Pope Francis: Discipleship takes sacrifice


Vatican City, Sep 16, 2018 / 06:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A fundamental rule of being a disciple of Christ is the necessity to make sacrifices and deny one’s self, Pope Francis said in his Angelus address Sunday.

“Jesus tells us that in order to follow him, to be his disciples, one must deny oneself – that is, the claims of one’s own selfish pride – and take up one’s very cross,” the pope said Sept. 16. “Then he gives everyone a fundamental rule. And what is this rule? ‘Whoever wants to save his life will lose it.’”

To have faith, he said, must go further than mere words – it must lead to concrete actions and choices, “marked by love of God, by a great life, by a life with so much love for neighbor.”

The pope explained that for many reasons, people may end up on the wrong path, “looking for happiness only in things, or in the people we treat as things.”

“But we find happiness only when love, real [love], meets us, surprises us, changes us. Love changes everything! And love can change us too, each of us. The testimonies of the saints demonstrate this,” he said.

Francis said that the Lord wants his disciples to have a personal relationship with him and to make him the center of their lives. Like Jesus asks to his disciples in the day’s Gospel: “Who do you say that I am?”

“Everyone is called to respond, in his own heart, letting himself be illuminated by the light that the Father gives us to know his Son Jesus,” he said. And like Peter, one might confirm enthusiastically, that he is Christ.”

“But when Jesus tells us clearly what he said to the disciples, namely that his mission is accomplished not in the broad road of success, but in the arduous path of the suffering, humiliated, rejected and crucified Servant,” then it can be easy to want to protest and rebel, like Peter did, he said.

He said: In these moments, Christians deserve the same reproof Jesus gave Peter: “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

After the Angelus, in honor of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, celebrated by the Church on Sept. 14, Pope Francis distributed small metal crucifixes to those present in St. Peter’s Square.

“The crucifix is the sign of God’s love, which in Jesus gave life for us. I invite you to welcome this gift and bring it into your homes, your children’s room, or your grandparents..., in any part, but in the house,” he said.

Emphasizing that the crucifix is a religious sign for contemplation and prayer, not a merely ornamental object, he said “looking at Jesus crucified, we look at our salvation.”

He added that the cross “is a gift from the pope,” and is free, so to beware if anyone asks them to pay. The crucifixes were handed out by religious sisters, poor, homeless, and refugees. “As always, faith comes from the little ones, from the humble ones,” Francis noted, thanking them.

According to the pope’s charity office, the silver-plated crucifixes, packaged in a transparent envelope, included a card with a quote from Pope Francis in Italian, English, and Spanish. From July 2013 during World Youth Day in Brazil, it says: “In the Cross of Christ there is all the love of God, there is his immense mercy.”

After handing out the 40,000 crosses, the around 300 volunteers and needy were given a sack lunch by Pope Francis.  

 


Never again, again: Bishops promise action, but will it make a difference?


Washington D.C., Sep 19, 2018 / 01:10 pm (CNA).- The moral credibility of the U.S. Catholic hierarchy is under serious scrutiny, both by the faithful and the wider world.

Something must be done - this is the consensus of cardinals, bishops, priests, and laity as the Church continues to grapple with the fallout of the sexual abuse crisis. What, exactly, will be done remains to be seen.

Calls for transparency and accountability in the wake of the sexual abuse scandals strike many of the faithful as reasonable and obvious - yet neither of those words seems easily translatable into the curial language and culture of Romanitas

Amid an impetus for urgent reform, the Church faces the challenge of taking action that is effective, rather than merely dramatic.

What has been proposed? And what effect might it have?

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In recent months, many bishops and lay leaders have called for new canonical structures and procedures in response to the various crises erupting in the Church.

Some have suggested creating another “new” process for accusing and trying bishops in a canon law court, others have floated the idea of a network of regional or national tribunals tasked with handling the existing backlog of clerical sex-abuse cases.

Much of what has been proposed so far, however, has already been tried.

Apart from the USCCB’s own Essential Norms, adopted in the wake of the 2002 sexual abuse crisis, Pope Francis has made a number of significant canonical reforms over the last five years. Most significantly, 2016’s Come una madre amorivole created an entirely new legal mechanism for charging and trying a bishop accused of mishandling allegations of abuse, or of abusing his office in some other way.

Yet despite the publicity surrounding the announcement of those structures, they have yet to be put into action, and are unlikely even to be tried.

When asked recently about particular cases involving bishops, Pope Francis said he had decided that his own reforms were not “practical” or “convenient” and that he was instead trying to preserve their “spirit” in the way he handled individual cases.

Many canonists, including those working in the Curia, have expressed frustration at the possibility that more reforms will be promulgated on paper, while few of them take hold at the practical level. 

In the meantime, they say, cases are being handled in an increasingly ad hoc manner. In the case of McCarrick, for example, it has been hard for canonists to parse exactly what procedure is being followed.

Following the announcement by the Archdiocese of New York that it had received an allegation against McCarrick and deemed it credible, the then-cardinal was removed from public ministry.

In July, the Holy Father accepted his resignation from the College of Cardinals – itself an historic event – and at the same time ordered McCarrick to live a life of prayer and penance pending the outcome of a “canonical process.” Canon lawyers have noted that this seemed to be, for good or ill, the imposition of a legal penalty before the legal process had concluded - or perhaps even begun.

There has been no announcement about what kind of “process” will be followed in resolving McCarrick’s case. Nor has the Holy See clarified what charges, exactly, he will face. It seems unclear how a new legal structure could bring clarity to that situation, rather than more confusion.

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Another proposal made in recent months has been the establishment of regional commissions and tribunals for handling abuse cases, something which has been suggested before.

Baroness Sheila Hollins, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, has been among the most recent voices to suggest that this might serve to clear the languishing backlog of abuse cases clogging the courts at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The problem she identifies is a serious one.

Following his election in 2013, one of Pope Francis’ first curial reforms was to decree a Vatican-wide hiring freeze, which is still in effect. Since then, the pope has ordered the dismissal of three American priests working on abuse cases in the CDF, with a fourth leaving for personal reasons earlier this year.

Those working within and alongside of the CDF all report that there is simply not enough manpower to process the workload, something that Msgr. Robert Geisinger, the CDF’s in house prosecutor, has lamented more than once.

As a result, more than one U.S. bishop has resorted to flying to Rome to personally petition that cases waiting for adjudication be moved to the top of the pile.

But the proposed regional tribunals would not solve the problem of a backlog, at least not in the short term. New courts would take years to come online, and even longer to prove effective. In the meantime, the structural and procedural upheaval needed to create them could cause chaos in a system that is already badly stretched. 

Marie Collins, a former member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and herself a survivor of abuse, has been a critic of this proposal for a more straightforward reason. She has observed that the call for regional tribunals does not address the fact that the underlying problem is a lack of resources.

During her time on the PCPM, Collins spoke openly of her frustration at the pace of change. She specifically singled out the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which handles abuse cases, for criticism. Since then, she has become an outspoken skeptic of further canonical reform, and pointed to the fact that few resources are actually devoted to making the current system work.

“The argument for going to local tribunals...is because the CDF is under resourced and understaffed, and so [is] unable to cope with all the abuse cases coming in from around the world: the question should be why is the CDF under resourced and understaffed?”

One curial official who has worked with the CDF told CNA that some staffers also have the impression that there is little practical commitment to the kind of real reform that would involve the addition of more qualified personnel to handle abuse cases.

“If ‘where your treasure is there will your heart be too,’ then by that measure Rome’s heart isn’t in this,” the official told CNA.

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Back in the United States, several ideas for reform have been floated.

One is a third-party reporting mechanism for accusations against bishops, through which people would present allegations directly to the apostolic nuncio in Washington.

But any new third-party reporting system instituted by the U.S. bishops cannot guarantee Roman action, nor does recent evidence indicate that such action could be counted upon.

In the case of Archbishop McCarrick, it has emerged that in 2000 Fr. Boniface Ramsey presented a written account of accusations of McCarrick sharing a bed with seminarians to the nuncio. A 2006 letter from the Vatican Secretariat of State confirms that some of Ramsey’s concerns made it to Rome, but no action was apparently taken until years later.

It has also been suggested that a new lay-led review board could review complaints made against bishops. This idea is not without precedent.

In 2002, the USCCB called for lay-led review boards in every diocese. The U.S. bishops also created a National Review Board comprised of lay experts, to advise the USCCB on dealing with the problem of sexual abuse. Those bodies have had considerable effect on the life and culture of the Church in the United States.

The idea of creating more lay-led boards now is, in some senses, an appealing option. But it is not clear whether new boards would actually address the current problems.

The National Review Board itself has seemed skeptical. In August, the board issued a statement denouncing “a loss of moral leadership and an abuse of power that led to a culture of silence” in the face of abuse.

Action is needed, the board said, but the “evil” which had come to light “will not be stemmed simply by the creation of new committees, policies, or procedures.”

Both U.S. proposals would also appear to effectively insulate American bishops from being required to act upon allegations made against their peers. The reticence of bishops to act in such circumstances is widely considered to have been a major contributing factor in the recent scandals, especially in the case of McCarrick.

But through systems that would largely exempt bishops from investigating or addressing claims of episcopal misconduct, U.S. Church authorities run the risk of seeming to distance themselves further from the kind of personal moral leadership called for by the National Review Board and others.

“What needs to happen is a genuine change in the Church’s culture, specifically among the bishops themselves,” the National Review Board’s August statement said.

Cultural change is more difficult than procedural reform. Absent the release of confidential files or sweeping changes in personnel, it will be hard to demonstrate in the short term. But it also seems to be the most pressing call made by ordinarily lay Catholics.

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On Sept. 13, following a meeting between Pope Francis and the leaders of the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo released a statement as president of the USCCB. In it, he said that he and the other American bishops looked forward to “actively continuing our discernment together, identifying the most effective next steps.”

What these steps will be, and when the Church will take them, remain to be seen. But the bishops may find that by themselves, they are not enough to satisfy the skepticism shared by lay Catholics and a growing number of rank-and-file priests and religious.

The call has been for leadership. To satisfy it, bishops will likely need to show a commitment to change that is personal, not institutional.


Vatican delegation will travel to China this month to finalize agreement, Chinese newspaper reports


Beijing, China, Sep 18, 2018 / 05:45 pm (CNA).- A newspaper tied to the Chinese Communist Party reported Tuesday that a delegation of Vatican officials will head to China "in late September" for a final round of talks before an agreement on the appointment of bishops is signed.
 
Citing unnamed “sources familiar with the matter,” the Global Times, an English-language newspaper that reflects the position of Chinese authorities, said that “there are no 'disputes on issues of principle' between the two sides, and since the meeting between the two sides was previously held at the Vatican, the Vatican delegation will come to China this time for a meeting in late September, and if the meeting goes well, the agreement would be signed.”

“A Vatican source also confirmed with the Global Times last week that a prominent figure from the Holy See would probably come to China in late September,” the newspaper reported.  

The Global Times also quoted Wang Meixiu, who is presented as “an expert on Catholic Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences,” saying that “China and the Vatican most likely agreed that the future bishops in China should be approved by the Chinese government and mandated by the Pope and the letter of appointment would be issued by the Pope.”

“Before signing the agreement,” according to the Communist party-run Chinese newspaper, “the Holy See would deliver an official document to acknowledge seven Chinese bishops who are regarded as 'illegitimate' by the Vatican, including some it previously had excommunicated.”

“The Chinese will receive a Vatican delegation by the 'end of September' to take one final step towards an agreement between the People's Republic of China and the Holy See, according to a source close to the Chinese Communist Party,” the newspaper added.

Wang is quoted as saying that “one should not expect to solve complicated problems the Catholic Church in China faces today with one agreement,” and that the two sides “still need further discussions on the complex situation in the different dioceses in the Episcopal selection.”

According to the Global Times, Chinese government sources have “stressed that the ongoing negotiations will stay on the religious level, and will not touch on any diplomatic issue such as the establishment of diplomatic ties between Beijing and the Vatican.”

The Vatican is one of the last 17 states in the world that recognizes the government of Taiwan, an island led by a democratically-elected government since 1949. Beijing considers Taiwan to be a renegade Chinese province.

In previous negotiations, China has insisted that the Vatican cut its ties with Taiwan and promise not to interfere with internal Chinese affairs in order to come to an agreement.

It is estimated that there are about 12 million Catholics currently living in China, half within official state churches in the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and the rest in the “underground Church.”

The Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association is under the day-to-day direct supervision of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) due to a major change in March 2018 in which the Chinese government shifted direct control of religious affairs to the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department (UFWD).

Some of the bishops appointed by the Chinese government in the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association also serve as members of the Chinese Communist Party’s National People’s Congress.

“We, as citizens of the country, should first be a citizen and then have religion and beliefs,” Bishop Peter Fang Jianping of Tangshan told Chinese media after he voted to eliminate presidential term limits for President Xi in March 2018. Fang was ordained a bishop in Beijing in 2000 without Vatican approval and then legitimized by the Holy See two years later.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has promoted a campaign of “Sinicization” of all religion in China, “a far-reaching strategy to control, govern, and manipulate all aspects of faith into a socialist mold infused with ‘Chinese characteristics,’” according to the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom 2018 report.

New regulations on religious practice in China went into effect in February 2018 that codify the increased scrutiny and pressure on religious activities in China. On September 10, the Chinese government placed further restrictions on evangelization, making it illegal for any religious prayers, catechesis or preaching to be published online. This is being enforced via the country’s extensive internet censorship.

Last month, the United Nations voiced alarm over reports that the Chinese government is detaining up to 1 million Uyghur muslims involuntarily in re-education internment camps.

The U.S. State Department has designated China as a “Country of Particular Concern” for religious freedom every year since 1999.