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Chaput: Personal holiness, fidelity to the Church key in difficult times

Philadelphia, Pa., Sep 19, 2019 / 03:17 am (CNA).- During times of scandal and confusion, Catholics should strive for personal holiness and fidelity to the Church, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia said in a talk last week.

“Christ sent his disciples out in his name, with his authority, to continue his work in the world as the Church — and only through the Church can we even be talking about Jesus today,” he said.

“The fidelity of Catholics to the Church, generation after generation, even when her leaders have been foolish or weak or sinful — that fidelity is what carries the message of the Gospel through time.”

Faithfulness to the Church is not a mere act of servitude, but “a choice to participate in the act of giving life to the world,” Chaput said, adding that the Church is how Christ can be known, and how God’s will can be known in our lives.

Archbishop Chaput delivered the Sept. 12 keynote address at the seventh annual St. Joseph the Worker Medal Awards at Malvern Retreat House in Malvern, Pennsylvania.

In his address, he stressed the importance of personal holiness, saying, “If we want to be disciples and make disciples; if we want to repair the Lord’s Church in the shadow of today’s scandals and confusion; we need to understand that without saints, nothing we do will work.”

“We can’t give what we don’t have,” he continued. “If Jesus Christ and a real Catholic identity don’t burn in the interior cathedral of our hearts, we can never possibly rebuild the external life of the Church in the world.”

Reflecting on what constitutes personal holiness, the archbishop pointed to St. Francis of Assisi, saying that “what many people overlook is that Francis lived in an age very much like our own…The 13th century was a time of great political unrest, and deep confusion and corruption in the Church.”

When Francis discovered the Gospel, his life was transformed from one of shallow comfort to a radical commitment to holiness – being set aside and separate from the ways of the world.

“What distinguished Francis from many of the other reformers of his day was one simple thing,” Chaput said. “He understood that he could never live out his love for God alone, or even with a group of friends. He needed the larger family of faith Jesus founded. He needed the Church. So he never allowed himself or his brothers to separate the Gospel from the Church, or the Church from Jesus Christ.”

“Francis was always a son of the Church. And as a son, he always insisted on fidelity and obedience to the Holy Father and reverence for priests and bishops — even the ones whose sins meant they didn’t deserve it,” the archbishop said.

He noted that Jesus on the Cross asked St. Francis not to “replace” or “reinvent” the Church but to “repair my Church,” which the saint went on to do through the sanctity of his personal witness.

The Church is our mother, more than simply an institution, and greater than the sins of her people or leaders, he said, and it is important to keep this in mind in times of scandal.

In his talk, Chaput also emphasized the example of St. Joseph as a man of sanctity.

Praised in scripture for his justice and piety, St. Joseph is a model of holiness though simple devotion to God and family, marked with silence to hear God’s voice in everyday life, the archbishop said.

St. Joseph worked hard to provide for Mary and Jesus, whom he faithfully loved, Chaput said. His life was one of simplicity and generous service, and he is a model of masculine virtue for both husbands and priests.

While many Catholics today may feel that they are living in uncertainty or their beliefs are facing attacks, Chaput said, “I think this is actually a privileged moment; a moment when we get to prove who we really are and what we really believe.”

He pointed to the words of Lumen Gentium, which teach that Mary, “the mother of Jesus … is the image and beginning of the Church as [she] is to be perfected in the world to come. Likewise [the Church] shines forth on earth until the day of the Lord shall come, a sign of certain hope and comfort to the pilgrim people of God.”

“That’s the image we need to nourish in our hearts — especially in times of confusion and scandal — to keep us focused on the reality of the Church that gives life to her institutional forms,” the archbishop said.

A new book from a Vatican journalist, for Vatican journalists

Vatican City, Sep 19, 2019 / 12:00 am (CNA).- A book on papal communication aims to connect the history of the Vatican’s communications office with the theology of the Second Vatican Council.

"I welcomed this publication with great pleasure," Alessandro Gisotti, deputy editorial director at Vatican Media, during a September launch event for “Anche i Papi comunicano,” - “The popes also communicate.”

 "I believe it is also a sign of gratitude to all the colleagues who accompanied me during the months in which I held the position of director of the Press Room. I was part of this story and now that it has been dedicated to Navarro Valls the Press Room is even more the home of journalists,” Gisotti added, according to a report from Vatican Media.

The book is authored by Veronica Giacometti, an editor at Italian news agency ACI Stampa and a former intern at Radio Vaticano. ACI Stampa is CNA’s Italian-language partner agency.

Gisotti said the book is important because it connects contemporary Catholic communicators to the Church’s tradition.

"Tradition means transmitting knowledge, it is important that Vatican experts know how popes have communicated in recent decades," he said.

“Popes communicate first of all with their presence. A president, if he does not act, is thought not exist. But the pope exists and communicates as Peter's successor, he is the message itself, therefore political categories cannot be applied to his communication,” Gisotti said.

Giacometti told Vatican Media that she wrote the book to be a resource to Vatican journalists.

This book can be a working tool. It contains basic information (for Vatican journalists.) For example, what is a bolletino, how is the press office structured," among other questions, she said.

Giacometti said she aimed to put the traditions of Vatican journalists on paper.

Alan Holdren, director of EWTN’s Rome office, and long-time Vatican journalist, also spoke at the launch event.

“I think all of us feel this need to know where we have come from. I have been here for 10 years, my first days of journalism at the Vatican were right in the Vatican’s press room. I spent a year and a half there, every day of the week, to report the facts about the pope. The press room for us is a meeting point, a welcome point, a point of information that is essential to carry out our profession,” Holdren said.

 

Brooklyn diocese teaming with NYPD to search for church vandal 

New York City, N.Y., Sep 18, 2019 / 10:00 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Brooklyn is partnering with the New York Police Department to find a woman suspected of causing thousands of dollars in damage to a Catholic parish in Queens over the last two weeks.

“This person needs to be brought to justice. We are working with the NYPD and we need to continue to foster an environment of respect,” said John Quaglione, a spokesman for the Diocese of Brooklyn.

The attack on Saint Gerard Majella Catholic Church in the Hollis section of Queens, New York, has caused an estimated $10,000 in damages. Some of the damaged objects had recently been purchased through a fundraised by the Generation of Faith Diocesan campaign.

A woman was first caught on the church’s security cameras on Sept. 8, damaging two parish sign signs and tearing down potted plants. On Sept. 15, the same woman can be seen on security footage vandalising the sprinkler system and rosary plaques, the diocese said. She appeared carrying heavy tools, including a hack saw, which was used to remove a handrail on an outside staircase.

The identity of the woman is unknown. The authorities have asked anyone with information on the vandal to call CRIME STOPPERS at (800) 577-TIPS.

“It’s a kick in the stomach. It hurts,” said the Rev. Joseph Jude Gannon, pastor of Saint Gerard Catholic Church.

“It’s also a matter of time to make sure we get her before she hurts herself or others or before it escalates to something else,” he told CBS2 of the suspect.

Ganon specifically lamented the damage to the rosary plaques, which are handcrafted and imported from Italy. Twenty rosary tablets were torn down from stations around the church. All of them were thrown in the trash and several were broken. The damaged plaques will be sent to Italy for repair.

“These are hurtful attacks against the image of Mary and the parish,” said Gannon in a recent statement. “Such acts of religious intolerance have no place within our society, and every house of worship, regardless of their beliefs, should be respected.”

Bishops in US make the Real Presence a focus of their catechesis

Washington D.C., Sep 18, 2019 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- Six weeks after a Pew Research study found that only one-third of Catholics in the US believe that the bread and wine become at Mass the body and blood of Christ, bishops across the country are writing to the faithful in the hopes of educating them about this central tenet of the Catholic faith.

The study, released in early August, found that 31% of U.S. Catholics they surveyed believe that the bread and wine used in the Eucharist, through a process called transubstantiation, become the body and blood of Christ — a fundamental teaching of the Catholic faith, known as the Real Presence.

Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria has released his 2020 annual teaching document, “The Real Presence”, a year early in the hopes of a renewed witness to the Real Presence.

“I...ask that this year and in coming years, at parish councils, religious houses, faculty meetings, chaplain meetings, RCIA and catechetical meetings, that our entire Local Church look for ways to reinforce our teaching and witness regarding the Blessed Sacrament,” Jenky wrote Sept. 16.

“It is a defined dogma of the Catholic Church, revealed by the Holy Spirit and preserved from any possibility of error, that the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ are truly and substantially present in the Most Holy Eucharist. This is not an opinion to be measured against any opinion poll but rather Divine Revelation as expressed by the absolute authority of Scripture and Tradition.”

In his letter, Jenky encouraged Eucharistic devotions such as Benediction, processions, visits, holy hours, and quiet times of personal prayer before the tabernacle.

“These Eucharistic devotions are obviously also intended to deepen our conscious recognition of the centrality of the Real Presence of Jesus within the liturgy of the Mass,” he wrote.

“Quiet Masses, sung Masses, solemn Masses, and especially the ordinary ritual Masses for weddings and funerals are certainly great opportunities to witness to our faith in the Eucharist as a pastoral gift to those who may have been poorly catechized or even have fallen away.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church in paragraph 1374 states: “In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist ‘the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained’...it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present."

In the Pew Research study, 69 percent of Catholics surveyed reported their belief that the bread and wine used during the Eucharist “are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.” This mindset made up a majority in every age group surveyed.

“Most Catholics who believe that the bread and wine are symbolic do not know that the church holds that transubstantiation occurs,” Pew reported.

“Overall, 43% of Catholics believe that the bread and wine are symbolic and also that this reflects the position of the church. Still, one-in-five Catholics (22%) reject the idea of transubstantiation, even though they know about the church’s teaching.”

Interestingly, a small percentage of those surveyed— 3%— claimed to believe in the Real Presence despite not knowing that this is what the Church teaches.

Bishop Jenky pointed to what he sees as a “noticeable decline in our ritual reverence and recognition” in recent decades.

“Sometimes our churches may seem more like hotel lobbies than an awesome House of God,” Jenky said.

Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland in Oregon addressed his flock in August regarding the results of the survey.

“These results have to be a real wake up call for all of us,” he wrote Aug. 30.

“To simply shrug our shoulders at such disturbing news and move on with business as usual is simply not an option. We must do everything in our power to reverse this trend. People will more easily grow lax in the practice of their faith, or drop out altogether, if they don’t understand and believe the mystery we celebrate in the Holy Eucharist and how that drives everything else we do in the ministry of the Church.”

Sample challenged those in the archdiocese’ Catholic schools, parish religious education programs, and adult faith formation programs to put a greater emphasis on the Church’s teaching about the Eucharist.

He also paralleled Jenky’s assessment of an overall decline in reverence for the Eucharist over the years.

“To put it bluntly, we have lost much of the reverence, awe and respect for the Holy Eucharist that we once had in the Church. How we celebrate the Holy Mass and treat the Blessed Sacrament are at the heart of this,” he said.

The unborn child is a person with the right to an identity, say bishops of Panama

Panama City, Panama, Sep 18, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- The Panamanian bishops expressed their support last week for a bill that would allow parents to register their children who were miscarried, as this would help “the parents alleviate the pain and make more bearable their mourning over the loss” of their baby.

The bishops made the statement in a Sept. 12 communiqué titled “The right to registration of identity of the child in the womb” regarding Bill 18 on “Identity of child who was miscarried,” proposed by Corina Cano, a legislator of the Nationalist Republican Liberal Movement, which is the junior partner in a governing coalition with the Democratic Revolutionary Party.

According to La Prensa, a Panama City daily, this law would create at the national level “a book of deceased persons who were conceived but not born” and would amend Article 60 of the Civil Registry to include “those that occur in the mother's womb whatever the cause of death, gestational age, or weight that it had at the moment of death.”

The bill also says that the registration would be made within 72 hours of the death's occurrence.

Panamanian media indicate the initiative has been criticized by some feminist groups who believe the bill violates the law, puts the Civil Code at risk, and confuses the tasks of the Civil Registry.

In their statement, the bishops recalled that “the Catholic Church has defended the rights a person has from the moment of conception until the person's natural death.”

“In the Family Code this is recognized in Article 484, which regulates the rights and guarantees of the minor child by defining the minor as: 'every human being from its conception to eighteen (18) years of age'”, the prelates stated.

They also stressed that “the unborn child is a person who has the right to have an identity. We can't discard it as if it had never been conceived. It existed for its parents  and thus it ought to be recorded by giving it official recognition.”

In their statement the bishops also referred to the upcoming appointment of justices to the Supreme Court, a process that must be “independent of political, partisan and individual interests given the  weak shape of the institution and the low confidence the the citizenry has in the justice system.”

An open application period began Sept. 2 for the appointment of three chief magistrates and six alternates for the Supreme Court of Justice.

In the appointment of judges, the prelates said, “certain aspects ought to be considfered, such as: moral soundness and reputation; legal experience and academic preparation; service to society and scientific research; as well as citizen participation in solving the problems of justice.”

Therefore “the Church urges that in this process the profile of each aspirant be truly analyzed, so the citizenry can be informed  and give their opinion, so that the most suitable people are appointed  to these high positions in the Panamanian justice system.”

This, they concluded “is an historic opportunity to begin a process of strengthening as an institution one of the most strongly questioned bodies of the state, considering the legal norms and the ethical, moral, and spiritual values, on which this country has been built.”

In robota Christi? Why robots can never be Catholic priests 

Denver, Colo., Sep 18, 2019 / 04:34 pm (CNA).- Once a man is ordained a priest for the Catholic Church, he acts, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “in persona Christi capitis”: in the person of Christ the Head.

During the ordination ceremony, the priest’s hands are anointed with oil, he lies prostrate on the ground to symbolize the laying down of his life, and the bishop’s hands are laid on his head. Like baptism and confirmation, ordination leaves an “indelible mark” on the priest’s soul.

During his priesthood, the priest uses his mouth to preach and to speak the words of blessing and consecration, his hands to elevate and distribute the Eucharist, and his heart, mind and soul to pray.

Now, what if the priest were a robot?

In an interview with Vox, Franciscan Sister Ilia Delio, who holds the Josephine C. Connelly Endowed Chair of Theology at Villanova University, said that Catholicism should “reimagine” the priesthood and consider robots instead of, or alongside, men.

“The Catholic notion would say the priest is ontologically changed upon ordination. Is that really true?” Delio told Vox. “We have these fixed philosophical ideas and AI challenges those ideas - it challenges Catholicism to move toward a post-human priesthood.”

Delio said robotic priests would have certain advantages - including being incapable of committing sexual abuse.

But numerous Catholic experts told CNA that a robot priest would be sacramentally impossible in the Catholic Church, explicitly because they are not humans.

Sister Mary Christa Nutt, RSM, told CNA that robots cannot be priests because they are incapable of having an intellect or a will with which to cooperate with God’s grace.

“It has to do with our Catholic understanding of the need for human mediation, cooperation with interior grace,” Nutt told CNA.

“We're not dualists,” she said. “So we don't separate the importance of the rites, and the bodily involvement of all the senses in the rites are very important. But they don't of themselves suffice. There has to be the interior cooperation of intellect and will.”

Robots are programmed, she said, and are incapable of having a will and an intellect or an interior prayer life of their own. A human soul, conformed to Christ, and belonging to someone willing to participate in the sacraments, is what makes the grace of those sacraments efficacious, she said.

“We believe that the priest is in the person of Christ, so only a human being can participate in the person of Christ with intellect and will,” Nutt said.

“How would a robot cooperate by intellect and will interiorly with grace to be conformed to Christ ontologically? It just makes absolutely no sense. It's so outside the realm of possibility when you have a sacramental logic and you have absolutely no dualism in the religion,” she said.

Fr. John Kartje is the rector of Mundelein Seminary in Illinois. Kartje told CNA that his background in physics meant that he found the story about the possibility of robot priests intriguing.

He said that according to the article, Buddhist priests might be possible, because they are people simply guiding people along a path. But for Catholics, he said, their faith necessitates an encounter with a person - God.

“For Christians, prayer or any sort of religious activity is not primarily a path, but it's an encounter with a person...with God. And so, that for me is the fundamental distinction. What the priest is doing, he's acting in persona Christi, in the person of Christ,” Kartje said.

“He's also helping to facilitate in a sacramental way making really present that encounter between the Catholic and the divine, but not just the divine as some sort of vague concept, but with the real person of God, that real person of Jesus Christ.”

Kartje added that that does not mean that Catholics should fear technological advancements or even artificial intelligence, because these can be helpful, even in the context of faith.

“I mean, in some degree, we all make use of simple artificial intelligence without thinking about it in the same way. Our phones are based on algorithms, which make decisions without our directly being involved with them,” he said. “Most priests have breviaries on their phones, which program ahead and let us pull up the (daily Mass) readings.”

Sister Nutt also said that technology can be a helpful tool in learning the faith. In the Vox article, author Sigal Samuel mentions the SanTO robots, developed by a Japanese roboticist, which resemble saint figurines and can recite certain prayers if prompted.

Such robots, Nutt said, could help children memorize prayers, but “the prayer has no significance outside of its material reality, unless it's said by a human being who offers it to God interiorly.”

When we are faced with advanced technologies, Fr. Kartje said, we should allow the questions that they bring about to help us hone our understanding and definitions of human beings and free will.

Still, he said, a robot could never replace a person, because it cannot encounter God or act on its own free will.

“A robot is the encounter of an algorithm with the natural world, and a human is the encounter of the divine with the natural world,” he said.

Dr. Kevin Miller, an associate professor of theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, told CNA that in order to understand the priesthood, Catholics must look to Jesus Christ. And Jesus is, decidedly, not a robot.

“The sacraments are instituted by Christ and configure us to Christ in various ways. In Christ, God the Son took on a human nature ‘for us men (human beings) and for our salvation,’” he said, quoting the Nicene Creed.

“The sacraments are part of the same saving plan. The sacraments are for human beings, in the sense that they can be neither received nor administered by robots or AI devices or the like (or any other non-human created beings),” he said.

“All of this is, pace Sister Ilia Delio, ‘really true,’ and cannot be ‘reimagined.’”

Poll suggests a majority of Buffalo Catholics want Bishop Malone to resign

Buffalo, N.Y., Sep 18, 2019 / 04:05 pm (CNA).- Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, New York is facing fresh calls for his resignation, after a local news organization commissioned a poll that suggests a majority of Catholics and lapsed Catholics in the diocese would like to see him step down because of his alleged mishandling of clerical sexual abuse cases.

A poll commissioned by The Buffalo News has found that among a sample of 473 Erie and Niagara County residents surveyed, nearly 86% said they believe Malone should step down. All of those surveyed self-identified as either “Catholic” or “lapsed Catholic.”

Of those surveyed, just 3% said they thought Malone should continue as bishop.

The diocese is home to over half a million Catholics out of a total population of 1.5 million.

In addition, local reporter Charlie Specht reported Sept. 17 that St. Joseph University Parish in northeast Buffalo took a poll at Masses last weekend, and found that of those surveyed, 504 parishioners wanted Malone to resign and 24 parishioners want him to stay.

Malone has so far remained firm in his conviction to remain as bishop, at least until he reaches the normal retirement age for bishops at 75. He is 73 now.

“I’m here because I feel an obligation as the one who was sent here to lead this diocese, to carry on, and once again, if I thought that the majority of Catholic people in particular were calling for my resignation, that would be a different story,” Malone said at a Sept. 4 news conference, as reported by The Buffalo News.

At least two whistleblowers with high-level access in the diocese— Malone’s former executive assistant and former priest secretary— have gone public with accusations that Malone mishandled several cases of sexual abuse by priests in the diocese, some of which involved minors.

One such case involves a priest accused of sending inappropriate Facebook messages to a minor. Malone reinstated the priest, Father Art Smith, to ministry in 2012 and allowed him not only to work at a diocesan Catholic youth conference, but also to minister at a nursing home, where reports of inappropriate conduct with adults later surfaced. Smith is currently listed on the diocesan page for clergy with substantiated claims of sexual abuse of a minor.

In Sept. 2019, local news station WKBW released recordings of private conversations between Bishop Malone and Fr. Ryszard Biernat, Malone’s former priest secretary, which appear to show that Malone believed sexual harassment accusations made against a diocesan priest months before the diocese removed the priest from ministry.

Biernat recorded the conversations as the bishop discussed how to deal with accusations against Fr. Jeffrey Nowak by then-seminarian Matthew Bojanowski, who in a January letter to Malone accused Nowak of grooming him, sexually harassing him, and violating the Seal of the Confessional.

In an Aug. 2 conversation, Malone can reportedly be heard saying, “We are in a true crisis situation. True crisis. And everyone in the office is convinced this could be the end for me as bishop.”

In another, earlier conversation from March, Bishop Malone seems to acknowledge the legitimacy of Bojanowski’s accusation against Nowak months before the diocese removed Nowak from active ministry.

WKBW published a report about allegations against Nowak in May. Nowak was not removed from ministry until Aug. 7, after the seminarian’s mother accused Malone of allowing Fr. Nowak to remain in ministry despite the allegations against him.

Biernat says he made the secret recording after Nowak became jealous of Biernat and Bojanowski’s close friendship.

According to a conversation taped Aug. 2, the bishop was concerned that media coverage would focus on a possible “love triangle” between Nowak, Bojanowski, and Biernat.

Biernat also says he was a victim of sexual abuse by Father Art Smith. He alleges that Auxiliary Bishop Grosz threatened to halt his ordination as a priest and have him deported to Poland after Biernat complained in 2004 to Buffalo Diocese administrators that Smith sexually assaulted him, according to The Buffalo News. Grosz denies this.

Biernat was also vice-chancellor of the diocese for a time, and was required to notarize documents from Bishop Malone keeping Father Smith in ministry.

Biernat is currently on a voluntary leave of absence.

Smith denies the allegations of abuse made against him. The diocese includes Smith’s name on its list of clergy with credible allegations of abuse of a minor.

The diocese has responded to various allegations of mishandling abuse cases by Malone, stating in August that “Bishop Malone has never allowed any priest with a credible allegation of abusing a minor to remain in ministry.”

"The bishop very much respects area Catholics' right to express their opinion," diocesan spokeswoman Kathy Spangler told The Buffalo News in response to the poll.

The diocese did not respond to CNA’s request for further comment on the poll by press time.

 

Analysis: Cardinal Marx’s next step on the German synodal path

Vatican City, Sep 18, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- This week, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German bishops’ conference, travels to Rome. There he will meet with Cardinal Marc Ouellet, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, to clear up some “misunderstandings” about the German bishops’ intended synodal process.

The stakes of the closed-door meeting are high. 

The German bishops seem poised to press ahead with plans for a “synodal assembly,” despite criticism of the plan from Curial offices and the pope himself. The matter seems likely to escalate into an open conflict between the Apostolic See and one of the most influential bishops’ conferences in the global Church.

Marx first announced the “binding synodal path” earlier this year. In addition to creating a new Synodal Assembly in partnership with the Central Committee of German Catholics, the bishops intend – indeed have already begun – a review of universal Church teaching and discipline on a range of sensitive matters, including sexual morality, the role of women in offices and ministry, and clerical celibacy.

Critics say the German plan disregards, or defies, the universality of teaching and discipline that makes the Catholic Church catholic. 

In June, Pope Francis wrote a letter to Germany Catholics offering a corrective to their bishops’ plans. He warned against a “new Pelagianism” and the temptation to “adapt” the Church “to the spirit of the age.”

Most specifically, the pope warned the German bishops against striking out on their own. Communion with the whole Church, he said, and respect for the hierarchy, are vital to any authentic understanding of synodality.

“Every time an ecclesial community tried to resolve its problems alone, trusting and focusing exclusively on its forces or its methods, its intelligence, its will or prestige, it ended up increasing and perpetuating the evils it tried to solve,” he told the Germans.

Cardinal Walter Kasper summarized recently the pope’s effect on the German bishops: “In Germany, the Pope's letter was much praised, but then put aside and [the process] continued as previously planned.”

On Sept. 4, Ouellet wrote to the German bishops, presenting an official assessment of the German plans from the Pontifical Commission for Legislative Texts, which concluded that the synod’s proposed structures were “not ecclesiologically valid” and that its proposed subject matter “cannot be the object of the deliberations or decisions of a particular Church without contravening what is expressed by the Holy Father in his letter.”

Marx has insisted that the Vatican’s critique is based on an old draft of their plans, and that the current version renders them moot. But, as CNA reported, the most recent version effectively retained the provisions and themes opposed by Rome, and Vatican officials were already in possession of the new draft by the time Ouellet’s letter was sent – to the point that Ouellet’s letter even noted that he had seen the minutes of the August 19 executive session.

One official at the Congregation told CNA that there is a sense in Rome that Cardinal Marx wants to deflect criticism onto past documents in the hopes of keeping the synodal process moving faster than Rome can keep up.

“We see this happening: the Germans say we have already made the changes you want, and by the time there can be a response saying “no, the concerns remain,” the next step is already made,” an official at the Congregation for Bishops told CNA.

“If we come to [the point where] the Holy Father [is] saying ‘stop, do not begin the synod,’ they will reply ‘we already began – now we must finish!’”

Any official account of this week’s meeting between Marx and Ouellet is highly unlikely – the Congregation for Bishops has a long track record of declining to comment on its work, even on the most internationally pressing issues. Whatever account Marx offers will likely be his own impression, and may not be shared by the congregation.

The first tangible indication of whether an understanding has actually been reached will likely come next week, when the German bishops are scheduled to vote on the draft statues for the Synodal Assembly.

If the bishops pass an unaltered text from the one adopted by their executive committee last month, it will indicate either that the Vatican has acquiesced to the German plans, or that Ouellet’s letter has been “put aside,” as was the pope’s in June.

If the German bishops proceed with their plans over Vatican objections, the pope could be expected to address the matter during the upcoming Amazon synod. 

Thus far, the language of Rome to Germany has been couched in terms of “concern” and “guidance.” But should the Germans ignore a further, perhaps even explicit, instruction by Francis to halt the synodal plans, it will raise serious questions – first about the legitimacy of the entire enterprise, and then about the relationship of the Church in Germany to the Apostolic See.

Sources close to the German bishops’ conference have told CNA that Marx sees the German synodal plans as the means of reshaping the global Church. “The cardinal believes it is the German Church’s duty to lead on the path for others to follow on these matters,” one senior German Church official said.

“There is no question of wishing to break the communion with the universal Church, but to remake it for a more modern Church.”

Some officials in Rome have told CNA they suspect that Marx simply does not believe the pope is willing to act decisively to halt the German plans.

“They [the German bishops] do not ask permission to begin, or listen to the instructions given. They just continue, continue, and then – what?” one senior official at the Pontifical Commission or Legislative Texts told CNA.

“In the end, the idea of schism is unthinkable for everyone. But if no one thinks it can happen, you can do anything you like - the Holy Father says no, but a cardinal can say yes.”

The official at the Congregation for Bishops agreed, telling CNA that the German bishops’ continued action appeared calculated.

“Dialogue in communion means you listen to what the pope says,” he said. “If you don’t listen, there is no communion.”

Maine bishop laments failed challenge to assisted suicide and abortion laws

Portland, Maine, Sep 18, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- Bishop Robert Deeley of Portland, Maine, has expressed his disappointment at the failure of efforts to force a public vote on the legalization of physician-assisted suicide and taxpayer-funded abortion in the state. 

“I am saddened to learn that despite great opposition in the public to physician-assisted suicide and taxpayer-funded abortion, these issues will not be sent to a statewide vote,” said Deeley in a statement released on Sept. 18. 

Deeley, who leads the state’s only diocese, said that the two laws, which will now go into effect as written, will have “tragic consequences” and “contribute to a further deterioration of the common good.”

The separate campaigns each failed to attract enough signatures from registered voters to force the issues onto the ballot at a future state-wide election, petition drive organizers announced Wednesday, the day the laws go into effect and the legal deadline to mount a successful challenge. 

Deeley also noted that when Mainers were last allowed to vote on the question of euthanasia, in 2000, they rejected it, and expressed his frustration that voters would not be given a say this time.

“That the voice of Maine voters, whether they live in the very heart of the state or near any of its borders, will not be heard in a statewide referendum on both issues makes this a sad day for people of good will,” he said. 

Deeley warned that so-called assisted dying “desensitizes our young people and society at large to the inherent value of human life at a time when suicide rates are the highest that they have been since World War II. Suicide should never be presented as an option, but only recnogied for what it truly is, a tragedy.” 

Maine’s suicide rate is higher than the national average. 

Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D) signed a bill legalizing assisted suicide in the state in July, after much deliberation. She said it was the toughest decision that she had made in her legislative career, and that she hoped assisted suicide did not become commonplace. 

The failed people’s veto effort also means that Maine taxpayer dollars will go to fund abortions, and that every insurance plan offered in the state offering pregnancy coverage must also cover abortion.

The bishop said this law was “coercing people to act against their moral beliefs and ethical principles.”

“Understandably, outrage has grown since citizens have learned the true nature of this law. Abortion is not health care, and this law deprives families and individuals of the simple right to respect the dignity of human life,” said Deeley. 

A third petition, promoted by those opposed to “government-mandated vaccinations,” did gather enough signatures to make the ballot. Organizers of that petitioner are seeking, partly on religious freedom grounds, to overturn a law that ended all non-medical exemptions from required childhood vaccinations. Under the proposed law, children who are not vaccinated will not be permitted to attend public schools. 

In 2005, the Pontifical Academy for Life in Rome considered the moral issues surrounding vaccines prepared using cell lines obtained from abortions. The Vatican group concluded, in part because of the passage of time and the generations of research since the original use of the aborted remains, it is both morally permissible and morally responsible for Catholics to use these vaccines.

The document also noted that Catholics have an obligation to use ethically-sourced vaccines when available, and when alternatives do not exist, they have an obligation to speak up and request the development of new cell lines that are not derived from aborted fetuses.

Maine has one of the highest rates of kindergarteners who were not vaccinated due to “religious or philosophical” reasons. Some towns report that more than 15 percent of kindergarteners were not vaccinated, a lower rate than that of Sudan, Libya, and several sub-Saharan African countries. 

Maine also has the highest rate of whooping cough in the nation, a disease that is prevented by vaccine. 

Study finds U.S. abortion rates at all time low

Washington D.C., Sep 18, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- A new study from a Planned Parenthood thinktank released on Wednesday has found that abortion in the United States have dropped to its lowest rate since the procedure was made legal in 1973. 

The report from the Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of Planned Parenthood, estimated that there were approximately 862,000 abortions in 2017. The rate of 13.5 abortions per 1,000 “women of reproductive age,” marks a drop of 3.4 from 2011, and half of the rate in 1980. 

Overall, the total number of abortions fell by 196,000 over the past six years, with just over 500,000 of 2017 abortions carried out via abortion pills, as opposed to a surgical method. 

The report suggested that increased availability of contraception, including long-term contraceptives such as intrauterine devices, not state laws restricting abortion, were responsible for the drop. This conclusion was disputed by the Charlotte Lozier Institute, a pro-life organization, which suggested that cultural change over time has played a significant role. 

“We welcome the new report showing the decline in both the abortion rate and the overall number of abortions from 2011 to 2017. There are several reasons for this positive news, including factors that Guttmacher does their best to ignore,” said Chuck Donovan, president of the Charlotte Lozier Institute. 

“American mothers are increasingly choosing life for their children, as well as choosing to identify themselves with the pro-life cause and pro-life policies. This includes the broad protections for women and children being enacted at the state level such as strengthened health and safety standards for abortion facilities, limits on public funding of abortion, parental involvement laws, and increased informed consent,” he added.

Donovan also expressed concern at the increasing percentage of women who opt to end their pregnancies using chemical abortifacients. This, he said, “reveals the abortion industry’s increasingly successful effort to cut the overhead costs of surgical abortion while still profiting off the destruction of unborn children and wounding of his or her mother.” 

“The industry’s migration to chemical self-abortion is deeply disturbing as it carries with it the possibility of increasing the overall abortion rate over time and also carries with it a higher rate of injury, about which women are often under informed or deceived,” he added.

Guttmacher’s report found that nearly one out of five abortion clinics, or “nonhospital facilities,” had reported treating a woman who had attempted and failed to induce an abortion on her own. They termed this a “self-managed abortion.” 

There are many organizations that will facilitate delivery of abortion drugs to women through the mail, and they are easily accessed online. 

The new data on the lowest abortion rates recorded comes just weeks after a report on declining  pregnancies and fertility rates in the United States. 

In July, the CDC confirmed that fertility rates in the United States had dropped to their lowest rate ever.

“The 2018 general fertility rate fell to another all-time low for the United States,” researchers with the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics wrote in a July 24 report.

The fertility rate among women aged 15 to 44 dropped 2% between 2017 and 2018, from 60.3 births per 1,000 women aged 15-44, to 59.1.

According to the early statistical release from the NCHS in May, the total fertility rate, or average number of children born per woman, stands at 1.7, well below the demographic replacement bar of 2.1.

In 2018, fewer than 3.8 million children were born in the country. Since a peak in 2007, birth rates have fallen in all but one of the last 11 years. The results also show a continued trend of lower fertility among younger women over the last decade.