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Making headlines is not always easy. I sometimes find myself having completed a blog post with relative ease, only to struggle with coming up with an eye-catching headline. They need to be short, interesting and true to the content of the article they announce and, in essence, summarise. I imagine that these are the same concern of those who write for a living for newspapers, journals and on websites. But in recent days too many have failed to follow the rules…
Yesterday, 20 Roman couples were married in St. Peter’s Basilica by Pope Francis. This is pretty rare for Popes to do for the simple reason of their many other duties. Pope Benedict XVI never did it, and Pope St. John Paul II only got around to it once over the 27 years of his pontificate. But as he is the bishop of the Diocese of Rome, witnessing the marriage of some of the faithful of his diocese is a wonderful opportunity to be near to his closest flock: the Romans themselves.
The couples were from all walks of life and a broad range in age, and all had their own stories, as the Pope hinted at in his homily: “The path is not always a smooth one, free of disagreements, otherwise it would not be human. It is a demanding journey, at times difficult, and at times turbulent, but such is life!” Rare are the couples whose story is the stereotypical romantic one: they meet, fall in love, get married, have children and live happily ever after. I think it is safe to assume that none of the twenty couples married yesterday have had such smooth sailing. And that is what inspired many headlines.
“Pope marries sinners,” we read. “Francis overthrows tradition by marrying cohabitating couples!” and more along such lines. The essence of all this was that Pope Francis, they said, in contrast to Catholic teaching and the practice of the Church for years, married people who were living in sin. But was that really true?
The simple answer is no. In reports about yesterday’s ceremony we read that one of the grooms has had a previous married nullified and that a bride already had a child. Others were apparently already living together for a long time before marrying. While it is objectively so that the Church has its concern about children being born outside marriage and cohabitation while not married, these in themselves have never been reason for the Church refusing to marry couples. In fact, it is simply so that the Church gladly welcomes any couple who wants to receive the sacrament of marriage.
Marriage is a sacrament that includes both rights and duties. To oneself, to one’s partner, to God and to the community. It is good for the future husband and wife to be well aware of these, be willing to accept them and know how to include them in their lives together. That is a lifelong process, but it starts before marriage begins.
From the outside we may notice many irregularities – a child outside of marriage, a previous marriage – but we should not jump to conclusions about these 20 Roman couples. All we know is that these irregularities are now regularised, and that is reason for joy.
There is certainly no reason to see sins and new developments where there are none. Pope Francis did not do anything that could not be done before, and nothing that priests across the world don’t do regular (although they would rarely marry forty people in one go). What is remarkable, however, is that it happened. That 20 couples said yes to each other, promised to stand together in good and bad times and let their love bear fruit and new life in all sorts of ways. That’s the true headline.
Photo credit:  Alessandra Tarantino/AP,  Paul Haring/CNS
Bishop Johan Bonny has been making headlines in Catholic media, first in Germany but today also in his native Belgium. In an extensive note the bishop of Antwerp outlines his thoughts and expectations for this autumn’s Synod of Bishops. Various media have presented this as an attack on Popes Paul VI and St. John Paul II and their documents on difficult subjects related to marriage, family and morality. But reality is somewhat different. Bishop Bonny does not exclusively discuss the contents of various magisterial pronouncements, but does offer strong criticism on how they came about, and how they are put it into practice.
In this post, I will summarise the text and offer my opinion here and there. As it is a fairly long text, this post is a work in progress. Expect updates over the coming days.
In the first part of his document, the bishops explains that he sees the development of an ecclesiastical question within the discussion about marriage and family, which he traces back to Pope Paul VI’s encyclical on contraception and sexuality, Humanae vitae. The way in which the Pope developed this text, apparently ignoring the advice of experts he had appointed himself, stands in stark contrast with how the Second Vatican Council went about matters: in strong collegiality which led to a virtually unanimous passing of documents.
This lack of collegiality in such an important matter has led, so the bishop explains, to a gap between the Church’s moral teaching and the moral understanding of the faithful. And we do see this happening: statements, decrees, encyclicals and the like do not play much of a role in the lives of the faithful, even though they can be important for properly living as Catholic faithful. Of course, a perceived lack of collegiality can not be the only explanation for this, as Bishop Bonny admits. I would even go so far as wondering if many faithful are even aware of how documents are developed, at least not in our time.
Among bishops, Curia and Pope, more collegiality can have positive results (and also negative), since we should not be afraid of talking about such important matters. But the Church is no democracy. The very nature of the papacy, of the body of apostles and disciples that Christ established, is at odds with that. The Pope has magisterial primacy, and he must be free to exercise it. But of course it is good to do everything to avoid needless division and even opposition, although that can probably never be rooted out completely.
In what could be called the most significant shakeup of the Curia since his pontificate began, Pope Francis today appointed Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera as the new archbishop of his native Valencia. This leaves the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments – which the cardinal headed since late 2008 – vacant, which is unusual in itself. Curial congregations usually only fall vacant when a sitting prefect dies. Reassignments are usually carefully planned so that when a prefect goes, his successor is already waiting in the wings.
To date, Pope Francis has not busied himself too much with reassigning the prefects and president of the dicasteries of the Curia. 17 months in, the Holy Father appointed Cardinal Parolin as Secretary of State, Cardinal Pell as Secretary for the Economy, Cardinal Piacenza as Major Penitentiary and Cardinal Stella as Clergy prefect. Divine Worship and Sacraments has one of the most important mandates in the Curia, perhaps comparable only to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in that it has direct influence on practice and understanding of the faith. Add to that the fact that it is extremely rare for Cardinal-prefects to leave the Curia for an appointment in an (arch)diocese (There is a single precedent from 2006 when Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe went from the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples to Naples).
As for his successor, the name of Archbishop Piero Marini continues being named. The erstwhile master of ceremonies under Pope Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI from 1987 to 2007 today heads the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses. As MC he was responsible for organising (and making significant stylistic choices for) the liturgical celebrations of the Pope, a task now performed by Msgr. Guido Marini, who is not related to the archbishop. Many have expressed serious concerns about the possibility that Archbishop Marini may succeed Cardinal Cañizares Llovera. Whereas the latter is known as the ‘little Ratzinger’ (shown above with ‘big’ Ratzinger), sharing the Pope emeritus’ focus on the Second Vatican Council as being in continuity with the past, Marini advocates it as a radical break with the past. And this shows in his liturgical choices.
Cardinal Cañizares Llovera’s appointment to Valencia is part of a chain of events that begins with the retirement of the Archbishop of Madrid. Aged 78, Cardinal Antonio Rouco Varela is well beyond retirement age and completes 20 years in the Spanish capital. His successor was generally expected to be Cardinal Cañizares Llovera, but he may have chosen not to accept an appointment to the demands of Spain’s largest diocese, instead accepting the smaller Valencia, which also happens to be his native archdiocese (he was a priest of Valencia from 1970 to 1992). Valencia own Archbishop Carlos Osoro Sierra goes to Madrid in his stead, although not as a second choice. Archbishop Osoro Sierra has been compared to Pope Francis himself, a man of practical faith and shepherding from the trenches, so to speak.
For both the cardinal and the archbishop, their new appointments are to their third archdioceses: Cardina Cañizares Llovera was archbishop of Granada and Toledo before going to Rome, and Archbishop Osoro Sierra headed Oviedo and then Valencia, and now Madrid. Below are full overviews of the ecclesiastic paths of all three players in this tale:
Antonio Cardinal Cañizares Llovera (68)
- Priest of the Archdiocese of Valencia from 1970 to 1992
- Bishop of Ávila from 1992 to 1996
- Archbishop of Granada from 1996 to 2002
- Archbishop of Toledo from 2002 to 2008
- Vice-President of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference from 2005 to 2008
- Created cardinal, with the title church of San Pancrazio, in 2006
- Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments from 2008 to 2014
- Archbishop of Valencia since 2014
Archbishop Carlos Osoro Sierra (69)
- Priest of Santander from 1973 to 1996
- Bishop of Orense from 1996 to 2002
- Archbishop of Oviedo from 2002 to 2009
- Archbishop of Valencia from 2009 to 2014
- Vice-President of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference since 2014
- Archbishop of Madrid since 2014
Antontio María Cardinal Rouco Varela (78)
- Priest of Mondoñedo-Ferrol from 1959 to 1976
- Auxiliary Bishop of Santiago de Compostela, and titular bishop of Gergis, a from 1976 to 1984
- Archbishop of Santiago de Compostela from 1984 to 1994
- Archbishop of Madrid from 1994 to 2014
- Created cardinal, with the title church of San Lorenzo in Damaso, in 1998
- President of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference from 1999 to 2005 and from 2008 to 2014
- Member of the Council of Cardinals for the Study of Organisational and Economic Problems of the Apostolic See from 2004 to 2014
Photo credit:  Osservatore Romano
Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp wrote a message for the feast of Pentecost, discussing the seeming opposition between the Spirit and the institute of the Church. Of course, there is no opposition, but the Holy Spirit works in the Church and the Church needs to be continuously open to His workings. Not an easy task…
“The Pope and the Holy Spirit: do they get along? It seem a superfluous question. But much ink has been spent and battle has been done, but in and outside the Church, about that topic. For some the Holy Spirit is invisible where the Pope is. For others the Pope is invisible where the Holy Spirit is. Institute and charisma, durability and renewal, shepherding and prophecy: they are so easily put in opposition to one another. Yet the story of Pentecost begins in the house where the Apostles are. They are among the first to receive the Spirit for the mission that the Lord has entrusted to them.
I thought of Pentecost when I was in St. Peter’s Square for the canonisation of Pope John XXII and John Paul II. In his homily, Pope Francis said about these Popes that they “cooperated with the Holy Spirit in renewing and updating the Church in keeping with her pristine features, those features which the saints have given her throughout the centuries. Let us not forget that it is the saints who give direction and growth to the Church. In convening the Council, Saint John XXIII showed an exquisite openness to the Holy Spirit. He let himself be led and he was for the Church a pastor, a servant-leader [guida-guidata], guided by the Holy Spirit. This was his great service to the Church; for this reason I like to think of him as the the pope of openness to the Holy Spirit.”
This is the work of the Holy Spirit: to continuously reveal the original features of the Church. That is what Jesus promised His disciples, shortly before his departure: “the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you” (John 14:26). The memory of the Church and Christians is short, especially concerning the heart of the Gospel and the witness of Jesus. The Holy Spirit doe snot have an easy task in continuously reminding the Church of the word and example of Jesus. You have to be the Holy Spirit to not get sick of it!
During this time of Pentecost we pray for “openness to the Holy Spirit”. We ask that the Holy Spirit may renew our Church community, bring her closer to the times, reveal her original features. We pray for all those who carry responsibility in the Church community: that they, as shepherds, let themselves be guided by the Holy Spirit. And especially: we thank the Holy Spirit that He hasn’t given up our Church community, despite our short memory. Perhaps because of that the Holy Spirit is as light as air and as fire: to be able to get along with us!
+ Johan Bonny
Bishop of Antwerp”
He is said to work closely with Pope Francis in the latter’s future encyclical on ecology, and as such he has been interviewed several times, not only about his own work, but also about his expectations for the future. Bishop Erwin Kräutler, Austrian but living in Brazil, most recently appeared in an interview for Austrian daily Die Presse. And much like the statements of other perceived close collaborators of the Pope, such as Cardinal Walter Kasper and Bishop Nunzio Galantino, Bishop Kräutler’s words are their own source of concern.
You can read my translation of the interview here, but there are a few passages that I want to highlight.
A right to the Eucharist. Bishop Kräutler agrees when the interviewer states that faithful have a right to the Eucharist. The bishop is about half right. The Church has the duty to bring the Eucharist to the faithful as much as possible, but the faithful can not exercise a right to receive the Lord. No one has that right. The sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, which is made present in every Mass, making it possible for us to receive Him in Communion, was a free choice from the Lord. He was under no obligation to do that for us, but He did it all the same (which indicates what a mind-boggling event that really is). But no one could or can demand that He gives Himself to us.
- Celibacy. This is not really problematic, although I don’t agree with the bishop’s reasons. But the Eucharist does not depend on the priest’s celibacy, as the bishop claims. It depends on no characteristic of the priest, actually. If the priest does as Christ did, in unity with the Church, the consecration takes place and the Eucharist is celebrated.
- Bishops’ conferences. Bishop Kräutler dishonestly contrasts Pope Francis with Pope Benedict XVI, by stating that it was impossible to make proposals to any Pope before Francis. This is an obvious untruth, and it is shameful to depict Benedict as inactive, even unwilling, because he emphasised the importance of prayer.
- Ordination of women. The door is closed, but it’s still a door, so it may open. Nonsense. Pope St. John Paul II has been very clear that the Church is simply not able to ordain women, and Popes Benedict XVI and Francis have simply upheld this conclusion. Impossible things are not certainly possible because we want them to.
- Refusing Communion. A person’s conscience is indeed the first arbiter of whether or not we should come forward to Communion. But that conscience needs to be formed properly, and there the Church, in the persons of bishops and priests, has an important duty. To say that a bishop has no right to deny is denying an important duty he has.
The 1970s clearly are not dead yet…
One of the main problems with these kinds of ‘revelations’ and predictions of the future is that it’s all hearsay and speculation. We hear from secondary sources what the Pope did or did not say, wants or does not want, while we have no way to verify if his words were communicated accurately and completely. And in the case of Bishop Kräutler, Pope Francis’ actions are heavily tinted by the bishops own old-fashioned hopes and ideas. In the end, we can only wait until something actually happens.
Bishop Erwin Kräutler was born in Koblach, Austria, in 1939 and was ordained a priest for the Society of the Precious Blood in 1965, at which time he moved to Brazil. In 1980 he was appointed as Coadjutor Prelate of Xingu in Brazil, succeeding his own uncle, Bishop Eurico Kräutler in 1981. Xingu covers a large area of the east-central Amazon basin, with the city of Altamira at its heart.
In an exclusive interview for Belgian weekly Tertio, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, says it’s time for the Church to change her attitude to marriage and divorce. Or so several media say. Tertio’s website offers two short excerpts from the interview, with the first expressly dealing with the question of remarried divorcees. While it is clear that the answer presented is not the full answer given by Cardinal Baldisseri, it also does not support in any way that he desires a change in Church teaching. Of course, once the full interview is out, this conclusion may prove incorrect, but, as ever, things are likely not as explosive as some would want them to be.
In the West many expect more openness on sexual morality, including the attitude towards remarried divorcees. Do you expect there to be any changes?
“The questionnaire covered many topics. Among them the topic of sexual morality, but also the situation of divorcees and people who have remarried civilly. [...] Pope John Paul II’s Familiaris consortio from 1981 was the last major document in the past thirty years about this topic. The Church is not timeless; she exists amid the vicissitudes of history and the Gospel must be known and experienced by the people of today. The message must be delivered in the present, with all respect for the integrity of whoever receives it. We now face two Synods to discuss this complex topic of the family, and I believe that this dynamic in two movements will allow us to give a more appropriate response to the expectations of the people.”
How can a greater balance be reached in the management of the Church, between the Curia and the world Church, between centralisation and local autonomy?
“That is the great question that Pope Francis knows himself to be confronted with, in the face of renewal and reform. According to him the bishops at the Conclave gave him that task. Synodality would have to guarantee decentralisation and more attention for the local churches, and also greater involvement of all bishops in the world with evangelisation. As head of the college of bishops the Pope must lead that process. The Council of eight cardinals is working towards a reform of the Curia and the central services of the Church.”
As an aside, the above answers are generally what Cardinal Baldisseri said in an interview for Vatican Radio in March. There he also said that what the Synod wants to do is get to know the problems, so solutions may be found. Pastoral care can and must be flexible, if always rooted in the faith of the Church. But pastoral care can only work if those who want to exercise it get to know the people and their situations. Getting to know and understand the questions and problems of people who are divorced and remarried is not the same as condoning their situation, but a first step towards a solution. I expect that is exactly what Cardinal Baldisseri and the Synod of Bishops is trying to do before the Synod starts in autumn.
With today’s canonisation of Popes Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II, the Church now recognises 80 out of 266 Popes as saints. Some think this is too many, and that Popes are being made saints too quickly or too automatically. Whatever the truth in that matter is, the history is interesting.
Of the first 58 Popes, from St. Peter to St. Silverius, almost none escaped canonisation, although the process as we know it today did not exist yet. In general, the Church simply recognised an existing cult for a deceased Pope, making him known as a saint. The only exceptions in this five-century period are Pope Liberius (352-366), Pope Anastasius II (496-498), Pope Boniface II (530-532) and Pope John II (532-535).
In the following five centuries there are fewer saints among the Popes, as the process became more formalised, but still quite a lot: 19. Their frequency does decrease sharply towards the end: not a single ninth century Pope was canonised, while the previous century still had four.
For the second millennium, after the Holy See became the sole authority in the area of canonisation, it is actually very possible, without making this post excessively long, to list all papal saints:
St. Leo IX (1049-1054)
- St. Gregory VII (1073-1085)
- St. Celestine V (1294)
- St. Pius V (1566-1572)
- St. Pius X (1903-1914)
- St. John XXIII (1958-1963)
- St. John Paul II (1978-2005)
The number of three canonised saints among the 20th century Popes is striking. The last time the Church had so many papal saints so close together in time was in the eighth century. But is it excessively much? Compared to the first 500 years of the papacy: absolutely not. Nor is it much when we compare it to the total number of people canonised by the nine Popes since 1900: 1501. Less then two-tenths of a percent of these were Popes. In the end, it’s all relative.
Not being there it is not possible to get a true sense of the anticipation in Rome for tomorrow’s historic event, but I find that the various people I follow via Twitter allow me to get at least some taste. Sharing just some examples that appeared in my timeline in the past hours:
Streams of pilgrims from Germany making their way through the Roman subway, which runs all through the night. Photo courtesy of Fr. George Mabura:
Dutch journalist Stijn Fens shares this photo of people queueing to get onto St. Peter’s Square, five hours before it opens:
People asleep in Santo Spirito Church, again courtesy of Fr. Mabura:
Stijn Fens reports that the general atmosphere is similar to when Pope John Paul II died.
Journalist Peter Smith shares this photo of seminarian Tom Schluep and Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh, ready for the canonisations:
Salt + Light offers another look at pilgrims waiting in the Via Della Conciliazione as night falls over Rome:
The streets were no less crowded earlier in the day, as this photo by Michael Kelly shows:
A refuge for rainsoaked people, the Church of the Frisians, in this photo by Fr. Michel Remery:
An empty St. Peter’s Square, cleared for the final preparations, in this photo by Fr. Manuel Dorantes: