Wednesday, November 27, 2013

With open eyes

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
December 1, 2013

Matthew 24:37-44

The first Christian communities experienced very difficult years. Lost in the vast empire of Rome, in the midst of conflict and persecution, those Christians were seeking strength and encouragement by waiting for the prompt coming of Jesus and remembering his words: Keep watch. Stay awake. Have your eyes open. Be alert.

Do Jesus' calls to stay awake still mean anything for us? What is putting our hope in the living God with open eyes for Christians today? Will we let hope in God's final justice for that vast majority of innocent victims who suffer through no fault of their own, run out definitively in our secular world?

Indeed, the easiest way to distort Christian hope is to expect our eternal salvation from God while we turn our backs on the suffering there is in the world right now. Someday we will have to acknowledge our blindness before Christ the Judge: When did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and we didn't assist you? This will be our final dialogue with him if we live with eyes closed.

We are to wake up and open our eyes wide. Be vigilant to look beyond our narrow interests and concerns. The hope of Christians is not a blind attitude, because they never forget those who suffer. Christian spirituality is not just looking inward, because their hearts are attentive to those who are abandoned to their fate.

In the Christian communities, we are to take more and more care that our way of living out hope doesn't lead us to indifference or neglect of the poor. We can't isolate ourselves in religion so as not to hear the cry of those who die daily of hunger. We are not allowed to feed our illusion of innocence to defend our peace of mind.

Can a hope in God that forgets those who live on this earth without being able to hope for anything not be considered a religious version of optimism at all costs, lived without clarity or responsibility? Might not a search for one's own eternal salvation with back turned to the suffering be accused of being a subtle "selfishness extended into the beyond"?

Probably the little sensitivity to the immense suffering in the world is one of the most serious symptoms of the aging of Christianity today. When Pope Francis calls for a "poorer Church and for the poor," he is crying out his most important message to Christians in well-off countries.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Pope's survey of Catholics

By José María Castillo (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Teología Sin Censura Blog
November 20, 2013

As is known, traditionally minded Catholics are concerned, even frightened, because of the poll Pope Francis has put out so that we Catholics might say what we really think about the issues related to the family that have given the most to talk about in recent years. Some have said that the survey is only for the bishops. But no. To our knowledge, so far, those who can (and should) respond to the questions raised, are all of us.

Well, if the whole Church has the floor to say what it thinks about much debated issues (abortion, homosexuality, divorced people, separated people, etc., etc.), then the survey is more revolutionary than many can imagine. And it is, for a reason that surely few realize.

Let me explain. Many would like to have a pope who finally tells the Church with his infallible authority what to think and do about the above problems, and many others related to family life, sex .... Topics that are delicate, that preoccupy us so much and, above all, that are so very much discussed, so pointedly, and about which there are so many doubts that people are passionate about them. Well, why is the survey, directed at those of us who argue so much about such matters, so revolutionary?

The underlying problem is not the complexity of the issues raised by the survey. The problem has its roots in a much more complicated matter. What is at issue is not the answer that can - and should - be given to each one of these subjects. What it is going to put into question is the response that can - and should - be given to the limits of the Pope's authority to settle, through a dogmatic definition, what Catholics have to think, believe and live in matters that concern us so strongly. My question, after reading the survey, is as follows:  If we follow the teaching of the highest magisterium of the Church, can we guarantee that the Pope has the authority and sacred power to define as "articles of faith" doctrines and ways of life about which there is no agreement among Catholics, but rather a diversity of doctrines and theories that have led to deep divisions, and even clashes, among Catholics themselves?

As is known, the doctrine of papal infallibility was defined in the First Vatican Council (1870). The Council's words were the following: "The Roman Pontiff .... possesses that infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed that his Church should be endowed in defining doctrine regarding faith or morals."(H. Denzinger - P. Hünermann, No. 3074). Therefore, according to Vatican I, papal infallibility is the infallibility of the Church. Which means that the pope, when he makes a dogmatic definition, does not pronounce judgment as a private person, but sets out or defines the doctrine of the Catholic faith as the supreme teacher of the universal Church. So what the Pope has is "the charism of infallibility of the Church itself," as Vatican II said (LG, no. 25).

Therefore, the subject that possesses the power of infallibility is the Church. The pope has the charism of pronouncing that infallibility in specific cases and matters. Consequently, when the Church is divided -- and even in opposition -- on a particular topic, the Pope can not settle such a situation by making use of a dogmatic definition. To make an infallible definition, the pope has to have reasonable assurance that the subject of his definition is known in the Church and is accepted by the Church. This is why Pope Pius XII, prior to the definition about the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven (1950), asked all the bishops in the world whether in their churches this doctrine was accepted as doctrine revealed by God. And when he got an affirmative response from all, then he proceeded to make the dogmatic definition.

This being the doctrine and practice of the Catholic Church, it's not enough that the Pope ends a dispute for us to talk about a definition. Nor is declaring a doctrinal judgment "final" a definition, properly speaking (G. Thils). As the official rapporteur of Vatican I, Msgr. Grasser, explained, "the pope is infallible only when, in his role as teacher of all Christians and thus representing the whole universal Church, he judges and defines what is be admitted or rejected by all." (Mansi 52, 1213 C) And it must be admitted or rejected as a matter of faith or truth. Everything else, and no matter how much the Pope says it, is (and will be) a matter of obedience. But, as is well known, matters that don't pass obedience -- in cases where the subject thinks in his conscience that he doesn't have to obey -- in such cases, he can (and even should) disobey. Because, as we know (from the lucid teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas ("Sum Theol." , 2-2, q.104, a.6; a.5), the ultimate judgment on the rightness of an act is the judgment of one's own conscience, not mere passive submission.

The consequence that follows from the above, is clear. The questions proposed by the Pope's survey on the family raise a number of issues on which there is no consensus in the Church, either theologically or from the scientific and historical point of view. They are what the experts call "disputatae quaestiones" (issues under discussion). In the Synod next October, will unanimous agreement be reached on such issues? It would be desirable. But it is not predictable. The consequence will be that doctrinal limits of papal power when settling a disputed doctrine will be patently clear. The Church's unity is not uniformity. Its unity is built on respect, tolerance, kindness and seeking the good of all. And therefore, unity happens (and will go on happening) from the diversity of opinions, behaviors and ways of life, provided that they are debatable within respect for the rights of others. If greater tolerance, more respect for those who think differently and live differently, is achieved through the survey and the Synod, the Church will have taken a decisive step towards unity as the Lord desired. And if, in addition to that, certain issues which now divide us or oppose us, are clarified then Pope Francis will have made a decisive contribution (one more) to the good of all of us.

German bishops to go forward with proposal to reinstate divorced people

Religión Digital (English translation by Rebel Girl)
November 26, 2013

The German Catholic bishops plan to continue with a proposed reform to reinstate the faithful who are divorced and remarried despite the contrary position expressed by the prefect of the Doctrine of the Faith, Gerhard Müller, as Gebhard Fürst, Bishop of Stuttgart, said this weekend.

Fürst stressed during a meeting with the laity that the bishops had already made a draft of reforms and would be seeking approval for them at their March plenary.

Readmitting remarried Catholics into the Church is a pressing issue for Pope Francis, who convened a special synod of bishops for October in order to consider ways to carry out that reform despite Catholicism's rejection of divorce.

Fürst was the most explicit of several German bishops who rejected the position of Archbishop Gerhard Müller, director of the Vatican doctrinal office, who last month ruled out any change after the Archdiocese of Freiburg divulged its proposals.

"We want to adopt new guidelines in our plenary in March," Fürst told the Zentralkomitee der deutschen Katholiken ("Central Committee of German Catholics"), an influential group of lay faithful, Saturday in Bonn.

Catholics who divorce and remarry in a civil ceremony are prohibited from receiving communion under Vatican doctrine that applies throughout the Church. Many of them see the move as a sign of rejection and turn away from the faith.

Fürst said that complaint was one of the most frequent German bishops have heard since they launched an initiative to consult the faithful after a wave of revelations in 2010 about sexual abuse of minors by priests.

"Expectations (of reform) are very great, and the impatience and anger are even greater," said the prelate, adding that a group of bishops has been discussing the issue since then.

The Pope referred to the subject at a press conference on his return trip from Brazil in July, saying the Church had to review its position on marriages that have ended and that it would do so at the synod of bishops next year.

Catholicism says that marriage is indissoluble and can only be terminated if it is annulled, i.e. the Church determines that the conditions of marriage such as free will or psychological maturity did not exist at the time of marriage.

The Archdiocese of Freiburg, in southwestern Germany, released guidelines last month that stated that a priest can readmit divorced and remarried people to the sacraments if they prove their faith and commitment to the new union.

When the Vatican's doctrinal chief ordered Freiburg to withdraw the guidelines, the Cardinal of Munich Reinhard Marx -- one of the eight advisers to the Pope -- said he "could not end the discussion" and that the debate ought to continue "on a broader scale."

Monday, November 25, 2013

From taboos to dialogue

By Victor Codina (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Cristianisme i Justícia Blog
November 21, 2013

For a long time there has been a chasm -- a true gap -- between the official doctrine of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church on marriage and family, and real daily praxis. There's a significant silence, a real taboo, on subjects such as common law unions, divorce and remarriage of the divorced, contraceptive methods, homosexual unions, premarital relationships, etc.

These previously unheard of situations cause conflict and perplexity today both in the faithful and in the pastors. Some couples have left the Church, others have serious problems of conscience, others, after a mature examination, go on practicing in the Church but outside the official teaching. Many pastors -- bishops, parish priests, theologians, and moralists -- also live in a tension between the desire to be faithful to the Magisterium and the pastoral problems they contemplate every day. But in all this, a respectful reverential silence is maintained, which is harmful in the long run.

It is striking that while the Magisterium of the Church offers mostly general guiding principles on social and economic questions, on issues of sexual and family morality it acts dogmatically and prescriptively. Moreover, many current moralists think that Christian morality has no moral content of its own other than that of human morality (so-called natural law) which Christians live out, enlightened and strengthened by their faith in Christ.

Aware of the seriousness and anomaly of this situation, Pope Francis has convened an extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family in two stages, 2014 and 2015, and has launched a survey with 38 questions, plus a final one on whether there are other challenges or proposals on these issues. It asks about doctrine and the marriage and family practices of the Christian faithful, what they think about common law unions, about divorce and new irregular couples with the rules of the Church forbidding them from participating in the sacraments, their opinion on homosexual unions and the adoption of children, on the Church's doctrine on birth control methods, premarital trial cohabitation (ad experimentum), etc...

All this, it's stated, is more urgent today when we are well aware of the teaching of divine mercy, of tenderness towards hurting people on the geographical and existential peripheries.

The Pope has opened a door to dialogue and consultation. It's the families who will have to get their opinions to their pastors and bishops, since they are the primary ones concerned and responsible -- they're the actors and victims. Let's hope the voices of the families are heard. A new pentecostal breeze is shaking up the Church and inviting it to go from taboos to honest and open dialogue.