"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Friday, 23 September 2016


Sandro Magister, like much of the press, has a "cowboys and Indians" approach to disagreement in the Church.  A division borrowed from secular politics is used to interpret the facts.   The Church authorities and theologians are divided between "conservatives" and "liberals"; and it is assumed that there is antagonism between them.   In spite of all that Popes Francis and Benedict have actually said on the subject, the two popes are pushed, willy nilly, into opposing camps and, by choosing some quotations and ignoring others, are made to appear to dance to the media's tune.  Nowadays, with Pope Benedict in retirement, the contest is between those who agree with Pope Francis and the disciples of Pope Benedict.   While there is a superficial truth in all this, I believe that, at a deeper level, something else is happening.   Beneath the politics, a new theological scenario is being formed, one which, give or take a detail, has the support of both Pope Francis and emeritus Pope Benedict.

Let us imagine that the next synod will follow the same pattern as the previous two.   Early on it will become apparent that there are real differences of opinion, not only among the laity, but among theologians, cardinals, bishops and priests.   There will be different interpretations about what is essential to Catholic teaching and about the pastoral implications and policies that derive from this teaching.   It will be noticed that one set of conclusions are favoured in one part of the world, let us say Germany, and another set in another location, Africa for example, even though not everybody in Africa or Germany will agree.

Sandro Magister and company will interpret this as a clash between traditional Catholic values and modern liberal values.  They will compare these synods with those held before Pope Francis, the sharp disagreements in current synods with the smooth, coherent expressions of Catholic uniformity in which all agreed with the Vatican centre; and they will wring their hands and mourn, and long for the restoration of Catholic order.

However, there is another interpretation of the facts which is more in harmony with Vatican II which itself would never have been possible if the stranglehold of the Vatican curia on discussion and decision making had not been broken by Cardinal Frings with the help of his secretary, Father Joseph Ratzinger.

This interpretation is more realistic in that, left to themselves, human beings differ from each other.  Also, different people and different parts of the Church have different priorities due to the variety of circumstances, conditions and cultures. The impression of  universal agreement on all  matters of Catholic teaching can only be maintained by a censorship in which everything genuinely controversial is ruled out. This is what happened in previous synods and would have happened in Vatican II if the likes of Joseph Ratzinger had not intervened.  If people wanted a return to the inspiration and energy of Vatican II, then this censorship had to go and the differences had to be acknowledged and faced.

Another but related goal of Vatican II that had not yet been realised was de-centralisation.   Different parts of the Church have different priorities because cultures and circumstances are not the same; nor are the problems.   Those parts of Africa and Asia that are expanding require different attitudes, problems and solutions from parts of western Europe that are in danger of being swamped by secularism. 
Large numbers of Catholics in my own Peru only have Mass once or twice a year, and the danger is an anti-Catholic swarm of evangelical sects which have the advantage of home grown ministries and very adaptable structures. The one thing about the Catholic Church is not adaptable enough to regional or local situations. The present Catholic structure is completely inadequate in so many different areas of the Church.
 "Where the Eucharist is, there is the Church," and where Catholics have to live without the Eucharist, this leads to distortion.   The centrality of the Eucharist has to be recognised, and it is the  central issue in so many pastoral problems throughout the world.   Keeping the Eucharist at the centre means so many different things in different parts of the world and at different levels of Christian living..   The Eucharist is, by its very nature, an activity of the local church, even as it shows the local church's universal significance.   As solving the problems and removing the obstacles to its fruitful celebration take place in a variety of cultural and historical contexts, so there is a need for de-centralisation.  Catholic unity must become a "unity in diversity", and this is what the synods of Pope Francis are about.

  • This has nothing to do with "conservatives" against "liberals".  The problems are more profoundly theological than political; and the way to solve them is not by political wrangling, nor by the use of censorship to artificially sweep them under the cadrpet, but by continually transcending them in love through the celebration of the Eucharist.  The task is:
  • a. Firstly, real differences must be brought out into the open.
  • b.  Then the basic principles by which Catholic teaching can be recognised must be acknowledged by all, even if one group may not agree that its opponents' views adequately do justice to these principles.
  • c.   Then, through living "with Peter and under Peter"  within the context of "ecclesial love", this being the fruit of our celebration of and communion in the one Eucharist, wherever we are, we may live fully Catholic lives while always praying that Catholic unity will become ever stronger..
  • d.  All this argues for the ability of the local  and regional Church to make decisions based on their situation.   To adequately cope with the complexity of the modern world the Church needs to de-centralise.

Of course there is a difference between the synods of Pope Francis and those that took place before.   They are designed to help bring about changes in the Church that are implicit in the documents of Vatican II. Basically, they are designed to change the outward appearance of the Church that tried to be as uniform as possible to making the Church a "unity in diversity", a Church in which the diverse many become one in Christ, in which diversity enriches the unity without losing its own particular gifts, in which the unity complements and transfigures all that is particular because it's source is nothing less than Christ himself.

An Orthodox priest, Father Georges Massouh, has written on authority:
The great Peter and Paul differed, but neither hurled anathemas or excommunicated the other. Rather, they both listened to each other’s criticisms with great humility and they compromised where compromise was necessary in order to preserve the unity of the growing Church. Their concern was to preach  Jesus Christ, not their own ideas.
Peter and Paul are together the model of the unity of the Church, based on the principle of diversity and respect for individuality. The condition for unity is diversity and the condition for diversity is unity. Christian dogma is based in principle on faith in the Most Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit: one God. Thus, there can be no correct theology without affirming “diversity in unity” and “unity in diversity”. Divine unity does not eliminate the particularity that distinguishes the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Likewise, diversity does not mean individualism, exclusivity, or the absence of creative relationships.
If you understand that, you understand Pope Francis' synods; if you agree with Father Georges, you agree, at least in principal with Pope Francis' synods.

Not Enough Celibate Priests? Make Way For Married Priests
my source: Chiesa ExpressoThis is the remedy being considered by Cardinal Hummes and Pope Francis for regions with a scarcity of clergy, starting with the Amazon. But there were also few missionaries in 17th-century China, and yet the Church flourished. It’s all in “La Civiltà Cattolica” 

by Sandro Magister

ROME, September 21, 2016 – Pope Francis received in audience a few days ago the Brazilian cardinal Cláudio Hummes, accompanied by the archbishop of Natal, Jaime Vieira Rocha.

Hummes, 82, former archbishop of São Paulo and prefect of the Vatican congregation for the clergy, is today the president both of the commission for the Amazon of the episcopal conference of Brazil and of the Pan-Amazonian Network that joins together 25 cardinals and bishops of the surrounding countryside, in addition to indigenous representatives of different local ethnicities.

And in this capacity he supports, among others, the proposal to make up for the scarcity of celibate priests in immense areas like the Amazon by also conferring sacred ordination upon “viri probati,” meaning men of proven virtue, married.

The news of the audience therefore gave the idea that Pope Francis had discussed this very question with Hummes, and in particular an “ad hoc” synod of the 38 dioceses of the Amazon, which is effectively in an advanced phase of preparation.

Not only that. There is renewed vigor behind the rumor that Jorge Mario Bergoglio wants to assign to the next worldwide synod of bishops, scheduled for 2018, precisely the question of ordained ministers, bishops, priests, deacons, including the ordination of married men.

The hypothesis had already been addressed following the twofold synod on the family:

> The Next Synod Is Already in the Works. On Married Priests (9.12.2015)

It had made rapid strides forward:

> Married Priests. The Germany-Brazil Axis (12.1.2016)

And now it seems to be gaining ground. Curiously, shortly before the pope received Hummes, Andrea Grillo - an ultra-Bergoglian theologian, professor at the pontifical atheneum of St. Anselm, whose contributions have been systematically relaunched and emphasized by the para-Vatican website “Il Sismografo” - had even forecast in detail the theme of the next synod on “the ordained ministry in the Church,” divided into these three sub-themes:

- the collegial exercise of the episcopacy and the restitution to the bishop of full authority over the diocesan liturgy;
- the formation of presbyters, with the rethinking of the Tridentine form of the seminary and the possibility of ordaining married men;
- the theology of the diaconate and the possibility of a female diaconate.

The authority to whom Grillo and all the clerical and lay reformers invariably refer in formulating this and other proposals is the deceased cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, with his bombshell talk at the 1999 synod.

The archbishop of Milan at the time, a Jesuit and the undisputed leader of the “liberal” wing of the hierarchy, he said that he “had a dream”: that of “an experience of universal encounter among the bishops that would serve to untie some of those disciplinary and doctrinal knots which periodically reappear as hot topics in the journey of the European Churches, and not only European.”

And here are the “knots” he listed:

“I think in general of the explorations and developments of the ecclesiology of communion of Vatican II. I think of some already dramatic situations of a lack of ordained ministers and of the growing difficulty for a bishop of providing for the care of souls in his territory with a sufficient number of ministers of the Gospel and of the Eucharist. I think of some issues concerning the position of woman in society and in the Church, the participation of the laity in some ministerial responsibilities, sexuality, the discipline of marriage, penitential practice, relations with the sister Churches of Orthodoxy and more in general the need to revive ecumenical hope, I think of the relationship between democracies and values and between civil laws and the moral law.”

Of the Martinian agenda, the two synods convened so far by Pope Francis have discussed “the discipline of marriage” and “the Catholic vision of sexuality.”

And the new synod could indeed resolve “the shortage of ordained ministers” by opening the way for the ordination of married men and of women as deacons, this last point having been already been put into the works by Pope Francis with the appointment last August 2 of a study commission:

> Francis and the Women. Homilies No, Diaconate More No Than Yes


The main argument brought forth in support of the ordination of married men is the same as the one enunciated by Cardinal Martini: “the growing difficulty for a bishop of providing for the care of souls in his territory with a sufficient number of ministers of the Gospel and of the Eucharist”

The Amazon would be one of these immense “territories” in which the few celibate priests present are capable of reaching remote groups of faithful no more than two or three times a year. Therefore with grave harm - it is maintained - to the “care of souls.”

It must be said, however, that such a situation is by no means exclusive to the present day. It has characterized the life of the Church in various centuries and in the most diverse areas.

Not only that. The scarcity of priests has not always led to harm for the “care of souls.” On the contrary, in some cases it has even coincided with a blossoming of Christian life. Without anyone getting the idea to ordain married men.

This is what happened, for example, in the China of the 17th century. An account of this is presented in the September 10 issue of “La Civiltà Cattolica,” with an erudite article by the Jesuit sinologist Nicolas Standaert, a professor at the Catholic University of Louvain, and therefore an irreproachable source, seeing the very close, statutory relationship that the magazine has with the popes and with the current one in particular, who personally follows its composition in agreement with the director of the magazine, the Jesuit Antonio Spadaro:

> Grandi personaggi della Chiesa primitiva in Cina. Il ruolo delle comunità cristiane

In the 17th century in China, the Christians were few and dispersed. Standaert writes:

“When Matteo Ricci died in Peking in 1610, after thirty years of mission, there were about 2,500 Chinese Christians. In 1665, there were probably about 80,000 Chinese Christians, and around 1700 there were about 200,000, which was still a small number compared with the whole population, between 150 and 200 million inhabitants.”

And there were also very few priests:

“At the death of Matteo Ricci, there were only 16 Jesuits in all of China: eight Chinese brothers and eight European fathers. With the arrival of the Franciscans and Dominicans, around 1630, and with a slight increase in the Jesuits during the same period, the number of foreign missionaries came to more than 30, and remained constant between 30 and 40 over the span of the next thirty years. Afterward there was an increase, reaching a peak of about 140 between 1701 and 1705. But then because of the controversy over rites, the number of missionaries fell by about half.”

As a result, the ordinary Christian met with the priest no more than “once or twice a year.” And during the few days over which the visit lasted, the priest “conversed with the leaders and with the faithful, received information from the community, cared for sick persons and catechumens. He heard confessions, celebrated the Eucharist, preached, baptized.”

Then the priest disappeared for many months. And yet the communities held together. On top of  that, Standaert concludes, “they turned into small but solid centers of transmission of Christian faith and practice.”

The following are the details of that fascinating adventure for the Church, as reported in “La Civiltà Cattolica.”

Without any reflection on the need to ordain married men.


“The missionary came once or twice a year”

by Nicolas Standaert, S.J.

from "La Civiltà Cattolica" no. 3989 of September 10, 2016

In the 17th century, Chinese Christians were not organized in parishes, meaning geographical areas around a church building, but rather in “associations,” headed by laymen. Some of them were a combination of Chinese-stye associations and of Marian congregations of European inspiration.

It appears that such Christian associations were very widespread. For example, around 1665 there were about 140 congregations in Shanghai, while there were more than 400 congregations of Christians in all of China, in both the big cities and the villages.

The settling in of Christianity at this local level took place under the form of what can be called “communities of efficacious rituals,” groups of Christians whose lives were organized around particular rituals (Mass, feasts, confessions etc.). These were “efficacious” both in the sense that they built up a group and in the sense that they were considered by the members of the group as capable of bringing meaning and salvation.

The efficacious rituals were structured on the basis of the Christian liturgical calendar, which included not only the main liturgical feasts (Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, etc.), but also celebrations of the saints. The introduction of Sunday and of the Christian feasts made it so that the people lived according to a rhythm different from the liturgical calendar used in the Buddhist or Taoist communities. The most evident rituals were the sacraments, especially the celebration of the Eucharist and confession. But communal prayer - above all the recitation of the rosary and the litanies - and fasting on certain days constituted the most important ritual moments.

These Christian communities also reveal some essential characteristics of Chinese religious devotion: communities that are very oriented toward the laity and have lay leaders; the important role of women as transmitters of rituals and traditions within the family; a conception of the priesthood oriented to service (itinerant priests, present only on the occasion of important feasts and celebrations); a doctrine expressed in a simple way (recited prayers, clear and simple moral principles); a faith in the transforming power of rituals.

Little by little, the communities came to function in an autonomous manner. An itinerant priest (initially a foreigner, but in the 18th century mainly Chinese priests) was accustomed to visit them once or twice a year. Normally the leaders of the communities gathered the various members once a week and presided over prayers, which most of the members of the community knew by heart. They also read sacred texts and organized religious instruction. They often held separate gatherings for the women. Moreover, there were itinerant catechists who instructed the children, the catechumens, and the neophytes. In the absence of a priest, local leaders administered baptism.

During his annual visit of a few days, the missionary conversed with the leaders and with the faithful, received information from the community, cared for sick persons and catechumens, etc. He heard confessions, celebrated the Eucharist, preached, baptized, and prayed with the community. After his departure, the community continued its usual practice of reciting the rosary and the litanies.

The ordinary Christian therefore saw a missionary once or twice a year. The true center of Christian life was not the missionary, but the community itself, with its leaders and catechists as the main connecting link.

Above all in the 18th and at the beginning of the 19th century these communities turned into small but solid centers of transmission of Christian faith and practice. Because of the absence of missionaries and priests, the members of the community - for example, the catechists, the virgins and other lay guides - took control of everything, from financial administration to ritual practices, including the leading of sung prayers and the administration of baptisms.


English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.

No comments:

Search This Blog

La Virgen de Guadalupe

La Virgen de Guadalupe


My Blog List

Fr David Bird

Fr David Bird
Me on a good day

Blog Archive