In in-flight presser, Pope Francis tones down expectations for February’s abuse meeting

In the traditional press conference on the return flight from the World Youth Day celebrations in Panama, Pope Francis discussed a number of topics, one of which was the next major event on the Church’s calendar: next month’s summit on sexual abuse of minor in the Church, in which the presidents of the bishops’ conference of the world, the heads of the Eastern Catholic Churches, the prefects of a number of dicasteries and representatives of the leadership of religious orders and societies will take part.

The main purpose of the summit is not the eradication of sexual abuse anywhere, the Pope explained:

dyahq3ouyaaembu“I would like to say that I felt a little bit of an inflated expectation. You have to deflate the expectations. Because the problem of abuse will continue, it is a human problem, and is everywhere. I read a statistic the other day, 50% is reported, 20% is listened to and it ended with 5% is condemned, That’s terrible. It is a human drama and we must become aware of it. We too, by resolving the problem in the Church, but becoming aware of it, will help to resolve it in society, in families where shame covers everything. But first we must become aware, have the protocols and move forward”. [Translation by Vatican Insider]

This awareness is what the summit will try to achieve. The Council of Cardinals, until recently the C9, spawned the idea for the summit, as they saw that “some bishops did not understand well or did not know what to do or did one good thing and another one wrong, and we felt the responsibility to give a “catechesis” on this problem to the episcopal conferences. That is why the presidents are called.”

The bishops across the world, Pope Francis continued, must first be made aware of what the problem is. Many do, but still not all. Then they must know what they can and must do: the bishop in his own diocese, the metropolitan archbishop in the Church province, the episcopal conference as a body…

Will the abuse summit come with a general solution to the scourge of abuse of minors (and adults too) in the Catholic Church? No. It will, however, take what has already been done over the past decade or so and try to make sure that those measures, decisions and protocols are understood and used everywhere. It is one thing to make a general rule about, say, reporting abuse cases to the police, another to implement it. This summit will hopefully make it impossible for any bishop to say that he did not know what to do when confronted with an abusive priest or lay person, alive or deceased.

There are some who expect the Vatican to take responsibility, to enforce rules, to unceremoniously fire bishops who failed in reporting abuse, and that sentiment is understandable. Individual dioceses and bishops have taken responsibility, but many feel that the world Church as a body has not yet, or not enough. They cite the case of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and what Cardinal Donald Wuerl did or did not know, to name but one example. It remains to be seen if the summit will lead to quicker and more decisive responses to such cases, although, of course, the due process of finding indisputable proof, rather than the ventilation of opinions and gut feelings via social media, must always be respected.

Photo credit: DOMENICO AGASSO JR/Vatican Insider

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No opposition in Amoris laetita, Cardinal Müller says

14_09_kardinalmuellerIn recent comments published by Vatican Insider, Cardinal Gerhard Müller has been quite clear about his thoughts about the Four Cardinals’ Dubia. Like many on both sides of the debate (those who think the dubia are necessary and those who do not (or even those who think they are equal to heresy)), the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith does not think an answer from Pope Francis will be forthcoming. He even thinks that the four authors of the dubia have gone too far in their action, especially their making their questions public. While I do not necessarily agree with him there, I think that his comments about the doctrinal content of Amoris laetitia are on point.

Cardinal Müller says,

Amoris Laetitia is very clear in its doctrine and we can interpret the whole doctrine of Jesus on marriage, the whole doctrine of the Church in 2000 years of history.” Pope Francis, the cardinal concluded, “asks us to discern the situation of these people who live in an irregular union, one not according to the Church’s teaching on marriage, and asks us to help these people find a way towards reintegration into the Church according to the conditions of the sacraments, the Christian message of marriage. But I do not see any opposition: on the one hand we have the clear teaching on marriage, on the other hand the obligation of the Church to care for these people in need.”

What the cardinal has consistently done in this debate regarding Pope Francis’ exhortation and the changes it does or does not introduce, is to present it within the context of the entire Tradition of the Church. He says that Amoris laetitia does not do away with any doctrine; the Church still upholds the entirety of the sacrament of matrimony and the duties, obligations and graces it presents the spouses with. New, however, is the emphasis on those people who have failed in these obligations. Amoris laetitia includes no fingerpointing, but takes seriously the factual existence of these faithful. The Church, who is also a mother, has a duty of care for all the faithful, regardless of their success or lack thereof. Caring for couples who live in irregular unions does not mean doing away with the doctrine about marriage. But, the Pope asks, a way must be found to stand with these couples, to eintegrate them into the life of the Church. They are not cast out because of the situation.

What many commenters should recall, in my opinion, is that being a part of the Church is much more than receiving Communion. There can be many reasons for a person to be unable to receive, be it for a short time or for years on end. This does not preclude them from being an important part of the parish community.

Pro-life success in the Netherlands?

one_of_us_logoVatican Insider today triumphantly reported that an EU-wide pro-life initiative is unexpectedly successful in “the seriously secularised Netherlands”. While the news is certainly a surprise, it is also perhaps a bit too triumphalistic in tone. In a country with almost 17 million inhabitants, 20,00o signatures do not represent an overwhelming ground swell of support for the protection of unborn life. The fact remains that abortion is largely accepted as a medical procedure in the Netherlands.

‘One of Us’ is, all the same, a worthwhile initiative to support, as it aims to protect human life from its earliest beginnings:

“Based on the definition of the human embryo as the beginning of the development of the human being, which was given in a recent ECJ judgment (Brüstle vs. Greenpeace), “One of Us” asks the EU to end the financing of activities which presuppose the destruction of human embryos, in particular in the areas of research, development aid and public health.”

If you’re a citizen of the European Union, you too can add your signature to the initiative, which needs to collect 1 million of them, from at least 7 member states, before November 1st in order to propose legislation to the European Commission. Last week, the 500,000th signature was registered.

Go to One of Us and sign! As Christians, we have an obligation to protect life, for we believe in God, who is the very opposite of death.

(And seriously, Vatican Insider, that photo to accompany the article?)

Dangerous Rio – young German pilgrims advised to stay at home

Final MassWith about 2,500 young Catholics, the German delegation to the World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, in July of this year, is decidedly smaller than before. In comparison, some 16,500 young German Catholics attended the Madrid edition in 2011 and about 6,000 travelled all the way to Sydney in 2008. Why such a small group this time around? It’s not the distance or the cost, as Sydney was both further away and hence more expensive. No, in this case it is the German bishops who are discouraging underage Catholics from participating in the festivities, Vatican Insider reports.

Citing both travel costs and concerns about the pilgrims’ safety, the Bishop Conference’s religious education coordinator Markus Hartmann explains that the priests and coordinators accompanying the pilgrims will be ultimately responsible for their safety and that, it would seem, is a risk, or responsibility, they are not willing to take.

In a way, this reflects the added risk that Rio presents. Crime rates are admittedly higher than in, say, Sydney or Cologne, which hosted the event in 2005. On the other hand, it seems a bit odd that the bishops refuse the added responsibility: at other Church events, in or outside Germany, they are still responsible for those under their care, and pilgrims, young or old, can also be injured, fall ill, or even die in other places than Rio de Janeiro. There is always a risk.

It is sad that the bishops of Germany have chosen for this option, instead of relying on security measures that exist in Brazil, or impressing upon the pilgrims the need for extra safety precautions. After the World Youth Day, Rio de Janeiro will host both the Summer Olympics and the Football World Cup, so Brazil has much to loose if there is a security failure of any sort next July.

The fall of Cardinal Piacenza

piacenzaAmid the enthusiasm about Pope Francis and his first Psalm Sunday Mass, this little news item got snowed under, at least in my perception. La Stampa‘s Vatican Insider and APIC had reports today.

Concelebrating yesterday’s Mass with the Holy Father, among others, was Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy. He was visible every now and then on he Vatican live feed up until the homily, but was conspicuously absent afterwards. Today we learned the reason for that: Cardinal Piacenza had suffered a cardiac arrest, had fallen, and was taken to the intensive care unit of the Roman Gemelli hospital. The good news is that Cardinal Piacenza is not in mortal danger, and never was, but the episode was alarming nonetheless.

Extra prayers for the good cardinal who, in the eyes of more than a few, has good chances of new and greater duties in the Curia under Pope Francis.

Photo credit: afp