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Update: Listening, mentoring key to keeping young adults, say church workers

IMAGE: CNS photo/Terry Wyatt, courtesy FOCUS

By Elizabeth Bachmann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Professors, youth ministers and lay theologians across the country give different reasons for why young people are leaving the church, but they all agree that listening and mentoring are key to developing and maintaining faith.

Curtis Martin, president and founder of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, identified two groups of young people within the church: those who call themselves Catholics, but are slowly drifting away from the church, and those who are actively moving toward the heart of Catholicism.

Martin told Catholic News Service the reason so many young people are drifting away is because the church has "lost its voice." The church is not talking enough about its first love, Jesus, he explained, but it is focusing on secondary and tertiary things.

Natalia Imperatori-Lee, professor of religious studies at Manhattan College, agrees that young people want to focus on Jesus and the missionary work they can do in his name.

"What excites them is hearing the message of Jesus, seeing (Pope) Francis' concern for the poor, seeing different groups in the church reach out to people on the margins," Imperatori-Lee said. "Generally they are excited to be part of communities that are acting out the Gospels. I just don't know that they connect the institutional church with those that are acting out the Gospels."

She also said the church's moral and social stances are opposed to many millennial stances. For example, she said the church should stop focusing on "pelvic issues" and help students reconcile their LGBTQ identities with their Catholic identity.

Gregory Hillis, a professor of theology at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky, countered Imperatori-Lee's theory, suggesting that the sociological discrepancies between millennial morals and the church really stem from a deficiency in spiritual, theological and, especially, mystagogical education.

He explained that, without enlightening young people to the beauty, faith and theological reasoning behind Catholic moral teaching, dogma can feel oppressive and legalistic.

"When I ask my students to tell me, 'When I say Catholic Church, what do you think of,' they say 'law and sex,'" Hillis told CNS. "That is their impression of the Catholic Church, that it is dogmatic and not beautiful."

Hillis said he combats this phenomenon by teaching students about the church's contemplative tradition, immersing them in Trappist Father Thomas Merton, St. Gregory the Great, St. Therese of Lisieux and other writers.

Most of Hillis' students attended Catholic schools, growing up with daily or weekly religious education classes. Yet, he said, they have no idea that the church possesses this wealth of writing and thought, and often they ask him why they were never taught this in high school.

On a fundamental level, Hillis said young Catholics are overwhelmingly disconnected from mystagogical tradition. He said he takes his three sons to the nearby Trappist Abbey of Gethsemani "to hang out with the monks." This kind of spiritual immersion is more effective than the typical catechesis young people receive today, Hillis said.

Jonathan Lewis, assistant secretary for pastoral ministry in the Archdiocese of Washington, shared Hillis' concerns, but added that young people leaving the church are simply mirroring their parents' gradual disaffiliation.

Lewis referenced "Sticky Faith," a book by Kara Powell and Chap Clark, which says young people need at least five mentors who support them in their faith and life journeys in order for their faith to stick. Typically, this should include a priest, parish staff, small groups and parents.

However, Lewis said the church often fails to provide lifelong accompaniment to its members. In a survey of young Catholics in the District of Columbia area, less than half said they had either a mentor or a friend at their church.

"Young people are looking for the church to be home," Lewis said. "You should belong there, people should know your name, you should feel welcome, you have the key, you have some authority, there is a table, you are provided for. The church should have all these elements of a home."

Martin suggested a more aggressive approach that does not rely on waiting for the church to change. Instead, he said lay groups such as FOCUS must raise up spiritual young people who know how to survive when ripped from the comfortable spiritual luxury of college ministry, where they are surrounded by friends and mentors on fire for Christ, and dropped into spiritual wildernesses.

He said young people who find themselves in inhospitable faith environments first need to seek the "water and shelter of faith," like daily prayer and frequenting the sacraments. However, once they have secured their own spiritual campground, they must gather a group of people and start a fire.

"Jesus changed the world with 12," he said. "You don't need a lot of people, but they need to be radically faithful and committed to being fruitful."

Martin said although social media, videos, synods and councils are helpful, he believes the greatest hope and the greatest weapons for the Catholic Church are personal relationships.

"This is how Jesus Christ did it. His social media was the Ten Commandments, which people started breaking before they even left the mountain," Martin said. "So Jesus became man and led a scandalously relational life. The amount of intentionality of relation that he demonstrated is our example."

Martin said if each person who believes reached out to five other people, and each of them reached out to another five people, there would be real hope for the future of the church.

"It is very hard, must be the hardest thing they have done, but it is possible and it is occurring across the U.S.," Martin said. "We are battling an exponential battle; either we are going to lose and it's going to be terrible, or we are going to win and it is going to be magnificent."

However, Hillis said he worries that if the church continues to make decisions without consulting young people, it will never connect with them.

Lewis, who audited the 2018 Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment, said it was a positive example of church leaders truly listening to and engaging with young people.

"Pope Francis as pastor and teacher was trying to model for the universal church and bishops worldwide the right kind of process to engage young people in," he said.

This included listening, friendship and leadership opportunities for young people at local levels. Lewis said he has not seen any widespread examples of implementation yet, but he is optimistic that communities will begin to change in the next year "because Christ is alive. He is always new, ever young, ever attractive, and ever alive."

 

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Young adult leaders gather for post-synod discussion

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy of the Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Catholic young adults felt the hierarchy started listening to them in preparation for the 2018 Synod of Bishops on young people, and they will do whatever they can to make sure their voices continue to be heard, said a youth minister from New Zealand.

"May we be bold," was the wish expressed by Isabella McCafferty from the Archdiocese of Wellington at a Vatican news conference June 18.

McCafferty was one of more than 280 young people from 109 countries set to take part in a post-synod Youth Forum June 19-22.

The Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life asked bishops' conferences around the world to identify two young adult leaders to participate in the forum, being held at a retreat center just south of Rome.

Schonstatt Father Alexandre Awi Mello, secretary of the dicastery, told reporters, "There is always a risk that after a big event people lose enthusiasm, move on to the next thing," but Pope Francis and the dicastery are serious about not letting that happen.

"The synod on young people is in its realization phase," he said. "There is still much to be done," and the forum was designed to continue that conversation with young adults who are experienced in reaching out to their peers.

McCafferty told Catholic News Service: "Young people want the church to give them room to be involved. So, yes, they want their voice heard, but they also want to be part of the things that happen after that," actually implementing changes.

Involving young people in sharing the Gospel message in ways that are relevant and makes sense to them and to their peers, for example, through the use of social media, is especially important, she said.

Young people also are deeply committed to protecting the environment, she said, and they want to be involved in the efforts of the church to reduce its impact on the environment and to promote respect for God's creation.

Most of all, she said, young people are looking for "an authentic church."

"Authenticity is about transparency, it's about vulnerability at times, but it's also about ground level, about being community," McCafferty said. "Rather than always thinking of the church as this thing that happens in Rome, it's about what it means to be church in our local area," and it always involves "person-to-person contact."

When a young adult goes to a parish church regularly for months and only one person talks to him or her -- it happens, she said -- it tells that young adult that an authentic, caring community does not exist there.

"Young people don't feel particularly welcome" in many church communities, she said. "Young people are looking for an encounter with each other, with the church and with the sacraments, but it needs to happen in relevant ways for them," which involves a willingness to "interlink with each other more and holding each other up."

The U.S. bishops chose as their delegates to the meeting Brian Rhude, project coordinator for the Catholic Apostolate Center in Washington, D.C., and Brenda Noriega, coordinator of young adult ministry for the Diocese of San Bernardino, California, and member of the U.S. bishops' National Advisory Team on Young Adult Ministry.

Paul Jarzembowski, assistant director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries and Lay Ecclesial Ministry for the U.S. bishops, was one of 15 national youth ministry staff members invited to attend the forum and make a presentation on how "Christus Vivit," the pope's document on young people, is impacting parishes, dioceses and national organizations in the United States.

 

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What's in a name: Vatican questions use of term 'viri probati'

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paulo Santos, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- While the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the Amazon aims to highlight the damage wrought by climate change and exploitation, the possibility of ordaining married men to minister in remote areas of the rainforest continues to garner more attention.

Among the suggestions proposed in the 45-page working document for the Synod of Bishops on the Amazon, published by the Vatican June 17, was the request "to study the possibility of priestly ordination for elders -- preferably indigenous, respected and accepted by the community -- even if they have an established and stable family."

However, when asked why the document did not use the standard church term "viri probati" ("men of proven virtue") to describe married candidates for the priesthood, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the Synod of Bishops, told journalists June 17 that he was perplexed at the media's continued use of the phrase.

"It's a different thing," the cardinal said regarding the document's proposal. "For me, I think (the term 'viri probati') is a bit abused."

In drafting the working document, he said, the secretariat of the Synod of Bishops wanted to emphasize that while the subject of ordaining married men would be studied, the church continues to affirm the importance of celibacy for priests.

Responding to a journalist's question about ordaining married men, Bishop Fabio Fabene, undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops, said the call for a study on the matter was a direct response "to the suffering of the people, above all those in the most remote areas, due to the lack of the Eucharist."

"The working document responds to this suffering by recalling, first of all, the principle that the Eucharist makes the church and the church makes the Eucharist," Bishop Fabene said.

He also reminded journalists of what Pope Francis said about ordaining married men of proven virtue during his news conference in January with journalists flying back to Rome from Panama with him.

Pope Francis told reporters that celibacy "is a gift to the church" and that he did not agree with allowing "optional celibacy."

"My personal opinion" is that optional celibacy is not the way forward, the pope told reporters Jan. 27. "Am I someone who is closed? Maybe, but I don't feel like I could stand before God with this decision."

However, on the flight as well as in a previous interview, Pope Francis also said he was open to studying the possibility of ordaining married men for very remote locations, such as the Amazon and the Pacific islands where Catholic communities seldom have Mass because there are no priests.

Pope Francis made headlines in 2017 when he raised the possibility of studying the ordination of married "viri probati," even though his response fell clearly in line with the thinking of his predecessors.

In an interview with German newspaper Die Zeit, published in early March 2017, the pope was asked if allowing candidates for the priesthood to fall in love and marry could be "an incentive" for combatting the shortage of priestly vocations.

"We have to study whether 'viri probati' are a possibility. We then also need to determine which tasks they could take on, such as in remote communities, for example," the pope told Die Zeit.

Expressing a willingness to discuss the possibility of allowing married men to become priests was hardly groundbreaking; the topic has come up repeatedly at meetings of the Synod of Bishops -- especially those held in 1971 and 2005 -- and has been discussed by both Pope Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II.

In addition, the Catholic Church already has married priests -- thousands of them.

Most of the Eastern Catholic churches always have ordained married men in their traditional homelands and, in 2014, the Vatican granted permission for such ordinations to be celebrated anywhere the Eastern Catholic communities were present.

In the Latin-rite Catholic Church in 1981, St. John Paul issued a "pastoral provision" allowing former Anglican priests who were married to be ordained as Catholic priests. Pope Benedict expanded that provision with his 2009 apostolic constitution, "Anglicanorum coetibus," establishing personal ordinariates for former Anglicans, including married priests.

While married Eastern-rite priests are part of the church's tradition, when the popes allowed for the ordination of married former Anglican ministers, they did so affirming that the general rule for priestly celibacy in the Latin rite continues.

In the same way, Vatican officials said studying the possibility of ordaining married elders in the Amazon does not call into question the importance of celibacy, but is a call for the church to take a closer look at a possible solution for a specific need.

Bishop Fabene said the call for a study was a direct response to the suffering of indigenous Catholics living in remote areas of the Amazon and, along with promoting indigenous vocations to the priesthood and religious life, is meant "to bring an encounter of the sacramental presence in those communities."

"It seems pretty clear that this is what the working document intends: to present to the synod fathers this emergency that came from the consultation with the people of God in the Amazon," he said.

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Catholic Young Adult Leaders to Take Part in Vatican Post-Synod Dialogue

WASHINGTON—The Vatican Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life will convene in Rome on June 19-22 for an International Post-Synodal Forum of young adults to discuss the impact of Pope Francis’s recent apostolic exhortation, Christus Vivit.

This International Forum will feature interactive discussions on the synodal process and Christus Vivit, including a brief visit with the Holy Father, Pope Francis. According to the Dicastery, “the Forum will be a space for community discernment [and] maintaining the synodal missionary style promoted by the Synod.”

Brian Rhude from the Archdiocese of Baltimore and Brenda Noriega from the Diocese of San Bernardino are two of the young adult leaders who will be representing the United States. They will join the forum discussions with other young Catholic leaders from around the globe.  

Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFM Cap., of Philadelphia and chairman of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, said, “We are grateful to the Holy Father for continuing these conversations begun during the synodal process last year, and we are happy to have Brian and Brenda representing our nation’s young people in Rome for this important dialogue.”

Brian Rhude is a student at The Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington, D.C., where he is studying theology, and works as a project coordinator for the Catholic Apostolate Center. He studied at the CUA campus in Rome during the Fall 2018 semester, which coincided with the Synod on “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment,” where he was a media correspondent for the Catholic Apostolate Center. Brian also has a background in music and culinary arts.

Brenda Noriega is the Coordinator of Young Adults Ministry for the Diocese of San Bernardino and serves on the USCCB’s National Advisory Team on Young Adult Ministry. She was the co-leader of the bishop and young adult encounter at the V Encuentro national event in Texas in September 2018. Brenda previously worked in the Diocese of Fresno. In January 2019, she attended World Youth Day in Panama, where she represented North America at a luncheon with Pope Francis.

Mr. Rhude and Ms. Noriega will offer feedback in small and large groups discussions on how the exhortation is being received by young people across the United States. Paul Jarzembowski, Assistant Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries and Lay Ecclesial Ministry for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ will present to Forum participants on Christus Vivit and its impact on pastoral leaders in parishes, dioceses, and national organizations in the U.S.

More information about the Forum can be found at www.laityfamilylife.va.
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Keywords: U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, Vatican Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, Christus Vivit, Brian Rhude, Archdiocese of Baltimore. Brenda Noriega, Diocese of San Bernardino, Paul Jarzembowski, USCCB Office of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth

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Media Contact:
Judy Keane
202-541-3200

 

Don't let quake shake your hope, pope tells earthquake survivors

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By

CAMERINO, Italy (CNS) -- Wearing a firefighter's helmet painted white and gold for the occasion, Pope Francis entered the earthquake-damaged cathedral in Camerino and prayed before a statue of Mary missing the top of its head.

The pope began his visit June 16 outside the historic city by visiting the temporary modular homes of dozens of families who lost everything when an earthquake struck the region in October 2016.

Pope Francis arrived in the town early in the morning, and the first couple he visited insisted he try a pastry.

"I had breakfast before I left," he explained. But the woman said she would be offended if he didn't try just one, so he did.

A few doors down, a young woman holding a small, squirming dog told him, "I can't believe you are really here."

The centerpiece of the pope's visit was the celebration of Mass in the small square outside the still-closed cathedral.

In his homily, Pope Francis focused on the question from Psalm 8: "What is man that you are mindful of him?"

"With what you have seen and suffered, with houses collapsed and buildings reduced to rubble," the pope said, it is a legitimate question for people to ask.

Faith and experience, though, make it clear that God always is mindful of his human creatures, "each one is of infinite value to him," the pope said. "We are small under the heavens and powerless when the earth trembles, but for God we are more precious than anything."

Visiting the families in temporary housing, Pope Francis kept urging them to keep hold of hope, and he did the same in his homily.

"Earthly hopes are fleeting, they have an expiration date," the pope said. But the Christian virtue of hope, a gift of the Holy Spirit "does not expire because it is based on God's faithfulness."

Such hope, he said, gives birth to "peace and joy inside, independently of what happens outside. It is a hope that has strong roots, one that no storm can uproot."

Pope Francis told the people he wanted to visit just to show his closeness.

At the same time, he said he knew that, after three years, media attention and the solidarity of other Italians has waned, promises of a speedy reconstruction seem to have been forgotten and frustration increases as residents watch more and more people move away permanently.

He prayed that the Lord would prompt people "to remember, repair and rebuild and to do so together, without ever forgetting those who suffer."

 

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Synod document raises possibility of married priests, roles for women

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Catholic Church must find ways to reach indigenous Catholics deprived of the sacraments in the most remote areas of the Amazon rainforest, and that may include ordaining married elders, said the working document for the Synod of Bishops on the Amazon.

"Affirming that celibacy is a gift for the church, in order to ensure the sacraments for the most remote areas of the region, we are asked to study the possibility of priestly ordination for elders -- preferably indigenous, respected and accepted by the community -- even though they have an established and stable family," said the document.

Published by the Vatican June 17, the document also said the church should consider "an official ministry that can be conferred upon women, taking into account the central role they play in the Amazonian church."

The document, drafted after input from bishops' conferences and local communities, acknowledged that in the church "the feminine presence in communities isn't always valued."

Those responding to a synod questionnaire asked that women's "gifts and talents" be recognized and that the church "guarantee women leadership as well as increasingly broad and relevant space in the field of formation: theology, catechesis, liturgy and schools of faith and politics," the 45-page document said.

The synod gathering in October 2019 will reflect on the theme "Amazonia: New paths for the church and for an integral ecology."

When he announced the synod in 2017, Pope Francis said it would seek to identify new paths of evangelization, especially for indigenous people who are "often forgotten and left without the prospect of a peaceful future, including because of the crisis of the Amazon forest," which plays a vital role in the environmental health of the entire planet.

The Amazon rainforest includes territory spread across Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, Suriname, Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, Guyana and French Guiana and is the largest rainforest in the world, covering more than 2.1 million square miles in South America.

While rich in biodiversity, natural resources and cultures, the Amazon rainforest has experienced significant deforestation, negatively impacting the indigenous populations in the area and leading to a loss of biodiversity.

"This synod revolves around life: the life of the Amazonian territory and its people, the life of the church (and) the life of the planet," the document said.

Divided into three main parts, the synod document first laid out the importance of the Amazonian region as well as the environmental threats facing it and its indigenous populations.

"Currently, climate change and the increase in human intervention -- deforestation, fires and changes in the use of land -- are driving the Amazon to a point of no return with high rates of deforestation, forced population displacement and pollution, putting its ecosystems at risk and exerting pressure on local cultures," it said.

To respond to the needs and challenges facing the Amazon and its indigenous populations, it added, the church must have a "new sense of mission" that "opens new spaces" for finding ways to minister with and to the region's people.

"This is the moment to listen to the voice of the Amazon and to respond as a prophetic and Samaritan church," the working document said.

The document's second part highlighted the dangers facing the region and its people who are threatened by those "guided by an economic model linked to production, commercialization and consumption, where the maximizing of profit is prioritized over human and environmental needs."

Drug and arms trafficking, corruption, violence against women, forced migration and the exploitation of indigenous people and their territories, particularly those in "voluntary isolation," are among the other challenges that the church must confront.

Among the suggestions proposed in the working document's third part was the formation of indigenous laity so they can take on a greater role, especially in remote areas lacking the presence of priests and religious men and women.

However, those who are preparing for ordained ministry in the region must also receive adequate formation in the church's "philosophical-theological culture," although in a way adapted to Amazonian cultures.

The document also proposed "the reform of the structures of the seminaries to encourage the integration of candidates to the priesthood in the communities."

Liturgy also plays an important role in expressing the church's closeness to indigenous people in the Amazon, the document said.

Citing the Second Vatican Council document on the sacred liturgy and Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation "Evangelii Gaudium," the document highlighted "the enculturation of the liturgy among the indigenous peoples," adding that cultural diversity poses no threat "to the unity of the church but rather expresses its genuine Catholicity by showing the 'the beauty of her varied face.'"

"The sacraments must be a source of life and healing that is accessible to all, especially to the poor," the document said. "We are asked to overcome the rigidity of a discipline that excludes and alienates" and instead offer "a pastoral sensitivity that accompanies and integrates."

In order to help communities that find it difficult to celebrate the Eucharist due to lack of priests, it added, the church is asked to "change the criteria for selecting and preparing authorized ministers to celebrate it" and to work toward a "ministry of presence" and not simply the itinerant visits of a priest passing through.

The synod working document said that the church is called to play "a prophetic role" in the Amazon, and its evangelizing mission in the region implies "a commitment to promote the rights of the indigenous people."

"The Spirit is in the voice of the poor; that is why the church must listen to them, they are a theological place," it said. "In listening to their pain, silence is necessary in order to hear the voice of the Spirit of God. The prophetic voice implies a new contemplative look capable of mercy and commitment."

The commitment to caring for the earth and defending the human rights of its inhabitants can be dangerous, the document said. "The number of martyrs in the Amazon is alarming."

The church must support those who risk their lives for others "and remember its martyrs, among whom are women leaders like Sister Dorothy Stang," a U.S.-born Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, who defended the land rights of the poor and was assassinated in Brazil in 2005.

 

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Update: Mitigate global warming, spare further injustice to poor, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Faced with a climate emergency, the world must act immediately to mitigate global warming and avoid committing "a brutal act of injustice" on the poor and future generations, Pope Francis told a group of energy and oil executives and global investors.

"Time is running out! Deliberations must go beyond mere exploration of what can be done and concentrate on what needs to be done from today onward," he said.

"We do not have the luxury of waiting for others to step forward or of prioritizing short-term economic benefits. The climate crisis requires our decisive action, here and now," he said June 14 at the Vatican.

The pope spoke to leaders taking part in a conference June 13-14 on "Energy Transition and Care for Our Common Home," sponsored by the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

It was the second private meeting -- the first was in June 2018 -- aimed at dialogue with invited executives of leading energy, petroleum and natural gas companies, global investment firms, climate scholars and academics.

Organizers said that participants this year included CEOs from Royal Dutch Shell, British Petroleum, Occidental Petroleum, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips.

Pope Francis thanked participants for returning for the second meeting, saying it was "a positive sign of your continued commitment to working together in a spirit of solidarity to promote concrete steps for the care of our planet."

The dialogue was taking place during a "critical moment," he said, because "today's ecological crisis, especially climate change, threatens the very future of the human family, and this is no exaggeration."

"For too long, we have collectively failed to listen to the fruits of scientific analysis and 'doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain,'" he said, citing his encyclical "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home."

It would be grossly unfair for future generations to inherit "a greatly spoiled world," the pope said. "Pardon me if I want to underline this: They, our children, our grandchildren, should not have to pay, it is not right that they pay the cost of our irresponsibility."

All dialogue and action must be rooted in the best scientific research available today, he said, pointing particularly to last year's special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

"That report clearly warns that effects on the climate will be catastrophic if we cross the threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius" above pre-industrial levels, as outlined in the Paris Agreement goal, the pope said.

The report, which outlined detailed ways to limit global warming, warned that "only one decade or so remains in order to achieve this confinement of global warming," he added.

"Faced with a climate emergency," the pope said, "we must take action accordingly, in order to avoid perpetrating a brutal act of injustice toward the poor and future generations. We must take responsible actions bearing in mind their impact in the short and in the long term."

Recognizing that "civilization requires energy," he said that it is also important that energy use not destroy civilization.

"A radical energy transition is needed to save our common home," he said, and the Catholic Church was "fully committed to playing her part."

"There is still hope and there remains time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, provided there is prompt and resolute action," he said.

 

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Bishops' actions at spring meeting called a 'work in progress'

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Carol Zimmermann

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- The gathering of U.S. bishops June 11-13 in Baltimore was anything but business as usual.

"The spring meetings are usually more pastoral, and the November meeting has a heavier agenda," said Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, who said this meeting had a "sense of urgency" and momentum to it, both in the smaller group gatherings and when the bishops were all together.

"We were here for specific task ... and by God's grace we will move forward," he said during a June 12 news conference.

The bishops typically meet twice a year as a body. The spring meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is usually in June at different locations each year, and sometimes it is a retreat. The fall meeting in recent years has always been in Baltimore. This year's spring meeting was switched somewhat last minute to the Baltimore location where the bishops were not the only ones in the hotel space but were adjacent to other conference gatherings.

The other time a spring bishops' meeting was almost entirely devoted to the church crisis was the 2002 meeting in Dallas, just months after the church was reeling from a clergy sexual abuse crisis that made headlines in The Boston Globe.

But where that meeting focused on misconduct by priests, this year's meeting looked at responding to the misconduct of some bishops and the failure of some bishops to properly address abuse.

Since their two general assemblies last year, the bishops have been confronted with an overwhelming need to prove to U.S. Catholics that abuse within their own ranks won't be tolerated. They were hit with allegations last summer that one of their own, former Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, had committed abuses over decades. Then just a week before the spring meeting, details emerged from the Vatican-ordered investigation of retired Bishop Michael J. Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, highlighting financial and sexual improprieties.

Names of both bishops came up during the assembly at different points, when the bishops spoke about protocols to put in place to make sure these incidents wouldn't happen again.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, opened the meeting June 11 by saying: "We begin the sacred work this week of purging the evil of sexual abuse from our church."

But just the week before, he had faced his own accusation, which he strongly denied, of having mishandled an accusation of sexual misconduct case against his former vicar general.

The bishops also had the weight of unfinished business upon them in this spring's gathering: policies and procedures in response to the abuse crisis that they had put aside at last year's fall general assembly at the Vatican's request. They also had a new, but related, item: their plan to implement Pope Francis' norms issued May 9 to help the church safeguard its members from abuse and hold its leaders accountable.

Although the bishops passed all the abuse measures before them, none of them said these actions would hit the reset button for the church. In closing remarks, Cardinal DiNardo acknowledged that the steps they had taken were a "work in progress."

They voted to implement the norms contained in the pope's "motu proprio" on responding to sexual abuse in the church and they also approved all of their own measures including a promise to hold themselves accountable to the commitments of their "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," including a zero-tolerance policy for abuse.

"We, the bishops of the U.S., have heard the anger expressed by so many within and outside the church over these failures," that document said, adding: "The anger is justified; it has humbled us, prompting us into self-examination, repentance and a desire to do better, much better. We will continue to listen."

In other votes, the bishops approved actions they can take when a retired bishop resigns or is removed "due to sexual misconduct with adults or grave negligence of office, or where subsequent to his resignation he was found to have so acted or failed to act." They also approved the implementation of an independent third-party system that would allow people to make confidential reports of abuse complaints against bishops through a toll-free number and online.

"It's right we give attention to this," Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, said at the closing news conference. He said the collateral damage from the church abuse scandal is how it is "costing people their faith."

He also stressed that the possibility of "proceeding with what we passed today" without laypeople would be impossible and "highly irresponsible."

Bishop Robert P. Deeley of Portland, Maine, chairman of the bishops' Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance, which oversaw the all of the abuse documents the bishops voted on, except for the third-party system, told reporters at the close of the meeting that bishops are already collaborating with the laity. We are not in a church where the laypeople are here, and the bishops are there, he said, gesturing a gap.

Although some bishops had voiced hope on the floor June 13 that there be mandatory lay participation in church abuse monitoring, Bishop Deeley said the bishops couldn't "go beyond what the Holy Father has given" in the norms he issued, but that doesn't mean laity are or will be excluded, he said.

That was precisely the point Bishop W. Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City, Missouri, hoped to bring home near the meeting's close when he emphasized the need to involve laypeople because "it's the Catholic thing to do."

He said when bishops go home from this meeting, they should be able to tell people they did everything they were able to do to respond to this crisis.

He told Catholic News Service during a break in the meeting June 13 that the church needs to get back to its origins and the Second Vatican Council's vision of lay collaboration with clergy, adding: "Perhaps God is utilizing this crisis in a way to get us back on track again."

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim

 

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Update: Bishops affirm diocese's effort for Michigan man's sainthood cause

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Irving Houle Association

By Mark Pattison

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- The U.S. bishops, after being consulted about the sainthood cause of a man who, except for service in World War II, spent his life in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, gave vocal assent June 12 for the Diocese of Marquette to continue to pursue the cause.

Hearing no nays in the voice vote, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston declared the vote on the cause of Irving "Francis" C. Houle to be unanimous.

The current bishop of Marquette, John F. Doerfler, said he had talked to Houle's widow about her husband. And the former bishop of the diocese -- Archbishop Alexander K. Sample of Portland, Oregon -- had met Houle as a clergyman in northernmost Michigan.

Archbishop Sample said Houle came into the rectory of a church where a confirmation ceremony had just concluded. "At first, I didn't know who he was," the archbishop recalled. But as the conversation continued, Archbishop Sample said he might have gotten a whiff of "the odor of sanctity ... I could definitely smell a rose."

Then, he added, "I was glancing at his hands," and at this point Archbishop Sample, while recalling the encounter to his fellow bishops, was rubbing his hands as if he were lathering them with soap. "Then I saw the bandages on his hands, and I knew who he was."

Houle was said to receive the stigmata 16 years before he died in 2009, but well before that "many extraordinary physical and spiritual healings" were attributed to him, according to a biography of Houle (pronounced "hool") posted on the website of the Irving "Francis" Houle Association for the Cause of Sainthood, http://irvingfrancishoule.org.

"When I first spoke to Irving's wife and asked about her husband, her first words to me, were, 'He was a wonderful husband and father,'" Bishop Doerfler said. "His pastor described him as 'the guy next door, and a holy man.' These brief descriptions highlight the importance and the relevance of the (sainthood) cause."

Bishop Doerfler added, "Do we not need such illustrations of how one can lead a life of holiness in daily life?"

Houle was born in Wilson, Michigan, in 1925. Thrown from a galloping horse at age 6, his injuries -- which included broken ribs and a punctured lung -- were reported by a local newspaper as "believed to be fatal." But with sisters at a Franciscan convent praying for him -- his aunt was one of the nuns -- and after seeing a "beautiful man in a white bathrobe" at the foot of his bed one night, young Irving no longer struggled to breathe.

Houle went to daily Mass as a teenager and "it was not uncommon for him to be moved to tears at the consecration," the biography said. He had one sister and five brothers; as adults, Houle and his brothers, were fourth-degree Knights of Columbus, like their father. All were "devoted to Catholic life and to their families."

He married his wife, Gail, in 1948, and they had five children. They lived in Escanaba, the Upper Peninsula's third-largest city at 12,000, less than 20 miles from his childhood home. "His family knew him as a devoutly religious, loving, caring person who was fun to be around. Irving was known to be a teaser and a prankster," the biography said, adding, "He was also known to have his feelings hurt easily, and at times he had a temper."

At one job, Houle kept pictures of the Sacred Heart and Immaculate Heart on his desk. "Once a comment was made about the religious pictures," the biography noted, and Houle replied, "If they go, I go." He was also known to go to church to pray the stations of the cross every day after work, no matter how late he worked. Houle received the stigmata on Good Friday 1993. "He suffered the Passion every night between midnight and 3 a.m. for the rest of his earthly life. He understood that these particular hours of the day were times of great sins of the flesh," the biography said.

After retiring, Houle talked to "tens of thousands" of people, it added. "He was most happy to learn of people returning to confession after 20, 30 or 40 years, and receiving Jesus in the Eucharist."

At speaking engagements at churches or elsewhere, "there were many extraordinary physical and spiritual healings, and he always made it crystal clear that these things came from God," the biography said. "He would simply say, 'I don't heal anybody," and 'Jesus is the one who heals.'"

Archbishop Sample verified this account. "He always wanted to act in communion with the local church. He always wanted to work in communion with the local bishop," he said of Houle. "He never wanted to draw attention to himself," adding Houle was "an ordinary, humble man who obtained some true sanctity in his life."

Deacon Mike LeBeau of the Houle Association, in an email to Catholic News Service, said a Marquette diocesan priest gave Houle the nickname Francis "to protect Irving and his family from being exploited by people."

Houle's cause was forwarded by the bishops' Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance at the request of Bishop Doerfler.

The bishops, meeting June 11-13 in Baltimore, have been consulted at a growing number of their general meetings about the lives of holy men and women being proposed for sainthood. The question posed for each one: "Does the body of bishops consider it advisable to continue to advance on the local level the cause for canonization of the Servant of God?"

Such a question needs to be answered in the affirmative by a majority of the bishops present and voting.

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Lay groups cautious about bishops' actions to boost accountability

IMAGE: CNS graphic/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

By

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- Representatives of lay organizations expressed caution over the steps taken by U.S. bishops to boost accountability and transparency in dealing with clergy sexual abuse, saying future actions by the bishops will determine how successful the initiatives ultimately will be.

Full collaboration with laypeople will be the key to the success of the measures adopted by the bishops, they said in a series of statements following the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' spring general assembly in Baltimore June 11-13.

"Catholics are looking for robust actions and long-term solutions to the twin crises of abuse and leadership failures," Kim Smolik, CEO of the Leadership Roundtable, said in a June 13 statement.

"While the bishops took important initial steps, more remains to be done to address the root causes and create a new culture of leadership that values accountability, transparency and co-responsibility with clergy and laity," she said.

The Leadership Roundtable was founded in the wake of the 2002 abuse scandal in the Archdiocese of Boston. It was officially formed in 2005 by lay, religious and ordained leaders to help the church address the abuse crisis and promote best practices and accountability in all areas. It has been working since then to help dioceses address leadership and governance issues.

The bishops approved four measures during their assembly including the operation of an independent third-party reporting system to accept abuse allegations and the implementation of Pope Francis' norms, "Vos Estis Lux Mundi" ("You are the light of the world"), to safeguard church members from abuse and boost accountability of church leaders.

Smolik said that while she had not seen the final directives, her organization was "pleased that multiple bishops intervened to specify the need for greater lay involvement."

The roundtable had sent recommendations to the USCCB prior to the assembly calling for national standards to support the measures under consideration and a study into what led to the mishandling of incidents of clergy abuse.

"New procedures are a start," Smolik's statement said, "but the pervasive culture that led to the crises is still in place. A new culture of leadership is necessary if we are to truly address the crises.

"It starts by acknowledging the leadership failures, looking at the root causes, providing new information in seminaries and other educational institutions, setting up governance structures with checks, balances, etc.," she said.

"Lay Catholics are lending their expertise and look forward to continued work with the clergy to create a new culture of co-responsible leadership," she added.

During a news conference at the close of the bishops' meeting, Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, acknowledged that the "twin-headed scandal" of clergy abuse and mismanagement by bishops "is costing people their faith."

He said that laypeople inevitably would be involved in the new systems being implemented even if the adopted measures did not specifically call for their participation.

"Proceeding with what we legislated today for us, the possibility of doing that without qualified laypeople I would say is next to impossible. It is impossible and it would be highly irresponsible," Cardinal Tobin said.

Still, skepticism remained from Catholic-led organizations that have been highly critical of the bishops' handling of clergy abuse for years.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said June 13 that none of the measures adopted require all allegations of misconduct to be immediately forwarded to civil law enforcement authorities.

The plan governing the third-party reporting system will find reports funneled through a central receiving hub, which would then be responsible for sending allegations to the appropriate metropolitan, or archbishop, and to the papal nunciature in Washington. The metropolitans will be responsible for reporting any allegation to local law enforcement authorities as the first step toward investigating a claim.

SNAP said in its statement that "church officials have so far refused to mandate lay involvement, instead leaving it up to each metropolitan to decide, and have not yet said if every allegation received will be routed to police."

"Without these mandates, there is no guarantee that reports will be routed to police and investigations will be transparent and public. Instead, all reports can remain secret and insulated within the church's internal systems," SNAP said.

The organization called for each metropolitan to establish "a truly independent" lay review board with members to include least one clergy abuse survivor and two members chosen from investigators recommended by the appropriate state attorney general.

SNAP also wants any investigation of a bishop to be conducted "in a locale far from the area where the complaint originated." It said full transparency and accountability requires that the investigations and lay review board reports and findings must be publicly released with appropriate redactions to protect victims.

Terrence McKiernan, president and co-director of BishopAccountability.org, said June 13 that it was "encouraging that the bishops are grappling at last with sexual and managerial misconduct in their own ranks."

In a statement, he called for greater involvement by laypeople in all aspects of the new standards.

McKiernan also appealed for ways to assure greater accountability among bishops as well as independent auditing of the new procedures, which he described as having "obvious structural weaknesses" that will likely guarantee "that the system will not command the confidence it requires to succeed."

 

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