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Germany’s Nuncio Reminds Bishops of Pope Francis’s Warning

Archbishop Nikola Eterović intervened on controversial plans for a ‘synodal path’

Interesting times just got more interesting, as the Fall plenary of the German bishops’ conference opened in Fulda, Germany, with a message from the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Nikola Eterović, which did not mince words when it came to the German bishops’ controversial plans for a “binding synodal path”, on which they are scheduled to vote this week.

The plans are controversial because they deliberately seek to put settled matters of doctrine on the table for discussion and a “binding” vote, and to address disciplinary issues directly involving the good of the whole Church in a way Vatican officials fear would sidestep the Roman oversight necessary to preserve order in the Church throughout the world.

Vatican officials have expressed the opinion that the mechanics of the German operation as currently planned are basically unsound from an ecclesiological point-of-view and afoul of Church law. They have urged the German bishops to review both the scope and the methods of their designs for a binding synodal path.

Recalling Pope Francis’s letter of June 29th to the people of God in Germany, Archbishop Eterović reminded the German bishops that the last time a reigning pontiff took it upon himself to write to the German people, it was Pius XI with his 1937 encyclical letter, Mit brennender sorge, on the Church and the German Reich, in which the pope decried the encroachments of National Socialism on the rights of the Church and the disorder the Nazi regime introduced to national affairs more generally.

“The letter of the Holy Father deserves special attention,” said Archbishop Eterovic. “It is indeed the first time since the encyclical of Pius XI, Mit brennender sorge, that the Pope dedicates a separate letter to the members of the Catholic Church in Germany,” he went on to say. “The difference between the two documents is great,” the nuncio explained, “because the encyclical of 14 March 1937 denounces the inadmissible interventions by the National Socialist regime in the affairs of the Catholic Church, while the current letter takes up issues proper to the Church.”

“We thank God that the relations between the Church and the Federal Republic of Germany are very good,” Archbishop Eterović said, “and therefore no intervention by the Holy See is necessary.” That is about as stark an admission of serious dysfunction and as blunt a warning as one will find in any dialect of curialese. That Francis felt the need to write and send the letter in the first place establishes the gravity of the situation. That the nuncio had to remind the bishops of the historical precedent for such an intervention at three months’ remove establishes the persistence of the crisis.

Archbishop Eterović repeated Pope Francis’s line to the effect that a synod — whatever it is — “is not a parliament,” and matters belonging to the common patrimony of the faith are not ever up for grabs, nor are matters touching the common weal of the Christian faithful subject to particular discussions apt to produce any sort of separate peace.

The apostolic nuncio invoked the memory of the Protestant theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whom the Nazis executed for his participation in the resistance against their evil regime. Bonhoeffer described attempts to negotiate solutions to the problems that inevitably arise from time to time when Christians live in the world without becoming conformed to it as “cheap grace”. Noting that Francis sees the current crisis in society as a call and opportunity for evangelisation, Eterović said, “[T]he evangelization demanded at this time cannot be reduced to what Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls ‘cheap grace’, but, in order to remain in [Christ’s] words, to which [Bonhoeffer] has attested by his heroic testimony, we must search for the ‘costly grace’.”

Eterović recalled one of Bonhoeffer’s enlargements upon the notion. “For example,” Eterović offered, “in 1937 Bonhoeffer wrote: ‘Cheap grace is the mortal enemy of our Church. Our struggle today is over expensive grace’.”

In short: the threat to the Church in Germany in 2019 comes from within.

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How the Laity Can Help Reform the Church

Pope Francis, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops, and Cardinal Kevin Farrell, head of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life, as he speaks at a pre-synod gathering of youth delegates in Rome (CNS photo / Paul Haring)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously said that God granted American Christianity no Reformation. It’s also true that God granted America no Counter-Reformation. But with the latest phase of the abuse crisis in this country, that might be changing. The depth and magnitude of this crisis—as well as its distinctive combination of clerical corruption and theological division— make it worse than any crisis since the one that rocked the church five centuries ago. The current crisis may not lead to a formal division of the Church the way the Reformation did, but it could well lead to a long period of undeclared schism.

As in the sixteenth century, the question is not whether the Catholic Church will survive this age of scandal, but what form the church will survive in. The abuse crisis is clearly no longer just a scandal, or even a series of scandals. It is, at least in the United States, a revolution in the church that could lead either to reform, or to the moral and cultural marginalization of Catholicism…

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Julie Hanlon Rubio  | 

From both the right and the left, commentators are mourning the lost opportunity of Amoris Laetitia, claiming that it adds little to the conversation that we did not already know. While it does not meet the expectations of either group, it articulates a theology of marriage for a world longing for love yet suspicious of traditional claims about marriage.

For those on the right, Pope Francis says far too little about the normativity of the two-parent heterosexual family, the threat of same-sex marriage, the immorality of contraception, and the unacceptability of second marriage. Groups of traditionalists lobbied the pope during the synods of 2014 and 2015, asking for clarity.

According to New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, the pope did not contradict doctrine, but in proposing official teachings with a “lack of confidence,” “in tones laced with self-effacement, self-critique,” he has brokered a truce but left the church weaker.

Some on the left criticize the document for its limited, exclusive vision of love. According to feminist theologian Mary Hunt, writing for Religion Dispatches, “There is only one ideal — heteronormative uncontracepted sex in monogamous marriage — in relation to which everything else is derivative, lesser, lacking, and/or forbidden.”

The exclusion of same-sex couples and judgment against contraception, while not surprising and only briefly discussed, are disappointing. Many hoped that a pope who has sounded a different tone about these issues would at least move in a better direction in this letter. He does not.

Yet, the decentering of sexual ethics that has marked this papacy remains in force. While progressive Catholics will rightly continue to insist on greater inclusion and rethinking on both issues, it is important to notice what is not in the document.

Unlike in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 2010 pastoral letter, “Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan,” we do not see same-sex marriage identified as a threat to marriage. Whereas the U.S. bishops have made fighting against same-sex marriage the central plank of their defense of marriage, Francis has other concerns.

Unlike in Pope John Paul II’s 1981 post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Familiaris Consortio, Francis’ Amoris Laetitia does not say that those who use contraception “degrade” and “manipulate” human sexuality, themselves and their partners. Natural family planning is not presented as an essential to Christian marriage.

The central concern of Amoris Laetitia is providing a credible theology of marriage. Before the world’s bishops gathered at the 2014 and 2015 synods on the family, they learned from surveys given to lay Catholics that, for many, the teachings on marriage and family were obscure and unconvincing.

With a humility that is uncommon in papal documents, Francis acknowledges the church’s failure to communicate, saying, “At times we have also proposed a far too abstract and almost artificial theological ideal of marriage, far removed from the concrete situations and practical possibilities of real families. This excessive idealization, especially when we have failed to inspire trust in God’s grace, has not helped to make marriage more desirable and attractive, but quite the opposite.”

Instead, Francis says, he wants to offer a vision of marriage “as a dynamic path to personal development and fulfillment.” He seeks to follow Jesus in offering a “demanding ideal” with sensitivity to the “frailty” of human beings.

While juxtaposing the Christian ideal to certain problematic cultural currents, the pope avoids simplistic generalizations about individualism and consumerism. Still, he worries about a “culture of the ephemeral” in which people move from relationship to relationship, fearing long-term commitment that will necessarily limit their choices. He associates the drive for independence with a difficulty in sustaining community that ultimately leaves many people lonely.

Francis is also aware that economic forces make marriage more difficult to choose, both for the poor, who “lack possibilities for a future,” and for the privileged, who have too many other options. The same forces make marriage more difficult to sustain. He expresses particular concern for families destabilized or torn apart by migration and for those living in extreme poverty.

After describing the many different challenges families face, the pope concludes by saying, “There is no stereotype of the ideal family, but rather a challenging mosaic made up of many different realities, with all their joys, hopes and problems.”

It is from the ground of the diverse experiences of families that the pope seeks to reformulate the Catholic vision.

In the portions of the document that are uniquely his, Francis seeks to communicate the beauty of lifelong marriage. Very close to the surface of the document is an acute awareness of just how suspicious many are of this ideal.

Central to his vision is fidelity, which is grounded in “the experience of belonging completely to another person” and the challenge of “supporting one another, growing old together.” Though seemingly at odds with passionate love, Francis argues that love itself demands fidelity.

There is no naïve romanticism of “the one,” no sense that one person completes me or makes me whole.

The pope insists that each person retains his or her own autonomy and does not see the other as “his or her own.” He quotes German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who argues that each spouse must be realistic about what the other person can give, not “expecting from that person something which is proper to the love of God alone,” the pope says.

No, A Christian Cannot Recognize Muhammad as a Prophet

Posted January 29, 2016

Islam has an ally in the Roman Catholic Church. Allah, the god of Islam, is the same as Jehovah, the God of the Bible, according to Pope Francis. Wheaton College Professor Larycia Hawkins appealed to Pope Francis when she donned a Hijab to show “support” for Muslims and asserted that the god of Islam and the God of Christianity are one and the same (my response). Now Craig Considine, a Roman Catholic Sociologist, argues that Christians can recognize Muhammad as a legitimate prophet of God—similar in status if not quite equal in status with Jesus in this article.

Considine attempts to justify his recognition of Muhammad as a true prophet by defining a prophet as “a messenger of a Higher Power who works on earth to bring justice and peace to humanity.” As a Roman Catholic Considine it is not surprising that he does not appeal to scripture to support this definition of a prophet, but it would have been helpful if he would have provided at least some explanation of how he arrived at this definition. Even if we do not appeal to scripture, Considine’s definition of a prophet proves to be untenable. The assumption seems to be that anyone who seeks “to bring justice and peace to humanity” is a messenger from a “Higher Power,” that is, a prophet. What if a member of the occult becomes a humanitarian leader? Would Considine be willing to recognize a devil worshipper as a prophet? Probably not. Clearly Considine’s definition of a prophet is too broad.[1]

But the basic problem with Considine’s argument is not his definition of what a prophet is. His basic problem is that he is not a Christian. Considine anticipates that his recognition of Muhammad as a prophet  might cause people “to question my credibility as a self-professed Christian.” He explains, “People might say, ‘Jesus is the only way. You’ve turned your back on God. You’re no longer Christian.’” It does seem that Considine is indeed contradicting John 14:6 by teaching that Muhammad offers a way to God in addition to Jesus. However, Considine more clearly demonstrates that his claim to be a Christian is false in statements that do not have to do with how he views Muhammad.

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September 22, 2015

Today, Pope Francis will arrive from Cuba for his first visit to the United States. The head of the Catholic Church, Francis is the spiritual leader to more than one billion people around the globe and one of the most influential people on the planet. But why should evangelicals know basic facts about the pontiff? As Chris Castaldo has said, “whether we like it or not, the pope is, in a certain (global) sense, the single most significant Christian voice in the world.” (UPDATE: Please see the addendum at the end of this article.)

Here are nine things you should know about Pope Francis:

1. Francis was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1936 to an Italian immigrant father and a mother of Italian decent. He is the first pope from South America, and the first pope born outside Europe since Gregory III, who was born in modern-day Syria and elected in 731.

2. Francis studied philosophy at the Catholic University of Buenos Aires and also has a master’s degree in Chemistry from the University of Buenos Aires. He worked as a teacher of literature, psychology, philosophy, and theology before becoming the Archbishop of Buenos Aires.

3. Francis was ordained a Jesuit priest on Dec. 13, 1969, and is the first Jesuit pope. A Jesuit is a member of the Society of Jesus, a Catholic religious order founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola.

4. Francis served as Archbishop of Buenos Aires from 1998 to 2013. He developed a reputation for eschewing luxury as an example to others and to show solidarity with the poor. For example, instead of wearing the extravagant robes of his position, he would wear the more humble robes of a simple priest. He also used public transportation for local travel and lived in a small flat with an older priest rather than in the archbishop’s palace. Despite having access to a personal chef he also would make his own meals himself.

5. When he was elected to the papacy on March 13, 2013, Bergoglio took the name Francis after St. Francis of Assisi, “the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation,” the same created world “with which we don’t have such a good relationship.” No other pope has chosen the name Francis. (See also: 9 Things You Should Know About the Papacy)

6. In June 2015, Francis released Laudato Si’ a controversial encyclical on the environment that was directed to “every person living on the planet.” The goal and purpose of the document was “for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation that includes everyone, since the environment challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.” (You can find my section-by-section summary of the entire encyclical here.)

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 |  NCR Today

It is hard to imagine a more perfect contemporary personification of human evil than the Italian mafia Camorra scattering carcinogenic trash throughout Naples or the ‘Ndrangheta, whose high-placed and diversified criminal activities did not put it above assassinating a 3-year-old in January.

This weekend, Pope Francis found a gesture to rival these mafia organizations’ power, declaring them excommunicated. His prophetic action set off a range of speculations.

Some fear the pope has placed himself in danger. Similar worries began circulating last year, when Calabrian state prosecutor Nicola Gratteri warned that “if the godfathers can find a way to stop” the pope from condemning corruption and reforming Vatican finances, “they will seriously consider it.” At that time, mafia expert John Dickie was more skeptical: “Even a rudimentary projection of the likely consequences of a hit on the head of the Catholic Church,” he said, “would show it to be catastrophic” to the mafia itself.

The excommunication has revived these rumors while also casting light on an equally surprising but underreported statement Francis made two weeks ago, expressing sympathy for “poor Pius XII.” Some believe Pius said little during the Holocaust because he didn’t want to draw Nazi attention to the many Italian Catholics sheltering Jews; others believe his silence had more to do with cowardice or indifference. Significantly, we now know that Francis’s personal sympathy for Pius cannot be construed as a broad endorsement of the strategy of tactful silence in the face of enormous evil.

Yet the Pius debate raises a second question: not whether Francis has made himself more vulnerable, but whether he has placed ordinary Italian Catholics in harm’s way. In 1993, after John Paul II warned that the Sicilian mafia would “face the judgment of God,” the Casa Nostra bombed the Roman churches of St. John Lateran and San Giorgio in Velabro, perhaps in retaliation. More recently, violence convulsed Iraq and Palestine and a nun was assassinated in Somalia following Pope Benedict XVI’s controversial and misunderstood remarks about Islam in 2006.

Take a sneak peak at our Global Faith special section. This content is only available in the print newspaper and Kindle edition, so subscribe today!

Could Francis’ decision create new martyrs? Already, Nazi-era Christian prophets like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Bernhard Lichtenberg, Clemens August von Galen, and Franz Jägerstätter have found their counterparts in murdered mafia opponents like Giuseppe Diana and the recently beatified Pino Puglisi.

To ask the question is certainly not to judge the pope’s character.

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July 2020


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