Catholic Church

Vatican Synod's Language Games Will Have Real-Life Consequences

Image via Alessandro Bianchi / REUTERS / RNS

The overriding interest in the global meeting of Roman Catholic bishops that finishes here on Oct. 25 has centered on whether the churchmen will actually do anything in the end — as in vote to make changes in church doctrines or policies — or leave well enough alone.

In reality, the gathering of 270 bishops from around the world, called a synod, has no authority to legislate doctrinal or other changes, and wasn’t expected to try anything that bold anyway.

Its real purpose — thanks to reforms instituted by Pope Francis — is to discuss issues openly and frankly, and to advise the pontiff about what they think the church ought to do about the challenges facing families today, or, as is likely the case for this divided synod, to kick the hard questions upstairs for him to decide.

Women Fear Their Voices Will Be Sidelined in Catholic Synod's Final Report

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The rows of seats in the synod hall, where Catholic bishops are meeting to discuss family issues, are filled with bishops and cardinals — all male. To find any women, look to the back of the room.

The women’s distance from the heart of the synod hall reflects fears raised by women’s groups that their participation is a mere token on the Vatican’s part.

There are 270 bishops and cardinals participating in the synod and voting on its outcome. A number of other participants, including lay couples and representatives from other churches, have been invited to give their opinions but will not be able to make decisions on the final text. That includes more than two dozen women who have been called to present their views.

Clash of the Archbishops: Synod Dispute Between U.S. Senior Churchmen Goes Public

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The eight American bishops taking part in a Vatican summit on family life stay at a huge seminary built high on a hill overlooking St. Peter’s Basilica and the rest of the Eternal City.

It’s a lovely place with spacious apartments for each bishop and any amenity they might need.

But for all that, it may be getting a tad uncomfortable.

In the latest installment of an increasingly sharp exchange conducted via the media, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput on Oct. 19 rejected what he took as a swipe at him by Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl, also a member of the U.S. delegation at this gathering of global bishops.

African Bishops Play a Major Role, for First Time, at Contentious Vatican Summit

Image via Rosie Scammell / RNS

The morning prayer that starts each session of a major gathering of Catholic churchmen underway here is an important chance for the 270 cardinals and bishops from around the world to set a meditative tone for what are contentious debates about church teachings on sexuality and family life.

With Pope Francis leading the way, the prelates seated in a large Vatican lecture hall chant the traditional Latin prayers pausing near the end for a brief reflection on the day’s Scripture by one of the bishops at the meeting, known as a synod.

Yet even that moment of spiritual peace is not always a sanctuary from the tensions roiling the three-week meeting that ends Oct. 25.

N.J. Archbishop Sets Rules for Barring Catholics From Communion

Archbishop John J. Myers. Image via Paul Haring / Catholic News Service / RNS

Even as Pope Francis and Catholic leaders from around the world debate ways to make the Catholic Church more inclusive, Newark Archbishop John Myers has given his priests strict guidelines on refusing Communion to Catholics who, for example, support gay marriage or whose own marriage is not valid in the eyes of the church.

In the two-page memo, Myers also orders parishes and Catholic institutions not to host people or organizations that disagree with church teachings.

He says Catholics, “especially ministers and others who represent the Church, should not participate in or be present at religious events or events intended to endorse or support those who reject or ignore Church teaching and Canon Law.”

Next Year's Nobel? Meet the Priest Who Rescues Refugees from the Mediterranean

Mussie Zerai. Image via Alessandro Bianchi / REUTERS / RNS

A surge of migrant deaths in deadly voyages across the Mediterranean Sea has become a modern-day refugee crisis.

But the Rev. Mussie Zerai, a 40-year-old Roman Catholic priest from tiny Eritrea, north of Ethiopia, has moved to help migrants trapped in the North African deserts and rickety wooden boats drifting across the sea.

“It is my duty and moral obligation as a priest to help these people. For me it’s simple: Jesus said we must love one another as we love ourselves,” Zerai said in a telephone interview.

The little-known priest, now based in Rome and Switzerland, was among this year’s nominees for the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize, along with Pope Francis. (The prize, announced Friday, was awarded to the National Dialogue Quartet, which helped build a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia.)

Pope Francis Asks Forgiveness for Scandals at the Vatican, Rome

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Pope Francis on Oct. 14 asked forgiveness for a series of scandals that have befallen the Vatican and Rome.

Francis did not specify the scandalous events to which he was referring, although the departure of a gay cleric earlier this month may well have been on the pontiff’s mind.

“I ask you for forgiveness for the scandals that have occurred recently either in Rome or in the Vatican,” the pope said during his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square.

View of Catholic Church Improved After Pope Francis' Visit

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Pope Francis’ first U.S. visit gave his already-high favorability ratings only a modest bounce with most Americans — and no bounce at all among Catholics.

Yet his three-city September tour — from Congress to the United Nations and from cathedrals to a prison — generated significant goodwill toward the Catholic Church, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center.

Pew’s survey, conducted just days after the pope returned to Rome, was released Oct. 7 and offers a snapshot of his initial impact.

The top finding: “Four times as many U.S. adults say their opinion of the Catholic Church is better now because of Pope Francis as people who say their impression has gotten worse,” said Greg Smith, associate director of research and co-author of the report.

Women Hope Their Voices Are Heard at Bishops' Family Synod

Image via Rosie Scammell

Divorce, cohabitation, and gay relationships are just some of the issues up for discussion at the Vatican synod, which continues through Oct. 24. It follows a questionnaire consultation with Catholic groups after a meeting on family issues a year ago.

Some critics say that more women should have been included in the process. Only bishops can vote at a synod, but about 30 women have been invited as auditors.

Mary McAleese, former president of Ireland, said she was skeptical that any real change would come from the synod. “If I wanted expertise on the family, I honestly cannot say that the first thing that would come into my mind would be to call together 300 celibate males, who between them, that we know of, have never raised a child,” she said on Saturday, speaking at an event hosted by gay Catholics.

No Rest for a Weary Pope: Francis Now Faces a Bigger Test Than U.S. Trip

Image via Mary Altaffer / REUTERS / RNS

Pope Francis returned to Rome Sept. 28 after the longest and perhaps most challenging foreign journey of his pontificate: a trip that lasted 10 days and took him from the communist outpost of Cuba to the capitalist superpower of the U.S., where the popular pontiff faced some of his toughest critics — both inside and outside the church.

Now comes the hard part.

On Oct. 4 in the Vatican, Francis formally opens a three-week meeting of some 270 bishops from around the world who will discuss — or, more likely, argue vociferously about — church teachings on family life, a topic that encompasses hot-button questions about the church’s views on divorce, homosexuality, and cohabitation.

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