Catholicism

Stephen Schneck 08-02-2013

Francis—refreshingly candid and seemingly repelled by the perks of the papacy—offers new hope for the Catholic Church and beyond.

Photo by Paul Haring/Catholic News Service

Pope Francis addresses journalists on his flight from Rio de Janeiro to Rome July 29. Photo by Paul Haring/Catholic News Service

With his open and easygoing manner, Pope Francis charmed the media as much as the faithful during his successful visit to Brazil, the first international pilgrimage of his pontificate.

But it was the pope’s remarks about gay priests, made during a free-wheeling press conference on the return trip to Rome, that drew the most headlines, raising questions about whether the pontiff was signaling a change in the church’s approach to this volatile issue.

When asked by reporters about rumors of a “gay lobby” of clergy in the Vatican who were exposing the Holy See to blackmail schemes and scandal, Francis at first joked that while there’s a lot of talk about such a lobby, “I have yet to find on a Vatican identity card the word ‘gay.’”

Then, in a more serious vein, he added:

“I think that when we encounter a gay person, we must make the distinction between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of a lobby, because lobbies are not good. … If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge that person?”

Photo courtesy RNS.

Rev. Patrick McCollum attends a spiritual gathering in the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, India. Photo courtesy RNS.

Is calling someone a “pagan” a bad thing or a badge of honor? Do we even know what the term means?

Those questions were prompted by a recent speech by Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput in which he lamented the decline of faith and morals in the modern world. “Even many self-described Christians,” he declared, “are in fact pagan.”

And it doesn’t sound like he meant that as a compliment.

Mark Silk 06-18-2013
Photo courtesy Pan Xunbin/Shutterstock.com.

Freedom and peace abstract concept background. Photo courtesy Pan Xunbin/Shutterstock.com.

We all know that when it comes to the acceptance of LGBT folks, religions differ. But what the religions communicate, and how the people in the pews actually feel, are not the same.

In a word, the rank and file tend to be more accepting than the leadership. What’s striking is how much this LGBT Gap varies from religion to religion, and we can get some idea of the variance from Pew’s new survey of LGBT Americans.

As the measure of institutional messaging, we will use the percentages of LGBT people who say a given religion is unfriendly to them. These range from 84, 83, 79, and 73 percent for Islam, Mormonism, Catholicism, and Evangelicalism to 47 and 44 percent for Judaism and Mainline Protestantism. Then there is the proportion of members of each religion who believe that “homosexuality should be discouraged by society.” That’s 45, 65, 20, and 59 percent for the first four groups; 15 and 26 percent for the last two.

Photo courtesy RNS/Globe photos.

Dolores Hart and Elvis Presley in “Loving You.” Photo courtesy RNS/Globe photos.

The way fans reacted to Dolores Hart’s decision to become a cloistered nun, you might have thought the movie star had announced her intention to kill herself.

Even close friends and family could not fathom why this Grace Kelly look-alike, who gave Elvis his first on-screen kiss and had her pick of acting jobs, would stow herself away in a nunnery for the rest of her life.

As if to test her resolve in those weeks before she left Hollywood, Universal Studios offered her a role opposite Marlon Brando, a role she turned down shortly after she broke off her engagement to Don Robinson, a kind and handsome businessman who loved her intensely.

RNS photo courtesy Graphic News.

RNS photo courtesy Graphic News.

Is Pope Francis endorsing heresy?

It might look that way from the eye-catching headlines this week that made it appear everyone was bound for heaven — “even atheists!” — thanks to Jesus’ death on the cross.

The passage that prompted the reports came from Francis’ brief homily at the informal morning Mass that he celebrates in the chapel at the Vatican guesthouse.

Speaking on Wednesday, Francis said that as human beings created in the image of God, everyone has a “duty to do good.”

“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists,” he said, answering his own query. “Everyone! And this blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the blood of Christ has redeemed us all!”

Cue the jaw dropping and head scratching. Atheists were pleasantly surprised, conservative Catholics were dazed and confused, and the pope’s comments raced around the Internet; for a while they were the second-most shared piece on Reddit.

So was Francis preaching a form of “universalism?" That is the unorthodox teaching that says, essentially, that all faiths are equal and all are going to heaven, especially if you are nice to people here on earth. It’s also a heresy that Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, spent a career quashing every time he thought he thought he spied a hint of it in some theologian’s writings.

Tibor Balogh / Shutterstock

Cross, Church and Sunrise. Tibor Balogh / Shutterstock

Pope Francis is warning Catholics not to demonize those who are not members of the church, and he specifically defended atheists, saying that building walls against non-Catholics leads to “killing in the name of God.”

“(T)his ‘closing off’ that imagines that those outside, everyone, cannot do good is a wall that leads to war and also to what some people throughout history have conceived of: killing in the name of God,” Francis said Wednesday in remarks at the informal morning Mass that he celebrates in the chapel at the Vatican guesthouse where he lives.

“And that, simply, is blasphemy. To say that you can kill in the name of God is blasphemy.”

Francis explained that doing good is not a matter of faith: “It is a duty, it is an identity card that our Father has given to all of us, because he has made us in his image and likeness.”

Paresh Dave 05-21-2013
Photo by Paresh Dave

A Patrician cross, Ireland’s dominant religious symbols, marks a burial at Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery. Photo by Paresh Dave

DUBLIN — Patricia Wojnar left a 32-year career in interior design to pursue a degree that wasn’t in demand: a master’s in bereavement studies.

Having seen four family members die early, she wanted to understand how to adapt.

As it turned out, the degree perfectly prepared her to enter one of Ireland’s emerging professions.

Wojnar is now a registered civil celebrant, presiding over funerals and weddings for people who refuse to associate with Ireland’s scandal-tarred Roman Catholic Church. She’s not alone; many newly minted civil celebrants are starting their own businesses as part of Ireland’s “post-Catholic” economy.

Although many observers have noted the impact of secularization and child abuse scandals on church membership and finances, only now are the Irish seeing the cultural and socioeconomic reverberations. These include a class of people willing to observe life’s most significant milestones outside the church.

Alessandro Speciale 05-13-2013

 

VATICAN CITY — Gains in Asia and Africa are making up for losses in Europe among the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, according to Vatican statistics released Monday, signaling a shift of the church’s center of gravity toward the Global South that was heralded by the election of the first Latin American pope.

Data published in the 2013 Statistical Yearbook of the Church also show that while the number of priests in the Americas and in Europe is declining compared to the overall Catholic population, those losses were offset by increasing ranks of permanent deacons.

There are now about 41,000 permanent deacons worldwide, a 40 percent increase over the past decade. The vast majority of them — 97.4 percent — live in the Americas or in Europe.

Ann Marie Somma 04-29-2013
RNS photo by Ann Marie Somma/Hartford Faith & Values.

The new confessional at St. Mary the Immaculate Conception Church, RNS photo by Ann Marie Somma/Hartford Faith & Values.

DERBY, Conn. — The Rev. Janusz Kukulka can’t say for sure that his parishioners are sinning more, but they sure are lining up at the new confessional booth to tell him about it.

For years, Kukulka, was content with absolving sins in a private room marked by an exit sign to the right of the altar St. Mary the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church.

But something happened during Lent this year. For the first time, Kukulka really noticed the two confessionals missing from the rear of his church. They’d been gone for four decades, ripped out during the 1970s to make room for air conditioning units during a renovation inspired by the Second Vatican Council.

They must have been a thing of beauty, Kukulka thought. He imagined their dark oak paneled doors and arched moldings to match the Gothic architecture of the church designed by renowned 19th-century architect Patrick Keely.

Their absence was striking, especially when the Archdiocese of Hartford had asked parishes to extend their confession hours during Lent, part of a public relations campaign to get Catholics to return to the sacrament of reconciliation.

So, one Sunday Kukulka announced his desire to the congregation. “I told them I wanted a visible confessional,” he said.

He got one within a week.

Tim Townsend 04-25-2013

Marty Scrima (left) and Jim Wedick are members of the Holy Infant Catholic Church evangelization team in MO. Photo courtesy RNS.

On a recent rainy Saturday, about 125 Catholics packed a basement conference room, many of them older, most of them lay people. Many were representing their parishes.

They gathered here to learn how to spread the faith, a concept that is both fundamental to Christianity and nearly foreign to modern Roman Catholics.

For the first hour of the conference, Kenneth Livengood, a parishioner at Holy Trinity Parish in St. Ann, Mo., detailed one way — door-to-door evangelization, a missionary strategy more familiar to Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Charles Austin 04-23-2013
Photo by Paul Kolnik/courtesy The Testament of Mary production

iona Shaw in a scene from The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín. Photo by Paul Kolnik/courtesy The Testament of Mary production

How far can one go in retelling a Bible story, adding things that are not in the original? In The Testament of Mary, Colm Toibin goes a long way.

His 2012 book is now a Broadway play presenting a view of the mother of Jesus so different from pious tradition that it angers some Christians, creating a “new,” intellectually and spiritually challenging Virgin Mary.

Yet in the end, Toibin’s searingly human Mary may be ultimately more accessible than the Mary of porcelain perfection set high on a pedestal.

The Irish writer, who has written about his strong Catholic childhood, imagines Mary 30 years after the crucifixion of her son. She lives as a virtual prisoner of two of Jesus’ disciples, still mourning her son’s death, bitter at what has happened since, and seeking consolation from pagan idols, which make more sense to her than what happened to Jesus.

Sarah Parvini 03-27-2013
RNS photo by Sarah Parvini.

Ruth Bowie and her husband Michael (pictured here with their son Dougie). RNS photo by Sarah Parvini.

DUBLIN, Ireland — Ruth Bowie was in the throes of grief when she found out she would never know her unborn child. At the 12-week mark, a pregnancy scan showed the baby had anencephaly, a fatal condition in which a portion of the brain and skull never form.

Bowie, 34, a pediatric nurse, knew the implications of the birth defect even before the doctor explained. But the life-changing news didn’t stop there.

“The doctors said we will continue to look after you, or else you can choose to travel,” she recalled.

Put another way, if she and her husband wanted to seek an abortion, they would have to travel to England to end the pregnancy.

Min-Ah Cho 03-14-2013

From Willow Creek to Sacred Heart: Rekindling My Love for Catholicism. Ave Maria Press

Benedict Varnum 03-14-2013
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

A man sells newspapers outside St Peter's Square on Thursday morning. Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

When I heard about the white smoke on Wednesday, I wrote on my Facebook wall: “Habent Papum.”  My own church doesn’t use Latin, so I had to use Google translate to figure out how to change the “We have a pope” of “Habemus Papam” into “They have a pope.” I got a few good laughs for my cleverness before a Catholic friend humbly reminded me that it wasn’t just their pope, and that I’d have to deal with him too ... he has no idea how prophetic his words have turned out to be.

You see, I didn’t expect to tune in at all to the election of the pope. I was raised in the Catholic Church and received its early sacraments before my family joined the Episcopal Church (my father’s tradition). I spent plenty of time in high school and after defending its practices and traditions against atheists and Protestant friends and colleagues, and I more than made up for that by pressing hard on my Catholic friends on the nuances I didn’t understand. But mostly I only paid attention when the Catholic Church said something publicly or took a political stand on an issue I cared about.

But on Wednesday, the white smoke got in my eyes, and rather than confusing my sight, it’s made things a little clearer.

Jim Wallis 03-14-2013
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Newly elected Pope Francis waves to the St. Peter's Square crowd. Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Francis. Pope Francis. This could be good news for the Catholic Church, for the whole church, and for the world. Let’s hope and pray so.

Jorge Bergoglio, the Argentinian cardinal from Buenos Aires, will be the first pope from Latin America and the first outside of Europe in a millennium. That’s good news from the start. And the world is now learning about the 76-year-old new pontiff whose election caused the white smoke to rise in the night skies of Rome to the cheers of tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square. A Jesuit scholar, he seems to be a humble man who lives simply, choosing to live in a small apartment instead of the archbishop’s palace, and travel on buses and trams instead of in the church limousine.

Will simplicity and social justice become the witness of the Roman Catholic Church around the world — and will it emanate from the first pope from the Global South, which is clearly the growing future of the church? What good news that would be.

Alessandro Speciale 03-12-2013
RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

A view of St. Peter’s square on the first day of the conclave. RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

VATICAN CITY — Black smoke from the chimney atop the Sistine Chapel signaled that the first day of the conclave ended without the election of a new pope.

Even if the first-round outcome was largely expected, thousands of people on Tuesday braved the inclement Roman weather to wait for the result of the vote. They slowly filled up St. Peter’s Square as the evening progressed, with their eyes fixed on the small chimney.

Cries of disappointment erupted from the crowd when the black smoke appeared instead of the white smoke that would herald a successful election.

Alessandro Speciale 03-12-2013
 Franco Origlia/Getty Images

Cardinals attend the Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice Mass at St Peter's Basilica Tuesday. Franco Origlia/Getty Images

VATICAN CITY — The doors of the Sistine Chapel closed behind the cardinals on Tuesday, marking the official start of the conclave that will elect the successor to Pope Benedict XVI.

The 115 cardinal-electors walked in procession into the Sistine Chapel, singing hymns and invoking the Holy Spirit, before filing under Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment” and taking a solemn oath of secrecy on everything that will happen during the conclave.

At the end of the oath-taking ceremony, the master of papal ceremonies, the Rev. Guido Marini, ordered the “extra omnes” (Latin for “everybody out”).

Cardinals will be sequestered inside a Vatican residence until a candidate receives the two-thirds majority needed for election to the papacy.

Duane Shank 03-12-2013
Franco Origlia/Getty Images

Cardinal Angelo Scola attends the Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice Mass on Tuesday. Franco Origlia/Getty Images

As the College of Cardinals begins its conclave today in Rome to select the next Pope, I find myself intensely interested in the outcome. Since I am an Anabaptist, a child of the “radical” Reformation, I’ve spent some time reflecting on why that is so.

First, the Roman Catholic Church is an unbroken link to the first century Roman church for all Christians, no matter our denomination. Before the so-called “Great Schism” between the eastern and western church in 1054, the Christian church led from Rome was THE primary Christian church. No matter if we are Eastern or Western Christians, no matter how Protestant or Anabaptist some of us are, the Church of Rome is still in some way our Mother church.

Second, it remains the largest Christian tradition in the world.

RNS photo by David Gibson

A poster of Pope Benedict XVI on the streets of Rome. The conclave will begin on Tuesday. RNS photo by David Gibson

VATICAN CITY — Amid all of the prognosticating about who the cardinals could choose as the next pope in the conclave that starts here on Tuesday, one reliable thread has emerged: the desire to elect a pontiff who can be a pastor to the world as well as a taskmaster to the Roman Curia.

Finding such a combination in a single man, of course, may prove difficult if not impossible, which adds to the almost unprecedented level of uncertainty surrounding this papal election.

So if anything is possible, some say it might be better to reverse the prevailing wisdom — look for a pope who will talk tough to Catholics (and the world) while shepherding the Curia with a firm hand in order to better police the wayward.

The prospect might appall progressives and others who were happy to see the end of Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy, but it has enough appeal to conservatives that they are trying to make the case.

One reason for their sense of urgency is that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger turned out to be more of a papal pussycat as Benedict XVI than the watchdog of orthodoxy that he had been for decades while serving under John Paul II.

Is now the time for a pope who could be more of a Ratzinger than a Benedict?

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