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Catholic Bishops Call for Immigration Reform

Bishop Gerald Kicanas of distributes communion in Arizona. Creative Commons image by Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston/RNS

The nation’s Catholic bishops are jumping into the increasingly contentious battle over immigration reform by backing President Obama’s pledge to act on his own to fix what one bishop called “this broken and immoral system” before Republicans assume control of Capitol Hill in January.

In an unscheduled address Nov. 11 at the hierarchy’s annual meeting, Seattle Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, chairman of the migration committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the USCCB would continue to work with both parties to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

But, Elizondo said, given the urgency of the immigration crisis and the electoral gains by Republicans who have thwarted earlier reform efforts, “it would be derelict not to support administrative actions … which would provide immigrants and their families legal protection.”

“We are not guided by the latest headlines but by the human tragedies that we see every day in our parishes and programs, where families are torn apart by enforcement actions especially,” he said.

During the summer, the president was moving toward unilateral action on immigration, despite warnings that such moves could exceed his constitutional authority or would turn voters against reform.

Then in early September, Obama said he would delay acting on his own, a move that was seen as a way to protect vulnerable Democrats from any backlash in midterm elections. On Sunday, Obama told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that he was now “going to do what I can do through executive action.”

“It’s not going to be everything that needs to get done. And it will take time to put that in place,” he said.

Pope Francis Launches New Panel to Speed Up Abuse Cases

Photo via Cathleen Falsani/RNS

Pope Francis on Nov. 11 created a new Vatican body to deal with the most serious cases of child sexual abuse and to streamline complaints against the clergy.

The Vatican said the pope would nominate seven cardinals or bishops to consider appeals from clergy accused of abusing minors in a bid to speed up the judicial process of clergy who have received an initial assessment by local bishops.

The members of the panel, or “college,” may come from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which currently handles cases, or elsewhere in the church. Members will also be asked to deal with serious abuses of penance in the confessional.

The Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, called the pope’s proposal a “good solution” to help alleviate a backlog of cases.

Bishops accused of sexually abusing minors will still have their appeals handled by a session of CDF members at their monthly meetings.

“This is a good sign Francis is giving: He is basically saying that the CDF remains competent, and gives them an extra instrument to promptly deal with a specific type of appeals against decisions, namely recourses against administrative decrees,” said Kurt Martens, a canon law expert at Catholic University in Washington.

The immediate changes were outlined in a papal rescript, or “Rescriptum,” signed by the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and printed in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s official newspaper.

The pope has adopted a hard line on clerical sex abuse and at times asked for forgiveness while lambasting church leaders more than once for protecting abusers.

U.S. Catholic Bishops Grapple with Pope Francis’ Priorities

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz , left, and Msgr. Ronny E. Jenkins, right. Photo via Bob Roller/Catholic News Service/RNS.

With a controversial Vatican summit on family life just concluded and a papal visit to the U.S. expected in less than a year, the nation’s Catholic bishops on Nov. 10 began taking steps to adapt their agenda to the priorities Pope Francis set out — an emphasis on social justice and on creating a more welcoming church.

That change in focus has unsettled a number of American bishops who have been used to a hierarchy oriented more toward hot-button culture war issues like fighting abortion, gay marriage and the Obama administration’s contraception mandate.

The new shift was underscored by last month’s summit, called a synod, where many churchmen used unusually positive language in referring to gay people and cohabiting couples and others who do not always follow church teachings on family life.

In addition, the announcement Nov. 8  that Francis moved U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke, a vocal conservative and critic of the pope’s approach, out of his curial post, combined with the pope’s surprise choice of low-profile prelate Blase Cupich as archbishop of Chicago have upended long-standing assumptions about how the church operates.

The bishops “still haven’t fully processed what’s taking place right now,” said Rocco Palmo, who runs a popular Catholic website, Whispers in the Loggia.

Will Cardinal Raymond Burke's Demotion Enhance His Opposition to Pope Francis?

Photo via Cathy Lynn Grossman/RNS

In demoting American Cardinal Raymond Burke from his powerful perch at the Vatican, Pope Francis has sidelined an outspoken conservative agitator – for now.

The pope moved the feisty former archbishop of St. Louis from his role as head of the Vatican’s highest court to the largely ceremonial position of patron of the Knights of Malta on Nov. 8.

Francis has effectively exiled one of his loudest critics, but Burke’s supporters – and his opponents – warn that his position at the Catholic charity may actually give him more freedom to exercise greater influence and even rally opposition to papal reforms.

In other words, the stunning demotion may remake Burke into St. Raymond the Martyr, the patron saint of Catholic conservatives.

“His position as patron of the Knights of Malta is Rome-based and mostly ceremonial,” wrote Edward Pentin for the conservative National Catholic Register.

“He is nevertheless likely to continue and perhaps even step up his defense of the Church’s teaching in the face of continued efforts to radically alter pastoral practice in the run-up to next year’s second synod on the family.”

Burke is well-known for his uncompromising stance on abortion, homosexuality and the sanctity of marriage, and his passion for doctrine is matched only by his passion for the elegant finery of his office.

Pope Francis Suggests No-Cost Annulments in Divorce Cases

Pope Francis officiated at the weddings of 20 couples at St. Peter’s Basilica in September 2014. Photo via Cathleen Falsani/RNS

Pope Francis raised the prospect of no-cost marriage annulments on Nov. 5 after revealing he had dismissed a church official for selling annulments for thousands of dollars, which he called a “public scandal.”

The pontiff made the shocking disclosure as he was addressing canon lawyers at the Vatican for a course on marriage dissolution conducted by the Roman Rota, the church’s highest court.

“We have to be careful that the procedure does not become some kind of business,” the pope said. “There have been public scandals.”

“I had to dismiss a person from a tribunal some time ago who said: ‘Give me $10,000 and I’ll take care of both the civil and ecclesiastical procedures.’ Please, not this!”

Francis did not provide any more details about where or when the sacking occurred. He stressed the need for the church’s annulment procedures to be easier, faster and cheaper. He even suggested fees could be waived.

“When you attach economic interests to spiritual interests, it is not about God,” he said.

Pope Francis Has Conservatives Talking Schism. But a Split Is Easier Said Than Done

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat. Photo courtesy of Josh Haner/New York Times/RNS.

Many conservative Catholics have long viewed Pope Francis with suspicion thanks to his effort to shift the church’s focus away from a culture war agenda and toward a more welcoming approach and a greater emphasis on serving the poor.

But last month’s controversial Vatican summit on the modern family, with the push by Francis and his allies to translate that inclusive view into concrete policies on gays and divorced and remarried Catholics, for example, seems to have marked a tipping point, with some on the right raising the specter of a schism — a formal split that is viewed as the “nuclear option” for dissenters.

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, a Catholic and a conservative, crystallized the peril in an Oct. 25 column warning the pope not to “break the church” to promote his goals, saying that if Francis continues to alienate conservative Catholics it could lead to “a real schism.”

Douthat had raised the possibility of “an outright schism” earlier this year, as well, and his warnings have been echoed by a number of other church leaders and commentators. The anxiety on the right has also drawn increasing media speculation about the possibility of conservatives splintering off.

So is a schism, with its echoes of medieval debates and heretics burning at the stake, a realistic possibility? And can an independent Catholic church be successful in the modern world?

Cardinal Says Church Under Pope Francis Is a ‘Rudderless Ship’

Cardinal Raymond L. Burke. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy of Catholic News Service/RNS.

American Cardinal Raymond Burke, the feisty former archbishop of St. Louis who has emerged as the face of the opposition to Pope Francis’ reformist agenda, likened the Roman Catholic Church to “a ship without a rudder” in a fresh attack on the pope’s leadership.

In an interview with the Spanish Catholic weekly Vida Nueva, published Oct. 30, Burke insisted he was not speaking out against the pope personally but raising concern about his leadership.

“Many have expressed their concerns to me. At this very critical moment, there is a strong sense that the church is like a ship without a rudder,” Burke said.

“Now, it is more important than ever to examine our faith, have a healthy spiritual leader and give powerful witness to the faith.”

Burke is the current head of the Vatican’s highest court known as the Apostolic Signatura, but he said recently he is about to be demoted. There is speculation he will be made patron of the Order of Malta, a largely ceremonial post.

“I have all the respect for the Petrine ministry and I do not want to seem like I am speaking out against the pope,” he said in the interview. “I would like to be a master of the faith, with all my weaknesses, telling a truth that many currently perceive.”

“They are feeling a bit seasick because they feel the church’s ship has lost its way,” he added.

Now You Can Eat with Pope Francis … or At Least Cook His Favorite Dishes

Swiss guards proceed out of St. Peter’s Basilica on March 12, 2013, at the Vatican. RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini/RNS.

They say you can feast like a king, and now you can eat like a pope after a young chef from the Vatican’s Swiss Guards published a cookbook featuring the favorite recipes of Pope Francis and his predecessors.

David Geisser, 24, who joined the elite Vatican security corps only a month ago, released his book, titled “Buon Appetito,” in Rome on Oct. 21.

The cookbook includes recipes for Francis’ favorite dishes, such as empanadas; roast sirloin, known as “colita de cuadril”; and “dulce de leche,” a milk-based Argentinian dessert that began appearing on Vatican dining tables when the archbishop of Buenos Aires was elected pope last year.

But it also features one of St.  John Paul II’s favorite dishes, Polish pierogi, or stuffed dumplings, and Bavarian delicacies favored by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

7 Lessons from the Vatican’s Wild and Crazy Synod on the Family

Looking down over Piazza San Pietro in Vatican City. Photo via Banauke/shutterstock.com.

Pope Francis and senior Catholic leaders wrapped up their two-week Vatican summit on the challenges of modern family life on Oct. 19 without reaching a consensus on a number of hot-button topics. So where does that leave Francis’ papacy? And the church?

Here are seven takeaways:

1. Hard-liners won the battle

A midpoint status report on the debate among some 190 cardinals and bishops was described as a “pastoral earthquake” because of its unprecedented (for Catholic churchmen) language of welcome of and appreciation for gay people, as well as divorced-and-remarried Catholics and cohabiting couples.

The media tsunami over that apparent breakthrough panicked conservatives, who waged an intense public and private campaign to make sure none of that language — apparently favored by Francis himself — made it into the synod’s final report. They succeeded, and even the few watered-down paragraphs on gays and remarried Catholics did not reach the two-thirds threshold needed for formal passage.

Hard-liners claimed victory, and headlines spoke of Vatican “backtrack” and a “resounding defeat” for Francis that left his papacy “weakened.”

Change in Translation Epitomizes Bishops’ Debate Over Gays

Pope Francis and prelates attend the the Synod on the Family. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy of Catholic News Service/RNS.

The tug-of-war at the Vatican over calls for the Catholic Church to be more open to gays and cohabiting couples intensified Oct. 16 as conservative bishops sought to rein in or renounce draft language they feared might condone lifestyles not in accord with church teachings.

The lobbying at the two-week summit of church leaders — a synod on family life that is set to wrap up Saturday with a final report — was epitomized by the retranslation of a headline from “welcoming homosexual persons” to “providing for homosexual persons.”

In the text, the line “Are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities?” was changed to, “Are we capable of providing for these people, guaranteeing … them … a place of fellowship in our communities?”

The change in the English version was not made in the Italian original, where the term “accogliere,” which means “to welcome,” was kept.

The Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the first document was only a “transitory text” and suggested there were errors in translation.

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