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Pope says no to women priests, yes to women in Curial leadership

Vatican City, Jun 20, 2018 / 03:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In an interview with Reuters, Pope Francis said more space has to be created for women to take on leading roles in the Roman Curia, but that priestly ordination is not an option.

Responding to a question about women's ordination to the priesthood, the pope said “there is the temptation to 'functionalize' the reflection on women in the Church, what they should do, what they should become.”

“We cannot functionalize women,” he said, explaining that while the Church is referred to as a woman, the Sacrament of Holy Orders is out of the question “because dogmatically it doesn't work.”

“John Paul II was clear and closed the door, and I will not go back on this. It was something serious, not something capricious,” he said, adding, “it cannot be done.”

However, Francis stressed that while the priesthood is out, women do need to be given more opportunities for leadership in the Roman Curia – a view he said has at times been met with resistance.

“I had to fight to put a woman as the vice-director of the press office,” he said, referring to his decision in 2016 to name Spanish journalist Paloma Garica Ovejero as the Vatican's deputy spokesperson.

He said he at one point offered a woman the job of heading the Vatican's Secretariat for Communications, but she turned it down because “she already had other commitments.”

Women in the Curia “are few, we need to put more,” he said, adding that it can be either a religious sister or a laywoman, “it doesn't matter,” but there is a need to move forward with an eye for quality and competency in the job.

“I don't have any problem naming a woman as the head of a dicastery, if the dicastery doesn't have jurisdiction,” he said, referring to the fact that some Vatican departments have specific functions in Church governance that require a bishop to do the job. Lay men are also ineligible to oversee offices that require the jurisdictional authority of a priest or bishop.

For example, the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy has jurisdiction, so it has to be led by a bishop, but for others, such as the Vatican's Secretariat for the Economy, “I would not have a problem naming a competent woman,” Francis said.

Women must continue to be promoted, but without falling into “a feminist attitude,” the pope said, adding that “in the end it would be machismo with a skirt. We don't want to fall into this.”

Pope Francis spoke during an interview with American journalist Phil Pullella of Reuters, which took place Sunday at the pope’s Vatican residence, and was published June 20.

In the interview, the pope touched on a variety of topics, including a possible deal with China on the appointment of bishops, clerical abuse and the ongoing scandal in Chile, the reform of the Roman Curia, and criticism he's faced.

On the topic of women, Francis said that in his experience, things are usually done better when there is a mixed group working on a task, rather than just men.

“Women have an ability to understand things, it’s another vision,” he said, noting that whenever he has visited prisons run by women, they “seemed to do better,” because women know how to be “mothers” and care for inmates and their needs in a unique way.

“Women know how to manage conflicts better. In these things, women are braver,” he said, adding, “I think it would be so also in the Curia if there were more women.”

Francis noted that some have said inviting more women into the mix might mean there is more gossip, however, he said he does not believe that would be the case, “because we men are also gossipers.”

Abortion clinic will not receive Texas bishops’ emails, court rules

Austin, Texas, Jun 20, 2018 / 01:26 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The 23 bishops of Texas will not have to turn over emails and other communications to an abortion provider, a federal appeals court ruled on Monday.

The ruling came in response to a Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops (TCCB) appeal from  an order from a trial court on Sunday requiring the bishops to hand over private documents to Whole Woman’s Health, a chain of abortion facilities in the state.

Whole Woman’s Health filed suit against the State of Texas two years ago over a law that requires aborted fetal remains to be either buried or cremated. Previously, the remains were treated as medical waste and thrown into a landfill.

Although the bishops are not party to the lawsuit, Whole Woman’s Health attempted to acquire various communications from the TCCB concerning abortion. These included private email and internal communications between bishops.

The bishops had previously offered to bury aborted fetal remains for free in Catholic cemeteries in Texas.

The bishops had requested emergency protection of their emails and other documents from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which put a halt to Sunday’s order. The court ordered additional briefs to be submitted by Monday, June 25.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the TCCB, said that the bishops deserve privacy from the government in their communications.

“Government should not have unbounded power to insert itself into the private conversations of any group, much less the leadership of the Catholic Church,” said Eric Rassbach, vice president and senior counsel at Becket.

“Constant surveillance of religious groups is a hallmark of totalitarian societies, not a free people.”

Rassbach’s sentiment was echoed by Texas bishops, who reiterated the importance of being able to have private deliberations amongst themselves.

Bishop Joe S. Vasquez, from the Diocese of Austin, said that he and his brother bishops have “not just a right, but a duty to speak out on issues that concern justice, mercy, and a consistent ethic on life.”

To do this, Vasquez said, it is critical that they be able to deliberate with each other privately prior to issuing a statement on a topic. He said the court’s ruling was “vital” for the Church.

“Children are not disposable,” said Bishop Edward J. Burns from the Diocese of Dallas, comparing the lawsuit to the policy of separating undocumented children from their parents at the U.S. border.

“We believe that life is sacred from the moment of conception. We also believe that we have a right to discuss in private how to address this issue and uphold the dignity of every human life, and that while upholding the sacredness of life may seem at odds with some people, our religious liberties and religious rights should not be eroded.”

 

Courage apostolate's 2018 conference to recall founder's mission

Bridgeport, Conn., Jun 20, 2018 / 11:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Courage International, an apostolate of the Catholic Church which serves people with same-sex attraction who seek to live a chaste life, will host its 30th annual conference this July, focusing on the faith of its founder, Fr. John Harvey, OSFS.

This year would have been Harvey’s 100th birthday. The conference will be held July 12-15 at Villanova University in Philadelphia.

Featuring speakers such as Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia and EWTN’s Johnette Benkovic, the theme of this year’s conference is “Faithful to a mission.” Several bishops have also confirmed their attendance.

"The program will focus on themes that were important to Father Harvey’s spirituality and pastoral approach, and we plan to include a number of speakers who worked closely with Father Harvey during the 28 years that he led the Courage apostolate," said Father Philip Bochanski, Courage International's executive director, in a June 19 statement.

Harvey was the director of Courage International from its inception in 1980 until his retirement in 2008. He died in 2010, at the age of 92.

The five goals of Courage International are chastity, prayer and dedication, fellowship, support, and “to live lives that may serve as good examples to others.”

Courage discourages the use of the terms “gay” and “lesbian” to refer to members, saying the organization “sees persons with same-sex attractions first and foremost as men and women created in the image of God.”

Since its founding, the organization has grown to have over 100 chapters in 14 countries. There is also a companion support group, EnCourage, for families and friends of those with same-sex attraction. Members of both Courage and EnCourage will share their personal testimonies at the conference.

 In 2016, Courage and EnCourage received canonical status as a diocesan clerical public association of the faithful.

Immediately preceding the 2018 conference, there will be a “clergy day” for priests, deacons, and seminarians, featuring seminars aiming to teach clergy how to minister properly to people with same-sex attraction.

Abuse allegation against Cardinal Theodore McCarrick 'credible'

Vatican City, Jun 20, 2018 / 07:30 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Archdiocese of New York announced Wednesday that an investigation it conducted into an allegation of sexual abuse against Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who oversaw multiple U.S. dioceses, has found the accusation to be “credible and substantiated.”

In the June 20 statement, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, said the alleged abuse happened nearly 50 years ago while McCarrick was a priest of the New York archdiocese. It is the only such accusation against McCarrick that the archdiocese is aware of, Dolan said.

Once the archdiocese received the allegation, they turned it over to local law enforcement, and it was “thoroughly investigated” by an independent forensics team, Dolan said, noting that McCarrick has maintained his innocence, but is cooperating in the investigation.

The Vatican has been informed of the accusation, and as a result, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, by order of Pope Francis, has prohibited McCarrick from public ministry. No official statement from the Vatican has been released.

McCarrick, 87, is a native of New York and served as the Bishop of Metuchen from 1982-1986, Archbishop of Newark from 1986-2000 and Archbishop of Washington from 2000-2006.

In his own statement on the alleged abuse, McCarrick said he was informed by Dolan about the allegation of abusing a teenager several months ago.

“While shocked by the report, and while maintaining my innocence,” he said, “I considered it essential that the charges be reported to the police, thoroughly investigated by an independent agency, and given to the Review Board of the Archdiocese of New York. I fully cooperated in the process.”

The cardinal said he was sad to hear that the allegations had been deemed “credible and substantiated” by law enforcement officials.

He said that he accepts the Holy See's decision to remove him from public ministry, and has pledged obedience to the decision.

“I realize this painful development will shock my many friends, family members, and people I have been honored to serve in my sixty-years as a priest,” he said, adding that while he has “absolutely no recollection of this reported abuse, and believe in my innocence, I am sorry for the pain the person who brought the charges has gone through, as well as for the scandal such charges cause our people.”

In his statement, Dolan said the Archdiocese of New York is “saddened and shocked” by the accusation, and asked for prayers for everyone involved.

Dolan also issued a renewed apology to all victims abused by priests, and thanked McCarrick's accuser for having the courage to come forward. He voiced hope that this case “can bring a sense of resolution and fairness.”

In a separate statement from the Archdiocese of Newark, Cardinal Joseph Tobin said news of the accusation against McCarrick was met with “a range of emotions,” and offered his apology to victims of abuse.

“I am thinking particularly of those who have experienced the trauma of sexual abuse by clergy – whose lives have been impacted tragically by abuse,” he said. “To those survivors, their families and loved ones, I offer my sincere apologies and my commitment of prayer and action to support you in your healing.”

Tobin said the Archdiocese of Newark has never received any report or accusation of sexual abuse of a minor against McCarrick.

He noted that many people in Newark likely know McCarrick well from his time leading the archdiocese, and that while the accusation might be hard to comprehend, “we must put first the serious nature of this matter with respect and support for the process aimed at hearing victims and finding truth.”

“The abuse crisis in our Church has been devastating. We cannot undo the actions of the past, but we must continue to act with vigilance today,” Tobin said, and renewed his commitment to seek forgiveness and healing, and to creating a safe environment for children in Newark.

Tobin pledged to continue reporting “immediately to civil authorities any accusation of sexual abuse of a minor by clergy and [I] will cooperate fully in the investigation and adjudication.”

He encouraged anyone abused by a priest to come forward “as brave survivors before you have done,” and urged priests, religious and faithful of the archdiocese to keep the situation in their prayers.

Bishop James F. Checchio, current Bishop of Metuchen, said McCarrick “is appealing this matter through the canonical process.”

After hearing about the “very disturbing” report from New York, Checchio said he had Metuchen's records re-examined, and no accusations of sexual abuse had ever been raised against McCarrick. However, in the past, allegations of “sexual behavior with adults” had been brought forward.

Both the Diocese of Metuchen and the Archdiocese of Newark, he said, decades ago received three allegations of “sexual misconduct with adults,” and two of these allegations have resulted in settlements.

Pope Francis criticizes Trump's 'zero-tolerance' migrant policy

Vatican City, Jun 20, 2018 / 06:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a new interview with Reuters, Pope Francis backed the U.S. bishops' opposition to the separation of migrant children from their parents at the Mexican border, calling the move “immoral” and “contrary to Catholic values.”

“I am on the side of the bishops’ conference,” the pope said, referring to statements made by U.S. bishops earlier this month.

Francis' comment was made in reference to the Trump administration's “zero tolerance” policy on immigration, which was rolled out in May and, among other things, enforces the separation of children from parents who have been detained by border officials.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops conference, issued a statement during the bishops' biannual meeting in Fort Lauderdale last week. He criticized the policy, saying “separating babies from their mothers is not the answer and is immoral.”

He said later the bishops would consider the possibility of sending a delegation to the U.S.-Mexico border to see the detention centers for themselves and offer solidarity for incoming migrants and refugees.

“Let it be clear that in these things, I respect [the position of] the bishops conference,” Pope Francis said in the interview with Reuters.

When migrants arrive to a country, “you have to receive them, help them, look after them, accompany them and then see where to put them, but throughout all of Europe,” he said, noting that “some governments are working on it, and people have to be settled in the best possible way, but creating psychosis is not the cure.”

No full text of the interview was available, however, the pope also touched on a variety of other issues, including the possibility of a deal with China on the appointment of bishops, the sexual abuse scandal in Chile, the reform of the Roman Curia and the criticism he's faced.  

The conversation with Reuters marks the the pope's first on-the-record interview with a major American news outlet.

During the 2-hour conversation, which took place in his residence at the Vatican's Saint Marta guesthouse Sunday, Francis said the ongoing reform of the Vatican's structures is going well, “but we have more work.”

In the latest reform move, the pope's Council of Cardinals in their meeting earlier this month finished the first draft of a new apostolic constitution outlining the role and structure of the Roman Curia titled “Predicatae Evangelium.”

Francis voiced satisfaction at the status of the Vatican's financial reform, saying the Vatican bank, which in the past lacked proper oversight and has now flagged and closed several suspicious accounts and transactions, “works well.”

Referring to criticism he has received throughout his papacy, the pope said he prays for those who have said “nasty things” about him.

Referring to the “dubia” letter sent to him by four cardinals, including American Cardinal Leo Raymond Burke, asking him to clarify excerpts of Chapter 8 of his 2016 post-synodal apostolic exhortation on the family, “Amoris Laetitia,” the pope said he found out about the letter “from the newspaper.”

This, he said, is “a way of doing things that is, let’s say, not ecclesial, but we all make mistakes.” Using the analogy of a river, he said “we have to be respectful and tolerant, and if someone is in the river, let’s move forward.”

On the Chilean abuse scandal, Pope Francis, who has already accepted the resignation of three bishops, including that of Juan Barros Madrid from the Diocese of Osorno, said he may accept more resignations in the future.

He also voiced optimism about the Vatican's ongoing discussion with China on the appointment of bishops, saying the discussions are “at a good point.”

Though he has been criticized for engaging China's communist party for a deal which would give them a say on bishop appointments, Francis said “dialogue is a risk, but I prefer risk rather than the certain defeat that comes with not holding dialogue.”

“As for the timing, some people say it’s 'Chinese time.' I say it’s God’s time. Let’s move forward serenely.”

Pope Francis: We are God's children, not his slaves

Vatican City, Jun 20, 2018 / 04:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday Pope Francis said the 10 Commandments are not heartless rules imposed on mankind by an oppressive God, but are rather words given by a father to his children in order to protect them from harm.

“Man is in front of this crossroads: does God impose things on me, or take care of me? Are his commandments only a law, or do they contain a word? Is God a master or a father? Are we slaves, or children?” the pope said June 20.

This is a “battle” which takes place both inside and outside of the person, and “is continually present: a thousand times we must choose between a slave mentality and a mentality of children,” he said, adding that the Holy Spirit is a spirit “of sons, it is the Spirit of Jesus.”

“A spirit of slaves can only welcome the law in an oppressive way, and it can produce two opposite results: either a life of duties and obligations, or a violent reaction of rejection.”

The whole of Christianity, he said, is the passage “from the letter of the law to the Spirit who gives life. Jesus is the word of the Father, he is not the condemnation of the Father.”

Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims present in St. Peter's Square for his weekly general audience, during which he continued a new series of catechesis on the 10 Commandments.

In his address, the pope noted how at the beginning of Chapter 20 of the biblical book of Exodus, in reference to the commandments, verse one reads “God spoke these words to all.”

The phrase might seem simple, but “nothing in the bible is banal,” Francis said, noting that the passage uses the term “word,” rather than “command.”

In Jewish tradition, the commandments, also called the “Decalogue,” are referred to as “the ten words,” he said, explaining that while they are also laws, the term “decalogue” in itself is meant to connote the term “word.”

Asking what the difference between “word” and “commandment” is, Pope Francis said a command is a something which “does not require dialogue,” while word, on the other hand, “is the essential means of relationship through dialogue.”

“God the Father creates through his word, and the son is the Word made flesh. Love nourishes the word, as does education and collaboration,” he said, noting that two people who do not love each other will not be able to communicate. However, “when someone speaks to our heart, our solitude ends.”

Another difference, he said, is that to receive a command is to receive an order, rather than having a dialogue or a conversation.

Dialogue, the pope said, “is much more than the communication of truth,” but is realized in the pleasure “of speaking and of the concrete good, which is communicated between those who love each other through words.”

The devil, Francis said, wanted to trick Adam and Eve by convincing them that God had “forbidden” them to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge in order to keep “submissive.”

However, the challenge with God's first “command” to them, he said, is to determine whether this norm was meant to impose, or whether it was intended to protect “from self-destruction.”

“The most tragic among the various lies the serpent tells Eve is the suggestion of an envious and possessive deity,” Francis said, explaining that “the facts show the serpent lied.”

Pope Francis closed his audience saying it is obvious when people live as if they were children versus slaves, because people can recognize the logic. “The world does not need legalism, but care,” he said, “it needs Christians with the heart of children.”

Texas pro-life laws face sweeping legal challenge

Austin, Texas, Jun 20, 2018 / 01:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Dozens of pro-life laws in Texas are being challenged in a lawsuit claiming that they pose an undue burden on women, but a national pro-life group says abortion regulations are important for women’s health and safety.

Catherine Glenn Foster, president and CEO of Americans United For Life, said she believes that the courts will agree that the existing laws are constitutional, protect the interests of women, and do not constitute an “undue burden” on women.

“Americans United for Life expects the federal courts involved in these lawsuits to recognize these critical interests and protect the lives of women seeking abortion through reasonable, constitutional health and safety regulations,” she told CNA.

Some of the laws being challenged by the suit include those requiring an abortion to be performed by a doctor, mandating that a women view an ultrasound and wait 24 hours before obtaining an abortion, and requiring the parents of a minor consent prior to her abortion.

The suit also seeks to legalize telemedicine abortions, in which a doctor communicates with a patient through a video conference for a medical abortion. Presently, this practice is banned in Texas.

In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a 2013 Texas law that required abortions to take place in a surgical center and required doctors who performed abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. These requirements were interpreted by the Supreme Court to be an “undue burden” on women seeking an abortion.

The 2013 law saw over half of the state’s abortion facilities shut down, and since then, only three have resumed operations.

Plaintiffs in the current case are hoping to use the 2016 ruling as precedent to challenge other pro-life laws in the state.

The plaintiffs in the current case are Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, the Afiya Center, Fund Texas Choice, the Lilith Fund, the Texas Equal Access Fund, the West Fund, and Dr. Bhavik Kumar, who is the medical director at Whole Woman’s Health Alliance. Whole Woman’s Health, a chain of abortion clinics throughout Texas, was the plaintiff in the 2016 Supreme Court case.

The suit also claims the University of Texas System, which includes 14 public universities in Texas, is discriminatory as it does not permit students to receive credit for internships at locations that provide abortions, nor does it place students in field rotations at places that offer abortions.

The laws being challenged by the lawsuit are hardly unusual in the United States, nor are they unique to Texas. The majority of states have a mandatory waiting period of typically 18-72 hours before an abortion and require either parental notification or consent for a minor’s abortion. Twenty-three states have laws requiring abortion providers to perform an ultrasound before an abortion or inform women about the availability of an ultrasound.

Foster noted that courts have acknowledged and upheld abortion regulations as an important part of protecting women’s health and safety.

“[The abortion industry] would prefer that women not know what the Supreme Court has...acknowledged that abortion can be risky to a pregnant woman’s health, and thus states have an ‘important interest’ in protecting women’s health and a ‘legitimate interest in seeing to it that abortion, like any other procedure, is performed under circumstances that ensure maximum safety for the patient’,” she said.

Americans United for Life has released a report documenting hundreds of safety violations in various abortion facilities throughout the United States, including in Texas. The report claims that clinics have had instances of unlicensed staff, poor protocol and unsanitary medical conditions, at times resulting in severe health complications or death for patients.

Chaput asks Notre Dame student for youth synod advice

Philadelphia, Pa., Jun 19, 2018 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput turned over his weekly Catholic Philly column to a University of Notre Dame student, who hopes an upcoming Vatican synod will encourage young people to take personal responsibility for the “decisive missions” of vocations and Christian discipleship.

“It’s a very exciting time to be a young American Catholic,” wrote Notre Dame senior Daniel Lindstrom.

In a brief introduction to Lindstrom’s column, Chaput wrote that “With a world synod of bishops focusing on young people set for this fall, listening to the young and those involved in guiding them is important. So this week, as in recent weeks, I’m turning over my column to someone who can speak directly from the experience of a young adult.”

Lindstrom, the graduate of a Philadelphia-area Catholic high school, wrote that despite the “trouble the Church faces today, much more hope is blooming.” He cited programs such as FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students), the Culture Project, and other organizations for their work in helping to “establish and fortify pockets of young, faithful Catholic leaders.”

While these groups are important, and form Catholic communities, Lindstrom wrote, it was the sudden death of a residence hall director on Notre Dame’s campus that sparked the realization that while community is important, solitude is equally so. In the end, explained Lindstrom, a person will be alone with God.

“The priest’s words and God’s grace caused me to switch perspective for a moment,” said Lindstrom, “and imagine how I might rely on God’s embrace at my life’s end much differently than the way I do now,” in a community of Catholics at Mass.

“After all the vitality of these young years, when we near the end of our journeys, our discipleship will depend on our own inner lives,” Lindstrom noted. Our inner selves, he explained, are “vulnerable and exposed,” and are alone with Christ.

“It’s in listening with the ears of our hearts that we’re given the opportunity to say yes to God’s call,” said Lindstrom, and that this “personal yes” is the start of a person’s vocation.

“With renewed focus and zeal on the part of the Church, young people can claim their faith and set off of on faith’s great adventure.”

On Tuesday, a working paper for the synod was released that focused on questions about sexuality and gender issues, among other social and moral issues.

The synod will be held October 3-28, in Rome. Chaput is a delegate to the meeting.

 

Pope donates to volcano relief efforts in Guatemala

Vatican City, Jun 19, 2018 / 04:39 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Following the largest volcanic eruption in Guatemala in four decades, Pope Francis has sent $100,000 to assist in the emergency relief efforts being carried out in the central American nation.

The sum, which was characterized as an initial contribution, is intended as “an immediate expression of the feeling of spiritual closeness and paternal encouragement on the part of the Holy Father,” a June 19 press release stated.

The Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development is responsible for the distribution of the funds, which will be given to the dioceses most affected by the volcanic eruption for assistance to people and the territory.

“The contribution, which accompanies prayer in support of the beloved Guatemalan population, is part of the aid that is being activated throughout the Catholic Church and which, in addition to various bishops’ conferences, involves numerous charitable organizations,” the release stated.

Guatemala’s disaster agency announced Sunday that search efforts would be permanently suspended in the towns of San Miguel Los Lotes and El Rodeo in the Escuintla municipality, because the zone is “uninhabitable and high risk.”

Search and rescue efforts followed the unexpected June 3 eruption of the “Volcan de Fuego,” or “Volcano of Fire,” one of Guatemala’s most active volcanoes. At least 110 people have died from fallen ash and dirt and 197 are still missing, according to a June 17 statement from disaster agency CONRED.

In a June 5 telegram to Guatemala’s apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Nicolas Henry Marie Denis Thevenin, Pope Francis said he was “deeply distressed in hearing the sad news of the violent eruption” which so far “has caused numerous victims and enormous material damage which has affected a significant number of the area’s inhabitants.”

The pope expressed his support for the families “who weep for the loss of their loved ones,” and for the wounded and those who are working in relief efforts, asking that God would grant them “the gifts of solidarity, spiritual serenity and Christian hope.”

Catholic Relief Services and Caritas Escuintla have been active in providing emergency assistance for the displaced, including hot food, water, and other necessities. Three area Catholic Churches have also opened their doors to shelter victims. More than 1 million people have been affected by the eruption.

The three church shelters are located in Escuintla, Guatemala, near ground-zero for the volcano, whose eruption spewed ash clouds nearly 33,000 feet into the air. The Escuintla district, along with Chimaltenango and Sacatepéquez, are among the areas most affected by the blast, according to CRS.

Questions on sexuality loom large ahead of youth synod

Vatican City, Jun 19, 2018 / 04:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- According to the official working document for the upcoming synod of bishops on youth, the major questions for young people ahead of the October discussion surround issues of sexuality and gender, the role of women and the desire for a Church that knows how to listen.

The “instrumentum laboris” for the Oct. 3-28 Synod of Bishops on “Young People, the Faith and the Discernment of Vocation,” was published June 19, and includes contributions from both young people themselves, and bishops conferences.

Key issues highlighted in the document are not only increasing cultural instability and violent conflicts, but that many young people, both inside and outside of the Church, are divided when it comes to topics related to sexuality, the role of women, and the need to be more welcoming to members of the LGBT community.

The document pointed to a “metamorphosis of the human condition” some analysts say the world is undergoing due to the rapid pace at which cultural and anthropological changes are happening.

In this regard, challenges for the Church the document cited are topics related to the human body and human sexuality. The body, the text read, has always been at an “intersection between nature and culture,” yet new biomedical technologies have given rise to different concepts of the body.

On one hand, the document pointed to the trend of technological experimentation, saying there is an increasing push for the integration of “body and machine, between neuronal and electronic circuits, which find their icon in the cyborg, favoring a technocratic approach to the body.”

But on the other hand, the trend of manipulating one's body goes beyond the technical realm, and also touches on issues related to biology, the text said, pointing to surrogacy and egg donation as examples.

Things such as precocious sexuality, sexual promiscuity, pornography, displaying one's body online and sexual tourism, the text said, “risk disfiguring the beauty and depth of emotional and sexual life.”

Bishops, the document continued, recognize the importance of the body and of sexuality, particularly the differences and complimentary of men and women, but are often not able to communicate the Church's teachings well.

Church teaching on issues such as abortion, contraception, homosexuality, cohabitation and marriage for many youth are up for debate, both in the Church, and in society at large.

While there are young Catholics who find Church teaching to be “a source of joy” and who wish to follow this teaching despite how unpopular it is in the public eye, others want more clarification on these and other major issues, and have asked Church authorities not to be afraid to talk to them about “taboo,” topics such as gender and women.

“No bishops' conference offers solutions or recipes” to these issues, the document said, but they are convinced that “the question of sexuality must be discussed more openly and without prejudice.”

On the issue of homosexuality, the document emphasized the need to be open and welcoming to everyone, including non-believers, those of other faiths, and also the LGBT community.

Some LGBT youth who participated in the online questionnaire or offered contributions through social media, the document read, said they want to experience “greater closeness and greater care on the part of the Church.”

In their responses, bishops conferences also questioned how to respond to young people who have chosen to live a homosexual lifestyle, but who also want “to be close to the Church.”

In comments to journalists at the June 19 presentation of the synod's working document, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, said the reason the Church is engaging with members of the LGBT community is because “we are open. We don't want to be closed in on ourselves.”

In the Church, “there are many areas, there is freedom for people to express themselves – on the right, left, center, north and south – this is all possible,” he said, adding that “this is why we are willing to listen to people with different opinions.”

Young people, the document said, are also concerned that at times the Church can seem distant, and have voiced a desire to have a Church that is close, transparent and up-to-date, and which is not afraid to talk about the tough issues.

Divided into three parts plus framed by an introduction and conclusion, the document offers an overview of the state of young people throughout the world today and possible pastoral responses.

The document is a compilation of contributions from four primary sources: a questionnaire sent out to bishops conferences in June 2017; a website for the questionnaire and social media accounts where youth were able to leave testimonies and answer questions; a September 2017 seminar on youth that took place in Rome; and the final document of the pre-synod meeting which took place in Rome in March.

The structure of the working document follows a methodology frequently insisted upon by Francis in the process of discernment: recognizing, interpreting and then choosing.  

Recognize

The text noted that there are some 1.8 billion people throughout the world between the ages of 16-29; however, the demographic, economic and social conditions of each country are different. Whereas youth are the majority in some countries, in others youth are a minority. In some places, lifespan does not exceed 60 years of age, whereas in others it extends well over 80.

Added to this is the disparity between rich and poor nations, and the access young people therefore have to education, healthcare and a stable home. In some areas they also face pressures such as drugs, corruption, violence and the challenges brought on by an increasingly globalized world.

For what regards the role of the family, the document said that responses to the online questionnaire showed that mothers are a key reference point for youth, while the subject of fatherhood requires a deeper reflection due to the “ambiguities and voids” left as a result of the lack of father figures, particularly in the west.

According to the document, family will be a key topic of discussion, especially in light of the conclusions on the 2014-2015 Synod of Bishops on the Family.

Bishops also noted that religion no longer holds the same weight that it did in the past, and that for many young people, simply being “spiritual” is enough.

In terms of the Catholic Church itself, the document noted that many youth are committed to the Church through different activities, and bishops conferences have affirmed that youth outreach is a key priority in most parishes.

However, on the flip side, the text also noted that in the pre-synod meeting, youth had voiced concern about feeling as if they were being put into a corner, and felt that generally they were not taken seriously, especially when it comes to leadership.

The document also touched on both the risks and benefits of technology and social media, including the dangers of the “dark web,” and the role of music, art and sport as forms of expression.

Work, young migrants, and discrimination were all touched on in the document, along with racism, discrimination against women, and religious persecution, especially for Christians in areas where they are a minority.

Discrimination against women, even in ecclesial environments, was also addressed in the text, and was a key concern raised by youth themselves during the pre-synod meeting in March, during which they questioned how and where women can really, fully participate in the Church and in society.

The Church, according to the document, “can face these problems with a frank dialogue and a mind open to different ideas and experiences.”

The document also cited a growing paralysis on the part of young people when it comes to making a decision for their lives, whether it is due to a lack of opportunity, economic instability, or, at times, a the lack of a sense of meaning and purpose.

It also spoke of the need to listen to youth, who frequently lack good role models, and who want a Church which is “authentic” and which is capable of talking to them about the issues that matter.

Interpret

In the second section of the document, the text spoke of “the blessing of youth” from a biblical standpoint, emphasizing the importance of accompaniment in the discernment process.

To follow Christ, it said, “is a call to risk, to lose what has already been acquired, to trust. It is a provocation to break with the planning mentality which, if exasperated, leads to narcissism and the closing in on oneself.

The section placed a heavy emphasis on the need to accompany young people in determining what path is best for their lives, saying the task of accompaniment “is not an option with regard to the task of educating and evangelizing youth.”

Rather, “it is an ecclesial duty and the right of every young person,” the document said, adding that only the presence of a “prudent and wise” guide can help youth to correctly interpret God's will for their lives.

The text then offered a brief reflection on the different vocational paths, including the vocation to the family, to ordained ministry and to consecrated life. However, it also touched on the increasing number of people who opt to stay single, without making a move toward consecrated life or marriage.

No concrete answer to the question of “singles” was given, but due to the growing number of singles in the Church and in the world in general, the document said “it is important that the synod reflect on this question.”

In terms of discernment, the document noted that it goes “well beyond” simply deciding whether to get married or live a consecrated life. Rather, discernment is a broader concept, and also includes helping youth to determine their profession and what sort of social or political commitments to make.

But to discern well, accompaniment is needed, the document said, noting that youth themselves have voiced their desire for an accompaniment which is both free and authentic, while bishops said they wanted to provide a “broad” and varied accompaniment for young people equivalent to a sort of “Christian coaching” in life.  

The text emphasized the need to provide both spiritual and psychological accompaniment, and a formation which reaches the family, educational and social aspects of life.

Those who accompany youth ought to be able to respect each person and what God is already doing in their lives, and should be able to influence “with who they are, before what they can do or propose.”

For youth in particular, the document said it is important that those who accompany them are committed in the Church and on the path to sanctity, but it is also crucial that they are able to recognize their own limits and able to walk with young people, rather than being put “on a pedestal.”

The document also stressed that accompanying young people is not a task limited to priests and religious, but is also something laity can do.

Choosing

In terms of helping youth to make concrete choices that are right for their lives, the document stressed the need for an integral formation and education, and emphasized the role that Catholic schools and universities can play in helping to mold young people.

It also emphasized the importance of finding new models of development in terms of generating employment, fostering a better economy, and caring for creation. It also called for innovation in the technical sphere and for greater collaboration so that everyone has access to the resources and opportunities they need.

Faced with the challenge of modern society, bishops said it is increasingly important to form youth in politics and in how to be active citizens. Particular attention, the document said, ought to be paid to professional competence, opportunities for service, care for the environment and a better understanding of the Church's social doctrine.

Emphasis was also placed on the role of the internet and digital media outlets as a means of evangelization, and the need to accompany prisoners, and young people who live in war zones or areas of conflict, especially women and migrants. The document also called for a greater attention to and accompaniment of young people who are sick or dying.

In terms of pastoral care, the document stressed the role of family and the education and formation of children. In this regard, bishops also presented their “best practices,” underlining the need to set aside daily times of prayer and silence for personal devotion, as well as pray in one's community.

Catechesis and opportunities to practice charity are also important, the document said, especially through mission trips, retreats with movements and associations, all of which the document said help provide space for vocational discernment.

The document also stressed that those living a consecrated life live under the same cultural and societal conditions as other people their age, so a pastoral approach adapted to different local situations is needed.

It warned against the tendencies toward narcissism and self-sufficiency, particularly in consecrated vocations, which have a common root in “a potentially pathological concentration on oneself.”

It cautioned against the dangers of individualism, which is “centered on the autonomous subject, which excludes recognition, gratitude and the collaborating action of God,” and “emotionalism,” which the document said “closes the person in the virtual world an in a false interiority, where the need to deal with others and the community is excluded.”

The document closed emphasizing the universal call to holiness and inviting young people to become saints.

“Jesus invites each of his disciples to the total gift of life, without calculation or human self-interest,” the text said, and spoke of the need to highlight not only young Saints in the Church, but also the “youth of the Saints,” who all passed through the phase of being young.

Doing this, the document said, would make it possible “to intercept many youth situations which are neither simple not easy, but where God is present and mysteriously active.”

“To show his grace is at work through torturous paths of the patient construction of a holiness which matures in time through many unexpected ways,” the document said, “can help all young people, no one excluded, to cultivate hope in a holiness which is always possible.”

 

Correction: A previous version of this story said reported 1.8 million people in the world between 16-29. The story has been corrected to read 1.8 billion people.