Newt Gingrich: Struggle for Religious Freedom Will Define Future of the U.S. for Next 50 Years


Newt copy 2As the Presidential elections draw closer, I caught up with former Republican Presidential candidate and erstwhile Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich.

In this Oct. 7 interview during a pilgrimage to Rome, Gingrich, an historian and convert to the faith, discusses his concerns about this year’s election in light of the next President’s possible choices of Supreme Court justices, why religious freedom will be one of the most important struggles for freedom over the next 50 years, and how his Catholic faith impacts his politics. 

He also shares his views on which issues should exercise Catholic voters the most, and why he believes a Catholic politician must be consistent about his faith in the public square.

First of all, what is your reaction to the recording of a lewd conversation Donald Trump made in 2005 but only broadcast last week?

This is a methodical lynching by the anti-religious left to cover up the horrifying statements of Hillary Clinton in various secret paid speeches. Trump’s comments were disgusting but do not represent who he now is or what kind of President he would be. Tonight’s debate will teach us a lot.

In what ways are the role and the obligations of a Catholic politician today different from his or her non-Catholic counterpart? How do you anticipate this might change in the future?

I think, ideally, any government leader is shaped by the core of their beliefs and I think, in that sense, to be Catholic is to have a very deeply held set of 2,000 year old beliefs about the nature of human beings, about our moral obligations, about when life begins, about a whole series of issues, some of which lead to conflict. You have many conservative Catholics, for example, who are very strong on the right to life for babies but not very strong on the right to life for murderers, so they accept the death penalty even though it’s technically against the Church’s doctrine.

The great, rising crisis in America is the totalitarian threat against religious liberty, and if you look, there’s a Massachusetts commission on transgender rights which is talking about regulating what you’re allowed to say in church — for example, if you can really raise the question of whether Our Father is a violation of gender behavior. Duke University now has a woman’s project to train men out of their superiority. So you see the whole secular, almost classic, almost French Revolution, creation of a man-centered, human-centered world in which humans get to define the new rules and the new patterns and it has nothing to do with the natural law, nothing to do with God. This will be one of the most important struggles for freedom in the next 50 years. It will literally define the future of America over the next 50 to 100 years.

The Trump Campaign has launched an energetic effort to court Catholics. After months of no mention at all, why are Catholics suddenly important?

Well Catholics were always important, it’s just a question of the sophistication of the campaign. Trump is a very gifted amateur who had no notion of the scale of the presidential campaign, how complicated it is, how many different groups you have to talk to, et cetera. I think he’s learned a fair amount about that, and I think on things like the nature of the Supreme Court, the gap between who Hillary would appoint and who Trump would appoint, is so breathtaking that it’s hard for me to understand how any seriously committed religious person of any background — Catholic, Protestant, Jew — could vote for Hillary because she’s going to create a secular court designed to imposed a secular totalitarianism that will profoundly then nature of America.

What issues, in your view, should exercise Catholic voters most? Prudential matters related to the economy, national security for instance, or those that promote immorality and, or intrinsically evil acts?

First of all, you have a President for four years, but you could have a radical Supreme Court for 40 years, so the Court is, in many ways, the most institutionally profound challenge that we’re facing. Second, you have to take foreign policy seriously. I’ve written a lot of stuff and I do two free newsletters a week for Gingrich Productions, and I’ve written a lot about a “two-front war.” You have a secular offensive in Europe and America, and you have Islamic supremacism. They’re both on the offense and we have not yet found our footing as Christians — and for that matter as Jews — to stand up against this onslaught. It is a very serious problem because you’re fighting two fronts simultaneously.

 How would you respond to another Catholic politician who uses the claim that they cannot bring their faith into public life and so publicly support things like abortion while being “personally” opposed to them?

I don’t understand it. I don’t mean this in a harsh way, but tell me what you really believe. If you really believe what the Church teaches, that life begins at conception, then by definition, abortion is murder. Now you may decide that there are reasons for the murder, you may decide on having exceptions for rape and incest, you may decide to have an exception for this, that and the next thing. But the exceptions are to permit murder, and so when someone says to me, “You know, I really believe in the same thing that my Church teaches, but it doesn’t affect my public policy.” Well then, what is your public policy based on? I mean, if public policy has no rooting in belief, not even morality, just belief — is the sky blue? Well, it could be but if you really want it to be purple and if it will make you feel better, I’ll say it’s purple — well that’s just intellectual chaos. And of course left-wing Catholic politicians have been sliding down this road since at least World War Two. They’ve done it in Europe, they’ve done it in America. What it does, of course, is that it dissolves the religion, because then you have to say: “So, tell me what it is you believe in enough that you’d risk your career [to defend it].” And it turns out not much, in which case it turns out they’re actually belief-less. They’re full of piety but lacking in belief.

How has being Catholic altered your approach to politics and living your faith in public service?

I would say two characteristics. First, I come out of a Protestant background so I have a pretty strong feel for the two great wings of American Christianity. I think Catholics are more communitarian. I’m stunned at all the things Catholics do, and this trip is an example — the number of things we do together, the degree to which there is a community and family, it’s like a gigantic, extended family.

Second, Catholicism is based in a very fundamental way on the inherent belief of sinfulness, that we all sin, that we all fall short of the glory of God, and that we begin to approach the mystery of the Sacrament by saying, “Here are the ways I have fallen short, in what I do, in what I fail to do,” and, as they’ve added in recent years, that it’s all my fault. I feel either John Paul II or Benedict thought we weren’t quite getting that! [laughs] Msgr. [Walter] Rossi, my mentor in joining the Church, we were one day sitting and talking, and I said to him, “So what you’re really saying to me is, when I walk down the aisle you are re-presenting Christ, you’re not representing Christ.” I knew this historically having studied the history of the Reformation and the whole argument about whether, in fact, whether there’s a transformation at the moment that the bells are rung. The Church’s doctrine is that you and I have the opportunity to have Christ in us, and to renew that as often as we want to go to Mass. And that also explains some of the depth of Catholicism historically because if you belong to a religion which says your Savior is within you, and you relax and allow that to be true, then you are in fact never truly alone. I didn’t get that before converting. I knew the words, but I didn’t know the experience, if that makes any sense.

It’s only something you fully realize once you’re in the Church.

Yes, and that’s not to any way diminish the deep faith of Protestants and the many, many good friends I have who are Protestant and who are at least as worried about the country as Catholics are. They are deeply, deeply, deeply concerned about what is happening both in Europe and America.


From Casuistry to Mercy, Towards a New Art of Pleasing? — An Essay on the Malaise in the Church by Msgr. Michel Schooyans



Here below, by kind permission, is an essay by the respected Msgr. Michel Schooyans on what he sees as the underlying causes of the current malaise in the Church and in wider society.

Msgr. Schooyans has a doctorate in philosophy and theology and lectured at the Université Catholique de Louvain, as well as being a visiting professor at various American universities. He has written many books on political philosophy, contemporary ideologies, population policies, and conducted numerous missions in the Third World.

A native of Belgium, he is also a member of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences of the Vatican, of the Royal Institute of International Relations in Brussels, the Institute for Demographic Policy in Paris, and the Population Research Institute in Washington.

From casuistry to mercy

Towards a new art of pleasing?

by Msgr. Michel Schooyans

Professor Emeritus at the University of Louvain


June 2016



One might think that casuistry is dead and buried. The controversies of the XVIIth-century should be over once and for all. Rarely do any of our contemporaries still read the Lettres Provinciales [Provincial Letters] and the authors whom Pascal (1623-1662) attacks therein. These authors are casuists, that is to say, moralists who seek to resolve matters of conscience without succumbing to rigorism. On rereading the famous Lettres, we were struck by the similarity emerging between a controversial document written in the XVIIth-century and the positions today defended by pastors and theologians aspiring to effect radical changes in the Church’s pastoral teaching and doctrine. The recent Synod on the Family (October 2014 – October 2015) has revealed a reforming pugnacity of which the Lettres Provinciales give us a better understanding today. Hence Pascal comes to be known in an unexpected light! The intention in the pages which follow is simply to whet the appetite of the reader, and help him/her to discover a new art of pleasing.

The treasure of the Church

The Synod on the Family has revealed – even assuming this was necessary – a profound malaise in the Church. A crisis of growth without doubt, but also recurrent debates on the question of « remarried » divorced persons, « models » for the family, the role of women, birth control, surrogate motherhood, homosexuality, euthanasia. It is futile to close our eyes: the Church is challenged in its very foundations. These are to be found in the entirety of the Holy Scriptures, in the teaching of Jesus, in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, in the announcement of the Gospel by the Apostles, in an ever finer understanding of the Revelation, in the assent of faith by the community of believers. The Church has been entrusted by Jesus with the mission of receiving these truths, casting light on their coherence, commemorating them. The Church has not been given by the Lord either a mission to modify these truths, or a mission to rewrite the Credo. The Church is the guardian of this treasure. The Church should study these truths, clarify them, deepen man’s understanding of them and invite all men to adhere to them through faith. There are even discussions – on marriage for example – which were brought to a close by the Lord himself. It was specifically to conceal these historical truths that descendants of the Pharisees have denied the historicity of the Gospels (cf. Mark 10, 11).

Since the Acts of the Apostles, the Church has recognised and proclaimed itself to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic. These are distinctive « characteristics ». The Church is one because it has only one heart, that of Jesus. The Church is holy in the sense that it invites conversion to the Lord, to prayer, to contemplation of the Lord. Man does not have the power to sanctify himself, but all are called to respond to the universal call to sanctity. The Church is catholic in the sense that it has received the gift of languages from the Holy Spirit: it is universal. The understanding of languages signifies unity in diversity, a fruit of the Holy Spirit. The Church is also apostolic in the sense that it is founded on the apostles and prophets. The apostolic succession signifies that an uninterrupted link binds us to the very source of the doctrine of the Apostles.

To offer the world the Good News he came to bring, the Lord wanted to recruit for his work the men he chose to remain with him and go forth and teach all nations (cf. Mark 3, 13-19). These men bear witness to the words they received from the very mouth of Jesus and the signs manifested by Him. These witnesses were called by the Lord to guarantee, from generation to generation, fidelity to the teaching which He himself presented. It is incumbent on them to deepen the understanding of the testimonies concerning this teaching and authenticate its tradition.

The teaching of the Lord has an exacting moral dimension. This teaching certainly urges us to a rational adherence to the golden rule, on which mankind’s great sages have meditated for centuries. Jesus brings this rule to its perfection. But the Church’s tradition has its own precepts of conduct, prime among which is love of God and one’s neighbour. « In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.» (cf. Matthew 7, 12). This double commandment is the fundamental benchmark for the actions of the Christian. The Christian is called to be open to the inspiration of the Spirit, which is love, and to respond to this inspiration through faith, which acts through love (cf. Ga 5, 6). Between the one, love, and the other, faith, the link is indissoluble. If, in the teaching of the Church, this link is broken, Christian morality sinks into various forms of relativism or scepticism, to the point of contentment with subjective and fluctuating opinions. A severance is created between truth and action. There is no longer any reference to the truth, nor to the authority which guarantees it. Transgression is ultimately abolished, because the moral reference points imparted by God to man are rejected. Man, it will even be suggested, no longer needs to love God in order to achieve salvation, or to believe in His love. Morality is fatally split, and the door is open wide to legalism, agnosticism and secularisation. The rules for living taught by the Profits, by the Lord, by the Fathers of the Church, are methodically dismantled. What then prevails are the dictates of the new jurists, heirs to the scribes and Pharisees. Morality hence becomes a form of gnostic positivism, a knowledge reserved for the initiates. This knowledge only acquires « legitimacy » in the purely voluntaristic decisions of those who claim the privilege of announcing a new morality, severed from the founding reference to the revealed truth.

In his teaching, Saint Paul urges us to avoid the snares of a morality devoid of roots in the Revelation. This is how he exhorts Christians:

«You must not fall in with the manners of this world. There must be inward change, a remaking of your minds, so that you can satisfy yourselves what is God’s will, the good thing, the desirable thing, the perfect thing.» (Rm 12, 2). « And this is my prayer for you: may your love grow richer and richer yet, in the fullness of its knowledge and the depth of its perception, so that you may learn to prize what is of value.» (Ph 1, 9 s.; cf. 1 Th 5, 19-22).

The return of casuistry

Here one perceives the return of casuistry, believed to allow moralists to examine and resolve matters of conscience. Certain moralists intend to offer solutions which please those who have recourse to their superior knowledge. Among the casuists of yesterday and today, the fundamental principles of morality are eclipsed by the (frequently divergent) opinions pronounced by these grave spiritual advisors. The disinterest with which fundamental morality is now viewed leaves the way open for the introduction of a positive law, which removes standards of conduct from any remaining reference to the fundamental rules of morality. The casuist, or neo-casuist, has become legislator and judge. He cultivates the art of confusing the faithful. Concern for the truth, revealed and accessible to reason, is now of no interest. Ultimately, the only interest will be in « probable » positions. Through probabilism, one proposition is open to contradictory interpretations.

Probabilism will make it possible to blow first hot, then cold, for and against. Forgotten is the teaching of Jesus: « Let your word be “Yes” or “No”; anything more than this comes from the evil one. » (Mt 5, 37; Jc 5, 12 ; cf. 2 Co 1, 20). However, each neo-casuist will go with his own interpretation. The tendency is towards a confusion of propositions, duplicity, double or triple truth, an avalanche of interpretations. The casuist has a divided heart, but intends to be a friend to the world (cf. Jc 4, 4-8)

Progressively, the rules of behaviour proceeding from the will of the Lord and handed down by the Magisterium of the Church are languishing in decline. The moral assessment of acts can therefore be modified. Not content with toning down this assessment, the casuists wish to transform the moral law itself. This will be the task of casuists, confessors, spiritual advisors and, on occasion, bishops. All must have a concern to please. They must in consequence resort to compromise, accommodate their arguments to the satisfaction of human passions: no person must be rebuffed. The moral assessment of an act no longer depends on whether it conforms to the will of God, as made known to us by the Revelation. This depends on the intention of the moral agent and this intention can be modulated and moulded by the spiritual advisor who « supports » his followers. In order to please, the spiritual advisor will have to soften the rigour of the doctrine handed down by tradition. The pastor will have to adapt his words to the nature of man, whose passions are naturally lead into sin. Hence the progressive relegation of references to original sin and grace. The influence of Pelagius (a monk of British origin, see s.) is evident: man must save himself and take his destiny into his own hands. Telling the truth forms no part of the role of the casuist, who must captivate, present a line of argument which is engaging, curry favour, make salvation easy, delight those who aspire to « have itching ears » (cf. 2 Tim 4, 3).

In short, the eclipse of the decisive contribution of the Revelation to morality is paving the way for the investiture of the casuist and creating a space favourable to the installation of a government of consciences. Space is shrinking for religious liberty, as offered in the Scriptures to the children of God and inseparable from adherence to faith in the Lord. Let us therefore turn to an analysis of examples of areas in which the actions of the neo-casuists of today emerge clearly.

The government of consciences

With the arrival, in the Church, of governors of conscience, we perceive the proximity of the casuistical notion of government of the City with the notion to be found, for example, in Machiavelli, Boëtie and Hobbes. Without asserting or making themselves accountable for this, the neo-casuists are certainly heirs of these masters in the art of governing slaves, an art to be found in the three authors cited above. A mortal God, the Leviathan defines what is just and what is good; he decides what men should think and wish for. It is he, the Leviathan, who governs the consciences, thoughts and actions of all his subjects. He is accountable to no-one. He must rule over the consciences of his subjects and define the « good » they should seek and the «evil » against which they should guard. Any political authority ultimately has its source in this mortal God, who is the governor of consciences. With the three authors cited above, we can see that the neo-casuists have aligned themselves with the theoreticians of tyranny and totalitarianism. Does not the ABC of totalitarian power consist, first of all, in the subjugation, the alienation, of conscience? By this means, the casuists offer a robust guarantee to all who wish to establish a single civil religion which is easily controllable, and laws discriminating against citizens.

To adapt the Sacraments?

In order to please everyone, it is necessary « to adapt » the Sacraments. Let us take the case of the Sacrament of penitence. The disinterest with which this Sacrament is today viewed can be understood through the « rigorism » demonstrated by confessors in the times of the elders. At least, so we are assured by the casuists. Today, the confessor should learn to make this Sacrament a Sacrament which pleases penitents. However, in toning down the severity attributed to this Sacrament, the casuist separates the penitent from the grace offered by God. The neo-casuist of today distances the sinner from the divine source of mercy. It is however to this that he must return.

The consequences of this deliberate deviation are paradoxical and dramatic. The new morality leads the Christian to render the Sacrament of penitence, and hence the Cross of Christ and his resurrection, futile. (cf. 1 Co 1, 17). If this Sacrament is no longer received as one of the major manifestations of the merciful love of God for us, if it is no longer perceived as necessary to salvation, it will soon cease to be necessary to instruct bishops or priests to offer Sacramental absolution to sinners. The rarity and, ultimately, the disappearance of the Sacramental offer of pardon by the priest will lead, and in reality has already led, to other estrangements, including that of the ordained priesthood and the Eucharist. And so on for the Sacraments of Christian initiation (Baptism and Confirmation), the Sacrament of the Sick, not to speak of the liturgy in general…

At any rate, for the neo-casuists, there is in fact no longer a Revelation to be received or a tradition to be handed down. As has already been remarked, « The truth is the new! » The new is the new seal of the truth. This new casuistry is leading Christians to make a clean break with the past. Finally, the obsession with compromise is pushing the new casuists towards a return to nature, as before original sin.

The question of “re-marriage”

The teaching of the neo-casuists calls to mind the spirit of compromise demonstrated to a considerable extent by the English bishops vis-à-vis Henry VIII. This question has relevance today, although the modalities of compromise are different. Who are the clerics from all orders who seek to please the powerful in this world? Are they swearers or refusers? How great is the number of pastors of all ranks who wish to make allegiance to the powerful of this world, albeit easily and without the need to swear publicly fidelity to the new “values” of the world today? In pushing to facilitate “re-marriage”, the neo-casuists are giving their backing to all those political players who are undermining respect for life and the family. With their assistance, annulments of marriage will be easy, as will repeat or flexible “marriages”.

The neo-casuists show great interest in cases of divorced persons who are “re-married”. Ds in other cases, the different stages of their approach provide a good illustration of salami tactics (Matyas Rákosi, 1947). According to these tactics, what one would never concede as a whole is conceded slice by slice. So let us follow the process. First slice: At the point of departure we find, of course, references to the teaching in the Scriptures on marriage and the Church’s doctrine on this question. Second slice: Emphasis is placed on the difficulties in “receiving” this teaching. Third slice, in the form of a question: Are “re-married” divorced persons in a state of grave sin? The fourth slice consists of the entry on the scene of the spiritual advisor, who will help “re-married” divorced persons to “discern”, that is, to choose whatever suits them in their situation. The spiritual advisor must show himself to be understanding and indulgent. He must demonstrate compassion, but what compassion? For the casuist in effect, when one undertakes a moral assessment of an act, concern for compassion must take precedence over the assessment of actions which are objectively wrong: the advisor must be lenient, dapt to circumstances. With the fifth slice of salami, each individual will be able to discern, personally and with full freedom of thought, what suits him best. In effect, along the way, the word discernment has become equivocal, ambiguous. It is not to be interpreted in the Pauline sense recalled in the scriptural references cited above. It is not a matter of seeking the will of God, but of discerning the right choice, the choice which will maximise the « itching of the ears» evoked by Saint Paul (2 Tim 4, 3).


Homicide is another matter which merits our attention. We are now going to focus on a matter of deviation of intention. According to the classic casuistry of the XVIIth century, homicide could proceed from a desire for vengeance, which is a crime. To avoid this criminal definition, it was necessary to deviate from this criminal intention, the intention to avenge oneself, and assign to the homicide a different, morally permitted, intention. Rather than invoke vengeance as a motive, they invoked, for example, a desire to defend one’s honour, considered morally permissible.

We will now see how this deviation of intention is applicable to another matter, a contemporary matter. The argument runs as follows: Abortion is a crime. Mrs X wishes to abort the baby she is expecting; the baby is not wanted. Yet abortion is a morally inadmissible crime. The intention is then deviated from, with the result that the initial intention is erased. Not with the intention of freeing oneself from an unwanted baby! Instead and in place of this initial intention, it will be argued that, under certain circumstances, abortion is morally admissible because, for example, its purpose is to save the lives of persons who are ill, by providing physicians with anatomical parts in good condition and to which a price is attached. The intention defines the moral quality of the gift. Hence, it is possible to please a broad spectrum of beneficiaries, whose “generosity” and “freedom of spirit” the casuists lose no opportunity in flattering.

The teachings of the Church on abortion are well-known. As soon as the reality of a human being is established, the Church teaches that the life and dignity of that being should be respected until its natural death. The doctrine of the Church on this question is constant and attested to throughout tradition. This situation troubles some neo-casuists. They have therefore coined a new expression: humanisation of the embryo. There is no – they say – humanisation of the embryo unless a community wishes to welcome that embryo. It is society which humanises the embryo. If society refuses this humanisation, it will be able to legalise the elimination of the embryo. If there is no humanisation by society, the embryo is a thing for which no right can be invoked, hence no legal protection. If society refuses to humanise the embryo, there can be no homicide, given that the human reality of this embryo is not recognised. For there to be homicide, it would be necessary for humanisation to be made possible on the basis of a positive law. In the absence of which, there is neither murder, nor even homicide!

In the examples we cite here, salami tactics come to the aid of the neo-casuists. Initially, abortion is clandestine, then presented as exceptional, then rare, then facilitated, then legalised, then it becomes habitual. Those who oppose abortion are denigrated, threatened, ostracised, condemned. This is how the political institutions and the law are unpicked.

Let us note that, thanks to the casuists, abortion is first facilitated in the Church, and from there, in the State. The same now applies to “re-marriage”. Positive law is taking over from the new morality! It finds its inspiration in the neo-casuists. This is observable, in France, during debates on legislation on abortion. This is a scenario which could spread throughout the world. With the impetus of the neo-casuists, abortion could be declared a new “human right” on a universal scale.


The question of euthanasia also merits discussion. This practice is becoming more and more extensive in traditionally Christian Western countries. Demographers regularly draw attention to the ageing population in these regions of the world. Life expectancy at birth is rising almost everywhere. In principle, ageing in itself is good news. For centuries, throughout the world, men have struggled against early death. At the beginning of the XIXth century, life expectancy at birth was often thirty years of age. Today, life expectancy is eighty years of age.

However, this situation will generate problems of all kinds. Let us mention one: Who will pay the pensions? To euthanise burdensome and onerous elderly people would certainly make it possible to achieve major economies. It will then be said that it is necessary to help costly elderly people “die in dignity”. Because it is politically difficult to defer the pension age, life expectancy will be lowered. The process has already begun in certain regions of Europe. Hence significant economies: a reduction in health care, pharmaceutical products and, above all, a reduction in the pension bill. Because politically correct right-thinking people balk at a programme which is so austere, the intention must be modified to be able to pass a law legalising euthanasia.

How to proceed? By developing a pitiable argument on compassion. It is necessary to please all categories of persons affected by this programme. These persons must be persuaded to subscribe to a plan whose objective is to give death “under good conditions” and “in dignity”. Death given in dignity would be the high point in quality of life! Rather than recommend palliative treatment and surround the ill person with affection, his fragility will be abused, he will be misled as to the fatal treatment to be inflicted. Vigilant neo-casuists will be on hand to verify that the homicidal act “authorising” the gift of death is in compliance with positive law. The cooperation of carefully primed chaplains will be especially appreciated to authenticate the compassion manifested in death given as a gift.

The party of the casuists

Discussions during the Synod on the Family revealed the determination with which a group of pastors and theologians do not hesitate to undermine the Church’s doctrinal cohesion. This group functions in the manner of a powerful, international, well-heeled, organised and disciplined party. The active members of this party have ready access to the media; they frequently appear unmasked. They operate with backing from some of the highest authorities in the Church. The main target of these activists is Christian morality, criticised for having a severity incompatible with the “values” of our time. We must find ways which lead the Church to please, by reconciling its moral teaching with human passions. The solution proposed by the neo-casuists starts by calling into question fundamental morality, then obscuring the natural light of reason. The original meaning of the references to Christian morality revealed in the Scriptures and the teaching of Jesus is distorted. The precepts of reason are regarded as indefinitely debatable: probabilism prevails. Primacy should be accorded to the will of those who are powerful enough to impose their will. Disparate partnerships with unbelievers will be formed without hesitation (cf. 2 Co 6, 14). This voluntarist morality will have a free hand in placing itself at the service of political power, of the State, and also the market, high finance, the law, etc. In concrete terms, it will be necessary to please corrupt political heads, champions of tax fraud and usury, abortionist doctors, manufacturers who deal in pills, lawyers willing to defend the least defensible causes, agronomists enriched by transgenic products, etc. The new morality will hence insidiously penetrate the media, families, schools, universities, hospitals, courts.

This has led to the formation of a social body which refuses to accord first place to the search for the truth, yet is highly active where there are consciences to govern, assassins to reassure, malefactors to free, wealthy citizens with whom to curry favour. Through this network, the neo-casuists will be able to hold sway over the wheels of the Church, influence the choice of candidates for high office, forge alliances which imperil the Church’s very existence.

Towards a religion of compromise?

  1. What is most troubling with regard to the casuists is their disinterest in the truth. In them, we find a relativism, indeed a scepticism, which means that, in terms of morality, one should act in accordance with the most probable standard. One should choose the standard which, in a given circumstance, is regarded as most pleasing to a given person, a given spiritual follower, a given public. This applies to the City as it does to men. Everyone has to make their choice, not in terms of the truth, but in terms of circumstances. The laws of the City also have their origin in circumstances. The best laws are those which please the most and please the greatest number. Hence we are witnessing the expansion of a religion of compromise, indeed individualist utilitarianism, since the concern to please others does not extinguish the concern to please oneself.
  2. In order to please, casuists must be up-to-date with current developments, attentive to things new. The Fathers of the Church of previous generations and the great theologians of the past, even the recent past, are presented as not adapted to the current situation in the Church; they are regarded as outmoded. For the casuists, the Church’s tradition needs, as they would put it, to be filtered and fundamentally called into question. As we are gravely assured by the neo-casuists, we know what the Church should do today to please everyone (cf. Jn 9). The desire to please is aimed at the winners in particular. The new social and political morality should handle such people with care. They have a lifestyle to be protected and even improved; they have to maintain their rank. So much the worse for the poor who do not have the same worldly constraints! Certainly, one must also please the poor, but it must be acknowledged that they are less “interesting” than the people with influence. Not everyone can be a winner!

The morality of the casuists ultimately resembles a gnosis distilled in select circles, a knowledge one might call esoteric, targeted at a minority of people who experience no need to be saved by the Cross of Jesus. Pelagianism has rarely flourished so much.

  1. The traditional morality of the Church has always recognised that there are acts which are objectively wrong. This same moral theology also recognises, and has long done so, the importance of circumstances. This means that, in the assessment of an act, account must be taken of the circumstances in which the act has been committed and the levels of responsibility; this is what the moralists call accountability. The casuists of today proceed in the same way as their founders: they minimise the importance of traditional morality and overemphasise the role of circumstances. Along the way, conscience is led into self-deceit because it allows itself to be distorted by the desire to please.

Hence, one perceives in the media that casuists are frequently transfixed by a world destined to disappear. Too often, they forget that, with Jesus, a new world has already begun. We recall this central point in human history: «The old world has passed, now a new reality is here. » (Ap 21, 5). We turn again to Saint Paul:

« There must be a renewal in the inner life of your minds; you must be clothed in the new self, which is created in God’s image, justified and sanctified through the truth. » (Ep 4, 2-3 s.).

  1. The actions of casuists today affect not only the Church’s moral teaching, but also the entirety of dogmatic theology, in particular the question of the Magisterium. This point is frequently insufficiently emphasised. The unity of the Church is in peril where there are suggestions of biased, at times demagogic, proposals for decentralisation, largely inspired by Lutheran reform. Better to be answerable to the princes of this world than to affirm unity around the Good Shepherd! The sanctity of the Church is in peril where casuists exploit man’s weakness and preach a devotion which is easy and neglectful of the Cross. Catholicity is in peril where the Church ventures onto the path of Babel and undervalues the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the gift of languages. Is it not He, the Spirit, who brings together the diversity of those who share the same faith in Jesus, the son of God? The apostolicity of the Church is in peril where, in the name of exemption, poorly understood, a community, a “party” is exempted from the jurisdiction of the Bishop and considered to be answerable directly to the Pope. Many neo-casuists are exempt. How can it be doubted that this exemption weakens the Episcopal body as a whole?

Bibliographic credits

Cariou, Pierre, Pascal et la casuistique, an essential work, Paris, PUF, Collection Questions, 1993.

Jean-Paul II, Encyclical Veritatis Splendor, Vatican City, 1993.

Nouveau Testament, TOB, several editions.

Pascal, Les Provinciales, edited by Jacques Chevalier, Paris, La Pléiade, 1954.

Pascal, Les Provinciales, edited by Jean Steinmann, Paris, Armand Colin, 1962.

Pascal, Les Provinciales, Preface by Robert Kanters, Lausanne, Ed. Rencontre, 1967.

Wikipedia: excellent articles on Pascal, Casuistry, Provinciales.



The treasure of the Church

The return of casuistry

The government of consciences

To adapt the Sacraments?

The question of «re-marriage»



The party of the casuists

Towards a religion of compromise?

Key words

Elders Abortion Casuist Circumstances City Clericalism Confessor Conscience Discernment “Re-married” divorced persons Dogmatism Equivocation   Euthanasia Exemption Family Malefactor Government Humanisation Intention Languages Light Magisterium Mercy Morality Palliatives Participation Passions Party Please Politics Probabilism Reform Civil religion Revelation Rigorism Sacrament Testimony Tradition Values

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Preview: SSPX’s Bishop Fellay Talks Exclusively to the National Catholic Register


Coming soon in a lengthy exclusive interview with the National Catholic Register, the superior general of the Society of St. Pius X gives an overview of current talks between the Society and the Holy See, his views on Pope Francis, and what he sees as the “catastrophic” state of the Church today. Look out for the full interview soon on

A Call for ‘Ecological Conversion’


VATICAN CITY — In his encyclical Laudato Si, Pope Francis has issued a lengthy warning on the “destruction of the human environment” that draws on theology and “the best scientific research available today” to challenge all people to be better stewards of creation.

The six-chapter, 184-page document, whose subtitle is “The Care for Our Common Home,” also uses environmental concerns to provoke wider discussions on the deeper questions of human existence, as well as the need to safeguard all creation and all people, however poor, small or vulnerable.

“What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” is the question at the heart of a document that the Pope directs at all people, not only Catholics.

The encyclical, which has a chapter dedicated to the “human roots of the ecological crisis,” clearly accepts the science of anthropogenic climate change — the first such papal document to so overtly endorse the science. But at the same time, it says the Church has “no reason to offer a definitive opinion,” knowing that “honest debate must be encouraged among experts, while respecting divergent views.”

The encyclical frequently speaks on behalf of the poor, while often chastising governments for poor governance and businesses for placing “speculation and the pursuit of financial gain” ahead of the common good.

As per tradition, the encyclical takes its title from its opening words — “Laudato si, mi Signore” — (Praise be to you, my Lord). The words come from the canticle of St. Francis of Assisi that “reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us,” the Pope writes.

He then cites further words of his namesake on creation, stressing that “rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.”

The Pope often refers to teachings on the environment from his recent predecessors, as well as Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I. And, throughout, he draws on previous papal and Church documents, as well as the teachings of some of the doctors of the Church: Sts. Thomas Aquinas, Benedict, Thérèse of Lisieux and Bonaventure. The 20th-century theologian Romano Guardini, a favorite of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, is frequently cited, as are statements from various bishops’ conferences.

Rejecting ‘A Throwaway Culture’

Calling on the “whole human family” to seek a sustainable and integral development, the Pope urgently appeals for a “new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet.” In the face of this, Francis criticizes “obstructionist attitudes” and calls for a “new and universal solidarity.”

The encyclical’s first chapter presents the crisis affecting the environment, saying that the Earth “is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth” and that its environmental problems are “closely linked to a throwaway culture.”
Climate change, it goes on to say, is a “global problem with serious implications” that represents “one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.” It notes other factors, such as volcanic activity, variations in the Earth’s orbit and axis and the solar cycle, but adds that “a number of scientific studies” show that “greenhouse gases” are released “mainly as a result of human activity.” This unsettled issue is shaping up as a main criticism by analysts.

“If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us,” the encyclical says, adding that the “worst impact” will probably be felt in developing countries. It goes on to call for the drastic reduction of carbon dioxide and other polluting gases, substituting fossil fuels and developing renewable energy.

It points to the “tragic rise in migrants,” escaping poverty caused by environmental degradation, and tackles shortages and the poor quality of water in many parts of the world, saying it is a “basic and universal human right” and that to deprive the poor of water denies them the “right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity.” The loss of biodiversity and extinction of species are also mentioned.

It speaks of the decline in the quality of human life and the breakdown of society, citing the “unruly growth” of cities, the effects of technological innovations and the omnipresence of the media. The encyclical also focuses on global inequality and calls for a “true ecological approach” to hear both the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.

Lack of Leadership

The encyclical draws attention to “weak responses” and a lack of leadership, noting, “It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been.” It criticizes a “superficial ecology which bolsters complacency and a cheerful recklessness.”

In Paragraph 60, Francis places the Church in between two ideological extremes: those who “doggedly uphold the myth of progress,” thinking that ecological problems will solve themselves, and those who view mankind as “no more than a threat, jeopardizing the global ecosystem.”

Early on, Laudato Si also rejects population control as a means of helping the environment, saying demographic growth is “fully compatible” with an integral and shared development.

“To blame population growth, instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues,” the encyclical says.

The document then draws on the “wisdom of biblical accounts” in relation to the environment and rejects the notion that, having been created in God’s image and given dominion over the Earth, mankind is justified in having “absolute domination over other creatures.” Furthermore, it says that when we see God reflected in all that exists, “our hearts are moved to praise the Lord for all his creatures and to worship him in union with them.”

In a later section, the document criticizes those who show “more zeal” in protecting other species than in defending human dignity or addressing “enormous inequalities in our midst.” Every act of cruelty “towards any creature is contrary to human dignity,” the Pope writes.

The Gaze of Jesus

Under the title “The Gaze of Jesus,” the document notes that Jesus lived in “full harmony with creation” and that the destiny of all creation is “bound up with the mystery of Christ.”

Chapter 3 is given over to what the encyclical calls technocracy — the dominance of technology over everyday life — and economic and political life. The Pope says this is reflected in architecture that “reflects the spirit of an age.”
He argues for a “bold cultural revolution,” in which society needs to slow down and look at reality in a different way.

Also in the chapter, it says modernity has been “marked by an excessive anthropocentricism” that actually obstructs ways of strengthening social bonds. It calls instead for “responsible stewardship” and says failure to acknowledge the worth of “a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities” makes it difficult to recognize that “everything is connected.”

Failure to protect the human embryo, it says, makes it impossible to teach concern for the vulnerable.

The document further decries a culture of relativism that objectifies others, and Francis stresses the need to protect employment, saying it is “essential” to “prioritize the goal of access to steady employment for everyone.”

Laudato Si steps back from issuing a definitive statement on genetic modification, but it does say that a “number of significant difficulties” should not be “underestimated.” It also criticizes those who wish to impose limits on such research, while failing to “apply those same principles” to issues, specifically citing experimentation on human embryos.

Human Ecology

Chapter 4 is given over to “human ecology” and stresses the importance of “relationship between human life and the moral law, which is inscribed in our nature and is necessary for the creation of a more dignified environment.” It says it is “not a healthy attitude” to “cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it.”

“The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home,” it says, “whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation.”

Chapter 5 concerns “lines of approach and action,” in which the Pope proposes dialogue to achieve a “broad consensus” on action. He says there is an “urgent need of a true world political authority” to deal with these global problems and that the environment cannot be “adequately safeguarded or promoted by market forces.”

The final chapter discusses education and spirituality and invites everyone to “ecological conversion” and a “new lifestyle,” even through small actions, such as carpooling and turning off unnecessary lights.

“Obsession with a consumerist lifestyle, above all when few people are capable of maintaining it, can only lead to violence and mutual destruction,” it says. “If we can overcome individualism, we will truly be able to develop a different lifestyle and bring about significant changes in society.”

It also calls for “sobriety and humility.” And towards the end, it says the Eucharist is a “source of light and motivation for our concerns for the environment, directing us to be stewards of all creation.”

Closing Marian Reflection

Ending with a reflection on Mary, the Queen of All Creation, he says that “we can ask her to enable us to look at this world with eyes of wisdom,” as well as implore St. Joseph to “teach us how to show care” for the world.

The Pope ends with two prayers, one from Basil the Great and the other by Pope Francis himself, to close what he calls his lengthy, “joyful and troubling” encyclical.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent

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Vatican to Prosecute Former Nuncio for Sexual Abuse


VATICAN CITY — A former papal nuncio will be tried in Vatican city state for sexual abuse of children and possession of child pornography.

The Vatican announced on June 15 that Polish-born Józef Wesołowski will be tried July 11 by the Vatican’s criminal court, the jury of which will be made up entirely of laypeople. This is the first time an archbishop will have been sent for trial in Vatican city state and subjected to criminal prosecution for child abuse and possession of child pornography.

The first hearing is expected to be held in public, after which the trial will take place behind closed doors in the same courtroom used to try Pope Benedict XVI’s former butler, Paolo Gabriele, who was found guilty of leaking papal documents in 2012.

Wesołowski was stripped of his diplomatic immunity and laicized last June, after the first stage of a canonical trial. Since September, he has been under house arrest, rather than a more restrictive detention, because of health reasons. The former archbishop has appealed against the decision to laicize him.

The Vatican said in a statement that Wesołowski is accused of a number of offenses, “some committed during his stay in Rome from August 2013 until the moment of his arrest, on Sept. 22, 2014.” Other offenses were allegedly committed when he was nuncio to the Dominican Republic and apostolic delegate to Puerto Rico, from 2008 to 2013, the Vatican said.

It added that, with regard to the period spent in Rome, Wesołowski is “charged with the offence of possession of child pornography” under a new law introduced by Pope Francis in 2013. It added that the allegations referring to the preceding period “are based on evidence transmitted by the judicial authorities of Santo Domingo in relation to the sexual abuse of minors.”

The Vatican added that these serious allegations will be carefully investigated, together with civil authorities in the Dominican Republic if necessary.
“This will be a delicate and detailed procedure, requiring the most careful observations and insights from all parties involved in the trial,” the Vatican said.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told journalists June 15 that no request from the Dominican Republic has yet been submitted by Vatican authorities with regard to the case.

St. Paul and Minneapolis Resignations

News of Wesołowski’s forthcoming trial came on the same day that Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis, following accusations of mismanagement of clerical sex-abuse cases. Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piché, who had been investigating allegations of sexual misconduct against Archbishop Nienstedt, also resigned.

The Pope has appointed Newark, N.J., Coadjutor Archbishop Bernard Hebda to serve as the apostolic administrator of the archdiocese until a new residential archbishop is appointed.

Wesołowski’s trial and the U.S. resignations follow Francis’ approval last week of guidelines to make bishops more accountable for sexual abuse in their dioceses, even if the bishops were not directly responsible for the offense.

The new process, originally devised by the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, was also approved by the council of nine cardinals that advises the Holy Father on Curial reform and Church governance.

A Vatican official told the Register June 16 that Wesołowski’s trial is not directly related to last week’s announcement, as the former nuncio is to be tried under Vatican civil law, like any other Vatican citizen.

The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, set up to improve safeguards against abuse, is also not involved in the case, which is ultimately the responsibility of the Congregation for Bishops and the Pope.

The Archbishop Nienstedt case will now be examined by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, although Vatican spokesman Father Lombardi said he did not know if the two former bishops will be judged according to new accountability guidelines.

The resignations in Minnesota come on the heels of the resignation in April of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., Bishop Robert Finn, who in 2012 was convicted for failing to report suspected child abuse in connection with child pornography found on the computer of Father Shawn Ratigan, a priest of the diocese.

Questions About Cardinal Danneels

In the wake of the sexual-abuse-related resignations of Bishop Finn and Archbishop Nienstedt, who were both known for their orthodoxy, some observers are wondering if the Holy See will be equally willing to take action involving bishops known instead for their public variance from Church teaching and whose actions as local bishops regarding sexual abuse are similarly open to question — such as Cardinal Godfried Danneels, the archbishop emeritus of Mechelen-Brussels, Belgium.

Despite evidence showing he personally covered for a former priest who for years had sexually assaulted his own nephew, critics say he has never been held accountable.

In fact, Pope Francis made him a pontifical appointee at last year’s Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family, and he received him in private audience in January of this year.

Cardinal Danneels is well known for dissenting opinions.

In April, two prominent Belgian politicians substantiated long-standing reports that the cardinal tried in 1990 to persuade Belgium’s King Baudouin to sign into law a bill that would have legalized abortion in the predominantly Catholic European nation. Cardinal Danneels reportedly did so because, while he personally opposes abortion, he also interprets the separation of church and state to mean that the Church should have no political power at all.

And with respect to the redefinition of marriage, Cardinal Danneels said in 2013 he thought it was a “positive development” that states are “free to open up civil marriage for gays if they want, but such unions should be given a different name than marriage.”

Meanwhile, in March 2015, the Pope appointed Msgr. Juan Barros bishop of Osorno, Chile, despite accusations that he had protected Father Fernando Karadima, who was found guilty of child abuse in 2011. His installation Mass had to be cut short due to protests. Bishop Barros is also known for his orthodoxy. The Vatican said it had “carefully examined the prelate’s candidature and did not find objective reasons to preclude the appointment.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

Bishops who have resigned or were removed, 2000-2015, for reasons other than age:
Name Diocese Year
Archbishop John Nienstedt St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minn. 2015
Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piché St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minn. 2015
Bishop Robert Finn Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo. 2015
Archbishop Józef Wesołowski Dominican Republic (apostolic nuncio) 2014
*Bishop Rogelio Livieres Plano Ciudad Del Este, Paraguay 2014
Cardinal Keith O’Brien St. Andrews-Edinburgh, Scotland 2013
Bishop Daniel Walsh Santa Rosa, Calif. 2011
Bishop Seamus Hegarty Derry, Ireland 2011
Bishop James Moriarty Kildare and Leighlin, Calif. 2010
Bishop John Magee Cloyne, Ireland 2010
*Bishop Joseph Martino Scranton, Pa. 2009
Auxiliary Bishop Raymond Field Dublin 2009
Auxiliary Bishop Eamonn Walsh Dublin 2009
Bishop Donal Murray Limerick, Ireland 2009
Bishop Raymond Lahey Antigonish, Canada 2009
Bishop Eleuterio Rey Zárate-Campana, Argentina 2006
Bishop Kurt Krenn Sankt Pölten, Austria 2004
Cardinal Bernard Law Boston 2002
Bishop Brendan Comiskey Ferns, Ireland 2002
*Resignation not associated with clergy sex abuse
Source: Register staff
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Medjugorje Decision Will Take ‘Months,’ Says Vatican Spokesman


VATICAN CITY — The Vatican downplayed intense speculation that Pope Francis will decide very soon on “certain doctrinal and disciplinary aspects” of alleged Marian apparitions at Medjugorje, saying it will most probably take months, rather than days or weeks.

In comments to the Register June 11, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said it is “hard to say” when a ruling might be made, but that it’s certainly not likely before the Vatican’s summer break.

He noted that there has not yet been a feria quarta (a monthly meeting of cardinal and bishop members of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) on the subject and that he doubted there would be one before the summer break.

“So if you ask me: days, weeks or months? I think it would be safest to say a few months,” Father Lombardi said, and he warned against feeding expectations that an announcement is “very imminent.

His comments follow the Holy Father’s remarks June 6, in answer to a question from a Bosnian-Croat journalist on the papal plane back from Sarajevo, that a decision could be coming soon.

“We’re at this point of making decisions [and] then they will be announced,” Pope Francis said, but gave no indication of any timeline.

He recalled how, in 2010, Benedict XVI asked the CDF to create a commission, presided by Cardinal Camillo Ruini, emeritus vicar general of the Diocese of Rome, to study the reports surrounding the alleged apparitions. The commission aimed to further investigate “certain doctrinal and disciplinary aspects of the phenomenon of Medjugorje.”

Pope Francis told reporters on the papal plane that the commission “made a study, and Cardinal Ruini came to me and consigned the study to me after many years. I don’t know, three or four years, more or less.

The commission, which the Pope said “did good work,” handed its findings to the CDF in January 2014. The congregation subsequently has been undertaking its own examination before giving its conclusions to the Pope, who will have the final say.

Last Week’s Comments

In his comments last week, Francis revealed that Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the prefect of the CDF, told him that “he would do a feria quarta, in these times.” The Pope said he thought that meeting had been held on the last Wednesday in May but that he was “not sure.” He said a decision could be made soon and that “some guidelines will be given to bishops on the lines they will take.”

In comments to the Register June 11, a Vatican official close to the issue was slightly puzzled by the Pope’s remarks, saying, “There’s no novita [news]” and stressed that the Holy Father was speaking extemporaneously.

“We’re not sure where he’s getting the information from, as we don’t know anything about this decision being imminent,” he said. “His comment may result in expediting a decision, or perhaps be intended to help push things along.”

A few days after making the remark, the Pope cautioned against basing one’s faith solely on predicted visions or anything other than Christ himself.

In a homily during his daily Mass at the Vatican’s St. Martha guesthouse June 9, he cautioned against those who look for God “with these Christian spiritualties that are a little ethereal,” calling them “modern gnostics.”

These “modern gnostics,” Pope Francis said, are tempted to avoid the scandal of the cross and are content to seek God through their “rather ethereal Christian spirituality.”

He also spoke of those who forget they have been anointed and given the guarantee of the Holy Spirit, so they are always searching for some “novelty” in their Christian identity. They ask, the Holy Father said, “Where are the visionaries who can tell us exactly what message Our Lady will be sending at 4 o’clock this afternoon?”

Some who base their faith on such novelties “live from this,” he said, but added that “this isn’t Christian identity. The ultimate word of God is named ‘Jesus.’”

The Alleged Apparitions

The alleged apparitions originally began June 24, 1981, when six children in the town of Medjugorje, located in what is now Bosnia, started to experience phenomena that they have claimed to be apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

According to the four girls and two boys, the apparitions contained a message of peace for the world, a call to conversion, prayer and fasting, as well as certain secrets surrounding events to be fulfilled in the future.

These apparitions are said to have continued almost daily since their first occurrence, with three of the original six children — who are now adults — continuing to receive apparitions every afternoon because, they say, not all of the “secrets” intended for them have been revealed.

Since their beginning, the alleged apparitions have been a source of both controversy and conversion, with many flocking to the city for pilgrimage and prayer. A significant number have claimed to have experienced miracles at the site. Others believe the visions are not credible.

In April 1991, the bishops of the former Yugoslavia determined that “on the basis of the research that has been done, it is not possible to state that there were apparitions or supernatural revelations.”

On the basis of those findings, and because the commission was still in the process of its investigation, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith directed last October that clerics and the faithful “are not permitted to participate in meetings, conferences or public celebrations during which the credibility of such ‘apparitions’ would be taken for granted.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent

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Ukraine to Be Hot Topic of Pope Francis-Vladimir Putin Meeting


Vladimir Putin and Pope Francis greet each other at the Vatican on Nov. 23, 2013.

VATICAN CITY — On Wednesday, for the second time in his pontificate, Pope Francis will receive Russian President Vladimir Putin in private audience, during which the Russian president is expected to explain Moscow’s position on the crisis in Ukraine.

Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov said the Russian leader hopes a “whole range of bilateral ties” will be discussed, as well as “topical international issues,” but, in particular, “the situation in Ukraine, with the focus on interreligious relations and the activity of Ukraine’s Catholics.”

He also said the two leaders are expected to discuss persecuted Christians in the Middle East “and the need to protect their interests,” the Russian news agency TASS reported June 9.

The Pope and Putin last met in November 2013 at the Vatican, during which persecuted Christians also figured high on the agenda; but tensions between the Orthodox Church and the Vatican were avoided, and Ukraine had not at that time become such a focus of tension.

Today’s meeting, reportedly requested by Putin and prepared in secret, was not initially on the Russian president’s itinerary to Italy. But when the Kremlin’s request was received, the Holy See reportedly inserted it into the Pope’s busy agenda without hesitation, according to Vatican Insider.

The Vatican’s readiness to meet the Russian leader is being seen as a sign of the Holy Father’s proactive diplomacy, one that, in the words of Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, aims to “to build bridges in order to promote dialogue and use negotiation as a means to solve conflicts, spread fraternity, fight against poverty and build peace.”

But it also shows the Pope’s determination that Russia not be left out in the cold following its annexation of Crimea last year and military incursions into Ukraine — a common response among many Western nations. He is also no doubt aware that, in the nearly two years since their last meeting, tensions between Russia and the West have markedly increased, and he will probably use this meeting to help ease them.

Putin is expected to convey to the Pope that, contrary to widespread Western public opinion, he is “not an aggressor” — a frequent refrain in a long interview the Russian leader gave to the Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera on Sunday.

He will also be eager to gain the Pope’s favor: His willingness to take the initiative and visit Francis shows he places a high premium on the Pope’s influence on foreign affairs, something he witnessed in 2013, when the Holy Father sent a letter to the G20 summit in St. Petersburg. Many saw this gesture — along with a prayer vigil at the Vatican — as helping to avert military action against Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, which is a strong ally of Russia.

For its part, the Vatican sees Russia as an important bulwark against Islamic fundamentalism, especially in the Middle East. The Pope also sees a common front with the Russian Orthodox Church and what he calls an “ecumenism of blood.” Partly for this reason, the Holy See is unwilling to take sides against Russia on the Ukrainian crisis.


Ukrainian Frustration

But for many Ukrainian Catholics, the sight of Putin meeting the Pope verges on the intolerable. To them, Putin has unmistakably invaded their land (not “fratricide,” as the Pope once called it), and Ukrainian Catholics have faced a barrage of abuse from politically motivated Russian Orthodox Church leaders who see Ukrainian Catholics as too involved in Western policy against Russia.

Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, patriarch of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Kiev, has therefore tried, so far unsuccessfully, to persuade the Holy See to speak out against Putin.

Ukrainian Catholics are particularly frustrated that, according to Archbishop Antonio Mennini, who served eight years as apostolic nuncio to Russia, Francis has never defined Putin as an aggressor. Archbishop Mennini contended at a conference in London last month that this view is similarly held by the majority in the Vatican.

This is why Francis’ international strategy is also viewed across the Atlantic “with a mixture of curiosity, admiration and perplexity,” wrote Holy See foreign-policy expert Massimo Franco in Corriere della Sera.

But Franco, who spoke at the same conference as Archbishop Mennini, explained that the Pope has always maintained a “cautious and autonomous strategy” with Russia, with the “full agreement” of Cardinal Parolin.

The Vatican’s primary concern, Franco stressed, is the unwanted development of a new Cold War between Russia and the United States, as well as one between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, which could become a “religious Cold War.” Like St. John Paul II, Franco wrote, Francis wants Europe to breathe with “two lungs, one East and one West.”


Papal Visit?

Franco suggested “a winning move” for the Vatican would be if Putin would convince Patriarch Hilarion Alfeyev, the Russian Orthodox “foreign minister,” to invite Pope Francis to Moscow — a perennial possibility that the Vatican has long pursued.

“It would stop the drift towards conflict and promote religious reconciliation,” Franco wrote, adding that an opportunity to discuss this may arise when Archbishop Hilarion comes to Rome to meet Cardinal Parolin on June 20, at which time he may also meet Francis.

However, the Kremlin’s Ushakov said June 9 that Putin and the Pope are not likely to discuss a papal visit to Russia, adding that it is a matter of not only state relations, “but also of church.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

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Cardinal Pell’s Lawyer: Peter Saunders’ Allegations ‘Objectively False’


Peter Saunders, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, criticizes Cardinal George Pell on Australian television.

VATICAN CITY — A lawyer representing Cardinal George Pell has asked Peter Saunders, a sexual-abuse survivor and member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, to correct “false allegations” he has made against the cardinal and withdraw them.

The move is just the latest development in a strange dispute that has left Vatican officials confounded and unsure of what to do next. The cardinal’s position, however, is not thought to be at risk.

In a June 8 letter to Saunders, attorney Richard Leder said the strong criticisms Saunders made against the cardinal on the Australian Channel Nine program 60 Minutes last month were “either uninformed as to the relevant history or were deliberately selective.”

In his comments on the program, Saunders claimed the cardinal had a “catalogue of denigrating people, of acting with callousness, coldheartedness.” He said such “lack of care” was “almost sociopathic.”

“I think he is somebody who, understandably, victim survivors will have a huge, huge issue with,” he added. “In all the interviews, in all I’ve read, in all I’ve heard, I have seen not a shred of evidence that George Pell has any sympathy, empathy or any kind of understanding or concern for victims and survivors of these crimes.”

Leder wrote that the cardinal, who is prefect of the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy, is concerned that Saunders had utilized the authority of the Pontifical Commission and the Holy See “in a wholly misleading manner.”

“This is confirmed by the many media reports that suggest you made the comments in an official capacity. The cardinal is concerned that you allowed this to occur,” the letter says.

“As you know, over the past two years, the cardinal has given evidence twice before the Royal Commission and once before the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry,” Leder continued, referencing governmental inquiries into clergy sexual-abuse allegations in Australia. “He has refuted on oath the various allegations which you chose to repeat on 60 Minutes. In the light of those appearances, your comments were either uninformed as to the relevant history or were deliberately selective.”

The letter says Saunders’ allegations “are objectively false.” It then highlights the “Melbourne Response,” which Cardinal Pell pioneered. The initiative has “provided compensation and made available ongoing counseling for hundreds of victims and their families,” the letter stated. “His compassion for victims is expressed in concrete, practical help — hardly the actions of one you choose to brand as ‘sociopathic.’”

Following the airing of the 60 Minutes program, Cardinal Pell’s office swiftly issued a statement June 1, saying Saunders’ “false and misleading” claims were “outrageous.” It pointed out that the cardinal “has never met” Saunders, who “seems to have formed his strong opinions without ever having spoken to His Eminence.”

In light of “all of the available material, including evidence from the cardinal under oath, there is no excuse for broadcasting incorrect and prejudicial material,” it said, and, therefore, the cardinal had “no alternative” but to consult his lawyers.

The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors did not respond to a Register request for comment.

In his June 8 letter to Saunders, Leder stated that the cardinal is “concerned that you knew, or should have known at the time, that each of those matters was factually wrong, and before speaking, you should have made proper inquiries to ensure your opinions were based on reliable information.”

“The cardinal invites you to correct the public record and withdraw these false allegations,” the letter concluded.


Saunders’ Response

In June 9 comments to the Register, Saunders said he had received the lawyer’s letter and that, until he had taken legal advice and responded, he would decline to answer questions sent to him by the Register.

“Let us let the Royal Commission take its course,” said Saunders, founder of the United Kingdom’s National Association for People Abused in Childhood. “I am only interested in supporting the victims of these vile crimes and the protection of our children today.” He also said he is “deeply committed to Pope Francis’ initiative in setting up the pontifical commission.” But he added: “I stress again I was not speaking on behalf of the commission when I spoke to 60 Minutes.”

The Vatican has backed the cardinal, asserting his statement against the allegations was “worthy of respect and attention” and that Saunders’ words were “entirely personal” and not made on behalf of the commission. The pontifical commission itself stressed that it has “no jurisdiction” to comment on individual cases or inquiries and remains “dedicated to its mission.”

A group of Australian bishops have also emphasized Cardinal Pell’s record of leadership against clergy sex abuse following the critical news broadcast.

“He is a man of integrity who is committed to the truth and to helping others, particularly those who have been hurt or who are struggling,” seven bishops said of the cardinal in a June 3 statement.


The Allegations

At the center of the dispute are allegations, repeated by the 60 Minutes episode, that Cardinal Pell, then a parish priest in the Diocese of Ballarat, attempted to bribe David Ridsdale to keep quiet about the molestation he had suffered from his uncle, Gerald Ridsdale. The former priest is in prison for committing more than 130 offenses against children, some as young as 4, between the 1960s and 1980s.

Cardinal Pell vehemently denies the bribery claims, and Ridsdale has allegedly changed his story several times, at one time claiming then-Father Pell tried to bribe him and then saying he offered him nothing financial.

Despite the Royal Commission not being able to summon a person living overseas to testify, Cardinal Pell has nevertheless volunteered to fly back to Australia to give evidence about the case, even though he has already given much evidence under oath. He said in a statement he was “extremely sympathetic” to Ridsdale, was committed to complete cooperation with the commission and was “horrified once again” by survivors’ accounts of abuse.

The cardinal also said he would never have condoned or participated in any decision to move the priest in the knowledge he had abused children.

“The suicide of so many victims is an enormous tragedy,” he said. “The crimes committed against them by priests and brothers are profoundly evil and completely repugnant to me.”


Why Was the Cardinal Targeted?

The impromptu and highly contested allegations have led some to speculate other issues are in play in the attacks on the cardinal. For its part, the Australian 60 Minutes doubled down on its criticism of Cardinal Pell by airing a second episode June 7 that opened with a claim by journalist Tara Brown that “the Catholic Church in Australia stands in crisis” because “the men who lead it have put themselves on a collision course with the victims of child sexual abuse by expressing their unfailing support for George Pell.”

Andrew Rabel, an Australian Catholic journalist for Inside the Vatican and other journals, believes Saunders is being used as a tool and “possibly doesn’t realize it.”

Rabel pointed out that Cardinal Pell, then a young priest in Ballarat, was not as involved in parish life as many other diocesan clergy, as he was serving as rector of a Catholic teachers’ college and editor of the diocesan newspaper.

“He would have had as much knowledge of this issue as anyone else, which wasn’t much at all, in an era when subjects like priestly abuse were pretty much under wraps,” Rabel said.

He added that it is “unfair” there is so much attention on the cardinal when the real responsibility lies with the bishops of that time. He also blames the media, which, he said, is “not providing fair coverage of the situation and is incredibly biased.” They and the cardinal’s critics fail to give Pell even the “slightest credit for what he has done when compared to others,” he said.

Rabel said the cardinal has done “more than anyone else in Australia to lead a Catholic revival in the country,” and he stressed that, with the Melbourne Response, he was the first Australian bishop to pioneer the country’s first compensation scheme for abuse victims.

Knowing Saunders’ commitment for cracking down on molestation as a sexual-abuse survivor, Rabel blames the television show for taking advantage of that zeal, probably to boost ratings. He believes the show exploited Saunders both for its own ends and possibly also to further an agenda.

That agenda, he added, is likely related to the recent referendum in Ireland approving same-sex “marriage” and a strong push in Australia currently taking place on the same issue.

Some also speculate it is part of a ploy to discredit the cardinal, one of the most senior Vatican officials to firmly uphold traditional Catholic moral teaching, ahead of the next synod on the family this fall.


‘Massive Embarrassment’

A Vatican source, speaking to the Register on condition of anonymity, said the episode is a “massive embarrassment” to the pontifical commission and suggested that Saunders, like many who suffer sexual abuse, might sometimes “lose perspective” about abuse allegations.

The Vatican source believes that media critics have impugned the cardinal in an indirect attack on the Pope, possibly in an attempt to weaken the thrust of Curial reform.

But he stressed that Cardinal Pell’s standing with Pope Francis is “not in any way affected” by the accusations.

“If Saunders thinks he can drive a cardinal out of office, he must be dreaming,” he said, adding that the Pope knows very well what it is like to be the victim of a slur. “What would the cardinal be thrown out for? For something he allegedly said years ago and which he firmly denies?”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

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Cardinal Müller Warns Against Adapting the Church to Today’s Often Pagan Lifestyles



Cardinal Gerhard Müller

Cardinal Gerhard Müller has spoken out firmly against trying to adapt the Church’s teaching to today’s often pagan lifestyles, saying such an approach introduces subjectivism and arbitrariness.

In an interview with the Catholic newspaper Die Tagespost on June 6th, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith warned that placing “any so-called lived realities” on the same level as scripture and tradition is “nothing more than the introduction of subjectivism and arbitrariness, wrapped up in sentimental and smug religious terminology.”

The cardinal’s comments have been widely seen as a criticism of a recent “shadow council” when bishops and experts from Germany, France and Switzerland met May 25th in Rome to discuss how the Church could adapt its pastoral approach to today’s current lived experiences, especially regarding sexual ethics.

Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabrück, a participant at the meeting and one of the German episcopate’s representatives at the upcoming Synod on the Family, has gone on record saying that the “lived realities” of people should be a source of information for dogmatic and moral truths, the Austrian site reported.

But Cardinal Müller stressed that these “lived realities” can sometimes be very pagan and that the faith cannot be the result of a compromise between acceptable Christian ideas, abstract principles and the practice of a pagan lifestyle. He added that Rome will strengthen bishops’ freedom and responsibility, but this will be threatened by “nostalgias for national churches and by the haggling over social acceptance.”

The German cardinal also said that the Pope invited each bishop to the October synod as a “witness and teacher of the revealed faith.”

Referring to the recent controversial closed-door meeting in Rome, Cardinal Müller said it is right to exchange information on any point or major issue. But he added that one cannot organize the truth. If this principle were to be adopted and taken as true by the Church, leading her to take her cue from public opinion, then the Church would be “shaken to her foundations,” he said.

The Catholic Church is mother and teacher of all churches, he said, one that teaches and is not taught. “She does not need anybody – as superior and as adapted to our times he might think he is – to teach her a notion of the right faith, because in her, the apostolic tradition has been faithfully safeguarded and always will be preserved.”

Bishop Koch appointed

On Monday, Pope Francis appointed Bishop Heiner Koch of Dresden-Meißen as the new Archbishop of Berlin.

Bishop Koch was also present at the May 25th meeting and will be one of the three German bishops to attend the October synod. He is currently chairman of the bishops’ marriage and family commission and known to strongly support the Cardinal Kasper thesis on admitting some remarried divorcees to Holy Communion.

Bishop Koch, 61, is also a proponent of Church recognition of same-sex unions. He has said that “any bond that strengthens and holds people, is in my eyes good; that applies also to same-sex relationships.”

In an interview earlier this year with a local German newspaper, the prelate said that to “portray homosexuality as a sin is hurtful” and that the Church “needs a different language when it comes to homosexuals.”

“I know gay couples who value ​​reliability and commitment and live these in an exemplary manner,” he said.

Since the 1950s, all archbishops of Berlin have gone on to become a cardinal. The archdiocese is likely to grow in prominence in the coming years as the bishops’ conference is understood to want to move its headquarters from Bonn, the former West German capital, to Berlin.

The Pope appointed Bishop Koch archbishop following his election last week by the Berlin archdiocese.

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Pope Will Go to Sarajevo as ‘Messenger of Peace’ 



Sacred Heart of Jesus statue adorns Cathedral of Jesus’ Heart in Sarajevo.

VATICAN CITY — Peace and reconciliation will be the central focus of Pope Francis’ intense 11-hour trip on Saturday to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In a video message to the people of the city released Tuesday, the Holy Father said he was preparing to visit the central-European country as a “fellow messenger of peace.”

“With the help of God, I come among you to confirm the faith of Catholics, to support ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, and especially to encourage peaceful coexistence in your country,” he said.

The country is still recovering from a devastating three-year war in the 1990s that followed the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.

Sandwiched between Croatia and Serbia, the nation has a population of 4 million people, with a rich ethnic and interreligious heritage, roughly evenly split between Christians and Muslims. Ethnically, most of the population is made up of Muslim Bosniaks, followed by Serbs, who make up 37% of the populace and are mostly Orthodox, and 14% who are Croats and are largely Catholics. Protestants and Bosnian Jews round out the rest of the country’s makeup.

During the 1992-1995 war, Bosnian Serbs began a policy of “ethnic cleansing” in large areas of the country inhabited by non-Serbs, Muslims and Croats, as well as Serbs who opposed their army. Around 2 million people fled their homes during the war.

After the Dayton Peace Accords were signed in 1995, a Bosniak-Croat Federation and a separate Bosnian Serb Republic were established, under a central government with a rotating presidency. NATO forces, followed by a European Union-led peacekeeping force, helped to preserve the agreement.


‘Peace Be With You’

The motto of the Pope’s visit is “Peace Be With you” — the words of the risen Lord when he greeted his disciples in the Upper Room. “It is he, the Lord, our strength and our hope, who gives us his peace, that we might welcome it into our hearts and spread it with joy and with love,” the Pope said in his video message.

The Pope said he will come not only as a messenger of peace, but also to express his “respect and friendship” to the people Sarajevo and convey to every citizen “the mercy, tenderness and love of God.” He also encouraged Catholics to be “witnesses to their fellow citizens of the faith and love of God, working for a society that makes ways towards peace in brotherhood and in mutual cooperation.”

Last year, Cardinal Vinko Puljić of the Vrhbosna Diocese in Sarajevo said Catholics act as “catalysts” for easing tensions between the country’s Christian and Muslim populations. “We want to create tranquility” and “a climate of dialogue,” he told CNA. This is in the face of Catholics being in a “grave position,” as they suffer from inequality.

Pope Francis will be welcomed at 9am local time on Saturday by Bosnian-Croat President Dragan Čović, one of the country’s three presidents, each representing Bosnia’s ethnic groups.

Čović will accompany Francis to the presidential palace for a private meeting, after which the Holy Father will deliver an address to the civil authorities and diplomatic corps before travelling to the city’s Olympic stadium to celebrate Mass.


Mass in a Snowstorm in 1997

More than 50,000 faithful from Bosnia-Herzegovina and surrounding countries have so far registered to attend the Mass. The venue, Kosevo Stadium, is reported to be able to accommodate up to 70,000 people. Pope St. John Paul II famously celebrated Mass in a snowstorm there during a visit to the war-ravaged city in April 1997. The venue was also the site of the 1984 Olympic Games.

After a private lunch with the six bishops of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Pope will meet with local priests, religious and seminarians at the local cathedral. The Holy Father is expected to spend time in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and listen to three vocation testimonies from a priest, a religious sister and a friar. Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told reporters last week that he expects the testimonies to be “very powerful, intense and dramatic.”

Francis will then be driven to a nearby Franciscan student center for an ecumenical and interfaith encounter with leaders of the local Muslim, Jewish and Orthodox communities.

Before leaving for Rome, the Holy Father will visit a youth center dedicated to Pope St. John Paul II, where he will listen to the many challenges facing young people in a country suffering from one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe. The papal plane is scheduled to leave Sarajevo at 8pm and arrive back in Rome at around 9:20 on Saturday evening.


Marian Shrine Not on Itinerary

Although Medjugorje is just a 15-minute helicopter flight away, a short excursion to the pilgrimage site is not on the itinerary, nor is it likely to be even mentioned. Cardinal Puljic told reporters last month that the Pope’s visit has nothing to do with the Marian shrine.

The results of a commission of investigation into Medjugorje are currently being studied by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which will then be forwarded to the Pope.

Father Lombardi said last week that he didn’t expect the Pope to make any references to Medjugorje, but added that Francis is “free to talk about what he wants.”

Instead, the papal spokesman said interreligious dialogue “will be a central aspect of the visit.”

Two Curial cardinals will be accompanying the Pope: French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and the Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

Father Lombardi said the Pope will probably give a short airborne press conference on the way back to Rome, but as it’s a short flight, the conversation “will be brief.”

Security is also expected to be tight for the visit, although Cardinal Puljic downplayed concerns, saying there is “no reason to be afraid.”

In his video message, the Pope asked for prayers for the visit, so it “may produce the desired fruits for the Christian community and the entire society.”


Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent

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