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December 12, 2017
Archive of December 5, 2017

Catholic leadership conference in Chicago aims to ‘inspire and equip’

Chicago, Ill., Dec 5, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - Thousands of Catholic leaders from all walks of life will ring in the new year at the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) SLS Leadership Conference, which will offer five days of fellowship and evangelical instruction in the heart of Chicago, IL.

“Sometimes it can feel lonely trying to reach those in the world who seem too busy and distracted to realize God’s love for them,” said Paul DeBuff, a previous conference attendee.

“The FOCUS SLS Conference not only gave me practical tools to help me reach the world around me for Christ, but it also encouraged me that I was not alone in this effort to make disciples of all nations,” he told CNA.

SLS is a leadership conference for church leaders of all types, including religious education teachers, bishops, chaplains, missionaries, students, bible study leaders, lay ministers, and seminarians. While SLS was previously a private event, it is now open to the public to anyone who is pursing leadership in evangelization.

The organization’s website says the event hopes to allow attendees to “be inspired by world-class speakers, be renewed in the sacraments and adoration, and be ignited with zeal for the mission to make disciples of all nations.”

The conference, titled “SLS18: Inspire & Equip,” will take place from Jan. 2-6 and will host speakers including Bishop Robert Barron, Fr. Mike Schmitz, Sr. Bethany Madonna, Dr. Edward Sri, and Curtis Martin, among others.

SLS will also offer three different tracks to specifically minister to each group of church leaders: a collegiate track, a lifelong mission track, and a campus ministry track.

Adoration, the sacraments, evening concerts, entertainment, educational sessions and other resources will also be available. More than 100 priests concelebrated Masses at the last SLS conference, and more than 1,000 confessions were heard.

The main goal of SLS is to equip current and aspiring church leaders of all levels to gain confidence in leading bible studies and prayer, inviting others into discipleship, and teaching the truths of the Catholic faith to others.

“At SLS, I was able to learn a concept, such as Ignatian prayer, in the morning during Training Sessions, then solidify it in my mind by teaching it to my peers in the afternoon power sessions,” recalled a previous SLS attendee, Adam Sanchez, in a statement on the SLS website.

“It inspired me to see the vibrancy of the Church among my peers and grow in hope for our future,” Sanchez continued.

Since FOCUS first held its inaugural National Conference in 1999, more than 53,000 people have attended FOCUS events over the years. The last SLS conference was held in 2016 in Dallas, TX and hosted more than 3,400 people. The SLS conference is held every other year, alternating with the SEEK conference, which is aimed at college students.

Registration is still open, with commuter and day passes available: https://sls18.com/registration/general/

 

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Pope appoints Washington auxiliary as new bishop of Richmond

Vatican City, Dec 5, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - On Tuesday the Vatican announced Pope Francis’ appointment of Bishop Barry C. Knestout, until now one of three auxiliary bishops for the Archdiocese of Washington, as the next bishop of the Diocese of Richmond.

He fills the vacancy left by Bishop Francis Xavier DiLorenzo, who died Aug. 17.

In a statement made at the time of the announcement, the Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, said that the appointment “is good news and reason for us to rejoice with the Diocese of Richmond.”

During Knestout’s time serving the Archdiocese of Washington, “he has demonstrated his pastoral skills, his commitment to the Church and her teaching, and his devoted service to those entrusted to his care,” Wuerl said.

He has served the Archdiocese of Washington in a number of capacities, most notably as a pastor, auxiliary bishop, vicar general and moderator of the curia, Wuerl continued, voicing his gratitude to have worked in ministry alongside Knestout.

He also pointed out his influence in helping to organize the archdiocese’s first synod, his hand in working to revitalize the local Catholic educational system, and his help in opening the new Saint John Paul II Seminary.

“With great appreciation we thank Bishop Knestout as he takes on his new responsibilities and we ask God’s blessings on him.”

Knestout, 55, was born June 11, 1962, in Maryland. He studied architecture at the University of Maryland before entering Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg in 1985. He was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Washington in June 1989.

He served at two parishes as parochial vicar before serving as priest-secretary to Cardinal James A. Hickey from 1994 until the cardinal's death in 2004. He also served as priest-secretary to Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick in 2001 and from 2003-2004.

In 1999 he was given the title of monsignor by Pope John Paul II.

He was executive director of the archdiocese’s Office of Youth Ministry from 2001-2003 and served as pastor of St. John Evangelist Parish in Silver Spring in 2004.

Cardinal Wuerl appointed him secretary for pastoral ministry and social concerns in Oct. 2006, then in April 2007, he was made moderator of the curia and vicar for administration, a role in which he helps Wuerl to manage and oversee administrative affairs.

He is also a Fourth Degree member of the Knights of Colombus, a member of the Order of Malta and of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem.

In 2008, he was appointed auxiliary bishop of Washington and titular bishop of Leavenworth by Benedict XVI. His ordination as bishop took place on Dec. 29, 2008.

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Pope Francis will see a lively faith in Peru and Chile, Lima's cardinal says

Rome, Italy, Dec 5, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - Ahead of Pope Francis' trip to Chile and Peru, the Archbishop of Lima has said that the Bishop of Rome will encounter a lively faith in the countries, where there are “great expression of popular religiosity.”

Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne spoke to CNA ahead of Pope Francis' trip to Chile and Peru, which he will make Jan. 15-21, 2018.

The cardinal is visiting Rome, and met with Pope Francis Monday for a conversation that largely focused on the Pope's upcoming visit to his country.

In his comments to CNA, the cardinal said Latin America, and Peru in particular, maintain a staunchly Christian culture where traditional values on marriage and family issues specifically are widely upheld.

Peru itself is a largely Catholic nation, and while traditional forms of marriage and family life are threatened by the same secular ideologies growing throughout the U.S. and many countries in Europe, the defense of marriage is much stronger.

The country is also traditional when it comes to the abortion issue, with roughly 89 percent of the population defending life, he said.  

Because of this, Cipriani said he believes the Pope's visit is an opportunity for the world to look at Latin America and learn from their example of faith.

This faith is largely expressed in Peru through various and colorful forms of popular piety such as processions, vigils, and public prayer. Among the biggest of these are the processions on the feasts of Corpus Christi and the Lord of Miracles.

“The popular piety is going to move [Francis] a lot because he is going to see it in all corners” of the country, the cardinal said, explaining that this show of faith is part of the 'cultural DNA' in Peru, and will play a big role in the Pope's visit.

“I think that the Holy Father will meet the population with a great expressions of popular religiosity that will be very near to his heart,” he said.

The visit to Peru, which holds the theme “United by Hope,” will also be key in terms of helping the Peruvian bishops' conference become more unified, he said, noting the country is composed of a variety of backgrounds, which at times makes it difficult to be on the same page.

“The country is very diverse, geographically, ethnically, so the reality that the bishops have on the coast, in the mountains, or in the jungle is very different,” the cardinal said. With 50 bishops representing these different areas, trying to combine everything into one cohesive conference “isn't easy.”

In Peru, there are dioceses that have 100,000 inhabitants, while others, such as Lima, have 10 million. Some are areas more advanced in terms of development while in other areas people live “in absolute poverty.”

With all this in mind, Cipriani said he believes the Pope will encourage the Peruvian bishops “to say: 'in seeking holiness you have to come together in a vision that brings Christ to all'.”

Another key theme of the trip, the cardinal said, will be the role of Peruvian saints, which the Pope brought up in their meeting yesterday, and which he mentioned in a short videomessage he released for the trip in August.

“In a few words he told me that Peru has many saints and great saints, and I think that this is something that moves me and that I hope will be developed in this trip,” the cardinal said.

Among the most well-known Peruvian saints are Rose of Lima, Martin de Porres, and and Toribio de Mogroviejo.

According to Cipriani, the Pope's favorite is Martin de Porres, who was the son of a Spanish nobleman and a black slave woman. The saint had wanted to enter the Dominican order, but was initially prevented from becoming a brother due to a law at the time that prevented people of mixed race from joining religious orders.

Instead, he lived with the community and did manual work, earning the nickname “the saint of the broom” for his diligence and care in cleaning the friars' quarters. Eventually, he was permitted to join the order despite the law, and he worked with the sick in the infirmary.

On Martin de Porres, Francis says “he likes him more than anyone because of the broom, because he had to clean many things so that the Church was better,” Cipriani said.

Other big themes for the trip, the cardinal said, will be environmental issues, particularly related to the Amazon region, and the youth.

The highlight will be the Pope's visit to Puerto Maldonado, an area of the Amazon affected by extreme poverty and which has a wide variety of wildlife. During his visit there, Pope Francis is going to see “a lot of poverty, a lot of (the) force of nature.”

When it comes to the nation's youth, Cipriani said Francis is going to see a lot of young people “very excited for the coming of the Pope.”

Pope Francis' visit, he said, is important above all because “the Vicar of Christ is coming … it's a wonderful occasion in which God blesses the Peruvian people.”

Peru, he said, “needs the presence of a man that sows peace, unity and joy among us, and who strengthens us in the faith. Because of this we are awaiting him with enthusiasm.”

Above all, Peru will greet the Pope with “great joy, with a lot of noise, with the streets full,” he said, adding that the Pope “is going to have a great time.”

 

Alvaro de Juana contributed to this report.

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California wildfire forces evacuation at Thomas Aquinas College

Ventura, Calif., Dec 5, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - The fast-spreading flames of a California wildfire reached the borders of the campus of Thomas Aquinas College early this week, but they did not cause serious damage, and all students are safe.

“As a precaution, all students were evacuated, first to Sacred Heart Church in Ventura, then to homes of various friends, faculty, and alumni,” the college said on its website Dec. 5.

“Although flames at one point reached the campus perimeter, there has been no serious damage to any structures. Please continue to pray for all those affected and for all first responders.”

The college has canceled its Tuesday classes. The 400 students enrolled at the Santa Paula, Calif. institution are among the thousands of people forced to evacuate.

The fire, known as the Thomas Fire, began Monday evening in Steckel Park, less than three miles from campus. It quickly burned about 45,000 acres in 13 hours and spread to several homes in the northern area of the city of Ventura, home to more than 100,000 people, CNN reports.

The fire caused an eerie orange glow in the hills.

About 150 buildings have been destroyed in the fire. Felled power lines at one point cut power from 260,000 homes, but power has been largely restored.

Strong winds, blowing 40-60 mph, have helped fan the flames. Known as the Santa Ana winds, they are strong, dry, and blow from east to west. The current winds are the strongest of the season.

Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said that the prospects for containment are “not good” and the success of firefighting efforts will be dependent on the weather, the Washington Post reports.

View from campus just before evacuation. Looking southwest from Thomas Aquinas College. #ThomasFire pic.twitter.com/D7wYwBIbR0

— Timothy de Laveaga (@tadavagagah) December 5, 2017

 

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Why is St. Francis Xavier's arm flying across Canada?

Ottawa, Canada, Dec 5, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - While he was alive, St. Francis Xavier never got to ride in an airplane. They would not be invented for 400 more years after his death.

But now, his severed arm will get to take a trip across Canada in its very own seat.

The relic of the Jesuit missionary, ordinarily kept in the Church of the Gesù in Rome, will be making a cross-country trip through Canada this winter, as part of an initiative from the university group Catholic Christian Outreach.

The arm of St. Francis Xavier, on display for veneration in Rome.

Angèle Regnier, co-founder of Catholic Christian Outreach, told CBC radio that travelling with the saint’s arm will be "like doing a road trip with a friend."

"I mean, I know it's bones, but connected to that is a living friendship with St. Francis Xavier," she said.

In the Catholic Church, relics are physical objects that have a direct association with the saints or with Jesus. The arm of St. Francis Xavier is considered a first class relic, which is the body or fragments of the body of a saint. The practice of venerating relics has been a Scripture-based tradition in the Church for centuries.

Regnier will be accompanying the saint’s arm on its trip from Rome to Canada, where the relic will make a month-long tour through much of the country.

The fragility of the relic, which is encased in a gold and glass reliquary and has its own padded duffle bag, necessitated that it travel in its own seat on Air Canada.

"We can't put it underneath. We can't even put it in the overhead bins. Like, he has to have his own seat," she told CBC radio.

"You're trying to explain this to Air Canada. We need to book a seat. He is a person in a way, but it's not a person, it's an arm."

The saint’s arm is a significant relic. With that arm, it is estimated that St. Francis Xavier baptized hundreds of thousands of people during his time as a missionary in Asia. The relic is also considered to be partially incorrupt, which means that it has not decayed in an ordinary way.

Regnier said that the group wanted to bring the saint’s relic to Canada because he is one of their patron saints. While a university student, Francis Xavier was known for being athletic and the “cool guy,” Regnier said. But it was also during time that he underwent a conversion, and his roommate, St. Ignatius of Loyola, became his spiritual mentor.

St. Francis Xavier would become one of the founding members of the Jesuit order, along with St. Ignatius of Loyola and Blessed Peter Faber.

"So for us, as a university student movement, we want university students to come alive in their faith, so we find a lot in common with St. Francis Xavier's history," Regnier said.

The saint’s arm will be traveling throughout Canada from Jan. 3 - Feb. 2, during which time the faithful are invited to venerate the relic.

"It's quite a production," Regnier said. "We want to touch most of Canada with it."

The schedule for the relic tour is as follows:
* Jan. 3: Quebec City
* Jan. 5: St John's
* Jan. 7: Halifax
* Jan. 8: Antigonish, N.S.
* Jan. 10: Kingston, Ont.
* Jan. 12-14: Toronto
* Jan. 16: Winnipeg
* Jan. 18: Saskatoon
* Jan. 20: Regina
* Jan. 21-22: Calgary
* Jan. 24-25: Vancouver
* Jan. 27: Victoria
* Jan. 29-30: Montreal
* Feb. 2: Ottawa

 

 

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In LA, massive Marian procession ahead of Guadalupe feast

Los Angeles, Calif., Dec 5, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - About 30,000 Catholic faithful walked the streets of Los Angeles in a Sunday Morning procession for Our Lady of Guadalupe nine days ahead of her Dec. 12 feast day.

“We give our hearts to the Virgin of Guadalupe and we ask her to always intercede for us, to hear us and pray for us,” Archbishop José H. Gomez said in his homily at the Dec. 3 Mass concluding the procession.

He said the Virgin Mary leads the faithful to the purpose of their journey on earth: “the encounter with her Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

“To find God, to find Jesus! This is the beautiful role that Our Mother plays,” Gomez said.

The procession is the oldest religious procession in Los Angeles. It was established 86 years ago by Mexican Catholics who fled persecution by the Mexican government during the Cristero war.

This year’s mile-long procession began at the corner of Cesar Chavez Avenue and Ford Street in East Los Angeles. It featured colorful floats, equestrian groups, mariachi performers and indigenous dancers. Floats were judged and awarded prizes for depicting the procession’s theme, “Our Lady of Guadalupe: Encounter with Jesus.”

Catholic school students escorted an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe – an exact digital production of the original image that now hangs in Mexico’s basilica. The reproduction has been blessed and touched to the original image.

Among the participants was Rolando Portillo, a parishioner at Our Lady of Solitude Church in east Los Angeles.

Portillo was given special recognition at the celebration for his support of the community and of an orphanage in Mexico, the archdiocese reports.

“I thank her every day for watching over us, she is the True Mother, a real protector,” he said. “She brought me back to Jesus Christ when I was an addict running the streets 30 years ago.”

The procession ended at East Los Angeles College stadium, where Archbishop Gomez celebrated Mass.

He said in his homily that Our Lady of Guadalupe “guides us always into the presence of her Son, into the new encounter with Jesus Christ.

“So, today we profess our love for Our Mother. We thank her for her tender love for us – for our children and our families,” Gomez said.

Lectors at Mass included a survivor of the October Las Vegas shooting and a person who had received protected status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Before the Mass, actors re-enacted the miraculous apparition of the Virgin Mary to the indigenous Mexican St. Juan Diego in 1531. The Virgin Mary left her image on his cloak, known as a tilma, and asked him to build a church on a hilltop.

Many parish communities worked together for the procession. Many participants in the procession wore red and green attire – the colors of Mexico’s flag.

As a preparation for the procession, the images of Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Juan Diego visited 20 parishes in the Los Angeles archdiocese and the dioceses of Orange and San Bernardino. They visited five detention facilities in the Los Angeles archdiocese and were present for veneration at Santa Clara Cemetery in Oxnard during the Day of the Dead celebrations.

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Baker argues for cake and conscience at Supreme Court

Washington D.C., Dec 5, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - A Colorado baker’s right to express himself through artwork – edible artwork– lies at the center of today’s Supreme Court arguments, say lawyers for Masterpiece Cakeshop owner, Jack Phillips.

“The right of all creative professionals to speak and to live consistent with their beliefs is at stake,” Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Kristen Waggoner, who represented Phillips before the Supreme Court, told CNA.

The Court heard arguments today in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a case which has garnered attention from LGBT-rights advocates and religious liberty proponents.

Waggoner said that the justices asked difficult questions of both sides, and explained that she and US Solicitor General Noel Francisco argued before the high court that forcing Phillips to “sketch, sculpt and to handpaint a message” about marriage that is contrary to his faith violates the Constitution’s protections for free speech.

“Whether you support same-sex marriage or you oppose it, you should be able to have the right to speak freely; to hold beliefs and to speak freely in the public square,” she said.

The case comes after five years of litigation involving Phillips and his Lakewood Colo. bakery, Masterpiece Cakeshop, which he opened in 1993. In 2012, Phillips found himself faced with a lawsuit filed by Charlie Craig of Colorado, after he declined to make a wedding cake for the same-sex wedding of Craig and David Mullins. Phillips offered to create another cake for the couple. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a state agency that represent Craig and Mullins during litigation, claimed that by declining to make the cake, the baker had violated the state’s anti-discrimination law.

The lawsuit was decided in favor of the plaintiffs in 2013, and a Colorado judge ordered Phillips to receive anti-discrimination training and to serve same-sex weddings or stop serving weddings altogether.

Phillips lost appeals at the state level, and the Colorado Supreme Court declined to take the case. In June, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

The couple was able to obtain a rainbow-themed cake from a bakery near Phillips’ cake shop.

Phillips declines to bake other kinds of cakes that promote ideas at odds with his beliefs, such as cakes that portray anti-American, atheist, or racist messages or disparage members of the LGBT community. Phillips also declines to create custom cakes for other events he is uncomfortable supporting, such as Halloween and bachelor parties.  “Though I serve everyone who comes into my shop, like many other creative professionals, I don’t create custom designs for events or messages that conflict with my conscience,” Phillips explained in a Dec. 5 press conference outside of the Supreme Court.

Since the litigation started, Phillips has said that he has lost over 40 percent of his business due to his inability to serve any weddings. As a result, he has lost nearly half of his employees, and now struggles “to pay our bills and keep the shop afloat.” In addition, Phillips has reported receiving “death threats” which resulted in police being called to the scene.

“It’s hard to believe that the government is forcing me to choose between providing for my family and employees and violating my relationship with God,” Phillips said. “That is not freedom. That is not tolerance.”

The ACLU argued before the Supreme Court, along with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, against Phillips. In statement released today, the advocacy group said that Phillips’ First Amendment rights do not allow his bakery to “choose their customers.”

“These laws ensure that everyone, including gay people, have the freedom to walk into a business and know that they will be treated the same way,” stated David Cole, legal director of the ACLU, who argued before the Supreme Court. “As we argued in court today, the justices have an obligation to defend the principle of equal dignity under the law for all Americans — including Dave and Charlie.”

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of Phillips, voiced their support for free expression and freedom of religion.

“We pray that the Court will continue to preserve the ability of people to live out their faith in daily life, regardless of their occupation,” said Archbishops Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville and  Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., of Philadelphia and Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln in a joint statement.  The bishops chair the U.S. Bishops’ Committees on Religious Liberty; Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth; and the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, respectively.

“Artists in particular deserve to have the freedom to express ideas—or to decline to create certain messages—in accordance with their deeply held beliefs, the bishops wrote.

Citing Justice Anthony Kennedy’s decision in the Obergefell v. Hodges case, which noted that people can oppose same-sex marriage for “decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises,” the bishops asked that creative professionals be allowed to “use their artistic talents in line with these decent and honorable convictions.”

Religious freedom experts also highlighted the importance of free speech and religious freedom protections. Eric Baxter, Senior Counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, who also filed a friend-of-the court brief on behalf of Masterpiece, pointed to the religious importance that weddings have carried for centuries.  

“The idea that the government can force someone to participate in events like weddings, baptisms, bar mitzvahs, or even funerals—events that are so full of cultural and religious meaning—is deeply troubling,” he said in a statement.

“Of course creating a custom wedding cake is part and parcel of celebrating a wedding. Jack Phillips should not be forced to do that any more than someone should be forced to sing at a wedding, or serve as a wedding witness, or attend the wedding with a sufficiently large smile on their face,” Baxter continued.

“As a nation, we can live and let live without taking extreme offense at others’ choices or forcing them to participate in our own.”

The Supreme Court will likely deliver its decision in late spring or early summer 2018.

 

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Faith, Intellect, Renewal: Thomas More College launches center to restore culture

Manchester, N.H., Dec 5, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - Seeking the renewal of culture and faith in New England, Thomas More College of Liberal Arts has launched a center that addresses crucial questions for Christians and aims to be a “vigorous public witness to the faith.”

“Its mission is a revival of Christian culture in New England: a region that has always been a seedbed of new ideas and ideals – a region whose the original European settlers first sought to build ‘a shining city on a hill’,” the New Hampshire college said Dec. 5.

The Thomas More Center for the Restoration of Christian Culture aims to support active involvement in the arts, in politics, in literature, in education, and especially in the life of faith.

The center aims to address “the crisis of a civilization that has drifted from the principles on which it was founded.” It will consider “the crucial questions of how mature Christians can live in freedom, and how people of faith can give new hope to a secularized society,” Thomas More College said.

The center will invite speakers, host seminars and organize conferences. It will encourage both intellectuals and civic leaders to participate in discussions and explore how to apply ideas.

Its statement of purpose says it will follow the example of St. Thomas More by protecting and encouraging healthy family life and by educating young people in the liberal arts. It will promote the active involvement of Christians in civic life, the preservation and enrichment of cultural heritage, and loyal defense of Catholic teaching.

The center aims “not to mourn the decline in society, but to build an outpost of civility: a community in which reasoned discussion, animated by Christian faith, can work toward a revival.”

Founding fellows at the center are Thomas More College president Dr. William Fahey; Dr. Anthony Esolen, a translator of Dante’s Divine Comedy and author of several books; and Catholic journalist and author Philip Lawler.

Esolen said culture is “disappearing from the West – certainly from the United States and Canada.”

“We are in the midst of massive culture amnesia,” he charged.

Lawler said he believes that New England could be a place for the emergence of “a new, positive and distinctively Christian vision of America.”

The region has “always been a nursery for new ideas and new movements.” He suggested the metaphorical pendulum of opinion has swung “so very far” in New England and prevailing opinion is “so far from the truths that are inscribed on the human heart” that a reaction is “inevitable.”

Fahey commented on the other fellows at the center: “Esolen is one of America’s foremost writers and a trenchant observer of our cultural malaise, and Lawler has had years of experience commenting on the ebb and flow of Catholic leadership within America and the wider world, always with a wise sense of how we should direct our attention and renew our conversation.”

Among the supporters of the center is Jennifer Roback Morse, founder and president of the Ruth Institute.

“The family needs defenders in all academic disciplines and from all walks of life,” Morse said. “May this Center become a focal point for a great renewal of all that is good and worthy in Christian civilization.”

Robert Royal, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Faith and Reason Institute, said the center is “one of the most promising new initiatives in decades.”

“Lots of people have written and spoken about what’s gone wrong with Catholic thought--as well as ways of life and community,” Royal added. “This is one of the few things I’ve seen that may actually do something about bringing them all together again in a faithful and viable whole.”

In Royal’s view, the regional approach of the center is important.

“Given the scope of problems we face, they can only be dealt with first at a more local level. I hope that this project not only grows rapidly, but that it is imitated and adapted to many other parts of the country, and the world,” he said.

Other backers of the project include Andrew Beckwith, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute; Ignatius Press founder and editor Father Joseph Fessio, S.J.; author and former syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher; James Hitchcock, emeritus history professor at St. Louis University; Cardinal Newman Society president Patrick Reilly; Austin Ruse, president of the Center for Family and Human Rights; and Notre Dame architecture professor Duncan Stroik.

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Analysis: Argentine letter on Amoris is in the Acta. Does that change things?

Vatican City, Dec 5, 2017 (CNA) - Despite the recent inclusion of Pope Francis' 2016 letter to the Buenos Aires bishops on Amoris laetitia in the Holy See's official text of record, neither the Church's discipline nor its doctrine have changed.

The move is the latest in the debate over the admission of the divorced-and-remarried to Communion. The Second Vatican Council, St. John Paul II, and Benedict XVI – as well as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts under them – all firmly opposed proposals to admit to eucharistic communion the divorced-and-remarried who do not observe continence.

The debate has received renewed impetus under Pope Francis. His 2016 apostolic exhortation on love in the family, Amoris laetitia, has been met with varied reception and interpretation within the Church. Its eighth chapter, entitled “Accompanying, Discerning, and Integrating Weakness,” deals with, among other things, the pastoral care of the divorced-and-remarried, those who may not be admitted to Communion unless they have committed to living in continence, eschewing the acts proper to married couples.

Yet, for many Church leaders and theologians, ambiguous language in that chapter has led to uncertainties about this practice, and about the nature and status of the apostolic exhortation itself. Some have maintained that it is incompatible with Church teaching, and others that it has not changed the Church's discipline. Still others read Amoris laetitia as opening the way to a new pastoral practice, or even as a development in continuity with St. John Paul II.

Some Church leaders have noted that Amoris laetitia has led to the disorientation and great confusion of many of the faithful, and at least one respected theologian has argued that Francis' pontificate has fostered confusion, diminished the importance of doctrine in the Church's life, and cause faithful Catholics to lose confidence in the papacy.

Pope Francis has been understood to encourage those who interpret Amoris laetitia as opening the way to a new pastoral practice – as he seemed to do in a letter to the bishops of the Buenos Aires region, which is the subject of the latest furor.

His letter approves those bishops' pastoral response to the divorced-and-remarried, based on Amoris laetitia. The response had said that ministry to the divorced-and-remarried must never create confusion about Church teaching and the indissolubility of marriage, but may also allow access to the sacraments under specific limits. These might include specific situations when a penitent in an irregular union is under attenuated culpability, as when leaving such a union could cause harm to his children, although the circumstances envisioned are not precisely delineated, which, some theologians say, has contributed to the confusion.

The Pope's Sept. 5, 2016 letter addressed to Bishop Sergio Alfredo Fenoy of San Miguel said, “The text is very good and makes fully explicit the meaning of the eighth chapter of ‘Amoris Laetitia’. There are no other interpretations. And I am sure it will do a lot of good. May the Lord reward you for this effort of pastoral charity.”

It was reported this weekend that Pope Francis' letter, as well as the pastoral response of the Buenos Aires bishops, were promulgated in the October 2016 issue of the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, a Vatican publication in which official documents of the Pope and the Roman Curia are published, and through which universal ecclesiastical laws are promulgated.

Dr. Edward Peters, a professor of canon law at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, wrote Dec. 4 that the Buenos Aires document contains assertions “running the gamut from obviously true, through true-but-oddly-or-incompletely phrased, to a few that, while capable of being understood in an orthodox sense, are formulated in ways that lend themselves to heterodox understandings.”

He noted that what prevents the admission of the divorced-and-remarried to eucharistic communion is canon 915 “and the universal, unanimous interpretation which that legislative text, rooted as it is in divine law, has always received.” The canon states that those “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

In an August 2017 post anticipating the possible publication in AAS of the Buenos Aires letter or the Pope's commendation of it, Peters had written that “many, nay most, papal documents appearing in the Acta carry no canonical or disciplinary force.”

He wrote that “Unless canon 915 itself is directly revoked, gutted, or neutered, it binds ministers of holy Communion to withhold that most august sacrament from, among others, divorced-and-remarried Catholics except where such couples live as brother-sister and without scandal to the community.”

“Nothing I have seen to date, including the appearance of the pope’s and Argentine bishops’ letters in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, makes me think that Canon 915 has suffered such a fate.”

He added: “Neither the pope’s letter to the Argentines, nor the Argentine bishops’ document, nor even Amoris laetitia so much as mentions Canon 915, let alone do these documents abrogate, obrogate, or authentically interpret this norm out of the Code of Canon Law.”

While the Pope's letter and the Buenos Aires bishops' pastoral response do contain ambiguous “disciplinary assertions”, they are insufficient “to revoke, modify, or otherwise obviate” canon 915, Peters wrote.

Aside from the canonical problems with the admission of the divorced-and-remarried to eucharistic communion is the question of what it means that the Buenos Aires document and the Pope's letter in support of it are intended to be a part of the Church’s Magisterium.

A rescript from Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, in the AAS notes that their promulgation was intended “as authentic Magisterium.”

The Magisterium is a part of teaching office of bishops, by which they are charged with interpreting and preserving the deposit of faith. In its 1990 declaration Donum veritatis, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith noted that the Magisterium “has the task of discerning, by means of judgments normative for the consciences of believers, those acts which in themselves conform to the demands of faith and foster their expression in life and those which, on the contrary, because intrinsically evil, are incompatible with such demands.”

Catholics are bound to assent to divinely revealed teachings with faith; to firmly embrace and retain those things which are required to safeguard reverently and to expound faithfully the deposit of faith; and to give religious submission of intellect and will to doctrines on faith or morals given through the authentic Magisterium.  

The critical question regarding Amoris laetitia is what, precisely, it teaches with regard to faith and morals, and what it doesn’t, or even, can’t, teach.  On the latter question, especially, the Church’s existent doctrine is helpful.

Even while some bishops, such as those of the Buenos Aires region and those of Malta, have interpreted the apostolic exhortation as allowing a new pastoral practice, many others have maintained that it changes nothing of doctrine or discipline.

For example, while prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Müller said that Amoris laetitia has not eliminated Church discipline on marriage, nor has it has permitted in some cases the divorced-and-remarried “to receive the Eucharist without the need to change their way of life.”

“This is a matter of a consolidated magisterial teaching, supported by scripture and founded on a doctrinal reason: the salvific harmony of the sacrament, the heart of the 'culture of the bond' that the Church lives.”

The prefect of the CDF said that if Pope Francis' exhortation “had wanted to eliminate such a deeply rooted and significant discipline, it would have said so clearly and presented supporting reasons.”

“There is however no affirmation in this sense; nor does the Pope bring into question, at any time, the arguments presented by his predecessors, which are not based on the subjective culpability of our brothers, but rather on their visible, objective way of life, contrary to the words of Christ,” Cardinal Müller stated.

It has been the constant teaching of the Church that marriage is indissoluble, that people not married to each other may not legitimately engage in acts of sexual intimacy, that the Eucharist may not be received by those conscious of grave sin, and that absolution requires the purpose of amending one's life, even with a diminished or limited capacity to exercise the will.

And the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God's law. Consequently, they cannot receive Eucharistic communion as long as this situation persists … Reconciliation through the sacrament of Penance can be granted only to those who have repented for having violated the sign of the covenant and of fidelity to Christ, and who are committed to living in complete continence.”

St. John Paul II promulgated the Catechism in 1992 by the apostolic constitution Fidei depositum, in which he wrote that it “is a statement of the Church's faith and of Catholic doctrine, attested to or illumined by Sacred Scripture, Apostolic Tradition and the Church's Magisterium. I declare it to be a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion and a sure norm for teaching the faith.”

“The approval and publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church represents a service which the Successor of Peter wishes to offer to the Holy Catholic Church … of supporting and confirming the faith of all the Lord Jesus' disciples, as well as of strengthening the bonds of unity in the same apostolic faith. Therefore, I ask the Church's Pastors and the Christian faithful to receive this catechism in a spirit of communion and to use it assiduously in fulfilling their mission of proclaiming the faith and calling people to the Gospel life. This catechism is given to them that it may be a sure and authentic reference text for teaching Catholic doctrine.”

Critical to understanding the character of the Church’s teaching on these issues is a declaration  the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts wrote in 2000 that canon 915's prohibition on admitting to Holy Communion those who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin is applicable to the divorced-and-remarried.

“Any interpretation of can. 915 that would set itself against the canon's substantial content, as declared uninterruptedly by the Magisterium and by the discipline of the Church throughout the centuries, is clearly misleading,” it said.

This prohibition, the pontifical council continued, is “by its nature derived from divine law and transcends the domain of positive ecclesiastical laws: the latter cannot introduce legislative changes which would oppose the doctrine of the Church.”

This declaration defines a kind of a limit on how the Magisterium can develop; by invoking divine law, the council says that no pastoral approach can transgress the norms of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. While considering questions of subjective culpability do not exceed those norms, the council’s directive explains that the Church can not, and will not, redefine the deposit of faith.  

The deposit of faith has not been changed, and nor has canon law. Despite a great deal of anxiety and media attention, truth remains unchanged, and unchanging.

While some find the Pope’s writing to be ambiguous, truth is not. Amoris laetitia must be interpreted in a way that does not contravene truth.

Even when such an interpretation is not readily apparent.

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