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In US, abortion rates reach new low

Washington D.C., Dec 8, 2017 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- A report from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that abortion rates in the country are at a historic low since the nationwide legalization of abortion in 1973.

According to the study, abortion rates have fallen 22 percent between the years of 2005-2014. In 2014, the CDC cited 653,639 performed abortions, while over 1.4 million abortions took place in 1990.

“The CDC report indicates the percentage of abortion rates declined across all race, ethnic, and socio-economic backgrounds, which means pro-lifers are continuing to make great strides in protecting women and the unborn child,” Kathleen Neher, the president of the National Catholic Social Workers Association, told CNA.

The study included both surgical abortions and chemical abortions, which include abortifacient pills that end a pregnancy before 8 weeks gestation.

A number of different factors are playing into the overall decline in abortions. The CDC reported that “the proportion of pregnancies in the United States that were unintended decreased from 51 percent in 2008 to 45 percent during 2011–2013.” It pointed to increased use of long-acting contraceptives such as IUD and hormonal implants as one reason for this decrease.

However, another factor is the declining birthrate in the U.S. The National Center for Health Statistics found that the number of babies delivered in the U.S. has declined by about 1 percent over the past few years. It said that 3,941,109 babies were born in the U.S. in 2016, which was 37,388 fewer babies than were born in 2015.

Fertility rates hit a record low in the U.S. in 2016, bringing the number of births to 62.0 per 1,000 women, compared to the previous 62.5 births.  

“People are choosing less frequently to be parents, and women who are pregnant are choosing less frequently to abort the baby,” said James Studnicki, a statistics expert from the Charlotte Lozier Institute, according to The Hill.

While Neher considers the overall decline of abortions to be a positive sign, she had additional concerns about the high number of women living in poverty who are still choosing abortion.

“This is a concern, as various factors contribute to these decisions – the day-to-day complexities of economic challenges, and the break-down of the family in our society, often leaving women to make these choices on their own,” Neher said.

“The response to this is to support and offer women alternative choices,” she continued, saying efforts to promote alternatives should include support for adoption, prenatal care, housing, and connecting women to programs that care for the dignity of both mother and child.  

The number of abortions could potentially hit an even lower rate in the year to come. Of the abortions performed in 2014, about 1.3 percent took place after 20 weeks gestation. The practice of abortions after 20 weeks could be outlawed if the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act becomes a law. The bill has passed the House but is currently pending in the Senate.

While the CDC numbers do show an overall decline in abortions, the study is limited in its findings. States are not obligated to report their abortion data, and California, New Hampshire and Maryland did not include their numbers in the report.

 

Pope Francis says Our Father is poorly translated

Vatican City, Dec 8, 2017 / 10:40 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a video series for Italian television network TV2000, Pope Francis said that “lead us not into temptation” is a poorly translated line of the Our Father.

“This is not a good translation,” the Pope said in the video, published Dec. 6. “I am the one who falls, it's not (God) who pushes me toward temptation to see how I fall. A father doesn't do this, a father helps us to get up right away.”

He noted that this line was recently re-translated in the French version of the prayer to read “do not let me fall into temptation.”

The Latin version of the prayer, the authoritative version in the Catholic Church, reads “ne nos inducas in tentationem.”

The Pope said that the one who leads people into temptation “is Satan; that is the work of Satan.” He said that the essence of that line in the prayer is like telling God: “when Satan leads me into temptation, please, give me your hand. Give me your hand.”

Just as Jesus gave Peter his hand to help him out of the water when he began to sink, the prayer also asks God to “give me your hand so that I don't drown,” Pope Francis said.

The Pope made his comments in the seventh part of the “Our Father” television series being aired by Italian television network TV2000.

Filmed in collaboration with the Vatican's Secretariat for Communications, the series consists of nine question-and-answer sessions with Pope Francis and Fr. Marco Pozza, a theologian and a prison chaplain in the northern Italian city of Padua.

In each of the sessions, Fr. Pozza asks the Pope about a different line in the Our Father prayer, and the Pope offers his insights. A preview of the series was presented at the Vatican's Film Library by Msgr. Dario Edoardo Vigano, head of the Secretariat for Communications.

The show also led to the publication of a book titled “Our Father,” which was released by the Vatican Publishing House and Italian publisher Rizzoli Nov. 23, and is based on Pozza's conversations with the Pope in the video series.

Each of the first eight episodes of the series begin with an excerpt from conversation between the Pope and Pozza, which is followed by a second conversation between Pozza and another guest. The final episode will consist of the priest's entire conversation with Pope Francis.

In his question to Pope Francis on the line “lead us not into temptation,” Pozza noted that many people have asked him how God can lead someone into temptation, and questioned what the phrase actually intends to say.

The question is one of the reasons the French bishops decided to make a request for a new translation of the Our Father that they believe conveys the meaning more clearly.

According to the French episcopal conference, the decision to make the change was accepted by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in June 2013.

The new translation, released Dec. 3 to mark the first day of Advent and the beginning of the new liturgical year, now reads “ne nous laisse pas entrer en tentation,” meaning, “do not let us fall into temptation,” versus the former “ne nous soumets pas à la tentation,” or “lead us not into temptation.”

The Pope’s remarks do not change the translations of liturgical texts. Such a change would begin with a resolution by an episcopal conference in English-speaking countries.

In a previous episode of the “Our Father” series, Pope Francis said “it takes courage” to recite the prayer, because it means calling on someone else and truly believing that “God is the Father who accompanies me, forgives me, gives me bread, is attentive to everything I ask, and dresses me better than wildflowers.”

“To believe is a great risk,” and means daring to make the leap of faith, he said. Because of this, “praying together is so beautiful: because we help each other to dare.”

Vatican nativity scene, Christmas tree unveiled

Vatican City, Dec 8, 2017 / 08:55 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In an inauguration ceremony Thursday, the Vatican officially unveiled this year’s nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square, also lighting the 69-foot Christmas tree for the first time this year.

In an audience with the tree and nativity donors Dec. 7, Pope Francis reflected on the symbolism found in the two Christmas traditions, which he said are “signs of the compassion of the heavenly Father, of his participation and closeness to humanity” even in its “very difficulties.”  

The branches of the tree, “reaching upward,” remind us to reach for “the highest gifts,” he explained. And in “the simplicity of the crib we meet and contemplate the tenderness of God” as manifested in the Child Jesus.

This year’s Vatican nativity scene was created by artisans in a local workshop and donated by an ancient Benedictine Abbey, the Sanctuary of Montevergine, which lies near Naples.

A special detail of this year’s scene: in one corner hangs a replica of the icon of Our Lady of Montevergine, a nod to the abbey which donated it. The original image, which is 12 feet tall, hangs in the chapel of the Sanctuary of Montevergine.

Outside of the traditional nativity figures of Mary, Joseph, the child Jesus, the Wise Men, shepherds, an angel, and animals, the other figures are represented in the act of performing the 7 Corporal Works of Mercy, such as burying the dead, visiting the imprisoned, and clothing the naked.

The approximately 6 1/5-foot-tall figures are made of colored terracotta and dressed in traditional eighteenth-century Neapolitan costumes. The whole scene is built on a platform about 861-square-feet in size.

In a change from past years, this one includes a technological element; visitors can connect to a special Wi-Fi access point in St. Peter’s Square and scan a QR code to watch a video to learn more about the nativity.

The Christmas tree is a northern European tradition which has only recently become more common in Italy. The tradition to have a tree in St. Peter’s Square was begun by St. John Paul II in 1982.

This year’s tree, which comes from Poland, is 69-feet tall and about 60 years old. Its tip was lost when it was struck by lightning several years ago.

It was donated by the Archdiocese of Elk and cut down by a local forestry service, which transported it by truck over more than 1200 miles in 12 days to reach Rome, traveling mostly by night, when traffic is less dense.

The ornaments which decorate the spruce were created by children with cancer and their parents from several hospitals in Italy, as well as by children from Italian zones affected by earthquakes the past two years.

The ornaments were created in clay by the children and then reproduced using synthetic materials which can stand up to the weather in St. Peter’s Square.

The nativity and tree will remain in St. Peter’s Square until Jan. 7, 2018, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

Beauty advice from Pope Francis: Be virtuous like Mary

Vatican City, Dec 8, 2017 / 04:37 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Friday’s Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis offered his own ‘beauty secret’ – with Mary as model – saying beauty does not come from age or appearance, but from living a virtuous life rooted in scripture.

The Blessed Virgin Mary, though a simple and humble person, “lived a beautiful life,” the Pope said Dec. 8, asking “what was her secret?”

The answer can be found in the story of the Annunciation, he said. “In many paintings, Mary is depicted sitting in front of the angel with a small book. The book is scripture.”

“The Word of God was her secret: close to her heart, it then took flesh within her womb. Remaining with God, dialoguing with Him in every circumstance, Mary made her life beautiful.”

In his special Angelus address for the feast day, Pope Francis emphasized that what makes someone’s life beautiful is “not appearance, not what passes, but the heart focused on God.”

Francis noted how Mary came from a simple family and lived in a humble fashion in Nazareth, which was an almost unknown village. She was not famous. “Our Lady did not even have a comfortable life,” he said. Yet the angel greets her with the words, “hail, full of grace!”

The Church extols the Mother of God as “all beautiful,” or “tota pulchra,” in Latin, the Pope continued. This is because her beauty is not found in her outward appearance, but in her total freedom from sin.

“There is only one thing that really does grow old: not age, but sin,” he emphasized. “Sin makes (us) old, because it fossilizes the heart. It closes it, makes it inert, it makes it fade. But the (woman) full of grace is empty of sin.”

Let us ask for her help to remain free of sin, he concluded, so that we too can live a beautiful life, saying “yes,” to God.

After reciting the Angelus, Pope Francis noted how later in the afternoon he will visit Rome’s Piazza di Spagna to venerate the statue of the Immaculate Conception overlooking the Spanish Steps.

He asked those gathered to join him spiritually in this act, “which expresses filial devotion to our heavenly Mother.”

The statue of Our Lady, which sits atop a nearly 40-foot-high column, was dedicated Dec. 8, 1857, just a few years after the Catholic Church adopted the doctrine of Mary’s Immaculate Conception. Since the 1950s, it has been a custom for popes to venerate the statue for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

The statue is usually adorned with homages of flowers hung in the form of wreaths around Mary’s outstretched arms and laid at the base of the statue. Early in the morning Dec. 8, firemen placed a large wreath of white and yellow flowers upon Mary’s arm, reaching the statue with the ladder from a firetruck.

During his visit Pope Francis will place flowers at the base of the statue and recite a short prayer to Our Lady, made on behalf of the people who live in Rome.

After the visit to Piazza di Spagna, the Pope is scheduled to stop at the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, where he will venerate the image of Our Lady Salus Populi Romani.

Orange's Vietnam-born Auxiliary Bishop Luong dies at age 77

Orange, Calif., Dec 7, 2017 / 05:09 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishop Dominic Dinh Mai Luong, the first Vietnam-born bishop to serve in the U.S., died Thursday, Dec. 6, at the age of 77.

He had served as an auxiliary bishop in the Diocese of Orange, one of the largest dioceses in the country, until his 75th birthday in 2015.

The future bishop was born Dec. 20, 1940 in Minh Cuong, about 50 miles from Hanoi in what was then French Indochina. He was the second of 11 children. The family was forced to move many times due to political instability, the Orange County Catholic reports.

He attended a French-Vietnamese school and then a minor seminary. In 1956, at the age of 16, his bishop sent him to the U.S. to continue his priestly formation. He would not return home until 1979 because of the Vietnam War.

Luong was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Da Nang on May 21, 1966 by Bishop James A. McNulty at the Basilica of Our Lady of Victory in Lackawanna, N.Y.

After ordination he received a bachelor’s degree in physics and master’s degrees in biology and psychology. He taught biology at a junior seminary in Buffalo, where he also served as associate pastor at Saint Louis Parish.

He served many refugees in New Orleans, where he would become director of the archdiocese’s Vietnamese apostolate and became founding pastor of Mary, Queen of Vietnam parish. He was incardinated into the Archdiocese of New Orleans in 1976.

He worked as director of the National Center for the Vietnamese Apostolate and directed the U.S. bishops’ pastoral care for migrants and refugees.

St. John Paul II named him a bishop in April 2003, as a response to the major growth of the Church in the Orange diocese and the growing numbers there of Catholics from Vietnam.

Bishop Luong had retired in 2015, but remained active at St. Bonaventure Church in Huntington Beach, Calif., which has a large Vietnamese community.

He had been writing a book on Marian apparitions in Vietnam and led the monthly Lectio Divina at St. Bonaventure.

NM bishop prays for student victims of school shooting

Gallup, N.M., Dec 7, 2017 / 04:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Two students at Aztec High School in Aztec, N.M., were killed in a shooting Thursday morning, and the local bishop has prayed for the victims and the community.

“St. Paul tells us in Romans 12:21 'Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.' In the coming days, many survivors and families will also be facing the fear and psychological effects that inevitably follow any tragedy. Please join me in offering prayers for the students and families,” Bishop James Wall of Gallup said Dec. 7.

“Please also join me in offering our support to the community of Aztec. We mourn the loss of life with you.”

The diocese is holding a prayer vigil at 4:30 this afternoon at St. Joseph parish in Aztec, about 120 miles northeast of Gallup.

The shooter is also dead. According to local outlet KRQE News 13, no other injuries have been reported, and the school has been evacuated.

Nearby schools, including those in Bloomfield, were put on lockdown as a precaution.

Please pray for the students, families, and community of Aztec. https://t.co/U0vhWduhN4

— Diocese of Gallup (@DioceseofGallup) December 7, 2017

Pope names new archbishops for Paris, Mexico City dioceses

Vatican City, Dec 7, 2017 / 10:37 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis on Thursday named the next archbishops of two major metropolitan sees – Archbishop Michel Aupetit to Paris and Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes to Mexico City, the world’s largest diocese.

The appointments were announced in a press release from the Vatican Dec. 7. Both prelates are replacing bishops who have retired upon reaching the age of 75, the normal retirement age for clergy.

Cardinal Aguiar, 67, has held top roles in both the Mexican bishops’ conference and the Latin American bishops’ conference and is a member of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.

Cardinal Aguiar has been archbishop of Tlalnepantla, Mexico since 2009. He replaces Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, whose retirement was accepted by Pope Francis after reaching the age of 75.

Aguiar was born on Jan. 9, 1950 in Tepic, Mexico. He studied at the Seminary of Tepic, followed by the seminaries of Montezuma in the United States and of Tula. On April 22, 1973 he was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Tepic.

He received a licentiate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome in 1977.

As a priest he served as a parochial vicar, as well as rector of the Seminary of Tepic. At the same time, he was President of the Organization of Mexican Seminaries (OSMEX) and a member of the board of directors of Latin American Seminaries.

He was later rector of the John XXIII Residence for priests of the Pontifical University of Mexico in Mexico City, where he was also a professor of Sacred Scripture. In 1997 he received a doctorate in Biblical Theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

In June 1997 he was consecrated bishop for the Diocese of Texcoco and in February 2009 he was made Metropolitan Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Tlalnepantla.

From 2004-2006 he was secretary general of the Mexican bishops’ conference, and then from 2006-2012, president of the conference. He also held various positions in the Latin American Bishops’ Council (CELAM) from 2000-2015, including secretary general, vice-president and president.

He participated in both assemblies of the Synod of Bishops on the family in 2014 and 2015 and was made a cardinal by Pope Francis in the November 2016 consistory. He is also a member of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.

The Archdiocese of Mexico City covers 551 square miles and, as of 2013, contained more than 7 million Catholics. There are nearly 600 diocesan priests and over 1,000 religious priests. There are also more than 7,000 consecrated men and women.

Archbishop Aupetit, 66, a former doctor, is an expert in bioethics. He has been archbishop of Nanterre, France since May 2014.

He replaces Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, archbishop of Paris, whose retirement was accepted by Pope Francis after reaching the age of 75.

Archbishop Aupetit was born in Versailles on March 23, 1951. He graduated with a medical degree in 1978, and worked as a medical professional in the northern suburbs of Paris for 12 years.

His specialty was in medical bioethics, which he taught at the Henri Mondor Hospital in Creteil. In 1990 he entered the seminary and in June 1995 he was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Paris.

He served as a parish priest and a high school chaplain for a number of years, as well as vicar general of the archdiocese and a member of the presbyteral council from 2006-2013.

On February 2, 2013 he was appointed auxiliary bishop of Paris. He was consecrated on April 19, 2013. Aupetit was appointed bishop of Nanterre on April 4, 2014.

He is president of the “Family and Society” council of the French bishops’ conference and is also a member of the conference’s bioethics working group.

The Archdiocese of Paris is 40 square miles and has approximately 1.3 million Catholics, as of 2013. There are over 800 diocesan priests and over 500 religious priests and approximately 2,700 consecrated men and women.

Pope Francis: It's good for young people to study Latin

Vatican City, Dec 6, 2017 / 10:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a message to the Pontifical Academies on Tuesday, Pope Francis praised the study of Latin, especially for young people, and encouraged scholars and teachers to promote its study as a positive guide for students as they navigate life.

Addressing academics and Latin teachers, the Pope said Dec. 5 that they should “know how to speak to the hearts of the young, know how to treasure the very rich heritage of the Latin tradition to educate them in the path of life, and accompany them along paths rich in hope and confidence…”

Pope Francis’ message was read at the 22nd Solemn Public Session of the Pontifical Academies, which had as its theme, “In interiore homine: Research paths in the Latin tradition.”

The Pope praised “the theme of interiority, of the heart, of consciousness and self-awareness” which he said is found “in every culture as well as in the different religious traditions.”

“Significantly,” he continued, this theme is “presented with great urgency and strength even in our time, often characterized by concern with appearance, superficiality, the division between heart and mind, interiority and exteriority, consciousness and behavior.”

Moments of change, crisis, or transformation, whether in relationships or in a person’s identity, require reflection “on the inner and intimate essence of the human being.”

Francis also noted the many important figures, both in the classical and the Christian traditions, who have reflected on the dynamism of man, pointing especially to the Fathers of the Church and the Latin writers of the first millennium.

Highlighting St. Augustine in particular, the Pope quoted from his Tractates on the Gospel of St. John, which say, “Return to your heart; see there what, it may be, you can perceive of God, for in it is the image of God. In the inner man dwells Christ, in the inner man are you renewed after the image of God, in His own image recognize its Author.”

This is relevant also for our time, he stressed, and worthy of our reflection and of sharing with others, especially young people, who are just starting on the journey of life.

A journey where they may be caught up, he explained, in the “labyrinths of superficiality and banality, of the external success that conceals an inner emptiness, of the hypocrisy that masks the split between appearances and the heart, between the beautiful and cared-for body and the soul, empty and arid.”

At the meeting, the winners of the 2017 Prize of the Pontifical Academies were also awarded. This year's prize winners are Dr. Pierre Chambert-Protat for his doctoral thesis on Florus of Lyon, and Dr. Francesco Lubian for her critical publication of the Disticha attributed to St. Ambrose.

The winners of the Medal of the Pontificate were Dr. Shari Broodts for a critical edition of the Sermones of St. Augustine and the Latin Teaching Group of the University of Toulouse, for the publication of a Latin manual for university students.

The 2017 Prize of the Pontifical Academies was sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Academy for Latin, or Pontificia Acadamia Latinitatis, which was founded by Benedict XVI in 2012 through the motu proprio Latina Lingua.

Organized every year by the Pontifical Council for Culture, the 2017 Prize of the Pontifical Academies was on two themes: methodological proposals for teaching Latin today, and the reception of ancient Christian Latin between the medieval and modern eras.

The first topic was “reserved to institutions (academies, schools, associations, foundations, research groups etc.) that are engaged in formative activity among the youth,” the Prize’s press release stated.

The second was for scholars between the ages of 25 and 40 who have produced doctoral theses or publications on the theme in the last five years.

Pope Francis urges world leaders to respect UN position on Jerusalem

Vatican City, Dec 6, 2017 / 03:37 am (CNA/EWTN News).- With debate on the status of Jerusalem heating up in the wake of U.S. President Donald Trump's controversial decision to recognize the city as the capital of Israel, Pope Francis has urged international leaders to proceed with prudence and respect for current U.N. resolutions.

“My thought now goes to Jerusalem. In this regard, I cannot ignore my deep concern for the situation that has been created in recent days,” the Pope said Dec. 6.

He issued a “heartfelt appeal” to the international community to ensure that “everyone is committed to respecting the status quo of the city, in accordance with the relevant Resolutions of the United Nations.”

The position of the U.N. on the Jerusalem issue is that East Jerusalem is occupied Palestinian territory, and that the city should eventually become the capital of the two states of Israel and Palestine.

Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims in the Vatican's Paul VI Hall during his weekly general audience, during which he recounted the phases of his recent Nov. 27-Dec. 2 trip to Burma, also called Myanmar, and Bangladesh.

His appeal for Jerusalem comes shortly after news came out that U.S. President Donald Trump would be recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel – a widely controversial decision that has provoked a mixed reaction from the international community.

As part of the plan, the Trump administration is expected to eventually move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and while Israel welcomes the changes, both Palestinians and Arab leaders have voiced concern that the move could jeopardize the peace process in the Middle East, according to BBC.

Israel has traditionally always recognized Jerusalem as its capital. However, Palestinians claim that the eastern portion of the city is the capital of the future Palestinian state. In recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital, the U.S. is the first country to do so since the state was established in 1948.

Debate on the issue is in many ways the crux of the conflict between Israel and Palestine, which is backed by Arab leaders, including Saudi Arabia, and the wider Islamic world.

According to the 1993 Israel-Palestinian peace accords, the final status of Jerusalem will be discussed in the late stages of the talks. Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem has never been recognized by the international community, and all countries have embassies in Tel Aviv.

Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital, then, is likely to increase tension on the issue, particularly in regards to the 200,000-some settlements Israel has built in East Jerusalem, which are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this stance.

On Wednesday, a group of more than a dozen Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem released a statement cautioning that the U.S. policy change “will yield increased hatred, conflict, violence and suffering in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, moving us farther from the goal of unity and deeper toward destructive division.”

“Our solemn advice and plea is for the United States to continue recognizing the present international status of Jerusalem. Any sudden changes would cause irreparable harm,” they warned.

“We are confident that, with strong support from our friends, Israelis and Palestinians can work towards negotiating a sustainable and just peace, benefiting all who long for the Holy City of Jerusalem to fulfill its destiny.”

In his general audience, Pope Francis noted how Jerusalem is a “unique city” that is considered holy for Jews, Christians and Muslims. Because of this, he said the city has “a special vocation for peace.”

“I ask the Lord that this identity be preserved and reinforced for the benefit of the Holy Land, the Middle East and the entire world, and that wisdom and prudence prevail to avoid adding new elements of tension in a global panorama already convulsed and marked by so many cruel conflicts,” he said.

Prior to his general audience, the Pope met with a Palestinian delegation of religious and intellectual leaders for a scheduled audience, urging dialogue that is respectful of everyone's rights in the Holy Land. He also voiced his hope that “peace and prosperity” would prevail for the Palestinian people.

On his trip to Burma and Bangladesh, Francis said it was “a great gift from God,” and thanked the civil authorities and bishops of each country for their welcome and for everything they did to prepare for the trip.

He noted how his Nov. 27-30 visit to Burma marked the first time a Pope has ever traveled to the country, which took place just months after the Holy See established full diplomatic relations with the nation in May.  

“I wanted, also in this case, to express the closeness of Christ and of the Church to a people that has suffered due to conflict and repression, and which now is slowly walking toward a new condition of freedom and peace,” he said.

Burma, a majority Buddhist country where minorities, including Christians, often face stigma and discrimination, is still working to transition to a democratic government after more than 50 years of military rule, while also facing harsh criticism from the international community over what the United Nations has called a “textbook case of ethnic cleansing” of Rohingya Muslims from the country's Rakhine State.

In this context, Christians there are the “leaven of God,” he said, and called the Church in Burma a “living and fervent” community that he had the joy of meeting and affirming in faith and communion.   

Similarly, he said his Nov. 30-Dec. 2 visit to Bangladesh was equally important, and focused largely on the need for “respect and dialogue” between Christianity and Islam, as the country is a majority Muslim nation with a small Catholic community.

Religious freedom was a major theme, and was reflected in each of his meetings, he said, and underlined the importance of “openness of the heart as the basis for the culture of encounter, harmony and peace.”

Analysis: Argentine letter on Amoris is in the Acta. Does that change things?

Vatican City, Dec 5, 2017 / 05:19 pm (CNA).- Despite the recent inclusion of Pope Francis' 2016 letter to the Buenos Aires bishops on Amoris laetitia in the Holy See's official text of record, neither the Church's discipline nor its doctrine have changed.

The move is the latest in the debate over the admission of the divorced-and-remarried to Communion. The Second Vatican Council, St. John Paul II, and Benedict XVI – as well as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts under them – all firmly opposed proposals to admit to eucharistic communion the divorced-and-remarried who do not observe continence.

The debate has received renewed impetus under Pope Francis. His 2016 apostolic exhortation on love in the family, Amoris laetitia, has been met with varied reception and interpretation within the Church. Its eighth chapter, entitled “Accompanying, Discerning, and Integrating Weakness,” deals with, among other things, the pastoral care of the divorced-and-remarried, those who may not be admitted to Communion unless they have committed to living in continence, eschewing the acts proper to married couples.

Yet, for many Church leaders and theologians, ambiguous language in that chapter has led to uncertainties about this practice, and about the nature and status of the apostolic exhortation itself. Some have maintained that it is incompatible with Church teaching, and others that it has not changed the Church's discipline. Still others read Amoris laetitia as opening the way to a new pastoral practice, or even as a development in continuity with St. John Paul II.

Some Church leaders have noted that Amoris laetitia has led to the disorientation and great confusion of many of the faithful, and at least one respected theologian has argued that Francis' pontificate has fostered confusion, diminished the importance of doctrine in the Church's life, and cause faithful Catholics to lose confidence in the papacy.

Pope Francis has been understood to encourage those who interpret Amoris laetitia as opening the way to a new pastoral practice – as he seemed to do in a letter to the bishops of the Buenos Aires region, which is the subject of the latest furor.

His letter approves those bishops' pastoral response to the divorced-and-remarried, based on Amoris laetitia. The response had said that ministry to the divorced-and-remarried must never create confusion about Church teaching and the indissolubility of marriage, but may also allow access to the sacraments under specific limits. These might include specific situations when a penitent in an irregular union is under attenuated culpability, as when leaving such a union could cause harm to his children, although the circumstances envisioned are not precisely delineated, which, some theologians say, has contributed to the confusion.

The Pope's Sept. 5, 2016 letter addressed to Bishop Sergio Alfredo Fenoy of San Miguel said, “The text is very good and makes fully explicit the meaning of the eighth chapter of ‘Amoris Laetitia’. There are no other interpretations. And I am sure it will do a lot of good. May the Lord reward you for this effort of pastoral charity.”

It was reported this weekend that Pope Francis' letter, as well as the pastoral response of the Buenos Aires bishops, were promulgated in the October 2016 issue of the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, a Vatican publication in which official documents of the Pope and the Roman Curia are published, and through which universal ecclesiastical laws are promulgated.

Dr. Edward Peters, a professor of canon law at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, wrote Dec. 4 that the Buenos Aires document contains assertions “running the gamut from obviously true, through true-but-oddly-or-incompletely phrased, to a few that, while capable of being understood in an orthodox sense, are formulated in ways that lend themselves to heterodox understandings.”

He noted that what prevents the admission of the divorced-and-remarried to eucharistic communion is canon 915 “and the universal, unanimous interpretation which that legislative text, rooted as it is in divine law, has always received.” The canon states that those “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

In an August 2017 post anticipating the possible publication in AAS of the Buenos Aires letter or the Pope's commendation of it, Peters had written that “many, nay most, papal documents appearing in the Acta carry no canonical or disciplinary force.”

He wrote that “Unless canon 915 itself is directly revoked, gutted, or neutered, it binds ministers of holy Communion to withhold that most august sacrament from, among others, divorced-and-remarried Catholics except where such couples live as brother-sister and without scandal to the community.”

“Nothing I have seen to date, including the appearance of the pope’s and Argentine bishops’ letters in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, makes me think that Canon 915 has suffered such a fate.”

He added: “Neither the pope’s letter to the Argentines, nor the Argentine bishops’ document, nor even Amoris laetitia so much as mentions Canon 915, let alone do these documents abrogate, obrogate, or authentically interpret this norm out of the Code of Canon Law.”

While the Pope's letter and the Buenos Aires bishops' pastoral response do contain ambiguous “disciplinary assertions”, they are insufficient “to revoke, modify, or otherwise obviate” canon 915, Peters wrote.

Aside from the canonical problems with the admission of the divorced-and-remarried to eucharistic communion is the question of what it means that the Buenos Aires document and the Pope's letter in support of it are intended to be a part of the Church’s Magisterium.

A rescript from Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, in the AAS notes that their promulgation was intended “as authentic Magisterium.”

The Magisterium is a part of teaching office of bishops, by which they are charged with interpreting and preserving the deposit of faith. In its 1990 declaration Donum veritatis, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith noted that the Magisterium “has the task of discerning, by means of judgments normative for the consciences of believers, those acts which in themselves conform to the demands of faith and foster their expression in life and those which, on the contrary, because intrinsically evil, are incompatible with such demands.”

Catholics are bound to assent to divinely revealed teachings with faith; to firmly embrace and retain those things which are required to safeguard reverently and to expound faithfully the deposit of faith; and to give religious submission of intellect and will to doctrines on faith or morals given through the authentic Magisterium.  

The critical question regarding Amoris laetitia is what, precisely, it teaches with regard to faith and morals, and what it doesn’t, or even, can’t, teach.  On the latter question, especially, the Church’s existent doctrine is helpful.

Even while some bishops, such as those of the Buenos Aires region and those of Malta, have interpreted the apostolic exhortation as allowing a new pastoral practice, many others have maintained that it changes nothing of doctrine or discipline.

For example, while prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Müller said that Amoris laetitia has not eliminated Church discipline on marriage, nor has it has permitted in some cases the divorced-and-remarried “to receive the Eucharist without the need to change their way of life.”

“This is a matter of a consolidated magisterial teaching, supported by scripture and founded on a doctrinal reason: the salvific harmony of the sacrament, the heart of the 'culture of the bond' that the Church lives.”

The prefect of the CDF said that if Pope Francis' exhortation “had wanted to eliminate such a deeply rooted and significant discipline, it would have said so clearly and presented supporting reasons.”

“There is however no affirmation in this sense; nor does the Pope bring into question, at any time, the arguments presented by his predecessors, which are not based on the subjective culpability of our brothers, but rather on their visible, objective way of life, contrary to the words of Christ,” Cardinal Müller stated.

It has been the constant teaching of the Church that marriage is indissoluble, that people not married to each other may not legitimately engage in acts of sexual intimacy, that the Eucharist may not be received by those conscious of grave sin, and that absolution requires the purpose of amending one's life, even with a diminished or limited capacity to exercise the will.

And the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God's law. Consequently, they cannot receive Eucharistic communion as long as this situation persists … Reconciliation through the sacrament of Penance can be granted only to those who have repented for having violated the sign of the covenant and of fidelity to Christ, and who are committed to living in complete continence.”

St. John Paul II promulgated the Catechism in 1992 by the apostolic constitution Fidei depositum, in which he wrote that it “is a statement of the Church's faith and of Catholic doctrine, attested to or illumined by Sacred Scripture, Apostolic Tradition and the Church's Magisterium. I declare it to be a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion and a sure norm for teaching the faith.”

“The approval and publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church represents a service which the Successor of Peter wishes to offer to the Holy Catholic Church … of supporting and confirming the faith of all the Lord Jesus' disciples, as well as of strengthening the bonds of unity in the same apostolic faith. Therefore, I ask the Church's Pastors and the Christian faithful to receive this catechism in a spirit of communion and to use it assiduously in fulfilling their mission of proclaiming the faith and calling people to the Gospel life. This catechism is given to them that it may be a sure and authentic reference text for teaching Catholic doctrine.”

Critical to understanding the character of the Church’s teaching on these issues is a declaration  the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts wrote in 2000 that canon 915's prohibition on admitting to Holy Communion those who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin is applicable to the divorced-and-remarried.

“Any interpretation of can. 915 that would set itself against the canon's substantial content, as declared uninterruptedly by the Magisterium and by the discipline of the Church throughout the centuries, is clearly misleading,” it said.

This prohibition, the pontifical council continued, is “by its nature derived from divine law and transcends the domain of positive ecclesiastical laws: the latter cannot introduce legislative changes which would oppose the doctrine of the Church.”

This declaration defines a kind of a limit on how the Magisterium can develop; by invoking divine law, the council says that no pastoral approach can transgress the norms of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. While considering questions of subjective culpability do not exceed those norms, the council’s directive explains that the Church can not, and will not, redefine the deposit of faith.  

The deposit of faith has not been changed, and nor has canon law. Despite a great deal of anxiety and media attention, truth remains unchanged, and unchanging.

While some find the Pope’s writing to be ambiguous, truth is not. Amoris laetitia must be interpreted in a way that does not contravene truth.

Even when such an interpretation is not readily apparent.