by and large reflecting the views of our circulus minor [small working group of synod bishops]. To a lesser extent, I was expressing the concerns of the Church in Africa; and, third, I was raising my own disquiet, because I knew from experience how media distortions could and would spread confusion and even damage the Church’s clear teaching and practice as a long-standing exponent of what Jesus, the apostles, the [Church] Fathers and the magisterium had taught and lived down the ages.

Of particular concern was the dressing up in overly positive terms the irregular situations, such as cohabitation, divorce and remarriage, single-parent families by choice and same-sex relationships. When you are holding up the bar of moral uprightness, you cannot at the same time sing the praise of the contrary.


How confident are you that the process for the next synod will be more fair and more open, allowing all points of view to be aired and taken forward?

I am confident that both the secretariat of the synod, its council and those attending the synod session will have learned the need to give clear teaching by distinguishing it from possible or speculative thinking and proposals.

I am also fairly sure that bishops’ conference representatives, as well as individual bishops, will be much more aware of what their people think, feel and want the Church to do and say.

With all the prayers that will be offered for the synod, I feel certain that the Holy Spirit will enlighten and guide the Church along the way of truth, fidelity and authenticity.

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Pope Francis’ Address Risks Lowering Curial Morale



Pope Francis’ list of 15 spiritual “diseases”, given today in his Christmas greetings to the Roman Curia, is playing well to the secular world that’s been bombarded with media coverage of Vatican scandals over the past few years.

After Vatileaks, sex scandals and financial misconduct, it’s no surprise that the media has jumped on the speech, portraying the Holy Father as the outsider who’s come in to clean up the Curia but grown frustrated with a sclerotic and corrupt bureaucracy resistant to change.

The danger of this, however, is that it gives credence to such a portrayal of the Curia, that it’s largely a nest of careerists, brimming with sin and intrigue.

Veteran Vatican watcher Sandro Magister has called it a “catastrophic diagnosis” in which “arrogance, narcissism, ambition, superficiality, insensitivity, calculation, revenge, whim, vainglory, schizophrenia, debauchery, gossip, slander, flattery, careerism, indifference, greed, selfishness, exhibitionism, lust for power” are pinned on curial officials. “The Pope has even found Alzheimer’s there,” he added, “albeit only of a ‘spiritual’ kind.”

The world’s press, of course, will ignore the reality, partly because the Pope didn’t mention it: that the great majority of Vatican officials are virtuous, hardworking, and faithful clergy and laity. The Vatican has stressed that his words apply not only to the Curia but the entire Church and even many institutions in the world today that lose sight of their original mission. But that’s not how most of the media will be inclined to read it.

A further risk is that it’s likely to worsen morale in the Vatican. Already, the mood is not generally positive. Most officials are keeping quiet, waiting to see what reforms will take place, but increasingly one hears complaints of feeling demoralized due to persistent criticism and scrutiny, and uncertainty about the future. To make matters worse is the added concern that a purge of respected veteran officials, appointed under Pope St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, is underway.

There’s no doubt the Pope’s speech today will have given the few rotten apples in the Curia something to think about as well as further boosted his popular image in the media.

It will have done little to lessen the unease or increase the morale of the many good officials who have dedicated their lives to serving the Church in Rome.

But perhaps the Pope doesn’t see this, or sees it as a price worth paying.

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Pope Francis’ Fatal 15


In preparation for Christmas, Pope Francis sought to help members of the Roman Curia examine their consciences by issuing a “catalogue” of 15 frequent “diseases” that he says afflict life at the Vatican.

In his customary annual audience, during which the Holy Father exchanged Christmas greetings with the heads of departments, Francis pulled no punches in singling out wrongdoings that, he said, “weaken our service to the Lord.” Many of these issues he has previously mentioned in his homilies and papal addresses.

On Dec. 22, he began by reminding his staff that the Roman Curia is like a “small model” of the Church and that, as a “body,” it tries to be “more alive, healthier, more harmonious and more united in itself and with Christ.”

“The more closely we adhere to God, the more we are united among ourselves, because the Spirit of God unites, and the evil spirit divides,” he told the assembled officials in the Clementine Hall.

“The Curia is always required to better itself and to grow in communion, sanctity and wisdom to fully accomplish its mission. However, like any body, it is exposed to sickness, malfunction and infirmity.”

After inviting all those present to make an examination of conscience to prepare themselves for Christmas, he then listed 15 of these maladies.



The first, he said, is “the sickness of considering oneself ‘immortal,’ ‘immune’ or ‘indispensable,’ neglecting the necessary and habitual controls.” He warned that a Curia that is “not self-critical, that does not stay up to date, that does not seek to better itself is an ailing body.” It is the sickness of the “rich fool,” he said, “who thinks he will live for all eternity, and of those who transform themselves into masters and believe themselves superior to others, rather than at their service.”

The second disease is “‘Martha-ism,’ or excessive industriousness, named after Martha in the Gospel. Francis said those who overly immerse themselves in work inevitably neglect “the better part” of sitting at Jesus’ feet. Rest, once one’s mission is completed, is a “necessary duty and must be taken seriously,” he said. “In spending a little time with relatives and respecting the holidays as a time for spiritual and physical replenishment, it is necessary to learn the teaching of Ecclesiastes: that ‘There is a time for everything.’”

Francis then reminded those present of the third sickness of “mental and spiritual hardening”: those who lose their inner serenity, vivacity and boldness and conceal themselves “behind paper, becoming working machines, rather than men of God.” Such attitudes lead to losing the human sensibility necessary to be able “to weep with those who weep and to rejoice with those who rejoice!”


Excessive Functionalism

The fourth disease that Francis said afflicts the Curia is that of “excessive planning and functionalism.” Planning everything in detail in the belief that it leads to progress makes one “a sort of bookkeeper or accountant,” he said. Falling into static and unchanging positions is easy and convenient, but Francis stressed that the Church shows herself to be “faithful to the Holy Spirit to the extent that she does not seek to regulate or domesticate it.” The Spirit, he added, “is freshness, imagination and innovation.”

Fifth, the “sickness of poor coordination” develops when communion between members is lost, leading to a lack of collaboration and an inability to work with a spirit of communion or as a team.

A sixth disease is that of “spiritual Alzheimer’s” — forgetfulness of the history of salvation, of one’s personal history with the Lord and of one’s “first love.” This is a “progressive decline” of spiritual faculties, the Holy Father said, which can make one “incapable of carrying out certain activities” and depend on “imaginary views” instead.

Continuing his catalogue of ailments, as seventh, the Pope highlighted “rivalry and vainglory,” a disorder that leads us to become “false men and women, living a false ‘mysticism’ and a false ‘quietism.’”


‘Existential Schizophrenia’

Eighth, he spoke of “existential schizophrenia,” where some members create a “parallel world” of their own, abandoning pastoral activities and limiting themselves to bureaucratic matters. In doing so, they become neglectful of reality and real people, teaching “with severity to others” and living “a hidden, often dissolute life.”

Francis has strongly warned against gossip, and he did so again, assigning it to the ninth sickness.

“This is a serious illness that begins simply, often just in the form of having a chat, and takes people over, turning them into sowers of discord like Satan,” he said. “It is the sickness of the cowardly who, not having the courage to speak directly to the people involved, instead speak behind their backs.”

Tenth, the Pope spoke against the sickness of “deifying leaders,” which is “typical of those who court their superiors with the hope of receiving their benevolence.” They are victims of “careerism and opportunism” and think only of what they can obtain rather than offer. “They are mean, unhappy and inspired only by their fatal selfishness,” the Pope said.

Turning to the disease of indifference as No. 11, the Pope warned that this one can lead to the loss of sincerity and warmth of personal relationships. It’s replaced, he said, by feelings of joy at “seeing others fall rather than lifting and encouraging them.”


‘Funeral Face’

Twelfth, the Pope spoke of the disease of the “funeral face,” people who are “scowling and unfriendly and think that, in order to be serious, they must show a melancholic and strict face and treat others — especially those who they think are inferior — with rigidity, harshness and arrogance.” Such attitudes are often “symptoms of fear and insecurity about themselves,” he said. “The apostle must strive to be a polite, serene, enthusiastic and joyful person.” And he added that he says a prayer of St. Thomas More every day that begins with the words, “Grant me, O Lord, good digestion and also something to digest. Grant me a healthy body and the necessary good humor to maintain it.”

As No. 13, the Pope highlighted the sickness of accumulation, filling an empty heart with material goods in order to feel secure. “Accumulation only burdens and inexorably slows down our progress.” Earthly gifts will never fill that void; accumulation, meanwhile, only “slows down the path inexorably.”

The penultimate disease was that of closed circles, when belonging to a group becomes a stronger focus than belonging to the body of Christ and even Christ himself. This may start with good intentions, he said, but can threaten the harmony of the body and cause “a great deal of harm — scandals — especially to our littlest brothers.”

Lastly, the Pope warned of “worldly profit and exhibitionism,” when the apostle “transforms his service into power and his power into goods to obtain worldly profits or more power.”

“This is the disease of those who seek insatiably to multiply their power and are therefore capable of slandering, defaming and discrediting others, even in newspapers and magazines, naturally in order to brag and to show they are more capable than others,” the Pope said.


Speak the Truth in Love

This disease is “very painful to the body,” he said, and he recalled a priest who called journalists to tell them private and confidential information about his brothers and parishioners. He did so because it made him feel so “powerful and compelling,” Francis said, but it caused “much harm to others and to the Church.”

After listing these ailments, Pope Francis exhorted the Curial heads to live by “speaking the truth in love” and urging them to become like Christ. “When each part is working properly, it makes the body grow, so that it builds itself up in love,” he said.

He also reminded the faithful to pray for priests. “I once read that priests are like airplanes,” the Pope said in closing. “They only make the news when they crash, but there are many that fly.”

“Many criticize them, and few pray for them,” he concluded. “It is a very nice phrase, but also very true, as it expresses the importance and the delicacy of our priestly service and how much harm just one priest who falls may cause to the whole body of the Church.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

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Cardinal Parolin Played Key Role in U.S.-Cuba Negotiations


Flickr/U.S. Department of State

VATICAN CITY — While Pope Francis is being widely credited for helping to restore diplomatic and economic ties between the U.S. and Cuba, he was helped in large part by his secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

President Barack Obama announced yesterday a re-establishment of diplomatic and economic ties with Cuba after more than a year of secret talks in Canada and at the Vatican.

An informed source close to the talks told the Register the contribution of Cardinal Parolin was “definitely significant” and that, as a highly respected Vatican official among Rome diplomats, he had built up a “very good relationship” with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

The source said Cardinal Parolin and Kerry, who met at the Vatican as recently as Monday, have “spoken often” over the past year. They spent an hour discussing a wide range of foreign-policy issues, including Cuba, although developments were kept strictly secret until Wednesday. The secretaries of state had their first, lengthier meeting in January this year.

Ken Hackett, the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, told reporters Dec. 17 that “a senior Vatican official” played “an important part” in a historic meeting in October, when the American and Cuban delegations “helped bring the negotiations to a successful conclusion.” He didn’t name Cardinal Parolin, although the Italian diplomat is widely perceived to have been that senior official.


Significant Breakthroughs

As the Vatican’s “deputy foreign minister” from 2002 to 2009, the then-Archbishop Parolin scored some significant breakthroughs, such as cementing ties between the Holy See and Vietnam, re-establishing direct contact with Beijing in 2005 and helping secure the liberation of 15 British navy personnel captured by Iranian forces in the Arabian Gulf in April 2007.

He also worked to resolve tensions in a variety of trouble spots, such as in East Timor, and between Ecuador and Peru over rights to the Amazonian territories along their disputed borders. When Francis appointed him to the Vatican’s top diplomatic post last year, he received wide acclaim from Rome’s diplomatic corps. “He’s so highly respected,” said one diplomat. “He’s such a good person, such a good listener.”

Cardinal Parolin himself, however, prefers to credit Pope Francis as the main mover in re-establishing diplomatic ties. Speaking to Vatican Radio Thursday, he stressed that the role of the Pope was “very significant” and that the achievement reflects the Holy Father’s emphasis on building bridges between persons, groups and nations.

The Holy See’s role, he said, was to “facilitate the dialogue between the two parties,” in keeping with Francis’ objectives. The Pope’s Latin-American background and his personal interest in resolving the long-running dispute is also believed to have been a key factor.

Formal U.S.-Cuba relations were severed, and a trade embargo imposed, in the early 1960s, after Cuba’s revolution led to communism. But despite President Fidel Castro then imposing strict restrictions on religious freedom, the Holy See never severed diplomatic ties with Cuba — the only communist country with which the Holy See has maintained unbroken, formal relations.

This factor is also said to have enabled the Vatican to act as an effective mediator.

The contribution of Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino, archbishop of Havana, is also being mentioned as significant.


Personal Appeal

In a Dec. 17 statement, the Vatican said Francis personally wrote to President Barack Obama and President Raúl Castro, inviting them “to resolve humanitarian questions of common interest, including the situation of certain prisoners, in order to initiate a new phase in relations between the two parties.”

Rome diplomats have been working overtime since Francis’ election, largely because they say his popularity is forcing world leaders to pay more attention to what he and the Holy See say on the world stage. Officials have been predicting Francis would take a leading role in mediating international disputes, but until now, successes have been slow in coming, despite concerted papal efforts to broker peace in trouble spots such as the Holy Land and the Korean Peninsula.

Cardinal Parolin acknowledged in his interview with Vatican Radio that “not everybody agrees” with the decision announced Wednesday, but he wished to stress the “courage” it took for both presidents to make the historic move.

Thanking God for inspiring “such good sentiments and intentions” in the two leaders, the Vatican secretary of state said he hoped this example could be emulated by other regional leaders to overcome differences and conflict through “negotiation and through dialogue.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

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Vatican Releases Final Report on Visitation of U.S. Women Religious


AP photo/Andrew Medichini

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican has strongly praised U.S. institutes of women religious for their contribution to the Church’s evangelizing mission, while urging them to be careful not to lose the centrality of Christ in their apostolic life.

In its response to an eagerly anticipated final report on a three-year apostolic visitation of women religious in the country, the Vatican has also highlighted the challenges they are facing, including caring for aging sisters, financial constraints and the need to “revitalize institutes in fidelity to Christ.”

At a Dec. 16 Vatican press conference, Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, the prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, presented his congregation’s response to the report and explained that the 2009-2012 visitation was initiated because women religious are “experiencing challenging times.” There was a need to “gain deeper knowledge” of their contributions, he said, as well as the difficulties that “threaten the quality of their religious life” and, for some, their very existence.

The visitation, not to be confused with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s four-year doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), was an unprecedented and enormous task, involving 341 religious institutes and approximately 50,000 women religious. It did not include cloistered nuns, but the Vatican stressed that its outcome is addressed to the Church’s pastors and faithful as well as women religious themselves.

The general reaction among those closest involved in the process has been overwhelmingly positive, despite initial concerns within a number of institutes.

“It was brought to completion in a very pastoral manner,” said Mother Mary Clare Millea of the Congregation of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, director of the apostolic visitation. “It is a great incentive to all of us to deepen our understanding, appreciation and love of our vocation so we can live it more fully.”


‘Moment of Self-Evaluation’

Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, superior general of the Sisters of Life and coordinator of the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR), told reporters it offers a “tremendous moment of self-evaluation and self-reflection.”

Meanwhile, Sister Sharon Holland of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, said it is an “affirmative and realistic report” in which concerns have “been heard and understood.”

It is not a “document of blame or of simplistic solutions,” she added. “One can read the text and feel appreciated and trusted to carry on.”

The congregation’s response to the report begins by praising women religious for being “courageously” at the forefront of the Church’s evangelizing mission, “selflessly tending to the spiritual, moral, educational, physical and social needs of countless individuals, especially the poor and marginalized.”

It notes their legacy in creating the “great majority of Catholic health-care systems” in the United States and how women religious have sought to “more effectively respond to contemporary needs” in a spirit of “creative fidelity to their charisms.” It further points out how women religious “typically engage in volunteer ministry well beyond the normal retirement age.”


‘Sister-to-Sister Dialogue’

The response explains the mechanics of the apostolic visitation and its findings, stressing that the process sought to convey the “caring support of the Church in respectful, ‘sister-to-sister’ dialogue,” as modeled in the Gospel account of Mary’s visitation to her cousin Elizabeth.

The process was divided into four phases: First, superiors general were invited to express their hopes and concerns; second, a questionnaire was sent out to gather data; third, the visitor sent out teams to conduct onsite visits; and, finally, the visitor presented to the congregation a final report and executive summary of general issues, trends and data.

On the empirical findings, the congregation said “great variations exist” not only regarding “charism, mission, spiritual traditions and communal life,” but also in terms of size, geography and the works in which they are engaged.

It notes that the median age of apostolic women religious in the United States is “mid-to-late 70s,” and there has been a decline of about 125,000 sisters since the mid-1960s, when numbers of U.S. religious reached their peak. But it stressed that those large numbers were a “relatively short-term phenomenon” and atypical of the history of religious life in the country.

The document reports that the majority of women religious have a “very strong sense” of the history and charisms of their institutes and founders and “generously and creatively” place their charisms at the service of the Church and the world. But it adds that “many sisters” expressed “great concern” during the visitation because of declining membership, leading some to merge with other institutes.


Promoting Vocations

Noting the decline in new vocations, the report says considerable time is now spent among the institutes in vocation promotion. The final report did not offer a detailed explanation for the weak vocations picture, yet it did highlight that some religious institutes continue to attract young women.

“Underneath that broad brush stroke, there is another trend,” said Mother Agnes in her formal response to the report that highlighted the distinctive religious life embraced by members of the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, who have attracted a larger proportion of young vocations.

“Within the 125 communities of CMSWR members, nearly 20% (almost 1,000) of the sisters are currently in initial formation (in the years prior to final vows). The average age of sisters is 53 years — well below the overall trend,” she noted.

“Young women look, above all, to live a religious life founded on the sacraments and which includes a rich, robust and daily common and personal prayer life as an irreplaceable means of personal growth and of spiritual communion in community.”


Theological Orthodoxy

Amid the release of the Vatican report, media commentators noted that some institutes of apostolic life for women religious have been criticized for veering toward, and in some cases embracing, heterodoxy.

Responding to that critique, the report warned religious institutes “not to displace Christ from the center of creation and of our faith,” and to “carefully review their spiritual practices and ministry” to ensure they are “in harmony with Catholic teaching about God, creation, the Incarnation and the Redemption.”

Further, statements by Church officials confirmed that the final report does not include assessments of specific religious institutes with serious problems. Separate reports will be forwarded to those institutes.

However, some noted that the words “orthodoxy” and “fathfulness to the magisterium” hardly figure in the texts. Sister Sharon agreed, but said the preferred language used is “ecclesial communion,” in which the Church, pastors, religious and laity “are in communion with the whole.”

“Of course, doctrinal orthodoxy is part of ecclesial communion, but it is not the whole of ecclesial communion,” she said. “It’s the language of communion and relationships that’s used in this particular report.”

Mother Mary Clare told the Register she had “no instrument with which to test theological orthodoxy,” adding that the visitation was more about “the lifestyle, the ministries, the issue of aging: topics that are there.” But she highlighted the section where the Holy See “reminds us that the center of our faith is the Person of Jesus Christ.”

Every congregation, she said, “is to compare that statement, which is basic to our faith, to their own lived expression of that.”


‘Greater Recognition’

Education is the “most common ministry” among U.S. sisters, the apostolic visitation found, but it also highlighted many other areas of ministry, such as leadership, administration, formation, pastoral care, spiritual direction and retreat work. The congregation made a point of gratefully acknowledging the “apostolic zeal” of these women religious.

But Cardinal Braz de Aviz also acknowledged a desire for “greater recognition and support” for women religious on the part of pastors and for greater input in decision-making. The congregation noted that some institutes refused to fully collaborate in the visitation, which was a “painful disappointment for us,” and urged a “respectful and fruitful dialogue.” The Year of Consecrated Life is a “graced opportunity” to foster “forgiveness and reconciliation,” the Vatican said, and to “transform uncertainty and hesitancy into collaborative trust.”

To help this process of fostering ecclesial communion, the congregation announced that it will update the 1978 Curial document Mutuae Relationes, which concerned collaboration between bishops and religious.

In conclusion, the report said the apostolic visitation offered “new opportunities” for women religious to discover God’s presence and salvific action and expressed hope that the dialogue it has sparked will “bear abundant fruit” for the revitalization of religious institutes.

But Religious Sister of Mercy Dolores Liptak, a member of the “core team” Mother Mary Clare appointed to develop documents for the visitation, questioned whether some religious institutes, especially those that had refused to participate in the process, would rethink their resistance.

“At this point, looking at the immediate reactions in the media, there is still the same divide,” Sister Dolores told the Register. “It hasn’t gotten better, though the apostolic visitation report makes it very clear that there needn’t be a divide and that people in the Church … must do all that they can to help heal the divide.”

That said, Sister Dolores also predicted that the tensions that exist in some religious institutes would not escalate. “It won’t get worse simply because of declining numbers” in orders with aging members, she said. “Who will continue the battle if your median age is 80?”

The Call to Revitalize

Asked by the Register whether the final report fully addresses significant problems in religious life over the past 50 years, Mother Mary Clare said, “I’ve heard it over and over again, and I sincerely believe it to be true, that women took the call of Vatican II seriously: to update, to be present to the world.”

“Did we always continue to evaluate ourselves in continuity with Tradition and with the Church? Every congregation needs to answer that,” she said. “Many of them did that in the visitation; many of them are changing the way they do some things.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

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Christmas 2014 at the Vatican


AP photo/Alessandra Tarantino

VATICAN CITY — Preparations for Christmas began at the Vatican on Dec. 4, when a 75-foot-tall Christmas tree, donated by people from the Italian province of Catanzaro in Calabria, was delivered by helicopter and truck to St. Peter’s Square.

The Nativity scene in the square was constructed by a foundation in Verona, Italy, with the help of the Diocese of Venice. Measuring 24 feet high, it has been inspired by the world of opera and consists of 20 terracotta figures.

Elsewhere, the work of the Vatican continued apace. The seventh meeting of the “Group of Nine” cardinals examining reform of the Roman Curia took place Dec. 9-11.

The “World Day of Peace Message 2015” was presented to the press Dec. 10 by heads of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. The message for the 48th World Day of Peace, to be delivered by Pope Francis on Jan. 1, is themed: “Slaves No More, but Brothers and Sisters.” The slavery scourge, which affects approximately 35 million people, is of great concern to the Holy Father, who has called it a “crime against humanity.”

On releasing the theme earlier this year, the pontifical council pointed out that modern-day slavery, including human trafficking, “deals a murderous blow to this fundamental fraternity, and so to peace as well.” Peace, it said, “can only exist when each human being recognizes every other person as a brother or sister with the same dignity.”

On Dec. 11, the Pope presided over the closing rites of a funeral Mass for Cardinal Jorge Maria Mejia in St. Peter’s Basilica. Cardinal Meija, who was born in Buenos Aires, died on Dec. 9 at the age of 91. Pope Francis visited him in the hospital on the day he was elected pope, after the cardinal suffered a heart attack.

On Dec. 12, just like last year, Pope Francis celebrated Mass for Latin America in St. Peter’s Basilica on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.


Personally Significant

Advent is personally significant for Pope Francis, especially this year, as he celebrated the 45th anniversary of his priestly ordination on Dec. 13 and will celebrate his 78th birthday on Dec. 17. Also on Dec. 13, Francis received the National Council of the Italian Union of Blind and Sight-Impaired Persons. The visit coincided with the feast of St. Lucy, the patron of those who experience eye problems and blindness.

On Dec. 14, the Pope led the traditional blessing of the Baby Jesus from children’s Nativity scenes after the Angelus in St. Peter’s Square.

“Prayer is the breath of the soul,” he told the children. “It is important to find moments throughout the day to open the heart to God.” At his Angelus for Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday, the Pope reminded the faithful: “Jesus himself is our joy.”

The benediction was preceded by a 10am Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, presided by the archpriest of the basilica, Cardinal Angelo Comastri. Later that afternoon, at 4pm, Francis, as bishop of Rome, visited the Rome parish of San Giuseppe all’Aurelio. After greeting the faithful from 4-6pm, he celebrated Mass.


Christmas Week

On Dec. 22, Pope Francis will receive employees of the Holy See and Vatican city state, along with their families, and give them his Christmas wishes.

Also shortly before Christmas, the Pope will give his traditional Christmas greetings to the Roman Curia and deliver an address that, in years past, has sometimes been of major significance.

The Holy Father presides over the customary liturgical celebrations for Christmas, beginning on Dec. 24, with Mass on the Solemnity of the Birth of Our Lord in St. Peter’s Basilica, beginning at 9:30pm. The following day, at noon, he appears on the loggia of the basilica to give his traditional urbi et orbi blessing to the city of Rome and the world. And before welcoming in the new year on Dec. 31, Francis presides over vespers and the Te Deum hymn at 5pm to give thanks for the year that has passed. The following morning, on the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, the Pope will celebrate Mass and deliver his “World Day of Peace Message” in St. Peter’s Basilica.


Benedict’s Christmas

Last year, on Dec. 27, Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI lunched together at the Pope’s St. Martha residence. According to Archbishop Georg Gänswein, Benedict’s personal secretary and prefect of the pontifical household, the two hadn’t discussed repeating the encounter, as of press time.

Archbishop Gänswein reminded readers in an interview in the publication Il Mio Papa on Dec. 9 that Francis first visited the pope emeritus in his monastery in the Vatican Gardens. But this year, he said lunch in the Vatican is “more difficult to repeat,” as Benedict XVI “has some problems walking.” The German prelate nevertheless hoped that Pope Francis “has a little time to come and visit Pope Benedict, who would be very happy” to see him.

The pope emeritus is likely to spend Christmas as he did as pope, exchanging gifts with the four consecrated women who help him in his residence, along with Archbishop Gänswein, and singing Christmas hymns.

Benedict “really feels the time of Christmas,” his personal secretary said. He pointed out that, at Christmas, there is a rich liturgy that “characterizes these days and which gives our prayers a special ‘perfume.’”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

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Vatican Secretary of State Briefly Meets With His U.S. Counterpart


VATICAN CITY — The Holy See’s secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, held an hour-long meeting with his U.S. counterpart, John Kerry today, during which the two officials discussed the situation in the Middle East and the possibility of closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay.

Vatican spokesman Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi said the main topics discussed were the situation in the Middle East and the commitment of the U.S. to avoid an escalation of tensions and explosion of violence.

Kerry, who was in Rome for separate meetings with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, also spoke with Cardinal Parolin about a commitment to resume negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Talks brokered by Kerry last year broke down in April, with President Barack Obama blaming both sides for their collapse.

Turning to Guantanamo, Father Lombardi said Kerry underscored the “commitment of the United States to close the Guantanamo prison and the desire for the Holy See’s support in the search for appropriate humanitarian solutions for the current detainees.”

For many years, the U.S. bishops have called for the closure of the detention center, with the latest appeal issued by Bishop Oscar Cantú, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace.


Symbol of Human-Rights Violations

In a Dec. 9 letter to Clifford Sloan, the U.S. State Department’s special envoy for Guantanamo’s closure, Bishop Cantú said the center has become “a symbol of violations of basic human rights, as detainees have been abused and held in indefinite detention without trial.”

He added that the U.S. bishops supported efforts to speed up the transfer of detainees out of Guantanamo, adding that closing the facility would help the U.S. “regain its moral standing as a defender of human rights” and “strengthen national security.”

The Vatican said the brevity of today’s meeting prevented Kerry and Cardinal Parolin from examining other issues in depth, though some were mentioned — in particular, the situation in Ukraine and the emergency surrounding the Ebola outbreak.

The Vatican said Kerry’s delegation included U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Kenneth Hackett and two members of the State Department staff. The Holy See was represented by three Curia officials responsible for the topics covered.

Kerry, the first Catholic secretary of state for 33 years, last visited the Vatican in April, when he accompanied Obama on his visit to Pope Francis. The U.S. official also had a longer, 90-minute private meeting with Cardinal Parolin in January, during which they discussed a wider range of issues, including health-care reform, Syria and the role of the Church in South Sudan.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

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Concern Grows Over Liberal German Church Influence


Concern is growing in Rome about the German church’s undue influence on Pope Francis’ reform of the Roman curia and church governance.

Last week, the so-called C9 group of cardinals advising the Holy Father on the reform met in Rome. No decisions were made and changes aren’t expected until the end of net year at the earliest.

One of the most influential members of the C9 is Cardinal Reinhard Marx, archbishop of Munich and Freising. Jesuit Father Bernd Hagenkord, director of Vatican Radio’s German edition, told a Munich newspaper last week that Marx, who heads the country’s bishops, had clearly gained influence over the Pope. Francis will “certainly” listen to his experience of handling funds and labor issues, he said.

This is disturbing some of the faithful for at least two reasons. First, the church in Germany is currently considering reforming ecclesiastical labor law so that divorced and remarried Catholics, and those in homosexual relationships, can be employed by the church.

The majority of bishops, anxious to align the church with secular trends, are expected to vote to pass the reform next April — despite concerns it will undermine church teaching and authority. Observers say the bishops’ conference is using manipulative and underhanded techniques to ensure it passes, devising the changes in secret — planting at least one pro-reform article in a newspaper.

The bishops, including Marx, believe the church should adapt to the times, and be seen as “more merciful” with respect to current situations. If the church is to maintain the many services it provides, it must allow such employees to work for the church.

Opponents argue that, if enacted, those living in what the church has always taught as sinful relationships would henceforth have those lifestyles implicitly affirmed.

Furthermore, they fear the changes would make it difficult to offer pastoral care such as recommending they go to confession when their colleagues and possibly superiors are known to be living sinful private lives. As for maintaining the services, they argue that out of 23 million Catholics, it surely cannot be too difficult to find employees who respect and try to adhere to church teaching.

Second, the church’s growing influence is disturbing because it adds to the many controversial influences during a synod of bishops on the family that took place at the Vatican in October. At that major meeting, the bishops spoke about examining the positive aspects of those in homosexual relationships and cohabitating, provoking widespread opposition. Many of these influences came via German prelates, most notably Cardinal Walter Kasper, who is pushing for changes concerning divorced and remarried Catholics.

Some senior Vatican officials have openly questioned why anyone should listen to leaders of a church which is rapidly losing members — 118,335 left in 2012 — where the faith is weak. Helping to drive the German Catholic Church into oblivion is the country’s notorious ecclesiastical tax which has made it the wealthiest church in the world — 2013 revenues totaled $6.7 billion.

The compulsory nature of the tax and reliance on its income has led to complacency, general resentment, and a willingness to compromise with the state to maintain funds at a time when members are dwindling.

The Teutonic juggernaut influencing the church is powerful and likely to continue. Marx, who also heads the church’s episcopal conference to the European Union, is one of the most senior and influential figures in the church today. He has the Pope’s ear. Many therefore fear, especially in the run-up to next year’s second synod on the family, German bishops will inflict deep and lasting wounds on the church’s teaching and practice — harming both Catholics and non-Catholics.

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German Bishops Will Revise Church’s Labor Laws



VATICAN CITY — Despite a postponed vote last month, a German prelate has said he is confident the country’s bishops will change Church rules to allow employment of remarried divorcees and men and women living in same-sex relationships, despite growing opposition to the move.

Archbishop Stephan Burger of Freiburg im Breisgau said the German bishops’ conference “will revise” the ecclesiastical labor laws (Kirchliches Arbeitsrecht), according to a Dec. 9 interview with the German news website Morgenweb. He said the changes will be made in the interests of maintaining the Church’s “credibility” in the eyes of the general public.

According to Church sources in Germany who ask to remain anonymous, the bishops were to vote unanimously in favor of change on Nov. 24, but they decided to postpone the decision until April, after a federal court ruling supported the Church’s current laws that forbid employing staff whose lifestyles run contrary to Church teaching.

Until now, those seeking employment in the German Church — the second-largest employer in the country — are required to adhere to lifestyles consistent with Church teaching.

But a majority of bishops, led by the president of the conference, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, are in favor of giving the green light for such employees to continue to work in dioceses or Church-owned-and-run institutions or to employ them in the future. Cardinal Marx said Nov. 24 that such employees already are not “automatically dismissed” on account of their lifestyles.

Until last month’s vote, the proposal had been devised without publicity for nearly two years under the leadership of Jesuit Father Hans Langendörfer, secretary of the German bishops’ conference. If enacted, those living in what the Church has always taught as sinful relationships would henceforth have those lifestyles implicitly affirmed.

Furthermore, those opposed to the reform fear it would make it difficult to offer pastoral care and recommend confession when colleagues, who might even be in positions of authority in the Church, are known to be living sinful private lives.


Reasons for Reform

The Register asked officials at the German bishops’ conference if they would like to share their reasons for proposing such reform and whether they are aware of the concerns surrounding the proposal. Matthias Kopp, the German bishops’ head of communications, declined to answer specific questions Dec. 7, saying that, “until now, there has been no decision on it.”

He added, “Therefore, I ask your understanding that there is no answer to your questions until a decision of the renewal has been made.”

However, Kopp noted in a Register interview the role played by a Nov. 20 federal-court ruling, which decided that a Catholic hospital in Düsseldorf had the right to dismiss a senior doctor who was divorced and civilly remarried. The judges overturned a prior judgment of the Federal Labor Court that had declared the dismissal of the doctor invalid. The constitutional court ruled that the labor court had not “sufficiently taken into account” the meaning and scope of the Church’s autonomy.

In view of this case, Kopp said, “The bishops decided to study this decision of the Bundesverfassungsgericht [Federal Constitutional Court] and to look for a solution by the end of April 2015.”

Ironically, the court ruling has shown the country’s judges to be arguably more Catholic (even though some are non-Catholics) than many of the country’s bishops. For their part, the bishops actually played down the ruling and, as some observers predicted, offered that their proposed new law was “more merciful.”

The Register has learned that members of the bishops’ conference arranged for an article Unter Handlungsdruck (“Under Pressure to Act”), backing the reform proposal, to be published in, a publication with close links to the conference, and a tactic often used, according to informed sources. The Nov. 26 article includes comments from an elderly nun, Sister Maria Basina Kloos, who heads a Church support institution called Marienhaus Gesundheits und Sozialholding. The 74-year-old sister said she backs the reform proposal on the grounds that “we are becoming a more multicultural and pluralistic society.”


Widespread Divorce

The article also advocates change on the grounds that divorce and remarriage is so widespread in Germany (citing that, in 2012, there were around 179,100 divorces). It further argues that the Church’s credibility is at stake, as it is “often perceived as ruthless.” And even though Church law can never be in contradiction with divine law — Catholic hospitals, for instance, can never allow abortion or euthanasia — it goes so far as to suggest that Church labor law does not touch on questions of the universal Church or dogma and that German Church labor law is unique.

Such an approach is consistent with a general move within the Church in Germany to push for decentralization, thereby weakening the authority of Rome and some bishops and strengthening the autonomy of episcopal conferences. Observers say it also highlights what many, including doctrinal prefect Cardinal Gerhard Müller, see as adangerous push to separate doctrine from pastoral practice.

And yet this German model is increasingly being heard in Rome. Cardinal Marx is a member of the “Group of Nine” cardinals advising the Pope on Curial reform and Church governance. Jesuit Father Bernd Hagenkord, director of the German section of Vatican Radio, said in comments last week that Cardinal Marx’s experience of handling funds and labor will “certainly” be listened to by the Pope.


Church Tax

Critics of the reform say a key factor is the notorious Church tax in Germany that has ended up promoting complacency and a willingness to compromise with the state to maintain revenue at a time when many congregations are dwindling. Many dissenting bishops say “it’s simply enough to pay the tax,” said a German Church source who asked to remain anonymous. “They feel there’s no need to scrutinize people’s private lives.”

The country’s Church tax has made the Church in Germany the wealthiest in the world, with revenues in 2013 amounting to approximately $6.71 billion.

Proponents of the change in local Church law argue that there’s a need for manpower to maintain the enormous number of services it provides in Germany. But opponents reject this, saying that, with a Catholic population of 23 million, it is surely not so difficult to find suitable employees who could adhere to Church teaching on these matters.

During his visit to his homeland in 2011, Pope Benedict XVI warned the German faithful of the dangers of a Church that becomes “self-satisfied” and “settles down in this world,” becoming “self-sufficient” and adapting herself “to the standards of the world.” Instead, he said, she must detach herself from worldliness to allow her “missionary witness” to shine “more brightly”; otherwise, she faces having her roots withered away.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

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Lineamenta Raises More Concerns About Synodal Process


Edward Pentin

The lineamenta – or preparatory document – for next year’s ordinary synod of bishops on the family that the Vatican published Tuesday is raising further questions about the way the synodal process is being handled.

Usually the secretary general of the Synod of Bishops holds a press briefing on the day of a lineamenta’s publication, and the media is notified of its release sometime before the event. The lineamenta is usually then ready right away in various languages and sent to bishops conferences, religious superiors, laity and others.But in this case, no briefing took place, the document appeared unexpectedly on the Vatican website, and then in Italian only. The press was given no opportunity to ask questions about the document. It was published in English today.

This may simply be due to the fact that the final report of the extraordinary synod held in October serves as the basis of the lineamenta for next year’s ordinary assembly. The only addition is a series of 61 questions which the Vatican says are intended “to facilitate the reception of the synodal document” and help examine the themes they raise.

But these questions raise a further concern as some refer to the three paragraphs in the final document which did not receive the required two thirds majority relating to remarried divorcees and homosexuality. The secretariat of the synod of bishops said all the questions are aimed at avoiding a “formulation of pastoral care based simply on an application of doctrine, which would not respect the conclusions of the Extraordinary Synodal Assembly and would lead their reflection far from the path already indicated.”

Seeing as their inclusion in the final report along with their voting numbers was in accordance with Pope Francis’ wishes, it’s arguably legitimate to have questions relating to them as well as the other subjects. But even if their inclusion is understandable, it would probably have been more honest if the synod secretariat either mentioned they received too few votes, or listed them separately to the other questions. As it stands, they are on a par with the other issues that passed, and therefore given apparent equal weight.

Furthermore, the question on divorce and remarriage asks that assessment of the Orthodox practice towards remarried divorcees be considered – a position that critics say differs from the Church’s teaching and is closer to Cardinal Kasper’s proposal to offer communion for those who have divorced and civilly remarried.

The lineamenta has positive aspects, but observers understandably see forces again at work, aimed at achieving a predetermined result.

Probably the best response to these concerns is to act on Pope Francis’ words at today’s general audience when he entrusted the synod to the protection of the Virgin Mary.

“May she help us to follow the will of God, by making pastoral decisions that best and most help the family,” he said. “I ask you to accompany this synodal journey until the next synod with prayer. May the Lord enlighten us, may he enable us to go forward toward the maturity of what, as a synod, we must say to all the Churches. Your prayer is important in this.”

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