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Pope adds married couples, Church movement reps to Vatican’s laity and family office

Margaret Karram, the third president to lead the Focolare Movement, was among several members of ecclesial movements who were appointed to the Dicastery for the Laity, Family, and Life by Pope Francis on Nov. 25, 2023. / Credit: CSC Audiovisivi

Rome Newsroom, Nov 25, 2023 / 10:07 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has added 11 new members to the Vatican office that focuses on the lay apostolate and family life, with two married couples and four figures affiliated with ecclesial movements highlighting the selections. 

The Vatican announced the pope’s picks to the Dicastery for the Laity, Family, and Life on Nov. 25.

New members include the Taiwanese couple Joseph Teyu Chou, a professor of finance, and Clare Jiayann Yeh, the founder and director of the local bishops’ Marriage and Family Pastoral Center.

Another married couple picked for the dicastery comes from France — Benoit and Véronique Rabourdin. The two are the international managers of the Amour and Vérité marriage and family ministry, an initiative of the Emmanuel Community, a French-founded public association of the faithful.

The French and Taiwanese couples join a Polish couple already serving as members of the dicastery for a total of three sets of spouses among the Vatican office’s 28 members.

In addition to the Emmanuel Community-affiliated Rabourdins, Pope Francis also added other members associated with ecclesial movements.

Father Andrea D’Auria directs the international center of the lay movement Communion and Liberation and is a member of the movement’s associated Priestly Fraternity of St. Charles Borromeo.

Founded in Italy and with about 60,000 enrolled members throughout the world, Communion and Liberation recently came into conflict with the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life over its plan for leadership succession, with prefect Cardinal Kevin Farrell eventually intervening to appoint its president in 2022.

Margaret Karram, president of the Work of Mary (Focolare Movement), a participant in the recent Synod on Synodality assembly at the Vatican, was also added as a new member to the dicastery, as was Father Luis Felipe Navarro Marfá, the rector of the Opus Dei-run University of the Sacred Heart in Rome.

The Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life oversees most Catholic movements and maintains the International Associations of the Faithful Directory.

Three laywomen academics are also among the new members: Ana María Celis Brunet, an expert in abuse prevention from Chile; Maria Luisa Di Pietro, who directs the Center for Research and Studies on Procreative Health at University of the Sacred Heart; and Carmen Peña Garcia, a Spanish professor of marriage law.

In total, eight of the Vatican office’s 28 members are now women. In 2018, Pope Francis emphasized that the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life should promote a deeper reflection of the role of women in the Church and society.

The lone prelate added to the dicastery was Archbishop Josep Àngel Saiz Meneses of Seville, Spain. Eleven of the dicastery’s members now belong to the episcopacy, including Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernández, prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, and the American cardinals Robert McElroy (San Diego) and Wilton Gregory (Washington, D.C.). 

The Dicastery of Laity, Family, and Life was created in 2016 when Pope Francis combined the former pontifical councils for the laity and the family. According to its statutes, the dicastery has the responsibility “for the promotion of life and the apostolate of the lay faithful, for the pastoral care of the young, family and its mission, following God’s plan and for the protection and support of human life.”

UPDATE: Pope Francis has ‘mild flu,’ went to hospital for precautionary testing

Pope Francis at his general audience earlier this week on Nov. 22, 2023. / Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Vatican City, Nov 25, 2023 / 09:32 am (CNA).

Pope Francis went to the hospital this afternoon for precautionary testing after coming down with the flu earlier in the day, according to the Vatican.

“In the early hours of the afternoon, Pope Francis underwent a CT scan at the Gemelli Isola Hospital in Rome, to exclude the risk of pulmonary complications,” the Holy See Press Office said in a Nov. 25 communication to journalists.

“The test gave a negative result and the pope returned to Casa Santa Marta,” the message concluded.

The announcement of the pope’s hospital visit followed an earlier communication from the Vatican that the pope would not take part in his scheduled meetings on Saturday morning due to illness.

“The Holy Father’s audiences scheduled for this morning are canceled due to a mild flu,” the Holy See Press Office said.

The Vatican’s daily bulletin, released at noon Rome time, did not note any papal activity for that morning, though the pope had been scheduled to meet with Umaro Issoco Embaló, the president of Guinea-Bissau.  

No additional information has been shared regarding the pope’s ability to participate in scheduled events going forward, such as tomorrow’s Angelus greeting.

The 86-year old Pope Francis is scheduled to travel to the United Arab Emirates Dec. 1–3 to participate in the COP28 United Nations Climate Change Conference.

The day’s events mark the second time this month that the pope’s activity has been affected by illness.

On Nov. 6, the pope had a cold and did not read his prepared remarks at an audience with Jewish rabbis from Europe, deciding to give attendees copies of the text instead.

“Thank you for this visit that I appreciate very much, but it happens that I am not well in health and that is why I prefer not to read the speech but give it to you,” the pope reportedly said at the time.

Pope Francis, however, was able to continue with his full schedule for the rest of the day, including a meeting with 7,000 children from over 80 countries.

The pope, who turns 87 next month, has experienced a number of medical setbacks in recent years. He has been hospitalized on more than one occasion, most recently in June for abdominal surgery. In late March, he was treated for bronchitis for several days, quipping on his April 1 release, “I’m still alive, you know.”

This story was updated at 9:32 a.m. EST.

Catholics can receive a plenary indulgence by praying before a Nativity scene 

null / Alexander Hoffmann / Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Nov 25, 2023 / 08:00 am (CNA).

This year, Catholics will be able to receive a plenary indulgence from Dec. 8, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to Feb. 2, 2024, the feast of the Presentation in the Temple of Our Lord Jesus Christ, by praying before a Nativity scene in a Franciscan church.

Earlier this year, on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the faithful gathered at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, to honor the beloved Italian saint and celebrate the 800th anniversary of the approval of the Rule of St. Francis (1223) and the creation of the Nativity scene in Greccio.

As part of the celebration of this Franciscan Centenary, the Conference of the Franciscan Family asked Pope Francis for the approval of this plenary indulgence.

The conference wrote: “In order to promote the spiritual renewal of the faithful and increase the life of grace, we ask that the faithful receive a plenary indulgence under the usual conditions from 8 December 2023, the solemnity of Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to 2 February 2024, feast of the Presentation in the Temple of Our Lord Jesus Christ, by visiting the churches run by Franciscan families throughout the world and stopping in prayer in front of the Nativity scenes set up there.”

The Apostolic Penitentiary welcomed the request, allowing the faithful to receive this indulgence under the usual conditions.

Those who are sick or unable to participate physically can obtain the indulgence by offering their sufferings up to the Lord or by “carrying out practices of piety.”

What is a plenary indulgence?

A plenary indulgence is a grace granted by the Catholic Church through the merits of Jesus Christ, Mary, and all the saints to remove the temporal punishment due to sin. The indulgence cleanses a person of all temporal punishment due to sin. However, it must always be accompanied by a full detachment from sin. 

Conditions to receive a plenary indulgence in all cases:

  1. Detachment from all sin, even venial.

  2. Sacramental confession, holy Communion, and prayer for the intentions of the pope. Sacramental confession and receiving the Eucharist can happen up to about 20 days before or after the act performed to receive a plenary indulgence. 

It is appropriate that Communion and the prayer take place on the same day that the work is completed. One sacramental confession is sufficient for several plenary indulgences. However for each plenary indulgence one wishes to receive, a separate reception of the Eucharist and a separate prayer for the intentions of the Holy Father are required.

Missionary priest builds up Haiti one student, one classroom at a time

Father Louis Merosne at College Sainte Anne, a parochial Catholic school from seventh-12th grade. / Credit: Father Louis Merosne

CNA Staff, Nov 25, 2023 / 07:00 am (CNA).

In the face of dire poverty, widespread gang violence, recent natural disasters, and a breakdown of basic social-political structures, making progress in Haiti today can feel impossible. But for Haitian missionary priest Father Louis Merosne, everything is possible with God, and that’s the attitude he has taken to the Herculean task of rebuilding the Catholic educational system where he serves in Haiti.

“We have a big dream, a huge dream, but we will start small. We want to build schools so we can build Haiti one student at a time,” Merosne said in a Facebook video he recently posted, inviting people to pray for and donate to the mission.

Merosne, who was born in Haiti and educated in the U.S., is the pastor of the Cathedral of St. Anne in Anse-a-Veau, in the Nippes department in the southwest part of the country. (The cathedral was greatly damaged during the 2021 earthquake and has not yet been repaired due to the high cost.)  

Merosne is also the founder of Mission to the Beloved, a nonprofit organization that preaches the Gospel, serves the poor, and builds up the local Church. The ministry also funds most of the operational costs of the Cathedral of St. Anne since many parishes in Haiti can’t afford to pay staff or run ministries.

Father Louis Merosne sometimes has to charter a plane to get to his cathedral parish becasue of the gangs that control the roads between the capital city of Port-au-Prince and the cathedral. Credit: Father Louis Merosne
Father Louis Merosne sometimes has to charter a plane to get to his cathedral parish becasue of the gangs that control the roads between the capital city of Port-au-Prince and the cathedral. Credit: Father Louis Merosne

The effort to establish Catholic schools among the faithful in the region Merosne serves is no easy task, but the effort began before he arrived in Anse-a-Veau. 

The first school was partly in place already, and Merosne then helped “to push it through to complete it,” he told CNA. “Thank God for those who helped us to build it before I became pastor. That school was seventh grade to senior year. Then we realized we needed kindergarten to sixth grade so we went searching for money … and got this amazing opportunity with Catholic Relief Services in addition to some generous individual donors to be able to build more classrooms. So [this fall], we should have all the classrooms from kindergarten to senior year in the town of Anse-a-Veau.”

But in addition to the Cathedral parish in town, Merosne also has four mission churches (chapels) spread out in four different villages. 

“In order for kids to get a good Catholic education, they have to take dangerous motorcycle-taxis or walk long distances to come from those villages to the town,” he explained. “Transportation is more expensive than the cost of the education itself. So I said, ‘I’m going to start a school, a Catholic school, inside every little church in each village.’ And that’s how I started this crazy project. It’s very daunting to build so many schools and run them, but it can be done.”

Merosne is working with what he has while he fundraises, and he keeps a sense of humor. 

“We put a blackboard in there [the mission church] and on Sunday we have Mass, and then on Monday to Friday it’s a classroom; isn’t that how everybody does it?”

Father Louis Merosne at St. Andrew's Chapel, one of the village communities he pastors. The church was destroyed in the 2021 earthquake. Credit: Father Louis Merosne
Father Louis Merosne at St. Andrew's Chapel, one of the village communities he pastors. The church was destroyed in the 2021 earthquake. Credit: Father Louis Merosne

Investing in Catholic education in Haiti is about the students and their families, but there is a bigger picture, too.

“We are also investing in education because the Catholic population has shrunk in Haiti,” Merosne told CNA. “Haiti was considered a Catholic country, but the population has gone down because there are systematic efforts to convert people out of the Church. And it works. And we haven’t had a systematic response to it. So education is very important — not only as ministry but also to inform the mind and heart of the young child, to bring them up in the faith and as good citizens of the country, who will love the country.”

Merosne believes that forming the minds and character of students and helping them to grow in virtue is important for the recovery and flourishing of Haiti. “If they don’t grow in virtue then we’re not doing the country any favors because some of the corrupt people that are in the country went to Catholic school. And yet, their heart is not where it’s supposed to be; it’s not converted with the Lord. So that’s why I’m taking education seriously.”

Merosne is currently raising money to build classrooms as the chapels, the mission churches, will soon be too overcrowded.

“We need to start building classrooms outside the church buildings, even if it’s one classroom at a time. And that’s how we’ll eventually end up with a school building for each village. It has been hard but it’s important. We are seeing the results — beautiful kids are getting Catholic education.”

Some of the chapels were damaged by the powerful earthquake in August 2021 so the community had to build some makeshift classrooms so the students could keep going to school. “We don’t stop no matter what happens; we keep going,” Merosne said. 

Father Louis Merosne celebrates Mass with and for the prisoners of Anse-a-Veau. Credit: Father Louis Merosne
Father Louis Merosne celebrates Mass with and for the prisoners of Anse-a-Veau. Credit: Father Louis Merosne

Paying the teachers is a challenge because parents can’t afford very much. “It’s less than $100 for the whole year per student and still for some families, that’s difficult,” Merosne said. “And then the teachers get paid peanuts — a little less than $100 per month. We try to get them food, like rice and beans, so they don’t have to use the little money they make for food. And we try to help them with transportation.”

But Merosne would like to properly train teachers and pay them a good wage. 

“We realized we need to have a school that trains teachers in the area, especially if we want to encourage our Catholic young adults to become teachers so we can have good Catholic teachers in the schools,” Merosne explained. “So we started a school for teachers. And that’s been growing for two years. We hire them even while they’re in school. So that’s good news.” 

A project like this in Haiti requires support at many levels. Merosne broke down how individuals and groups can help.

“First, you can pray,” he said. “You can also sponsor a student ($100 per year) or a teacher ($100 a month) or sponsor a classroom — that’s about $20,000- $25,000 per classroom to build.” 

“We would love people to work with us on a monthly basis. Our monthly donors are amazing because they allow us to be able to hope for something — even if it’s $20 a month, we know we have this much coming each month. That’s huge. If we have enough people doing this, I can rest my heart a bit more as I am always thinking about how to get enough money to take care of the people under my care.” 

Father Louis Merosne stands before the creche in his "makeshift cathedral" since the main church was too damaged in the 2021 earthquake to be used. Credit: Father Louis Merosne
Father Louis Merosne stands before the creche in his "makeshift cathedral" since the main church was too damaged in the 2021 earthquake to be used. Credit: Father Louis Merosne

Merosne said he relies on providence to provide through the generosity of others who feel called to support their brothers and sisters Haiti and to rebuild the country little by little. 

“If I look at the big picture, I can’t do it. But if we start small and allow God to work with us consistently, we can make this happen. We can actually turn this thing around by investing in the Haitian people, giving them something that will last for a lifetime — an awesome Catholic and strong academic education that can help to bring about good citizens for the country of Haiti and for the kingdom of God.” 

To find out more about Merosne’s work in Haiti you can follow him on Facebook and visit Mission to the Beloved.

Christ the King: Pope Pius XI’s hope for ‘lasting peace among the nations’

Pope Francis celebrates Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on the feast of Christ the King, Nov. 21, 2021. / Credit: Vatican Media

CNA Staff, Nov 25, 2023 / 06:00 am (CNA).

Every year on the last Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Catholic Church observes the solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe — also known as the feast of Christ the King — a relatively recent addition to the Church’s liturgical calendar, instituted just under a century ago by Pope Pius XI. 

In his 1925 encyclical Quas Primas, Pius XI argued that the “manifold evils in the world were due to the fact that the majority of men had thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives” and that “as long as individuals and states refused to submit to the rule of our Savior, there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations.” 

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops notes on its website that, around the time of Pius XI’s encyclical, “in Mexico, Russia, and some parts of Europe, militantly secularistic regimes threatened not just the Catholic Church and its faithful but civilization itself.”

Indeed, just several years before Quas Primas, the Bolsheviks in Russia had executed the October Revolution, which touched off a series of events that would ultimately lead to the creation of the Soviet Union in 1922. The Soviet government would establish itself as an explicitly secular state and implement severe restrictions on religious freedom and aggressive persecution of religious believers in the coming decades.

Amid those upheavals and turbulent regime changes, Pope Pius XI in his encyclical argued that “men must look for the peace of Christ in the kingdom of Christ.”

To that end, Pius XI announced “the insertion into the Sacred Liturgy of a special feast of the kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ,” which he hoped would be “attended with much fruit and produce beneficial results in the future.”

Pope Francis celebrates Mass at the Cathedral of Asti, in northern Italy, for the solemnity of Christ the King on Nov. 20, 2022. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Pope Francis celebrates Mass at the Cathedral of Asti, in northern Italy, for the solemnity of Christ the King on Nov. 20, 2022. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Jesus, Pope Pius XI said, had long been accorded the title of “King” due to “the metaphorical title of ‘King,’ because of the high degree of perfection whereby he excels all creatures” but also in “the strict and proper sense too.” 

Pius went on: “For it is only as man that he may be said to have received from the Father ‘power and glory and a kingdom,’ since the Word of God, as consubstantial with the Father, has all things in common with him, and therefore has necessarily supreme and absolute dominion over all things created.”

That Christ’s blessings may be spread as abundantly as possible, “it is necessary that the kingship of our Savior should be as widely as possible recognized and understood,” Pius XI wrote; to that end, “nothing would serve better than the institution of a special feast in honor of the kingship of Christ.”

“If we ordain that the whole Catholic world shall revere Christ as king,” the pope wrote, “we shall minister to the need of the present day and at the same time provide an excellent remedy for the plague which now infects society.”

The pope established the feast as falling on the last Sunday of the month of October. In his 1969 motu proprio Mysterii Paschalis, Pope Paul VI approved the new Roman Universal Calendar, creating the norms by which the final Sunday in Ordinary Time is celebrated as the yearly observance of the feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. It is the final Sunday of the liturgical year, the last Sunday before the first Sunday of Advent.

In a 2021 homily, Bishop Robert Barron said the feast “sums up what the Christian life is all about.”

“All the other celebrations of the year,” Barron said, are “... leading you toward that conclusion, that Christ must be king.” 

“If we say anything but that,” he said, “we are basically horsing around with Christianity and not living it seriously.”

In a homily on the solemnity in 2021, Pope Francis said that Jesus became man “without duplicity, in order to proclaim by his life that his kingdom is different from the kingdoms of the world.”

“His is the kingdom of love,” the Holy Father said, describing Christ as the king “of the kingdom of those who give their lives for the salvation of others.”

In his 1925 encyclical, meanwhile, Pius XI wrote that if the truths of Christ “are presented to the faithful for their consideration, they will prove a powerful incentive to perfection.”

The pontiff expressed his hope that “having lived our lives in accordance with the laws of God’s kingdom, we may receive full measure of good fruit, and counted by Christ good and faithful servants, we may be rendered partakers of eternal bliss and glory with him in his heavenly kingdom.”

Bishop Barron in ‘frank disagreement’ with Synod on Synodality’s report on ‘development of moral teaching’

Bishop Robert Barron. Photo courtesy of DeChant-Hughes Public Relations. / null

Rome Newsroom, Nov 24, 2023 / 11:45 am (CNA).

Bishop Robert Barron has said that he is in “frank disagreement” with the final report of the Synod on Synodality’s claim that advances in the sciences require an evolution in the Church’s moral teaching on human sexuality.

In a reflection published this week, the bishop of Winona–Rochester, Minnesota, said it is “troubling” to see how members of the German bishops’ conference are already “using the language of the synod report to justify major reformulations of the Church’s sexual teaching.”

Barron took particular issue with the suggestion that “advances in our scientific understanding will require a rethinking of our sexual teaching, whose categories are, apparently, inadequate to describe the complexities of human sexuality” in the synthesis document.

He called this language “condescending to the richly articulate tradition of moral reflection in Catholicism,” including the theology of the body developed by St. John Paul II.

“To say that this multilayered, philosophically informed, theologically dense system is incapable of handling the subtleties of human sexuality is just absurd,” Barron said.

“But the deeper problem I have is that this manner of argumentation is based upon a category error— namely, that advances in the sciences, as such, require an evolution in moral teaching,” he added.

“Let us take the example of homosexuality. Evolutionary biology, anthropology, and chemistry might give us fresh insight into the etiology and physical dimension of same-sex attraction, but they will not tell us a thing about whether homosexual behavior is right or wrong. The entertaining of that question belongs to another mode of discourse.”

A misperceived ‘tension between love and truth’

The bishop also noted that during discussions at the October synod assembly, there was a “perceived tension between love and truth,” particularly around the issue of outreach to the LGBT community.

“Practically everyone at the synod held that those whose sexual lives are outside of the norm should be treated with love and respect, and, again, bravo to the synod for making this pastoral point so emphatically. But many synod participants also felt that the truth of the Church’s moral teaching in regard to sexuality ought never to be set aside,” Barron said.

He added that it would be more accurate to say that there might be “a tension between welcoming and truth” because “when the terms are rightly understood, there is no real tension between love and truth, for love is not a feeling but the act by which one wills the good of another.”

“Therefore, one cannot authentically love someone else unless he has a truthful perception of what is really good for that person,” he said.

Barron was not the only bishop to highlight the Synod on Synodality’s discussion of the relationship between “love and truth” this week.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney published a seven-page pastoral letter on the Synod on Synodality on Nov. 20, one day before Barron’s reflection.

“Love and truth, we know, find their perfection not in abstract philosophies or empirical studies but in the concrete person of Jesus Christ. In him, love and truth meet. We know what it is to love when we know the One who is truth,” Fisher said.

“Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus was always open to the other. He encountered every kind of person and invited them into the fullness of life (Jn 10:10). But this ever-more inclusive community of faith is also called to an ever-deeper conversion (Mt 4:17). … Being included in his family, the Church requires a response from us. Go, he says, you are forgiven. Your dignity is restored. You are loved from all eternity to all eternity. So go — and sin no more (Jn 8:11).”

The Australian archbishop also noted some of the limits to the Synod on Synodality’s communal discernment method, known as “conversation in the Spirit.”

“Deep listening to each other, expressing feelings, resonating in table groups, will not always help us find what is true and right,” Fisher said.

“As one eminent theologian said to me: Of the many synods he had attended, this one was the humanly best but theologically thinnest.”

He also cited Jesuit Father Anthony Lusvardi’s observation that while the conversation method is great at helping people understand one another better, “it is not well-suited for careful or complex theological or practical reasoning.”

“Doing that requires thinking that is critical, that weighs the pros and cons of what people say. It also requires a degree of objectivity that this method is not well-suited to provide. Sound theology needs to always ask the question, ‘That may sound good, but is it true?’”

Fisher said that “more work needs to be done to ensure a genuinely Catholic understanding of synodality, inclusion, and discernment.”

He called it providential that the nearly monthlong synod assembly coincided with the feast days of so many great saints in the Latin rite’s liturgical calendar, including St. Luke, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John Paul II, and St. Faustina Kowalska.

“We were accompanied by a great cloud of witnesses at the synod, reminding us what the Church is for: to call sinners to salvation and all to healing and holiness in Christ, to support each one in living their personal vocations, and to unite us with and as the communion of saints,” Fisher said.

“So one useful criterion for judging every synod proposal is: Is it likely, by God’s grace, to generate more apostles and pastors, evangelists and missionaries, religious and teachers, martyrs and mystics, holy men and women, such as our Church and world so sorely need?”

Vatican draws line on women’s ordination and homosexuality in new letter to German bishops

Cardinal Pietro Parolin. / Claude Truong-Ngoc via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

CNA Newsroom, Nov 24, 2023 / 11:00 am (CNA).

The Vatican has informed German bishops in writing that the ordination of women and changes in the Church’s teaching on homosexuality cannot be subjects of discussion in the upcoming meetings with delegates of the German Synodal Way in Rome.

The letter, dated Oct. 23, also reminded the bishops of potential disciplinary consequences for anyone defying the teaching of the Church, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

Written by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, and addressed to the secretary general of the German Bishops’ Conference, Beate Gilles, the letter was shared with all German diocesan bishops.

The document’s authenticity was verified by CNA Deutsch with the German Bishops’ Conference on Friday.

The latest in a growing list of Vatican interventions regarding the German Synodal Way, the letter was published in full on Nov. 25 by the newspaper Tagespost.

Danger of ‘parallel initiatives’

German bishops and representatives of the Roman Curia met in the Vatican in July for discussions about the German Synodal Way. These talks will continue in January, April, and July 2024. They are expected to cover ecclesiology, anthropology, morality and liturgy, and texts of the Synodal Way. 

The Vatican’s letter reminded the German bishops of the Synod on Synodality underway in Rome: “Considering the course of the German Synodal Way so far, one must first realize that a universal Synodal Way is currently taking place, convened by the Holy Father.” 

The letter emphasized that it was “therefore necessary to respect this path of the universal Church and to avoid the impression that parallel initiatives are underway that are indifferent to the effort to ‘journey together.’”

Line drawn on women’s ordination, homosexual acts

In light of the German Synodal Way resolving to push for the ordination of women, the letter reminded the German bishops that Pope Francis has repeatedly and “expressly reaffirmed” what St. John Paul II wrote in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis about the Church having “no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women.”

While quoting Pope Francis on the importance of recognizing the role and dignity of women — given “a woman, Mary, is more important than the bishops,” as the pope said in Evangelii Gaudium — the letter also warned of “disciplinary consequences” for those who contravene doctrine, including potential excommunication for “attempting to ordain a woman,” CNA Deutsch reported.

Regarding the Church’s teaching on homosexual acts, Parolin’s letter to the German bishops said this was “another issue on which a local Church has no possibility of taking a different view.”

The letter elaborated: “For even if one recognized that from a subjective point of view there may be various factors that call on us not to judge people, this in no way changes the evaluation of the objective morality of these acts.”

The Vatican’s note also referenced Pope Francis’ 2019 letter to Catholics in Germany. In it, the pope cautioned against “the great sin of worldliness and of the anti-evangelical worldly spirit.” 

In January, Pope Francis was more explicit, decrying the German Synodal Way as “elitist” and “neither helpful nor serious.”

More recently, in a letter dated Nov. 10, the pope again expressed deep concerns about the German Synodal Way. He warned that steps being taken by this local Church segment threaten to diverge from the universal Church’s path, especially the Germans’ push to establish a permanent “Synodal Council,” a mix of laity and bishops to govern the Catholic Church in Germany. 

Instead, Pope Francis suggested an alternative approach for the Church in Germany, emphasizing the need for prayer, penance, and adoration.

German reactions to this latest intervention from Rome will show just how much the Synodal Way’s organizers have taken the papal appeals to heart. 

Pope Francis: More sustainable cities can help with population decline

Pope Francis on Nov. 24, 2023, met with representatives, mayors, and religious leaders from areas in central Italy hit by devastating earthquakes between August 2016 and January 2017. / Credit: Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Nov 24, 2023 / 11:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis said Friday one of the ways to address population decline is to make cities more sustainable, increasing the quality of life for those who live there.

“Adopting appropriate criteria for sustainability is an important act of justice and charity, because it aims to meet needs without compromising the safety and survival of those around us and those who will come after us,” he said during a meeting in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace Nov. 24.

He noted that the condition in many cities has become “unlivable” due to pollution, chaos, isolation, marginalization, and loneliness.

Addressing these problems, the pope added, “means putting the person back at the center of the city: This is the way forward. It is the way that will be able to help also address the crises of depopulation and population decline by offering the opportunity to live in environments rich in all that the ancestors left behind, enhanced and embellished by a wise management for the community.”

Pope Francis met with representatives, many of them town mayors, from central Italy, which was devastated by a series of powerful earthquakes between August 2016 and January 2017.

He praised those present for their reconstruction efforts, especially the attention to climate change, sustainability, and respect for nature.

Pope Francis will speak on the climate and related issues at the COP28 climate change conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where he will travel Dec. 1–3. It will be Francis’ first time attending and addressing part of the 13-day conference.

Climate issues and the environment have been a priority of Pope Francis’ pontificate.

In October, he released his second major document on the topic, the apostolic exhortation Laudate Deum (“Praise God”), in which he warned of “grave consequences” if humanity continues to ignore the threat of climate change.

In his speech on Friday, Francis quoted from Laudate Deum, saying “there is no doubt that the impact of climate change will increasingly harm the lives of many people and families. We will feel the effects in terms of health, jobs, access to resources, housing, forced migration, and in other areas.”

This is why, he added, it is important to implement the necessary measures to slow or stop climate change and to provide methods for coping with the changes that have already taken place.

“Here, too, it is a matter of an open gaze, attentive to others and those who will come after us; we should not be discouraged by criticism or discontented people,” he said.

Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore permanently restores use of high altar

The high altar at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, Baltimore, Maryland. Nov. 2023. / Credit: Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, Baltimore

CNA Staff, Nov 24, 2023 / 09:04 am (CNA).

The Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore finished construction of a platform that will allow priests to celebrate the Mass facing the people, “versus populum,” while using the high altar originally constructed in the 1950s. 

“It would be a wonderful thing if the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen were to be mentioned in the same breath as the other great cathedrals of this country and of the world,” Father Justin Gough, an associate pastor at the cathedral, said during a talk about the theology behind the decision earlier this month. “From an artistic and a theological perspective, there is no reason it shouldn’t be.”

The cathedral was constructed from 1954 through 1959 without knowledge of the liturgical changes that would be set following the Second Vatican Council in the mid-1960s. For this reason, the high altar was designed to be used with the priest facing toward the altar, “ad orientem,” which was the normal liturgical structure prior to the council. 

Because the liturgical norms shifted to having most priests face the congregation, the cathedral set up a table altar to use for Mass, which was placed in front of the high altar. The high altar had mostly gone unused for about 60 years until Sunday, Nov. 12, when the cathedral completed a platform behind the high altar, which allows the priest to use it while celebrating Mass facing the people. 

“It was amazing to see how the sanctuary really opens up,” Gough told CNA, adding that the congregation’s feedback has been “overwhelmingly positive,” with only a few people critical of the decision.

The platform, which is built with wood, is a “semi-permanent solution,” according to Gough, but the cathedral may consider replacing the wooden platform with a marble platform at a later date. In the meantime, he said the wooden structure and the use of the high altar is “not going anywhere.” 

Gough said there was some consideration of restoring use of the high altar in the 1980s, but that the plan never went through. This changed during the COVID-19 pandemic when Archbishop William Lori began celebrating a livestreamed Mass at the cathedral on a regular basis. Gough said this led to conversations “about the significance of the building and about the architecture” and the consideration of restoring the high altar. 

As a trial run, the cathedral rented a temporary structure to set up behind the high altar so that the altar could be used during the ordination of eight priests in June. The archbishop said in a letter in August that the experience was “joyous and awe-inspiring” and met with “overwhelmingly enthusiastic and positive” feedback, leading to the decision to make the structure permanent.

Gough, in his early November talk, said the restoration allows the cathedral to reflect the intent of the architects who designed it by making the altar the primary point of focus in the church. 

“The principal altar is physically the source and the summit of the entire edifice, as everything in the cathedral points toward it and from it derives its meaning and power,” Gough said. “It is placed in a clear and visible spot, set apart from everything else so that there can be nothing to distract attention away from it, and highly elevated to ensure some line of sight for more than a thousand people gathered together to worship.”

Gough added that he believes the construction of the cathedral coinciding with the Second Vatican Council was not “by accident,” arguing that using the high altar versus populum perfectly reflects Pope Benedict XVI’s “hermeneutic of reform” interpretation of the Second Vatican Council: that the council was not a rupture but instead a “renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us.”

“Points of contact between the pre- and post-conciliar Church are necessary to ensure our life in the Church is not standing one-footed on either leg: neither stuck stubbornly in the past nor plowing aimlessly ahead in defiance of our tradition,” Gough added. “I’m suggesting the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen is just that: a monument of faith standing at the most decisive crossroads of the 20th century as a synthesis of old and new.”

Dublin archbishop responds to stabbing of 3 children that sparked violent riots

Flames rise from the car and a bus, set alight at the junction of Bachelors Walk and the O'Connell Bridge, in Dublin on Nov. 23, 2023, as people took to the streets following the stabbings earlier in the day. / Credit: Peter Murphy/AFP via Getty Images

Rome Newsroom, Nov 24, 2023 / 06:40 am (CNA).

The archbishop of Dublin responded with shock to the “horrific attack” in which three children were stabbed on Thursday afternoon, sparking a night of violent riots in the Irish capital.

Archbishop Dermot Farrell asked people to join him in praying for the injured, which includes a 5-year-old girl who sustained serious injuries, two other school children, and two adults.

“It was with utter disbelief that I heard the news of the horrific attack on Parnell Square here in Dublin. An attack like this outside a school, involving innocent victims including children, is particularly distressing,” Farrell wrote in a statement posted to social media on Nov. 23.

“I invite the people of Dublin to join me in praying especially for the recovery of those who have been injured. Grant them strength to endure this awful attack, and grant each of us the grace to live our lives in holiness, free from all violence.”

The Catholic archbishop’s call for nonviolence on Thursday night came as riots erupted across Dublin’s city center.

A double-decker bus was set on fire, stores looted, windows smashed, and cars torched as about 100 rioters took to the streets, some armed with metal bars, according to the Associated Press.

Dublin’s Police Commissioner Drew Harris said that he believes the riots were “driven by far-right ideology.”

Irish police arrested 34 people in Dublin who took part in the riots and detained a man in his late 40s whom they identified as a “person of interest” in the investigation into the knife attack without releasing any other details about his identity other than that he sustained serious injuries. The police said that they were not looking for any other suspect and had not ruled out any motive for the attack, including terrorism.

The knife attack took place in front of the Gaelscoil Coláiste Mhuire primary school in Parnell Square as students were coming out of school.

On Friday morning, Irish police said that a 5-year-old girl remains in “critical condition” in the Temple Street children’s hospital and a woman in her 30s, believed to be a school employee, who intervened to try to stop the attack, remains in “serious condition.”

Another injured 6-year-old girl is being treated for less serious injuries, while a 5-year-old boy has been discharged from the hospital.