Allow Married Men Be Priests, Bishops Beg Pope

Pope Francis (R), flanked by Italian priest Federico Lombardi, prays during the opening of a global child protection summit for reflections on the sex abuse crisis within the Catholic Church, on February 21, 2019 at the Vatican.  Vincenzo PINTO / POOL / AFP

 

Catholic bishops gathered at a special Vatican assembly called on Pope Francis Saturday to open the priesthood to married men in the Amazon, as well as giving women a greater role to play and making damaging the environment a sin.

The bishops issued a list of recommendations at the close of a three-week “synod” on the Pan-Amazonian region which highlighted challenges such as the destruction of the rainforest, the exploitation of indigenous peoples and a scarcity in priests.

The pontiff said Saturday he would addressing the issues before the year’s end.

The text could have repercussions not only for the vast, isolated territory, but the whole of the Roman Catholic Church.

The synod brought some 184 bishops to the Vatican, over 60 percent of whom hail from the nine Amazon countries.

Together with representatives of indigenous peoples, experts and nuns, they discussed a multitude of regional concerns, from climate change to poverty, land-grabbing, mercury-polluted waters and violence against women.

The most hotly-debated question was whether or not to allow “viri probati” — married “men of proven virtue” — to join the priesthood in remote locations, where communities seldom have Mass due to a lack of priests.

It would not be necessary to rewrite Church law; the bishops simply asked Francis for an exemption to the rules — like the one already granted to married Anglican pastors who later converted to Catholicism.

‘Ecological sin’ 

“Sometimes it takes not just months but even several years before a priest can return to a community to celebrate the Eucharist, offer the sacrament of reconciliation or anoint the sick,” the synod document said.

It suggested ordaining as priests “suitable and esteemed men of the community” who had “a legitimately constituted and stable family”.

But the ultra-conservative wing of the Catholic Church — particularly in Europe and North America — has spoken out strongly against the idea, warning that making exceptions could pave the way to the abolition of celibacy globally.

The bishops also urged the Argentine pope to make “the acts and habits of pollution and destruction of the harmony of the environment” an “ecological sin” — or the breaking of a divine law.

It called for the Church to lead the battle against “our culture of excessive consumption”, saying “we must reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and the use of plastics”.

People should also change their eating habits and stop an “excess consumption of meat and fish/seafood”, they said.

They also proposed creating a “world fund” to protect the Amazon and its indigenous communities from “the predatory compulsion to extract their natural resources by national and multinational companies”.

‘Ministries for women’ 

The document also called for an official recognition by the Church of the key role played by lay women in the evangelisation of indigenous people by creating a formal specific role, or “ministry”, called “woman leadership of the community”.

There are some in the Church who would even like them to be allowed to become deacons, a function currently reserved for lay men.

Male deacons, who can be single or married, are able to baptise, witness marriages, perform funerals and preach homilies.

Francis said Saturday he would reconvene a commission to study the history of female deacons in the early Catholic Church, after the body’s initial report — delivered to the pontiff this year — was inconclusive.

Two thirds of the indigenous communities without priests are guided by women.

“We still have not grasped the significance of women in the Church. Their role must go well beyond questions of function,” Francis said.

AFP

World Bishops Head To Vatican For Summit On Sex Abuse

Pope Francis with some Cardinals at the Vatican in Rome, Italy. Source: AFP

 

Pope Francis gathers bishops from around the world at the Vatican this week for a hotly-awaited summit on tackling the wave of child sex abuse scandals assailing the Catholic Church.

The heads of around 100 bishops’ conferences from every continent will convene from Thursday to Sunday for the meeting on the protection of minors, with victims’ groups demanding that a concrete action plan on fighting paedophilia be drawn up.

The pope, who asked the bishops to speak to victims of abuse in their respective countries before the Rome convention, has tried to dial down “inflated expectations” for a cure-all.

Several victims were also invited to the Vatican.

“I ask you to pray for this meeting,” the pope said Sunday, adding that he wanted the meeting “as an act of strong pastoral responsibility in the face of an urgent challenge of our time.”

The conference aims to be an opportunity to improve awareness of the global phenomenon of sexual abuse of minors within the Church, despite many in Africa, Asia and the Middle East being in denial of what they call “a Western problem”.

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In many parts of the world, discussing violence towards children and even sex is taboo, leading the Vatican to organise this week’s “educational” gathering.

Some abuse victims, particularly from countries where their plight is ignored, have also been invited to attend.

“Someone who has met a victim, heard their cries for help, their tears, their psychological and physical wounds, can’t remain the same,” said German Jesuit priest Hans Zollner, a psychologist who travels the world educating priests and is one of the conference’s organisers.

“The Catholic Church has been faced with this problem for the last 35 years,” he said, hailing rigorous preventative measures taken in Australia, Britain, Canada, Ireland and the United States.

“It works: the number of new accusations of sexual assault in all these countries is now minimal,” he said.

The aim is for the heads of the world’s episcopal conferences to achieve “a feeling of collective responsibility” said Father Federico Lombardi, who will be leading debates during the conference.

“The credibility of the Church is at stake,” he said.

 ‘A decisive moment’ 

The summit comes after Pope Francis defrocked a former cardinal — American Theodore McCarrick — over accusations he sexually abused a teenager 50 years ago.

McCarrick, 88, who resigned from the Vatican’s College of Cardinals in July, is the first cardinal ever to be defrocked for sex abuse.

Chilean Vatican expert Luis Badilla said the meeting would be a “decisive moment for the pontificate”.

“We want this meeting to result in concrete measures,” he said, echoing victims’ hopes for the conference, being held in the wake of paedophile scandals that have shaken the Church particularly in Chile and in the United States.

The summit’s title, concerning “the protection of minors”, avoids using the words “sex” or “paedophilia”, noted Badilla.

That reflects the Church’s centuries-old instinct to protect its image, he said. But added “the only way to emerge from the crisis is to tell the whole truth”.

In France, prosecutors said Friday they were investigating a sexual assault complaint made against the Vatican’s envoy to Paris, 74-year-old Luigi Ventura.

He is accused of molesting an official at the Paris mayor’s office, a judicial source told AFP.

The pope has already warned those hoping the four-day meet will be a panacea that “the problem of abuse will continue”.

“By resolving the problem within the Church, through becoming aware, we will contribute to resolving it within society, within families, where the shame means everything is hidden,” Francis said.

The meeting will come up with “protocols for moving forward”, because “sometimes bishops don’t know what to do,” he said.

Father Zollner is also wary of people hoping for a magic wand of “new norms” that will make the problem simply disappear.

Bishops must “change their attitude”, which can be more difficult than drawing up new rules or guidelines, he said.

The scale of the problem is impossible to measure statistically.

A study in the United States said that between three and four per cent of the clergy were involved in abuse before 2002 when stricter guidelines were published, said Zollner.

While the Catholic Church says it is trying to address the problem, other churches are also affected.

In the United States, the Protestant Southern Baptist Convention has been hit by a wide-ranging sex abuse scandal involving almost 400 pastors, volunteers and teachers over two decades.

AFP

Pope Welcomes Chinese Bishops To First Vatican Meeting

Pope Francis delivers a message during a mass for the opening of the Synod of Bishops, focusing on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment, on October 3, 2018 at St. Peter’s square in the Vatican.

Pope Francis on Wednesday offered a “warm welcome” to two Chinese Catholic bishops attending a synod for the first time following a landmark deal between China and the Vatican.

“Today, for the first time, we have also with us two bishops from mainland China,” the pontiff said in a speech to kick off the month-long advisory body meeting on the role of young people in the 1.2 billion-member church.

“We offer them our warm welcome: the communion of the entire episcopate with the successor of Peter is yet more visible thanks to their presence,” he said.

On September 22, the Vatican and China reached a provisional agreement under which Pope Francis recognized seven clergies initially ordained by Beijing without the Vatican’s approval.

The accord could pave the way for the normalization of ties between the Catholic Church and the world’s most populous country.

One of those recognized, Bishop Joseph Guo Jincai, is attending the synod along with Bishop John Baptist Yang Xiaotin, another member of the Patriotic Catholic Association (PCA), a body created by the Chinese government to administer the church.

Francis said he hoped the synod would help “broaden our horizons, expand our hearts and transform those frames of mind that today paralyze, separate and alienate us from young people, leaving them exposed to stormy seas”.

The meeting of more than 300 church officials, outside experts, and youth delegates is taking place in the shadow of an existential crisis in the Church over cases of widespread sexual abuse of minors by clergy and lay officials in a number of countries.

 

AFP