After new appointments, will Pope Francis' stalled curial reform start moving?

Vatican City, Jul 11, 2018 / 01:15 pm (CNA).- A long-time priority of Pope Francis, curial reform – specifically the overhaul of Vatican finances and communications – has been hanging by a thread for the past few years, and some wonder about the pope’s ability to make any meaningful or lasting changes in the Vatican’s way of doing business.

Observers seem to be underwhelmed at the progress Francis has made on major governance issues, among them financial oversight and sexual abuse policy. Some insiders have noted a palpable sense of confusion about what the pope's reforms are meant to be, and where exactly they are going.

Since June 2017, the man tasked with leading the Vatican's financial reform, Australian Cardinal George Pell, has been on leave, and is now preparing to face a historic trial for accusations of sexual abuse in his homeland. Some observers have argued that even when Pell was working at full-strength, the financial oversight structures Francis put into place were so tangled by internal power grabs that pursuing meaningful progress had become a delayed goal.

The pope's communications overhaul seemed to be in shambles after the man charged with overseeing the process, Msgr. Dario Edoardo Vigano, stepped down amid the fallout of March’s “Lettergate” fiasco.

In recent months Francis has also come under fire for inaction on the topic of clerical sexual abuse, specifically in Chile.

Accused of insulting victims and ignoring their complaints, the pope had a major turnaround on the situation in Chile after receiving fresh evidence against a leading abuser priest in the country and launching an investigation which yielded findings frightening enough to make the pope stop dead in his tracks and speed into reverse.

But one of Pope Francis' closest aides over the past five years, newly-minted Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, who is leaving the Secretariat of State for a new position as head of the Vatican's office for canonizations, said recently that the pope's reform still lacks an overall vision.

In comments to the press ahead of the June 28 ceremony in which he was given his red biretta, Becciu said that while many steps had been taken, it is still “too early” to give a comprehensive judgment on the Curial reform, since it is not yet finished.

An overall unifying vision is still missing, he said, explaining that “so far we've had elements, but not a unified idea.” This vision, he said, will likely be provided in the new apostolic constitution drafted by the pope's nine cardinal advisors, called “Predicate Evangelium,” or “Preach the Gospel,” which has reportedly been completed and is now awaiting approval from Pope Francis.

A gloomy-seeming outlook for curial reform is often pinned on poor personnel decision-making at the Vatican. But two recent appointments to major posts could mark a turning point for Francis, and provide a much-needed morale boost for Catholics looking for the pope to clean house in Vatican offices.

The first of these is the appointment of a close Francis ally, Archbishop Nunzio Galantino, to take the reigns at the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See (APSA), which oversees the Vatican's real estate holdings and investments.

During pre-conclave meetings in 2013, APSA was a key point in discussions on curial reform, as many cardinals recognized it had been being plagued by corruption and was in serious need of greater oversight.

Until Galantino's June 26 appointment, APSA was led by Cardinal Domenico Calcagno, who has been accused of corruption and was, at one point, under investigation for charges of embezzlement in a previous diocese.

It took Francis more than five years to take action on APSA, which has been a sore spot for many who were hoping to see the pope crack down on financial issues. In a recent interview with Reuters the pope admitted that “there is no transparency” at APSA.

“We have to move ahead on transparency, and that depends on APSA,” he said in the interview. Many Vatican watchers are hopeful that Galantino will be able to bring in the accountability and oversight the office has typically resisted.

The second important personnel change is the appointment of Italian layman Paolo Ruffini as head of the Vatican's communications office, making him the first layperson to lead a Vatican department, also called a dicastery.

Though Ruffini's nomination was highly celebrated among Italians, who are pleased to have one of their own moving to such an important post, the new prefect is also seen as highly competent, bringing with him professional experience in journalism dating back to 1979.

Until his appointment Ruffini worked as the director of TV2000, the network of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, and he brings with him extensive experience in television, radio, and print, making him a choice perceived as a competent, well-rounded pick for the job.

Ruffini is considered to be in line with key priorities of the current pontificate, and his appointment can be read as follow-through on Pope Francis' commitment to eradicate a clericalist mentality in the curia and to add more laypeople to the mix.

Despite the fact that Msgr. Dario Vigano, who headed the office until the “Lettergate” scandal, is expected to stay in the dicastery in the advisory role the pope gave him, observers are hopeful that at least some of the pope's stubbornness in decision-making is gone, and that the days of poor personnel choices will be a thing of the past.

And with several decisions made that seem to indicate reform is moving in the right – or at least a better – direction when it seemed to be on the brink of failure, a natural question comes to mind: what changed?

Some believe the turning point was the pope's reaction to the Chilean abuse crisis. After initially defending the bishop at the center of the debate, calling accusations of cover-up on the part of the bishop “calumny” and claiming that no evidence of the prelate's guilt had been brought forward, Francis had a major turnaround when news came out that evidence had been presented years prior which he either never got, or potentially ignored.

It was a serious blow to Francis' credibility in the fight against sex-abuse in the Church, and to his public image. Soon after he sent his top investigator on abuse to Chile to look into the situation, and after receiving a 2,300 page report, the pope issued a letter to Chilean bishops saying he had made “serious errors” in judging the situation due to a lack of “truthful and balanced information.”

Many observers pinned the blame on 84-year-old Chilean Cardinal Javier Francisco Errazuriz, who is a member of the pope's nine-member Council of Cardinals and who has come under heavy fire from victims for covering up abuse while archbishop of Santiago, and for trying to discredit victims' testimonies.

In his recent interview with Reuters, Pope Francis said his council of cardinal advisors, called the “C9” and whose mandate will be up in October, would be refreshed with new members.

Though such a decision is natural after term limits end, some observers have pondered whether the Chilean crisis and the accusations against Errazuriz, the absence of Cardinal Pell and separate accusations of financial misdealing on the part of Honduran Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga, also a member of the advisory team, have, to a certain degree, awakened Francis to the need to be more selective with his inner circle.

The answers to these questions, of course, are pure speculation, but if one thing can be said about the pope's latest round of appointments, it's that while his track record on reform efforts has not been the best, and while there are still loose ends to tie up, he is at least aware of the problems and he seems intent on making good on his promises, even if that does not happen immediately.

And if the first five years of Pope Francis' curial reform have largely been seen as ineffective, the appointment of Ruffini and Galantino just might give the flicker of hope needed for Catholics to decide that the jury is still out on the long-term process. However, as with any reform, really only time will tell.


After Cardinal Farrell’s marriage prep remarks, some Catholics ask for clarity

Denver, Colo., Jul 6, 2018 / 02:52 pm (CNA).- Priests, theologians, and lay pastoral workers have responded to recent comments from a senior Vatican official, which suggested that priests lack the necessary experience to offer marriage preparation programs for engaged couples.

In a recent interview with the Irish Catholic magazine Intercom, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, head of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, said that “priests are not the best people to train others for marriage.”

“They have no credibility; they have never lived the experience; they may know moral theology, dogmatic theology in theory, but to go from there to putting it into practice every day....they don’t have the experience,” the cardinal added.

The comments echoed remarks the cardinal made in September 2017, when he said that priests had “no credibility when it comes to living the reality of marriage.”

Edmund Adamus served for nearly fifteen years as the Director for Marriage & Family Life for the Archdiocese of Westminster in England, before becoming schools commissioner for the English Diocese of Portsmouth. Adams told CNA that Farrell’s remarks do not reflect his experience in marriage preparation.
“In a career spanning 30 years of ministry and family life apostolate in the Church, I have always found the contribution of the priest to be invaluable in the task of both preparing couples for marriage as well as supporting and sustaining couples through difficult times,” he said.
Adamus continued: “To imply that the priest has no credibility with the engaged or married couple because he has no direct experience of married life...negates the vision of that great model of priestly service to married life and love, St. John Paul II.”

“It is because of and thanks to his inspirational theology of the body,” Adamus said, “that we have a hermeneutic in which priest and spouses can truly explore together what Familiaris consortio called ‘supernatural fecundity.’”

These sentiments were echoed by Fr. Thomas Petri, OP, vice-president and academic dean of the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.

“I can only assume there’s more to Cardinal Farrell’s point than what’s being reported, since on the face of it the assertion that priests have no credibility with regard to marriage is utterly confounding” Petri said.

“If we’re going to insist that priests have no credibility with regard to marriage, then we not only wash away the dogmatic and moral theology of the sacrament but we also must therefore insist that the faithful should not approach priests for counsel on marriage.”

“Are we then also to tell them that Karol Wojtyla’s great book “Love and Responsibility” has no credibility? Or that his work as St. John Paul II, “The Theology of the Body,” is not credible? How then should the faithful regard our Holy Father’s Amoris laetitia, which is the longest ecclesial document in history on marriage?” Petri asked.

“Is the experience St. John Paul II had with many families trying to live married life faithfully worth nothing? Is Pope Francis’ experience with such families worth nothing? Is mine?”

Adamus and Petri agreed that the best forms of marriage preparation involve priests and married couples working together.

“One of the best forms of collaborative ministry between lay and ordained in the Church is supporting engaged and married couples. I have seen...many highly successful programs that beautifully incorporate the gifts and charisms of the celibate priesthood with the talents, faith and generosity of faithful Catholic spouses, especially in mentoring the engaged under the pastoral supervision and prayerful guidance of the priest,” Adamus said.

“Most priests I know agree that married couples who are living their faith in marriage and struggling for holiness by God’s grace should not only be involved with preparing new couples for marriage but are, in fact, shining examples that our Lord’s teaching on marriage is not some unattainable ideal but is rather the path to true happiness and freedom,” Petri added.

The benefit to cooperation between priests and married couples was also emphasized by Dr. John Grabowski, associate professor of moral theology and ethics at The Catholic University of America.

Grabowski, who served as an expert auditor at the 2015 Synod on the Family in Rome, told CNA that Cardinal Farrell’s remarks point to the importance of involving married couples in marriage preparation programs.

“Cardinal Farrell’s statement reminded me a little of the style of Pope Francis; he’s very forthright in making his point. In this case maybe he was being a little hyperbolic, but I do think there is a valid point here about the importance of increased involvement by married couples in marital formation, both before and after the wedding.”

Married couples, Grabowski said, “have things they bring, in terms of their lived experience, which have real value. Veritatis splendor speaks of ‘experiential moral knowledge’ and this has a key role to play in offering couples, engaged and married, the best formation and support the Church has to offer.”

Grabowski emphasized that both priests and lay couples bring unique perspectives to marriage formation, and that the combination of the two is essential.

“Good marriage formation draws on both priests and married couples working together. Just as married people have a direct lived experience, priests bring a unique insight of their own. In addition to offering the necessary formation in the theology of marriage, they can also act as a sort of wide-angle lens, giving a broader perspective on the joys and hardships of married life formed through years of accompanying different couples,” he said.

“My wife and I have been forming and preparing couples for marriage for more than twenty years, and we have been helping to offer support and ongoing formation to couples after marriage,” Grabowski added.

“We recently published a program for marriage formation, and in it we explicitly recommend that it be used with the involvement of a priest for just this reason.”

Grabowski also stressed that vocations to both marriage and celibacy rely on each other.

“It is not a question,” said Grabowski, “of one experience being valid and another not, this is a false contradiction. The distinct vocations of marriage and celibacy are rightly understood as complementary and mutually supportive, not contradictory. Both are about the bodily gift of self in loving service of God and the other, and, properly articulated and valued, they affirm each other.”

“We very sadly have a seen a shortage of vocations to the priesthood in the United States in recent years, and I think this is related to a crisis in marriage and the family. Without a proper understanding of the dignity of marriage and married love, celibacy, too, loses its value. Married couples and priests working together is mutually supportive and sustaining for them both, and doubly enriching for those they care for,” he added.

Some priests told CNA that Farrell’s apparent remarks have perpetuated misconceptions about the priesthood.

A priest serving in the Diocese of Dallas, where Farell served as bishop from 2007-2016, told CNA that “comments like this break your heart.”

The priest lamented that Farrell’s comments led to confusion, saying that in his experience the cardinal “gets excited about something and says things in ways that are maybe stronger than the thoughts behind them.”

Father William Dailey, CSC, director of the Notre Dame-Newman Centre for Faith and Reason in Dublin, told CNA that “taken at face value,” the cardinal’s comments undermine “the dedicated efforts of some many priests working with love and dedication to form couples across the Church.”

“A good priest knows, values and champions the vocation of married couples and what they offer the world and the Church. He knows this because he needs it himself, because the world needs it.  Obviously marriage preparation should include more than just celibate voices. But the priest can offer pastoral wisdom from his experience, spiritual guidance about, for example, the life of prayer and how to incorporate it into a relationship,” he said.

“In charity, let’s hope the cardinal misspoke or was misquoted, and that he can either enlarge his remarks so as to make a different point or retract what he said as not being what he actually thinks.”

New Mexico bishop made coadjutor of San Jose

Vatican City, Jul 11, 2018 / 05:57 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Vatican announced Wednesday Pope Francis' appointment of Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces, New Mexico to be coadjutor bishop of San Jose, California.

As coadjutor, Cantú will assist Bishop Patrick J. McGrath, 73, in the administration of the Diocese of San Jose, and succeed McGrath upon his retirement or death.

Cantú, 51, has served as bishop of Las Cruces, New Mexico since February 2013. He is fluent in English, Spanish, Italian, and French.

In 2016, the bishop was one of two delegates chosen to represent the U.S. bishops’ conference during Pope Francis’ visit to Mexico. After the pope’s visit, the bishop told CNA it showed Mexico “that the Holy Father cares about you, and that God is with us even in difficult moments, even in the darkness of life.”

Cantú has served as chairman of the United States bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace and is a member of the subcommittees on the Church in Latin America and Hispanic Affairs.

Born in Houston Dec. 5, 1966, he is the fifth of eight children. His parents, Ramiro and Maria de Jesus Cantú, are from small towns near Monterey, Mexico.

“There’s no dichotomy in being a Mexican-American. We love both countries because we have part of ourselves in both countries,” Bishop Cantú told CNA in a February 2016 interview

Houston Catholic schools were vital to the bishop’s formation and the formation of six of his siblings. Although Bishop Cantú’s father only received schooling up to 6th grade, he taught the value of education to his children, four of whom graduated college and three of whom have earned master’s degrees.

As a seminarian, Cantú worked on a committee with then-Bishop James Tamayo of Laredo to promote Hispanic ministry.

Ordained to the priesthood May 21, 1994, Cantú was made a bishop in 2008, at the age of 41, when Pope Benedict XVI appointed him auxiliary bishop of San Antonio.

During his 14 years as a priest of the Diocese of Galveston-Houston, he was involved in the Christian Family movement leading youth retreats; Engaged Encounter ministry; and the Metropolitan Organization (TMO), which addresses social issues in the community.

He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Dallas, and a master’s in divinity and a master’s in theological studies from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. He also earned his Doctorate of Sacred Theology in dogmatic theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

Before being ordained a bishop, he was pastor of his childhood parish, Holy Name, in Houston. He also served as parochial vicar of St. Christopher Parish and taught at the University of St. Thomas and St. Mary’s Seminary.

The Diocese of San Jose was canonically established in 1981 and belongs to the ecclesiastical province of San Francisco.