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Cardinal Eijk: Same-sex blessings undermine Church teaching on marriage, sexual ethics

Same-sex wedding cake. / Sara Valenti/Shutterstock

Denver Newsroom, Sep 30, 2022 / 02:00 am (CNA).

The Archbishop of Utrecht has urged that the Flemish bishops be asked to withdraw their statement introducing blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples, saying the practice undermines Church teaching.

“If gay couples in monogamous, lasting sexual relationships can receive a blessing, should not the same be possible in the monogamous, lasting sexual relationships of a man and a woman living together without being married? Allowing the blessing of gay couples carries the great risk of devaluing blessings and undermining the Church's teaching on the morality of marriage and sexual ethics,” Cardinal Willem Eijk of Utrecht wrote Sept. 27 in The New Daily Compass.

“The statement of the Flemish bishops, in which they allow the blessing of same-sex couples and even provide a liturgical model for it, meets with inherent ethical objections, radically contradicts a recent ruling by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and carries the risk that it may lead Catholics to views on the morality of same-sex relationships that are contrary to Church teaching,” the cardinal stated.

“Catholics who accept the Church's teaching, including on sexual morality, therefore fervently hope that the Flemish bishops will soon be asked by ecclesiastically competent circles to withdraw their statement and that the latter will comply.”

The bishops in Flanders published Sept. 20 a model liturgy for the celebration of homosexual unions.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith affirmed in March 2021 that the Church hasn’t the power to bless same-sex unions.

Eijk noted that “The Flemish bishops took the remarkable step of allowing the blessing of same-sex couples based on their interpretation of certain passages from Amoris Laetitia,” Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic exhortation on love in the family.

“Distinguish, accompany, and integrate remain the main keywords of Amoris Laetitia (chapter VIII), according to the Flemish bishops,” the cardinal wrote.

“It goes without saying that people with a homosexual orientation must also be treated with respect and have a right to pastoral care and guidance,” he added. 

“By discernment, however, it is meant in Amoris Laetitia that people in an irregular relationship are brought to understand what the truth is about their relationship (AL 300). In short, that they come to understand that their relationship goes against God's order of creation and is therefore morally unacceptable. Integration means giving people in an irregular relationship - as far as possible - a place in the life of the church. Of course, people in a sexual relationship with a person of the same sex are welcome in church celebrations, even if they cannot receive communion or actively participate in the celebration.”

Discussing inherent objections to same-sex blessings, Eijk first noted that sacramentals, which blessings are, are analogous to sacraments: “The declaration prayer in which same-sex couples commit to each other shows an unequivocal analogy with the 'I do' that a man and a woman say to each other during the marriage ceremony.”

A blessing, he added, supposes not only a good intention in the recipient, but also that what is blessed corresponds “to God's order of creation.”

“God created marriage as a total and mutual gift of man and woman to each other, culminating in procreation,” he taught. “Sexual relations between persons of the same sex cannot in themselves lead to procreation. They cannot therefore be an authentic expression at the bodily level of the total mutual self-giving of man and woman, which marriage is essentially. Situations that are objectively wrong from a moral point of view cannot be blessed. God's grace does not shine on the path of sin. One cannot cultivate spiritual fruit by blessing relationships that go against God's order of creation … it is not morally permissible to bless the homosexual relationship as such.”

Eijk noted that “In the community's prayer on the occasion of the blessing of gay couples, the Flemish bishops said that the community prays ‘for God's grace to work’ in the gay couple to enable them to care for each other and the community they live in. However, we cannot pray for God's grace to work in a relationship that does not conform to his order of creation.”

“The wording of the community prayer in [the Flemish bishops’] liturgical model for the blessing of gay couples suggests that same-sex relationships can be morally justified,” he wrote.

“Indeed, at the end, the community prays: "Give us the strength to walk with them, together in the footsteps of your Son and strengthened by the Spirit”. Do same-sex people in their same-sex relationship follow in the footsteps of Christ? So do the Flemish bishops really believe that same-sex couples in their same-sex relationship follow in the footsteps of Christ? In the sample prayer, the gay couple says: "By your Word we want to live." But the Word of God contained in Scripture unequivocally and undeniably qualifies homosexual relationships as a sin.”

The cardinal affirmed that “at the very least, in the formulation of model prayers for the gay couple and the community, there is a risk that the average Catholic … will be led astray and begin to think that lasting, monogamous same-sex sexual relationships are morally acceptable.”

Are modern Bible translations always better? A Catholic linguist praises St. Jerome’s Vulgate

Saint Jerome Writing, a painting by Caravaggio, dated to 1605–06. Public domain. / null

St. Louis, Mo., Sep 30, 2022 / 01:00 am (CNA).

Most people know that St. Jerome — whose feast day the Catholic Church celebrates on Sept. 30 — is famous for translating the entire Bible into Latin in the fourth century A.D., creating a widely read edition later known as the Vulgate. 

But likely fewer people realize how groundbreaking — and how enduring — Jerome’s work truly is. The Vulgate became the predominantly-used Bible of the Middle Ages and has endured to this day as a translation that at least one prominent linguist considers one of the very best available. 

“I don’t know any other translation, either ancient or modern, so good as the Vulgate,” Christophe Rico, a Catholic linguist living and working in Jerusalem, told CNA.

Rico, a Frenchman, is a professor of ancient Greek and dean at the Polis Institute in Jerusalem, which teaches a variety of ancient languages. Working with the Polis Institute, Rico produces books to help students learn to speak and read Latin and Greek — with the goal, in part, of allowing those who wish to read the original Latin Vulgate to do so. 

An expert teacher in Greek and Latin, Rico says that despite the more than 1,600 years that have elapsed since its completion, Jerome’s translation of the Bible — while not perfect, as no translation is — has proven to be amazingly accurate and very valuable for the Church. 

“If you have a doubt about the soundness of a modern translation, go to the Vulgate; especially for the New Testament,” he advised, adding that the Old Testament translation in the Vulgate also is “excellent.” 

Christophe Rico. École Biblique
Christophe Rico. École Biblique

Who was Jerome?

St. Jerome was born around 340 as Eusebius Hieronymous Sophronius in present-day Croatia. His father sent him to Rome for instruction in rhetoric and classical literature. 

Baptized in 360 by Pope Liberius, he traveled widely and eventually settled on the life of a desert hermit in Syria. He later was ordained a priest and relocated, living a solitary and ascetic life in Bethlehem from the mid-380s. It was there that he learned Hebrew, mainly from studying with Jewish rabbis. He eventually became St. Damasus I’s personal secretary. 

Amusingly, linguistic genius and an admirable work ethic aren’t the only qualities Jerome is known for today. He’s also the patron saint of people with difficult personalities — as he was said to have one himself, displaying a harsh temperament and biting criticisms of his intellectual opponents.

The birth of the Vulgate

Contrary to popular belief, the Vulgate wasn’t the first time there had been a Latin Bible — at the time of Jerome, in the fourth century, there was a version already widely in use called the “Vetus Latina” (“Old Latin”), which was itself a roughly second-century A.D. translation of the Greek Septuagint. In addition, the Vetus Latina contained the translation from the Greek original of all the books of the New Testament. All the books of the New Testament were written in Greek originally, but the Old Testament — save for a handful of books — was first written in Hebrew. 

Rico described the Vetus Latina as a “good translation, but not perfect.” In 382, St. Damasus I tasked Jerome, who was working as his secretary at the time, with revising the Vetus Latina translation of the New Testament. 

Jerome did so, taking several years to painstakingly revise and improve the Latin translation of the New Testament from the best Greek manuscripts available. Rico said throughout the process, Jerome corrected certain passages and expounded on the deep meanings of many of the Greek words that had been lost in earlier translations.

For example, the Greek word “epiousios,” which was likely coined by the Gospel writers, appears in the Lord’s Prayer in Luke and Matthew and is often translated in English as “daily.” In the Gospel of Matthew, however, Jerome translated the word into Latin as “supersubstantialem,” or “supersubstantial” — an allusion, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church points out, to the Body of Christ in the Eucharist. 

All of Jerome’s work resulted in a “brilliant improvement” over the Vetus Latina, Rico said. 

What Jerome did next was even more ambitious. He set about translating the entire Old Testament as well, from its original Hebrew. Jerome knew Hebrew very well, Rico noted, since he had lived in the Holy Land for 30 years at that point and kept in close contact with Jewish rabbis. Jerome also had access to the Hexapla of Origen, a kind of “Rosetta Stone” for the Bible that displayed the Bible text in six versions side by side. (The Hebrew text, a transliteration in Greek letters of the Hebrew text, the Greek Septuagint translation, and three other Greek translations that had been made in a Jewish milieu.)

In an effort that would ultimately take 15 years, Jerome succeeded in translating the entire Old Testament from the original Hebrew, which was no mean feat given the fact that Hebrew was originally written without the use of short vowels. 

Upon its completion, the Vulgate not only superseded the Vetus Latina in becoming the predominant Bible translation used in the Middle Ages, but it was also declared the official Bible of the Catholic Church at the Council of Trent (1545–1563). 

The Vulgate has been revised a handful of times over the years, most notably in 1592 by Pope Clementine VIII (the “Clementine Vulgate”), and the most recent revision, the Nova Vulgata, promulgated by St. John Paul II in 1979.

In addition to its use today in the Traditional Latin Mass, the Vulgate has endured as the basis for the popular English translation of the Bible, the Douay–Rheims. 

While again cautioning that no translation is ever perfect, Rico was quick to praise Jerome’s Vulgate for its accuracy and its importance in the history of the Church. 

“For the New Testament, I have not been able to find any mistakes ... The whole thing is incredible,” he said. 

For his part, Jerome is today recognized as a doctor of the Church. He lived out his last days in study, prayer, and asceticism at the monastery he founded in Bethlehem, where he died in 420. 

St. Jerome

St. Jerome

Feast date: Sep 30

Saint Jerome, the priest, monk and Doctor of the Church renowned for his extraordinary depth of learning and translations of the Bible into Latin in the Vulgate, is celebrated by the Church with his memorial today, September 30.

Besides his contributions as a Church Father and patronage of subsequent Catholic scholarship, Jerome is also regarded as a patron of people with difficult personalities—owing to the sometimes extreme approach which he took in articulating his scholarly opinions and the teaching of the Church. He is also notable for his devotion to the ascetic life, and for his insistence on the importance of Hebrew scholarship for Christians.

Born around 340 as Eusebius Hieronymous Sophronius in present-day Croatia, Jerome received Christian instruction from his father, who sent him to Rome for instruction in rhetoric and classical literature. His youth was thus dominated by a struggle between worldly pursuits --which brought him into many types of temptation-- and the inclination to a life of faith, a feeling evoked by regular trips to the Roman catacombs with his friends in the city.

Baptized in 360 by Pope Liberius, Jerome traveled widely among the monastic and intellectual centers of the newly Christian empire. Upon returning to the city of his birth, following the end of a local crisis caused by the Arian heresy, he studied theology in the famous schools of Trier and worked closely with two other future saints, Chromatius and Heliodorus, who were outstanding teachers of orthodox theology.

Seeking a life more akin to the first generation of “desert fathers,” Jerome left the Adriatic and traveled east to Syria, visiting several Greek cities of civil and ecclesiastical importance on the way to his real destination: “a wild and stony desert ... to which, through fear or hell, I had voluntarily condemned myself, with no other company but scorpions and wild beasts.”

Jerome's letters vividly chronicle the temptations and trials he endured during several years as a desert hermit. Nevertheless, after his ordination by the bishop of Antioch, followed by periods of study in Constantinople and service at Rome to Pope Damasus I, Jerome opted permanently for a solitary and ascetic life in the city of Bethlehem from the mid-380s.

Jerome remained engaged both as an arbitrator and disputant of controversies in the Church, and served as a spiritual father to a group of nuns who had become his disciples in Rome. Monks and pilgrims from a wide array of nations and cultures also found their way to his monastery, where he commented that “as many different choirs chant the psalms as there are nations.”

Rejecting pagan literature as a distraction, Jerome undertook to learn Hebrew from a Christian monk who had converted from Judaism. Somewhat unusually for a fourth-century Christian priest, he also studied with Jewish rabbis, striving to maintain the connection between Hebrew language and culture, and the emerging world of Greek and Latin-speaking Christianity. He became a secretary of Pope Damasus, who commissioned the Vulgate from him. Prepared by these ventures, Jerome spent 15 years translating most of the Hebrew Bible into its authoritative Latin version. His harsh temperament and biting criticisms of his intellectual opponents made him many enemies in the Church and in Rome and he was forced to leave the city.

Jerome went to Bethlehem, established a monastery, and lived the rest of his years in study, prayer, and ascetcism.

St. Jerome once said, "I interpret as I should, following the command of Christ: 'Search the Scriptures,' and 'Seek and you shall find.' For if, as Paul says, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God, and if the man who does not know Scripture does not know the power and wisdom of God, then ignorance of Scriptures is ignorance of Christ."

After living through both Barbarian invasions of the Roman empire, and a resurgence of riots sparked by doctrinal disputes in the Church, Jerome died in his Bethlehem monastery in 420.

Vatican Cardinal says he did not compare German Synodal Way to Nazi ideology

Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, in Rome on Oct. 23, 2019. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA. / null

CNA Newsroom, Sep 29, 2022 / 22:07 pm (CNA).

A Vatican cardinal has defended himself against an accusation by the president of the German bishops’ conference, Bishop Georg Bätzing, of making a "totally unacceptable gaffe" over remarks regarding the German Synodal Way.

“I am responding promptly, but I cannot retract my essential point, simply because I have in no way compared the Synodal Way to a Nazi ideology, nor will I ever do so,” the Swiss cardinal said, according to a report by CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner. 

Koch, a native of Switzerland, is president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

In an interview with the Catholic weekly “Die Tagespost,” Koch said that he was shocked that, of all places, the German Synodal Way was talking about new sources of revelation. 

“This phenomenon already existed during the National Socialist dictatorship, when the so-called ‘German Christians’ saw God’s new revelation in blood and soil and in the rise of Hitler,” Koch said.

The “German Christians” (Deutsche Christen) were a Nazi-era pressure group that wanted to align Protestantism with racist Nazi Ideology.

In contrast, the opposing Confessing Church’s Barmen Theological Declaration spoke against such distortions of Christian teaching. 

Their 1934 statement said, in its first article: ‘We reject the false doctrine, as though the church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation.’”

Koch said in his response, written late Thursday: “It was a matter of concern to me to recall the Barmen Theological Declaration in this context, because I still consider it important today, also for ecumenical reasons. In order to make the content understandable to those who read it, I had to briefly note what this declaration responded to.”

“In saying this, I was in no way comparing the Synodal Way with the mentality of the ‘German Christians,’ nor did I want to do so,” the Swiss prelate added. 

“Just as the so-called ‘German Christians’ — thank God — did not comprise all German Christians, I also, in no way, had all [Synodal Way] participants in mind with my statement, but only those Christians who represent the assertion formulated in the question. And I hope to continue to assume that this assertion is not the opinion of the Synodal Way.”

Bishop Bätzing demands an apology

At a press conference marking the conclusion of the German bishops’ fall plenary assembly on Thursday afternoon, Bishop Bätzing demanded Cardinal Koch make “a public apology” in light of his remarks. 

Otherwise, Bätzing said he would “file an official complaint with the Holy Father,” CNA Deutsch reported.

Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg at a press conference of the German "Synodal Way". Synodaler Weg / Max von Lachner
Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg at a press conference of the German "Synodal Way". Synodaler Weg / Max von Lachner

Cardinal Koch’s statement betrayed a fear that “something will change,” Bätzing continued. “But I promise you: Something will change and even Cardinal Koch will not be able to stop that — certainly not with such statements.”

“The plenary assembly of bishops has reacted with horror to this statement, with which Cardinal Koch disqualifies himself in the theological debate,” the German prelate continued. 

There had already been “attempts to delegitimize the Synodal Way” by the cardinal for some time, Bätzing claimed.

Koch replied on Friday with a statement published in full by CNA Deutsch. 

“To those who feel hurt by my statement, I apologize and assure them that this was not and is not my intention,” Koch said.

The Vatican cardinal said he had “simply assumed that today we can also learn from history, even from a very difficult time. As the vehement reaction of Bishop Bätzing and others show, I have to state, in hindsight, that I failed in this attempt.”

“However, I cannot retract my critical query,” the cardinal stressed. “I raised it not out of ‘pure fear that something will change,’ and not with the intention of ‘delegitimizing,’ as Bishop Bätzing accuses me of doing, but out of theological care for the future of the Church in Germany.”

Koch pointed out he was far from “alone in my criticism of the orientation text of the Synodal Way,” adding: “My critical comment, then, cannot simply be an expression of a completely mistaken theology.”

‘Synodal Way’ flags fly in front of the Congress Center Messe Frankfurt in Germany. Max von Lachner/Synodal Way.
‘Synodal Way’ flags fly in front of the Congress Center Messe Frankfurt in Germany. Max von Lachner/Synodal Way.

Participants in the Synodal Way (Synodaler Weg) approved the “orientation text” in February 2022. It sets out the theological underpinnings of the controversial process, sometimes referred to as Synodal Path.

Four female athletes challenge Connecticut policy in fight to save women's sports

Female student athletes prepare to take their case for fairness in sports to court Thursday. / Alliance Defending Freedom

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 29, 2022 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

Four female student athletes are at the center of an ongoing case to protect girls’ sports, which advanced to the 2nd District Court of Appeals this week. 

The case, Soule v. Connecticut Association of Schools, has been at the heart of the debate over whether or not male athletes who identify as female can compete on girls-only sports teams.

The girls are being represented in the case by attorneys from the conservative legal nonprofit, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

“These young women, meet after meet, saw that in Connecticut those who were born female didn’t have an equal chance,” ADF Senior Counsel Roger Brooks argued before the court Thursday morning.

“Perhaps more problematic, their little sisters standing on the sidelines saw [that] those born female like them didn’t have an equal chance to win. That is contrary to the very heart of Title IX,” he concluded.

Title IX, adopted in 1972, protects Americans from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal funding.

Four female track athletes take a stand

ADF is representing four female track athletes — Selina Soule, Alanna Smith, Chelsea Mitchell, and Ashley Nicoletti — in a legal challenge to Connecticut’s policy that allows transgender athletes to compete on high school girls’ sports teams.

The complaint argues that Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference’s (CIAC) policy allowing males to compete on female sports teams violates Title IX and has deprived female athletes of the equal opportunity to compete, obtain medals and advance to championships.

All of the girls were either denied medals and advancement opportunities as a result of male athletes dominating the playing field — something that has had a life-long impact.

Mitchell, for example, would have won Connecticut’s 2019 state championship in the women’s 55-meter indoor track competition but was denied the gold medal when two male athletes identifying as transgender — Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood — took first and second place. 

Mitchell told CNA that she lost four state championships and other advancements in all New England awards as a result. 

“I don't know exactly how that would have impacted my college recruitment,” she said. 

“Especially at the time, those state championships meant a lot to me. To train and work that hard to be in the contention for a state championship and lose because of biological males in my race was really disheartening and frustrating.”

The ACLU of Connecticut, which represented CIAC and its member schools in the suit — along with Miller and Yearwood who joined as defendants — did not respond to CNA’s request for comment. 

A CIAC spokesman told CNA the conference had no comment.

Because of the CIAC policy, Smith walked away from a regional New England meet with a bronze medal instead of a silver because a male took first place. 

“All the other female athletes weren't able to advance to the state open or the New England Regional meet because the spots were taken by biological males,” Smith said. 

Soule lost the opportunity to qualify for the meet and the 55-meter dash, which she had previously qualified for, for the same reason.

“I was forced to watch my own event from the sidelines,” Soule added.

ADF senior counsel Christiana Kiefer said that on average, males have a 10-15% higher performance average than females.

“Why should girls even try?” Kiefer asked. “The whole reason we even have women's sports as a separate category is because we recognize those real physical differences.”

Uphill battle ahead for future of girls’ sports 

The girls’ case was dismissed earlier last year by a Connecticut district court judge when it was submitted. ADF then appealed the ruling to the 2nd Court of Appeals.

“What the district court did in dismissing the girls’ lawsuit is essentially [say] that their inaccurate records, their lost opportunities didn't matter. And that's simply wrong under Title IX,” Kiefer said. 

“Records do matter to athletes,” Kiefer added. “Chelsea Mitchell lost four state championship titles. She was four times the fastest girl in a state championship race, and yet the record books don't reflect her accomplishments. That's something that needs to be fixed.”

The complaint requests that CIAC grant the plaintiffs monetary relief, update the district’s records to remove males from the scores and strike down the policy. 

Kiefer said that ADF was “optimistic” the court of appeals will rule in their favor because the Title IX violation was so “clear.”

She added that they hope it won’t be necessary to bring the case to the Supreme Court, “but if necessary, we will take this case as far as it needs to go.”

Biden’s Title IX policy muddies the waters

In June, President Biden re-interpreted Title IX's federal ban on sex discrimination to include “sexual orientation or gender identity,” paving the way to require single-sex sports teams to allow transgender athletes.

Title IX was originally crafted in part to ensure fairness in women’s sports. 

Kiefer said that President Biden’s recent proposed revisions to Title IX do not bode well for the future of protecting female-only sports.

“I think it could very well spell the beginning of the end of female sports,” Kiefer said.

Kiefer said that ADF believes Biden’s redefinition of sex in federal law is “unlawful.” 

“If the administration goes through with this, we will see ramifications and difficult situations for female athletes, like we saw in the state of Connecticut, that will be replicated across the entire United States,” she said. 

ADF was one of many other dissenting groups that submitted a public comment opposing the administration's proposed regulations. 

“I hope that this won't impact their future,” Soule said, speaking about younger female athletes who come after her, “and that girls will have a fair opportunity to not only participate but to succeed in the sports that they love.”

Smith added that she hoped “more female athletes will start to stand up so that a change can be made quicker.”

“The more people that speak up on this issue, the faster hopefully it'll get rectified,” Mitchell agreed. 

“In the meantime, just keep working hard on your score. That's all we really can do until this issue is fixed.” 

Cardinals Cupich, Dolan urge reconsideration of transgender mandate

Credit: lazyllama/Shutterstock / null

Denver Newsroom, Sep 29, 2022 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

The Biden administration’s proposal to force hospitals and doctors to perform gender-transition surgeries is “misguided” and should be reconsidered, two cardinals wrote Monday in an article published in America Magazine.

“Under this new proposed rule, it would be considered discrimination for a health care facility or worker to object to performing gender transition procedures, regardless of whether that objection is a matter of sincerely held religious belief or clinical judgment,” Cardinals Blase Cupich of Chicago and Timothy Dolan of New York wrote in a Sept. 26 statement.

“This is government coercion that intrudes on the religious freedom of faith-based health care facilities. Such a mandate threatens the conscience rights of all health care providers and workers who have discerned that participating in, or facilitating, gender transition procedures is contrary to their own beliefs.”

The rule proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services would apply to any health care program or activity that receives federal funding. It would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the nondiscrimination provision of the Affordable Care Act, Section 1557. 

It would reverse Trump-era conscience protections that sought to allow medical professionals to opt out of performing procedures contrary to their beliefs.

Cupich and Dolan said that Section 1557 “rightly prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in health care. We wholeheartedly support all efforts to ensure that everyone, without exception, receives the best health care that is their due.” 

They emphasized that at Catholic hospitals, “all people who come to us, no matter their age, sex, racial or ethnic background, or religion,” as well as “people who identify as transgender,” “will receive the same treatment as any other patient.”

“Catholic hospitals do not discriminate against anyone and to do so would be offensive to the embracing and expansive healing ministry of Jesus Christ,” the cardinals wrote. “However, if health care facilities are to be places where the twin pillars of faith and science stand together, then these facilities and their workers must not be coerced by the government to violate their consciences.”

“Does objecting to performing gender transition procedures — but welcoming patients who identify as transgender — constitute discrimination? Of course not. The focus of such an objection is completely on the procedure, not the patient,” they wrote. “Prohibiting the removal of a healthy, functioning organ is not discrimination, provided that the same determination would be made for anyone of any sex or gender, which is true at Catholic hospitals.”

The cardinals said that “People of many faiths, or of no faith yet with deep personal convictions, may find these procedures profoundly troubling, and their constitutional rights deserve to be respected. In a society that protects the free exercise of religion, religious health care providers cannot be expected to violate the teachings of their religion as a condition of continuing their care, and religious health care workers cannot be expected to violate their consciences as a condition of employment.”

The proposed rule “does not codify the rights of faith-based providers to decline procedures based on conscience, as other federal laws do,” according to Cupich and Dolan. “Rather, it holds that H.H.S. reserves the right to decide whether, despite those existing conscience protections, it can force faith-based providers to violate their beliefs.”

Noting that courts have ruled that similar mandates violate religious freedom, and the administration “is currently fighting” those rulings, they said that “it is reasonable to lack confidence in the department’s commitment to construing these laws to provide appropriately robust conscience protections.”

“We support H.H.S.’s efforts to ensure all people receive high-quality health care,” the cardinals wrote. “We have long proposed moral principles for discerning health care policy: It should respect the life and dignity of every person, be accessible to all, honor conscience rights, be truly affordable, and be comprehensive and of high quality.”

“By the same token,” they added, “Catholic hospitals and health care workers should not be punished because of their religious convictions or clinical judgments. We urge H.H.S. to reconsider its misguided mandate.”

Priests reject controversial synod poster: it’s ‘out of bounds and confusing’

Image posted by the Synod of Synodality on its social media networks. / Image credit: Facebook Synod of Synodality

Denver Newsroom, Sep 29, 2022 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

Father Francisco “Patxi” Bronchalo, a priest of the Diocese of Getafe, Spain, recently posted on social media that a controversial drawing on the official Facebook page of the Synod on Synodality “is out of bounds and confusing.” Father Jesús Silva of the Archdiocese of Madrid also criticized the image.

The drawing shows a group of young people in front of church, including a woman dressed in a white chasuble and red stole and another young man wearing a multicolored LGBT “Pride” shirt.

In a series of Twitter posts, Bronchalo said that the image “surprised” him, and he began his analysis with the woman dressed in priestly vestments.

He noted that this image “can give the feeling to whoever sees it that one of the fruits of the synod could be that the sacrament of priestly ordination may also be given to women,” which entails “deceiving whoever sees it and sowing confusion.”

Bronchalo pointed out that “there may be people inside and outside the Church who believe that this will be the case” and then be disappointed. At the same time, the priest fears that within the Church there may be people “who feel disgusted by the promotion of slogans that don’t help them in their faith but rather create confusion.”

The priest affirmed it’s not possible for the synod to approve the ordination of women “because it cannot,” since St. John Paul II in his apostolic letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis confirmed as part of the Church’s magisterium that ordination is reserved to men. 

Bronchalo then quoted the document: 

“Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful” (OS, 4).

‘The priesthood is not like changing a tire’

Expanding on the issue, Bronchalo used three arguments on the impossibility of ordaining women. The first is that “Holy Scripture tells us that Christ chose his Twelve Apostles only from among men.”

And it was not because of a cultural issue, because, the priest argued, “it’s easy to see how Christ’s way of acting was not conditioned by sociological or cultural reasons.” 

“He chose twelve specific men because he wanted it that way,” he stressed.

Furthermore, Bronchalo argued that “it makes perfect sense that priestly ordination be given to men, because in our masculinity we (represent Christ, the Bridegroom) of the Church when we celebrate the sacraments. Therefore the fact that candidates for the priesthood should be living a healthy and integral masculinity is important for the Church.”

The priest emphasized that “the priesthood is not a functional matter that anyone can do, like changing a tire. Receiving it configures the being.”

Imitating Christ for two millennia

The second argument provided by Bronchalo regarding the ordination of women is based on the fact that “the Church has lived out a constant practice for two millennia in giving the sacrament of priestly orders only to men, imitating Christ in his choice.” 

“We are depositories of a faith that we have received and that we transmit. That’s why the Church does not feel empowered to change matters that come from Christ himself,” the priest added.

He also pointed out that in the Catholic Church, 24 ritual Churches coexist and “in all those churches during all this time, it has always been understood that the priesthood is given to men because Christ himself wanted it that way.”

From the Fathers of the Church

Third, Bronchalo pointed out that “the magisterium of the Church has continually referred to the fact that priestly ordination is for men” — not only as St. John Paul II did in recent times, but also at other times in the history of the Church. Thus, in the first centuries, Fathers of the Church such as St. Irenaeus, Tertullian, or St. Augustine speak “of the reasons for ordination being reserved to men.”

Women such as St. Catherine of Siena, a doctor of the Church, have also supported the exclusive ordination of men. The saint “spoke of the wonder of being priests, in order to exhort men to exercise their ministry well,” the priest noted.

Bronchalo concluded that the drawing “is out of bounds and is confusing” because “rather than uniting, which is what the synod seeks, what these things do is divide,” adding that “I wish they would remove it or they could give an explanation to those who feel confused.”

‘Everything that is not the Church’

Father Silva of the Archdiocese of Madrid commented on Twitter:

“Don’t you find it endearing that on the @Synod_va page they’ve put a representation of non-Catholic churches with all their errors summarized in a single image? So we can know everything that is not the Catholic Church. Interesting strategy.”

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Vatican confirms East Timor bishop under ‘restrictions’ related to sexual abuse of minors

Carlos Ximenes Felipe Belo, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for efforts related to East Timor, speaks during an Indonesian Commission of Truth and Friendship (CTF) public hearing in Jakarta, March 26 March. / Photo credit: AHMAD ZAMRONI/AFP via Getty Images

St. Louis, Mo., Sep 29, 2022 / 14:54 pm (CNA).

The Vatican confirmed Thursday that Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, a Nobel laureate and bishop from the Southeast Asian nation of East Timor, has been under “certain disciplinary restrictions” since September 2020 related to accusations of sexual abuse of minors. 

Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican Press Office, said in a Sept. 29 statement to the press that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was “first involved in this case in 2019” and imposed restrictions on Belo the following September. 

“These included limitations to his movements and to the exercise of his ministry, the prohibition of voluntary contact with minors, of interviews and contacts with Timor Leste,” Bruni said.

“In November 2021 these measures were modified and reinforced. On both occasions, the measures were formally accepted by the bishop,” he said.

Belo, 74, a priest of the Salesians of St. John Bosco, led the Archdiocese of Dili as apostolic administrator from 1988–2002. Along with current East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta, Belo jointly received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 for his nonviolent resistance and advocacy amid the 1975–1999 Indonesian annexation and occupation of the country. 

The Vatican’s statement comes after a left-leaning Dutch magazine, De Groene Amsterdammer, published on Sept. 28 an investigation into allegations of abuse, including rape, allegedly committed by Belo against teenage boys, both before and after he became apostolic administrator of Dili. 

The investigation anonymously quotes two alleged victims, now in their 40s, who say the bishop abused his position of power over boys in the area who lived in extreme poverty. De Groene says their reporters spoke to “several victims and 20 people with knowledge of the matter,” about half of whom “know a victim” of Belo’s alleged abuse. 

According to the investigation, allegations against Belo first came to light in 2002. That same year, St. John Paul II accepted Belo’s sudden resignation as apostolic administrator — which at the time Belo said was done for health reasons. The Vatican has not yet confirmed whether or not it had knowledge of the abuse allegations against Belo at the time of his resignation. 

The following year, Belo left East Timor for Portugal, and in 2004 he took up a missionary post in the Portuguese-speaking African nation of Mozambique, returning to Portugal a few years later. Belo told UCA News in 2005 that while in Africa, he taught catechism classes to children and gave retreats for young people. 

Ramos-Horta declined to comment on Belo’s case to the Associated Press. The Salesian order in Portugal says that Belo did not have “any educational or pastoral positions or responsibilities” with the group in the country. 

Belo’s former archdiocese is the largest of East Timor’s three dioceses. In August, Pope Francis made Dili’s archbishop, Virgilio do Carmo da Silva, a cardinal. 

East Timor, or Timor-Leste, occupies the eastern half of the island of Timor, which it shares with Indonesia. The population of the country, which was colonized by Portugal, is nearly 98% Catholic and very youthful — approximately 40% of the population is below the age of 15 and the country’s median age is 20, according to the CIA World Factbook. 

Pope Francis has expressed interest in visiting the region. In an October 2021 interview, the pope said that in 2022 he would like to make trips to Papua New Guinea and East Timor, which had been planned for late 2020 before they were canceled because of the pandemic.

Nicaraguan dictator Ortega verbally attacks pope, calls Church ‘the perfect dictatorship’

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega / Photo credit: Flickr Office of the President, Republic of China (Taiwan) | Government Website Open Information Announcement (CC BY 2.0)

Denver Newsroom, Sep 29, 2022 / 13:54 pm (CNA).

The dictator of Nicaragua, former guerilla fighter President Daniel Ortega, verbally attacked Pope Francis and said that the Catholic Church is “the perfect dictatorship” during a public event Sept. 28 in Managua, the country’s capital.

In his speech marking the 43rd anniversary of the founding of the National Police, Ortega questioned: “Who elects the priests, the bishops, the pope, the cardinals, how many votes, who votes for them? If they’re going to be democratic, they must begin by electing the pope, the cardinals, the bishops, with the vote of the population, with the votes of Catholics.”

“Let the population elect them and not all of them imposed [on the people], it’s a dictatorship, the perfect dictatorship. It’s a tyranny, the perfect tyranny,” he continued.

After calling the pope a “holy tyrant,” the Nicaraguan dictator asked: “With what authority do you speak to me about democracy? How many votes did the bishop have from the population to be appointed bishop?”

This is not the first time that Ortega has publicly attacked the Catholic Church. In September 2021, he insulted the Catholic bishops, calling them “terrorists,” “demons in cassocks,” and men in “satanic cassocks.”

On that occasion, as well as in yesterday’s event, the dictator accused the bishops of being behind the 2018 protests and promoting a coup d’état against him.

Ortega’s remarks come almost two weeks after Pope Francis said that there is dialogue with the Nicaraguan government, although “right now there are problems.”

Persecution of the Church in Nicaragua

Ortega’s remarks came a day after Santa Lucía-Boaco parish in the Diocese of Granada reported that “the Nicaraguan government denied our pastor, Father Guillermo Blandón, re-entry into our country.”

The newspaper La Prensa reported Sept. 11 that the Nicaraguan Immigration and Foreigners Office prevented Father Juan de Dios García, vicar of the Santo Cristo de las Colinas parish, from returning to the country after having traveled to the United States.

On Aug. 19, the police abducted in the middle of the night the bishop of Matagalpa, Rolando Álvarez, from the chancery where he had been forcibly confined by riot police for over two weeks and took him to Managua, where he remains under house arrest.

According to local media, the prosecution has supposedly indicted him but the charges are unknown.

On Sept. 15, the European Parliament approved by a vote of 538 to 16 a resolution demanding the immediate release of the bishop.

The night Bishop Álvarez was seized, the other priests, seminarians, and a layman who were confined in the chancery with him were also taken away and are being held in the El Chipote prison, known for torturing opponents of the regime.

Those imprisoned there are Fathers Ramiro Tijerino, José Luis Diaz, Sadiel Eugarrios, and Raúl González; seminarians Darvin Leyva and Melquín Sequeira; and cameraman Sergio Cárdenas, all from the Diocese of Matagalpa.

Another priest who is being held in El Chipote is Father Oscar Benavidez of the Diocese of Siuna.

These prisoners have also reportedly been indicted but for what crimes is unknown.

In other attacks, the Ortega dictatorship expelled in March the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag.

The former auxiliary bishop of Managua, Silvio Baez, has been living in exile in the United States after it became known that Ortega’s government had very probably ordered his assassination.

In addition, the Missionaries of Charity, founded by St. Teresa of Calcutta, were expelled in July and were welcomed in neighboring Costa Rica by the bishop of Tilarán-Liberia. The Religious of the Cross of the Sacred Heart of Jesus were expelled this month and returned to Mexico, where the congregation was founded.

In fewer than four years, the Catholic Church in Nicaragua has been the target of 190 attacks and desecrations according to the investigative report “Nicaragua: A Persecuted Church? (2018-2022)” by attorney Martha Patricia Molina Montenegro, a member of the Pro-Transparency and Anti-Corruption Observatory.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

‘Everything is connected’: Cardinal Czerny explains future of Vatican office for integral human development

Cardinal Michael Czerny, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, takes possession of his titular church of San Michele Arcangelo in Rome, Jan. 19, 2020. / Pablo Esparza/CNA

Vatican City, Sep 29, 2022 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

The Vatican’s office for integral human development is rethinking its work in light of the implementation of Pope Francis’ curial reform, its prefect and secretary said Thursday.

Following the publication of the constitution Praedicate evangelium, the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development has “reorganized” competencies within the office, and “there has been some turnover,” Sister Alessandra Smerilli, the dicastery’s secretary, said at a press conference Sept. 29.

Prefect Cardinal Michael Czerny said the dicastery’s mission is “to help the Church to promote integral human development,” that “development, that growth, that flourishing of each person in the different dimensions of their existence.”

“A few of us,” he added, “cannot be happily or integrally developed if others of us are underdeveloped or mal-developed or simply totally left out.”

The process in the dicastery, the cardinal said, is to think about the issues people are suffering from, “the key injustices that need to be addressed if people are going to be able to flourish,” to reflect on the response and to see its connection to other issues, and to create an effective proposal for action by the local Church.

“The concerns can come in many forms,” he said, naming human rights, health, injustice, the legal system, the prison system, armaments, violence, economy and labor, the environment, and humanitarian emergencies.

“And so on and so on, et cetera, et cetera. We don’t have a closed list. We don’t have a preferred list. We would like to listen and through that to establish the priorities that we need to address,” Czerny said.

Integral

What does the word “integral” mean in the context of the dicastery? Czerny told CNA during a press conference the word, applied to “human development,” means authentic and evangelical, and is the opposite of fake, narrow, and exploitative.

“The word integral is ... a hard word for saying what Pope Francis often says much more clearly and simply,” he said, that “everything and everyone is connected. That’s at least one of the important meanings of ‘integral.’”

The cardinal said human beings have the tendency to fixate on things that are important to them while forgetting the needs of others.

“I can become, yes, I would say, obsessed with my personal fulfillment, without realizing that I cannot really be fulfilled, and certainly not from a faith point of view, if it is at the cost of others,” the cardinal said. “If others are deprived in order for me to prosper, then there is something intrinsically and morally wrong with my prosperity. And that is contained, or implicit, in the idea of ‘integral.’”

Restitution

Following its reorganization, the dicastery describes its workflow as a three-part process: listening-dialogue, research-reflection, and communication-restitution.

The idea behind using the word “restitution,” Czerny told CNA in a brief one-on-one interview, “is an element of justice.”

Restitution “is to restore something that was given,” though not something that was taken away, he emphasized.

There are, he said, “so many situations in which the poor have given their concerns, have shared their concerns with people, and the people have said, oh, that’s too bad, and then they’ve gone away.”

“We feel that … if we ask them what are their anxieties, what are their fears, what are their challenges, that we owe them an answer.”

Evangelization

The role of the dicastery, Czerny said during the press conference, “is not advocacy itself,” nor does the office directly evangelize — an important focus of the new constitution.

“We are ready to help accompany, we are ready to help repair, we are ready to help reflect,” he said.

The Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development plays a supporting role to the local Churches, “the primary agents of evangelization,” Czerny told CNA after the presser.

“We think that promoting integral human development is a very effective and often wordless way of evangelizing, and we hope to help the Church to do that.”

The cardinal said he sees a complementarity with the work of the Dicastery for Evangelization, which merged the former Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

On the topic of practical help for local Churches in need, the dicastery’s secretary, Sister Smerilli, said that if nuncios — the pope’s ambassadors — get in touch, the dicastery can act as a go-between to connect them to aid.

The dicastery exists to support the bishops’ conferences and other local Catholic organizations, the office’s leaders said.

Relationships with multilateral bodies such as the United Nations fall under the purview of the secretariat of state. 

“But Praedicate evangelium asks us to collaborate with the secretariat of state,” Smerilli explained, “and what we can bring is the experience on the ground, the voice of the local churches, to be able to make these voices also matter” to those who work in the diplomatic or political spheres.