For the sin of abortion, Papal letter gives priests power to absolve and lift excommunication

In his Apostolic Letter Misericordia et misera, published today, Pope Francis looks back on the Holy Year of Mercy, which ended yesterday, and announces some special decisions made for that year, which he wishes to continue. Among these is the faculty of all priests to absolve penitents from the sin of abortion. While this faculty was already given to priests of various countries, including the Netherlands, by local bishops, it is now a worldwide step. It is hoped, like it was when the Pope first announced it at the start of the Holy Year, that this makes it easier for people who performed an abortion or had one performed to come forward and receive the Lord’s forgiveness.

Abortion, as the Pope also emphasises in his Letter, remains a grave sin, and that means that there is a little more involved than only absolution. Bishop Jan Hendriks, auxiliary bishop of Haarlem-Amsterdam and a doctor in canon law, explains things in a blog post today and refers to various canons from the Code of Canon Law:

jan_hendriks“There is an excommunication attached to the committing of an abortion (c. 1398). The Pope does not expressly mention this. He only speaks about ‘absolving’, freeing from sin. Being freed from the excommunication is a requirement for receiving absolution and being freed from sin. Therefore, the words of the Pope implicitly include for all priests the faculty to lift the excommunication.

So a priest can absolve for abortion and this faculty can, in principle, be exercised everywhere in the world (unless a local bishop or vicar would, in particular cases, deny this (c. 967, par.2), but that will not happen often).

The Pope once again emphases both the serious nature of the sin of abortion and the need to approach those who have committed abortion with love: there is no sin that can destroy the mercy of God!”

There has been some criticism against the papal letter for its lack of clarity in this matter. Bishop Hendriks’ explanation would indicate that the ability to absolve the sin includes the faculty to lift the automatically incurred excommunication. A penitent person who’s sin has been forgiven in the sacrament of Confession, is therefore automatically free to participate in the life of the Church again, as he or she is no longer excommunicated.

After the consistory, the facts of the College of Cardinals

Following yesterday’s consistory the College of Cardinals consists of 228 members, 121 of whom are able to participate in a conclave to elect a new Pope. Most of these electors also have duties within the Roman Curia. Of the 17 new cardinals created yesterday, 13 are electors.

In his three consistories, Pope Francis has now created 55 living cardinals. The majority of cardinals alive today, 95, were created by Pope St. John Paul II. Among these is Pope Francis himself. Pope Benedict XVI has created 78 living cardinals, and there are two cardinals still alive from the pontificate of Blessed Pope Paul VI (one of whom is the Pope emeritus).

15110438_1364305486914385_2611835404509261242_oThe youngest cardinal, at 49, is Dieudonné Nzapalainga (right), the archbishop of Bangui, who was created by Pope Francis yesterday. The oldest is José de Jesús Pimiento Rodriguez, the 97-year-old Archbishop emeritus of Manizales. He was also created by Pope Francis in the consistory of 2015.

The longest serving cardinal is Paolo Evaristo Arns, Archbishop emeritus of São Paulo. He was created in 1973, and as the most senior cardinal-priest he has the function of protopriest.

The most senior cardinal, as decided by rank in the College and date of creation, is the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Angelo Sodano. Most junior are the three cardinal-deacons created yesterday, Cardinals Mario Zenari, Kevin Farrell and Ernest Simoni.

The country with the largest number of cardinals remains Italy. 46 cardinals, including 25 electors, call that country home. This is followed by the United States (18 cardinals), Spain (12), Brazil (11), Germany (10), France (9), Mexico (6), India (5), Poland (5), and Argentina, Colombia and the Philippines (4 each). While Europe is still overrepresented in the College of Cardinals, other continents are catching up. The Americas have 62 cardinals between them, and Africa and Asia both have 24.

The vast majority of cardinal electors, 72 of them, are archbishops (metropolitan or otherwise) of an archdiocese somewhere in the world. Eight electors are retired archbishops. There are six regular bishops among the electors, two patriarchs, one nuncio and 31 work in the Roman Curia. A final cardinal elector is retired Curia member. These numbers are bound to be inaccurate within weeks of posting this, as there are more than a few cardinals on the verge of retirement.

Introducing Francis’ new cardinals

So here they are, the seventeen new cardinals created by Pope Francis this morning. All but one were present in St. Peter’s Basilica to receive their red hats and title churches or deaconries. Only Cardinal Sebastian Koto Khoaria remained at home in Lesotho, undoubtedly for reasons of age. The man is 87, after all.

aguiar-retesCarlos Cardinal Aguiar Retes, 66, Cardinal Priest of Santi Fabiano e Venanzio a Via Fiorelli, Metropolitan Archbishop of Tlalnepantla, Mexico

cortiRenato Cardinal Corti, 80, Cardinal Priest of San Giovanni a Porta Latina, Bishop emeritus of Novara, Italy

cupichBlase Joseph Cardinal Cupich, 67, Cardinal Priest of San Bartolomeo all’Isola, Metropolitan Archbishop of Chicago, United States of America

drozarioPatrick Cardinal D’Rozario, 73, Cardinal Priest of Nostra Signora del Santissimo Sacramento e Santi Martiri Canadesi, Metropolitan Archbishop of Dhaka, Bangladesh

da-rochaSérgio Cardinal Da Rocha, 56, Cardinal Priest of Santa Croce in Via Flaminia, Metropolitan Archbishop of Brasília, Brazil

de-keselJozef Cardinal De Kesel, 69, Cardinal Priest of Santi Giovanni e Paolo, Metropolitan Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussel, Belgium

farrell.jpgKevin Joseph Cardinal Farrell, 69, Cardinal Deacon of San Giuliano Martire, Prefect of the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life

fernandez.jpgAnthony Soter Cardinal Fernandez, 84, Cardinal Priest of Sant´Alberto Magno, Metropolitan Archbishop emeritus of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

khoarai.jpgSebastian Koto Cardinal Khoarai, 87, Cardinal Priest of San Leonardo da Porto Maurizio, Bishop emeritus of Mohale’s Hoek, Lesotho

nzapalaingaDieudonné Cardinal Nzapalainga, 49, Cardinal Priest of Sant’Andrea della Valle, Metropolitan Archbishop of Bangui, Central African Republic

osoro sierra.jpgCarlos Cardinal Osoro Sierra, 71, Cardinal Priest of Santa Maria in Trastevere, Metropolitan Archbishop of Madrid, Easter Rite Ordinary of Spain.

piatMaurice Cardinal Piat, 75, Cardinal Priest of Santa Teresa al Corso d´Italia, Bishop of Port-Louis, Mauritius

porras cardozo.jpgBaltazar Enrique Cardinal Porras Cardozo, 71, Cardinal Priest of Santi Giovanni Evangelista e Petronio dei Bolognesi, Metropolitan Archbishop of Mérida, Venezuela

ribatJohn Cardinal Ribat, 59, Cardinal Priest of San Giovanni Battista de’ Rossi, Metropolitan Archbishop of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea

simoniErnest Cardinal Simoni, 87, Cardinal Deacon of Santa Maria della Scala, Priest of Shkodrë-Pult, Albania

tobin.jpgJoseph William Cardinal Tobin, 64. Cardinal Priest of Santa Maria delle Grazie a Via Trionfale, Metropolitan Archbishop of Newark, United States of America, Ecclesiastical Superior of Turks and Caicos Islands.

zenari.jpgMario Cardinal Zenari, 70, Cardinal Deacon of Santa Matria della Grazie alle Fornaci, Apostolic Nuncio to Syria

“More than a celebration”- Cardinal Müller on the Holy Year of Mercy

14_09_kardinalmuellerIn an interview for Katholisch.de, published today, Gerhard Cardinal Müller discusses several topics, including the Holy Year of Mercy which is in its final week. The Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is often imagined as an opponent to Pope Francis, since doctrine and all its annoying rules must by nature be opposed to mercy, right? But the cardinal is generally enthusiastic about the Holy Year of Mercy, and adds some nuance to how it is looked at now that we have almost completed it.

“Faith in the mercy of God, which is directed at every human being, is part of the classical doctrine of God. It was very good to emphasise this topic theologically in the Holy Year and reintroduce it in pastoral ministry and proclamation. For much indifference and misunderstanding about God is based in the false assumption that God is only power, and that man can, as such, only realise his freedom by opposing Him. The Christian image of God is completely different: out of love for man, God humbled Himself even to the death on the cross, through which we come to salvation, to freedom and the glory of the children of God.”

Mercy leads us directly to the heart of the union between man and God, he explains:

“Someone getting to know God anew in His aspect of mercy, will find that in the Christian understanding of God, love is the core of the encounter between God and man. The symbolism of the open Holy Doors here in Rome and in many churches across the world has hopefully reinforced the awareness that we can come to God as through a wide open door. Countless people have found their way to God through confession in the sacrament of penance and reconciliation, which allows for a new start. I believe that many were able to experience God more deeply in the Holy Year.”

And what of those who look at the numbers and say that the Holy Year has not been as successful as hoped?

“The Holy Year is a spiritual event and can not be measured quantitatively. Regarding its great popularity across the world I don’t understand such criticism. It is after all about more than just celebrating, but about the way to Christ. I am impressed by the number of people who came to the papal audiences, the Sunday prayers and the special events. That shows that people want to hear the Pope’s  message, that he knows how the touch the hearts of people with his words; that he opens up perspectives on how to better understand their own lives in the light of mercy and make it their own.”

Other topics discussed in the interview include the Reformation, ecumenism, comparing Pope Francis to Benedict XVI, and developments regarding the SSPX. I may share some comments about those in later blog posts.

On the death of Bishop Zichem

mgr_a_zichemWatching the Mass for the Dutch pilgrims in St. Peter’s yesterday, I noticed the mentioning of Bishop Aloysius Zichem in the bidding prayers, asking us to pray for his eternal rest. The Diocese of Paramaribo indeed announces the death of the first native bishop of the sole diocese of Suriname.

Bishop Karel Choennie writes:

“On Sunday 13 November, at 17:45, our beloved Monsignor Aloysius Zichem left us at the age of 83. Monsignor Zichem was ordained as bishop  on 7 February 1970  and has served the Roman Catholic community for 32 years with pastoral love and dedication as bishop of Paramaribo. After having suffering a stroke on 31 December 2002, he presented his resignation to the Church authorities in Rome, which was subsequently honourably granted to him in 2003.

For 14 years, Monsignor Zichem bore his suffering patiently and in silence, even while being meaningfully present among the faithful and in society. As bishop of Paramaribo, Monsignor Zichem not only lovingly gave himself for the Church and her members, but dedicated himself with heart and soul as an upright human being for our entire society. Especially during the great challenges in the history of our nation, Monsignor Zichem always had compassion with all of society and fully dedicated himself to maintaining justice, peace and harmony in the country he so loved.

Further information regarding mourning, farewell and burial will be announced.

Pray for him, that he may rest in peace with the merciful Father.

On behalf of the Roman Catholic community,
+Karel Choennie
Bishop of Paramaribo”

May he rest in peace.

“Be channels of mercy” – Pope Francis addresses Dutch pilgrims

It was the high point of a multi-day pilgrimage of some 2,000 Dutch faithful to Rome to conclude the Holy Year of Mercy. Holy Mass at St. Peter’s offered by Cardinal Eijk and other Dutch bishops, together with numerous priests and even almost 85-year-old Cardinal Adrianus Simonis, followed by a visit from Pope Francis, who addressed the pilgrims before shaking hands and greeting a number of pilgrims. Subsequently, the papal words were repeated in Dutch by a priest who had accompanied the Holy Father into St. Peter’s.

Before Pope Francis spoke, Cardinal Eijk addressed him in Italian. The English translation of his words follows below.

“Holy Father, we are here in Rome with more than two thousand pilgrims from the Netherlands. Your proclamation of the Holy Year of Mercy has resounded also in the Netherlands, in our dioceses and in our parishes. There have been celebrations of mercy in many churches, with Vespers and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, during which there was the opportunity for Confession. In this way many, including several young people, discovered or rediscovered the valuable sacrament of penance and reconcilation, an almost forgotten sacrament in the past half century in the Netherlands.

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In addition, many in our dioceses and parishes have dedicated themselves to maniest the works of mercy in various ways, but especially towards immigrants. The Dutch Bishops’ Conference has called upon all Catholics to care for immigrants as volunteers in every possible way, according to their talents and gifts. The Conference has done so at the start of the Holy Year of Mercy through her Christmas letter Hospitable Netherlands. It is reason for great joy that many have answered this call.

Holy Father, the Conference has therefore decided to make an inventory of all the best practices by which our volunteers assist immigrants, so that our parishes and our charitable work groups can learn from each other and be inspired. It is a great joy to me to give you the first copy of the the booklet, also entitled Hospitable Netherlands, which contains aforementioned best practices. Of course this booklet is written in Dutch, but we have considered you a little bit by translating the explanation of the maps of the dioceses and the icons used in this booklet into Italian.

Holy Father, on behalf of all the Dutch pilgrims gathered here I thank you for proclaiming the Holy Year of Mercy and also for receiving us so generously. We promise to also pray for your intenties, especially in these days. Holy Father, A thousand times thank you for everything.”

As the Holy Father approached the dais to speak, he was interrupted by a little boy presenting him with a bunch of yelow tulips. Of course the Pope stepped back and accepted the gift. Children come first.

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The full text of Pope Francis’ words, delivered in Italian, is available in Dutch here, and my translation follows below:

“Dear brothers and sisters,

It is a joy for me to greet you in the Basilica of St. Peter, on the occasion of the “Dutch day” in the Holy Year of Mercy. It is good that you have come together here, in a joint pilgrimage to Rome, with shepherds and faithful from all Dutch dioceses. In this way you express the vitality and community of the Church in the Netherlands and her unity with the Successor of Peter.

The Holy Year invites us to an even closer bond with Jesus Christ, the face of the Father’s mercy. It is impossible to ever fully understand this great mystery of God’s love! It is the source of our salvation: the entire world, every one of us needs mercy. It is this what saves us, gives us life, recreates us into true sons and daughters of God. And this salvific goodness of God can be experienced in a special way in the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. Confession is the place where we receive the gift of God’s forgiveness and mercy. There the transformation of each of us begins, and also the transformation of the life of the Church.

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I therefore encourage you to open your hearts and let yourself be transformed by God’s mercy. In this way you will in turn become implements of mercy. Once embraced by the merciful Father who always grants us His forgiveness, you will be enabled to witness of His love in everyday life. The men and women of today thirst for God, they thirst for His goodness and love. And you too, as “channels” of mercy, can help to quench this thirst. There are so many people you can help to rediscover Christ, the Saviour and Redeemer of mankind! As missionary disciples of Jesus you can “irrigate” society with the proclamation of the Gospel and with your love for your neiggbour, especially for the poorest and those people who have no one left but themselves.

I entrust you all and the entire Church in the Netherlands to the motherly protection of Blessed Mary, Mother of Mercy, and gladly give you my blessing. And please, pray also for me.”

 Photo credit: [1] Ramon Mangold, [2]AFP/Zenit, [3] Bisdom Roermond

Four cardinals to the Pope – An honest contribution to the debate

Four cardinals – in some ways, four usual suspects – have written to the Pope about Amoris laetitia, asking for clarification about certain issues which have given many writers a lot to write about already. And while some – although fewer than I initially expected – have chosen to see this as a challenge against Pope Francis, it is an attempt to insert some clarity into a sensitive and difficult issue.

4cardinalsCardinals Walter Brandmüller (President emeritus of the Pontifical Committee of Historical Sciences), Raymond Burke (Patron of the Order of Malta), Carlo Caffarra (Archbishop emeritus of Bologna) and Joachim Meisner (Archbishop emeritus of Cologne) published their September letter to Pope Francis today, after having received no papal reply. In the foreword to the letter, which can be read in full here, they express an awareness of the risk they run of being disregarded “as adversaries of the Holy Father and people devoid of mercy”. This is a real risk, as too often any sense of apparent disagreement with Pope Francis, or even, as here, a request for more clarity, is seen as an adversarial attack on the Holy Father. What many forget is that Pope Francis has frequently asked for such debate, not least during the Synod of Bishops, but certainly also in its aftermath across the world.

The fact that this letter has received no response seems perhaps a bit at odds with this request for open and honest debate, but perhaps it is wisest to see this, as the four cardinals do, “as an invitation to continue the reflection, and the discussion, calmly and with respect.”

The format of the letter is interesting, as it does not invite for a long explanatory answer, but a simple yes or no. This reflects the fact that underneath our pastoral action, there is a solid basis of doctrine, which does not change with the situation. This basis does not exist for itself, but for us, as it shows the way towards the objective truth that is Christ and His teaching.

There is more at stake than being nice in the discussion about marriage and divorce, and sin and mercy. The letter reflects that, as it raises important questions that need asking. It is not a matter of using the writings of one Pope against that of another, but taking the writings of both seriously.

The letter of the four cardinals deserves to be taken seriously, even though it is not something that can be directly applied in pastoral practice. Rather, it concerns itself with what comes before, what dictates the forms our pastoral practice can take. Hopefully, it will one day receive an answer from either Pope Francis or Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to whose attention the letter was also addressed.