The Amazon Synod and the Future of Ministry

As the Synod on the Amazon came to an end, two big developments have dominated much of the news coverage (admittedly at the expense of other pressing matters both ecological and liturgical). The first has been passed out of the synod in their official write-up: the ordination of married men to the priesthood. The second was discussed but did not come to pass: it was expected the synod might recommend the ordination of women to the diaconate. (An important addendum: reports have circulated that an expanded version of the commission tasked with considering women’s ordination will re-convene following the synod.) Continue reading “The Amazon Synod and the Future of Ministry”

Unfolding Scandal in the Vatican

As #ChurchToo continues to unfold — and even brushes up against American partisan fights — the Vatican is finally responding to accusations leveled against Pope Francis and his predecessors.

As a reminder:

  • Ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was long rumored to abuse priests and seminarians. When allegations emerged that he had also sexually assaulted minors, he was removed from the College of Cardinals.
  • His successor in Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, was implicated both in cover-ups in Pennsylvania and suspicions about how much he knew vis-a-vis McCarrick. Wuerl has since resigned his cathedra in DC.
  • Former nuncio to the United States and noted “culture warrior” Archbishop Carlo Vigano published a letter accusing Pope Francis of knowingly covering for McCarrick and even rescinding sanctions against the disgraced cleric.
  • For all of his indignation, Vigano himself has been implicated in cover-ups and was repeatedly seen publicly alongside McCarrick. Which is to say, his credibility is lacking.
  • All of this is mired not only in the latest round of abuse and cover-up scandals but also an ecclesial cold war between “traditionalist” Catholics suspicious of Francis’ reform agenda and more progressive Catholics cheering on the pontiff‘s program.

The Vatican has taken over a month to respond to these allegations. Vigano has written a second letter. Both sides have dug in, and the culture war wages on. Continue reading “Unfolding Scandal in the Vatican”

On Allegations Against the Pope

The scandals of the Catholic Church continue to unfold, and they have now come to the Vatican itself.

The past two months have seen a harsh light unveiling more and more corruption within the Church. Even as many struggle to grasp the scope of abuse in Pennsylvania, new investigations are beginning in Saint Louis. Other states may be next, including Minnesota (which has already seen major scandals in two diocese). An author at America reminds readers that as horrific as the clerical abuse scandals are, there is likely a larger abuse scandal looming in Catholic homes. Bishops continue to claim that abuse is in the past, willfully ignoring survivors and family members still struggling in the present. The Faithful, kept in the dark and put in danger by their shepherds, are confronting a legacy of violence and facing the difficult decision of whether or not to leave the Church. Brother Casey Cole, a Franciscan deacon approaching his priestly ordination, has voiced his own struggle to comprehend the myriad sins of the Church he loves so much, going so far as to tell his audience that he understands if they want to leave. Continue reading “On Allegations Against the Pope”

“Where is your brother?”

Pope Francis’ tenure as the Bishop of Rome has been striking in many ways, but perhaps none more so than his concern for migrants and refugees.

Perhaps it is because Jorge Bergoglio’s family fled fascist Italy. Perhaps it’s because the Pope is from a continent that has seen so many migrants flee violence. Perhaps it is simply the work of the Holy Spirit at work in the life of a bishop. (For my part, I think it is all three.)

Whatever the reason(s), Francis’ time as the heir to Peter has been marked from the very beginning by his love for migrants. His first trip outside of Rome as Pope was to Lampedusa, the Italian island and landing point for many migrants and refugees in peril on the sea.

Some five years after that trip, Francis invited migrants, refugees, and rescue workers to Saint Peter’s for Mass. In his homily, the Pope revisited his sermon from Lampedusa five years ago, the theme of a God who searches us out, asking, “Where are you, Adam?” and “Cain, where is your brother?” It is a question, Francis tells us, directed at us. Where are our siblings, those suffering and in need of God’s loving kindness?

Building on that theme in this year’s sermon, the Bishop of Rome brought in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Addressing the assembled faithful from Spain in his native tongue, Francis says:

I wanted to celebrate the fifth anniversary of my visit to Lampedusa with you, who represent rescuers and those rescued on the Mediterranean Sea. I thank the rescuers for embodying in our day the parable of the Good Samaritan, who stopped to save the life of the poor man beaten by bandits. He didn’t ask where he was from, his reasons for travelling or his documents… he simply decided to care for him and save his life. To those rescued I reiterate my solidarity and encouragement, since I am well aware of the tragic circumstances that you are fleeing. I ask you to keep being witnesses of hope in a world increasingly concerned about the present, with little vision for the future and averse to sharing.

Pope Francis: Gaudete et Exsultate

Earlier this week, Pope Francis released an apostolic exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and Be Glad) on holiness and sanctification. That is, how do we live into the joy of God’s grace and Christ’s resurrection?

At times, the Pope sounds like Luther:

The Church has repeatedly taught that we are justified not by our own works or efforts, but by the grace of the Lord, who always takes the initiative. The Fathers of the Church, even before Saint Augustine, clearly expressed this fundamental belief. Saint John Chrysostom said that God pours into us the very source of all his gifts even before we enter into battle. Saint Basil the Great remarked that the faithful glory in God alone, for “they realize that they lack true justice and are justified only through faith in Christ”.

In the next paragraph, though, he cites to councils and synods. While Luther famously opposed most conciliar teachings, Francis’ reference to Trent underscores just how little divided Augsburg from Rome even during the 16th century:

The Second Synod of Orange taught with firm authority that nothing human can demand, merit or buy the gift of divine grace, and that all cooperation with it is a prior gift of that same grace: “Even the desire to be cleansed comes about in us through the outpouring and working of the Holy Spirit”. Subsequently, the Council of Trent, while emphasizing the importance of our cooperation for spiritual growth, reaffirmed that dogmatic teaching: “We are said to be justified gratuitously because nothing that precedes justification, neither faith nor works, merits the grace of justification; for ‘if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise, grace would no longer be grace’ (Rom 11:6)”.

There is much for Lutherans to agree with, there are words of challenge as well. With our emphasis on salvation by grace and faith alone, we all too often ignore what our Catholic and Methodist kindred have known all along: God’s grace is at work in us even after Baptism, sanctifying us and leading us to good works that continue God’s salvific work in the world. (The early Lutheran reformers understood the work of sanctification, addressing it in our confessional documents, but we lost that emphasis along the way.) While we cannot justify ourselves, by the grace of God we do participate in our sanctification. To that end, Francis writes:

Within the framework of holiness offered by the Beatitudes and Matthew 25:31-46, I would like to mention a few signs or spiritual attitudes that, in my opinion, are necessary if we are to understand the way of life to which the Lord calls us. I will not pause to explain the means of sanctification already known to us: the various methods of prayer, the inestimable sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation, the offering of personal sacrifices, different forms of devotion, spiritual direction, and many others as well.

We are saved by God’s grace, and by God’s grace — given to us physically in the Sacraments and lived out in the community of the Church as the Body of Christ — we are being pulled further up and further in to new life through Christ.

Read more reactions at RNS, the National Catholic Reporter, and these three pieces from the Jesuit publication America Magazine.

Pope Francis: The Stones Cry Out!

From Pope Francis’ homily on Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion:

Dear young people, you have it in you to shout. It is up to you to opt for Sunday’s “Hosanna!”, so as not to fall into Friday’s “Crucify him!”… It is up to you not to keep quiet. Even if others keep quiet, if we older people and leaders – so often corrupt – keep quiet, if the whole world keeps quiet and loses its joy, I ask you: Will you cry out?

Please, make that choice, before the stones themselves cry out.

And from his homily preached at the Great Vigil of Easter:

It is the silent night of those disciples who are disoriented because they are plunged in a crushing routine that robs memory, silences hope and leads to thinking that “this is the way things have always been done”. Those disciples who, overwhelmed, have nothing to say and end up considering “normal” and unexceptional the words of Caiaphas: “Can you not see that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed?” (Jn 11:50).

Amid our silence, our overpowering silence, the stones begin to cry out (cf. Lk 19:40) and to clear the way for the greatest message that history has ever heard: “He is not here, for he has been raised” (Mt 28:6). The stone before the tomb cried out and proclaimed the opening of a new way for all. Creation itself was the first to echo the triumph of life over all that had attempted to silence and stifle the joy of the Gospel. The stone before the tomb was the first to leap up and in its own way intone a song of praise and wonder, of joy and hope, in which all of us are invited to join.

Read the entire text for both sermons at Whispers in the Loggia.