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Saturday, October 11, 2014


The excommunication of Martha Heizer and several other Catholic reform leaders in recent times is a sign of the growing dissatisfaction of Catholics with certain teachings and practices in the Church. Many Catholics have become frustrated with the suppression of dialogue on critical issues in the Church. Those who speak out are either ignored or side-lined, while those who publicly dissent are at risk of excommunication. WAACSA calls for an urgent opening up of dialogue in the universal Church and in local Churches, a decentralisation of responsibility, and an understanding of authority as service to others. No matter what means Catholics use to express their frustration, in the end everyone in the Church must listen respectfully to each other with conciliation rather than judgment in mind, if we are to be true to the spirit of Christ.

WAACSA has chosen to work for reform in the Church from within by promoting dialogue. WAACSA will continue to respect current teachings and practices in the Church while at the same time working to realise the goals of the Second Vatican Council

Brian Robertson
National Coordinator of We Are All Church South Africa
On behalf of the membership


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Pope Benedict xvii

One year ago, Pope Benedict XVI resigned. What a difference a year makes

Dennis Coday | Feb. 11, 2014


Cast your mind back to February 2013. Remember what was happening and how people felt. How you felt. The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI on Feb. 11, 2013, caught the world by surprise, but after the initial shock wore off, it didn't seem all that surprising.

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Friday, February 7, 2014

Family Questionnaire


02/03/2014 04:30 PM
The Pope's Sex Problem
Catholic Survey Reveals Frustrated Flock


The Vatican last year sent out a survey to Catholics around the world focusing on attitudes to sex and sexuality. The responses are now in -- and they show that the Church is badly in need of reform. Can Pope Francis meet such expectations?

Adolescents find it embarrassing to talk about sex with adults. Even more so when the adult in question is their Catholic priest.

About 20 girls and boys are sitting on leather sofas in the basement of St. Josef Catholic Community Center on the outskirts of Berlin. The walls are brightly painted and bags of gummy bears and chocolate are on a table in the center of the room.

Hannah, Jonas and their friends giggle when Harald Tux, a friendly, balding man with glasses, reads a questionnaire from the Vatican out loud. It's about premarital sex, and the officials in Rome want to know how these young Catholics in Berlin's Weissensee neighborhood feel about it. "Is contraception an option for you?" the theologian asks. The youths are already whispering, and they can't help but smile when Tux finally gets to the point: "If you used contraception, would you confess to it?"

"Huh?" a girl asks with a grimace. "It's not a crime," exclaims a boy in a hooded sweatshirt. They all snort with laughter.

The debate continues. "For our generation, it's also a question of responsibility. If you don't want to become a parent at 16 or 17, you have to use contraception," says Hannah. The 16-year-old and her fellow adolescents cite many other issues where they believe change is needed. "Homosexuals should also be allowed to marry, so that the church can be open to everyone," says Jonas. "The church doesn't have the right to interfere."

Last week, Germany's Catholic bishops held a two-day conference in the Bavarian city of Würzburg for the purpose of compiling and analyzing the responses given by Hannah, Jonas and other Catholics from all 27 dioceses in Germany. Their conclusions are bound for Rome. The project has likely led to more churchgoers expressing their opinions than ever before in 2,000-year history of the church.

In the past, the church has turned to its bishops to assess the mood in the grassroots, but their reports often contained more pious desires and wishful thinking than facts.

A Wave of Protest

But now the people of God have spoken. Church members around the world were asked for their opinions on the most controversial issues in Catholicism. They expressed how they feel about the strict prohibitions of their faith, on issues ranging from the family to sexual morality. In the coming weeks and months, their responses to the surveys will be processed and analyzed, and in October Pope Francis and bishops from around the world will discuss the results during an extraordinary synod.

SPIEGEL has taken a closer look at the mood in all 27 German dioceses. Some divulged very little information, while many others provided extensive data. Catholic family and youth organizations that were particularly involved in the survey also contributed.

The outcome is devastating for the guardians of pure doctrine. Even the reactions of committed Catholics reflect disinterest, enmity and deep displeasure. Many can no longer relate to the old dogmas and feel left alone by the church. Even in conservative Bavaria, 86 percent of Catholics do not believe it is a sin to use the pill or condoms, both condemned by the church.

A look into the congregations reveals that Rome could soon be facing a wave of protest unlike anything the Vatican has experienced in a long time.

For most Catholics, the deep divide between everyday reality and doctrine is not a recent phenomenon. But popes have shown little interest in this reality. Pope Benedict XVI, in particular, turned his back on modern life and insisted on upholding ancient dogmas.

Now the church is officially confirming its inner conflict, which creates the greatest challenge to Pope Francis in his young papacy. He must demonstrate whether he intends to heed the call of churchgoers and reform Catholicism, or stick to his amiable and extremely well-received, but ultimately ineffective gestures.

Changing Tone, Changing Substance?

In just a few weeks, on March 19, Jorge Mario Bergoglio will celebrate his first anniversary as pope. His modest behavior and surprising interviews have quickly turned the priest "from the end of the world" into a global star. Pope Francis, despite being 77, delivers his message with the enthusiasm of someone who has just fallen in love, using every channel at his disposal. He has taken such unconventional steps as donning a red clown's nose and eating meals with the poor of Assisi instead of his cardinals.

The man at the helm in St. Peter's Basilica is no longer a preoccupied professor but a PR genius. Bergoglio is following Ratzinger in much the same way US President Barack Obama followed his predecessor George W. Bush: as a man with an eye for the future, someone who promises to liberate people from the conservative doctrine of a controversial predecessor.

Or could it be that while the tone has changed at the Vatican, the substance remains unchanged? The Argentine pope has not eliminated or even softened a single dogma of his rigid church, even though he has the power to do so. As in the White House, it is near the end and not at the beginning of a term at the Vatican that a new pope demonstrates whether there is more to him that charisma and rhetoric -- and whether he can gain control over the machinery of his administration or become a pawn of the power-hungry elites surrounding him.

After almost a year, the period of getting to know the new pope is coming to an end. Now a factional dispute over the future of the church is taking place in the Vatican and within the branches of the world's largest religious community.

When it comes to the pope's position on sex, countless Catholics are eager to see more openness coming from their church, along with pastoral care that meets the demands of everyday life -- even as the Curia, with its hostile approach to change, defends old rules that often reflect the spirit of the Middle Ages rather than the New Testament.

In the middle of all this is an old man from Argentina who seems not to be entirely sure of what he can offer the base and what he can expect from his church hierarchy.

The way in which the survey came about is indicative of Bergoglio's struggles with his new flock. When his theologians wrote the questionnaire, it was under the assumption that the target audience would consist of bishops and other scholarly church leaders. The first of the 39 questions is already a challenge: "Describe how the Catholic Church's teachings on the value of the family contained in the Bible, Gaudium et spes, Familiaris consortio and other documents of the post-conciliar Magisterium is understood by people today?"

Information from the Grass Roots

In late October, the Vatican sent the document to the German Bishops' Conference and its sister organizations around the world, but without specifying who was supposed to answer the questions. Was a response from lay committees, such as diocesan councils, which steadfastly champion the views of many bishops, sufficient? Should pastors have their say? Or was the church truly interested in the opinions of all Catholics? "The consultation must gather information from the grass roots and not limit itself to the level of the Curia or other institutions," Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the Vatican's synod of bishops told the National Catholic Reporter last December. "Though involved in the process, they must cooperate by addressing themselves to the faithful, to communities, to associations and other bodies."

But after dispatching the survey, the church half-heartedly left it up to the dioceses to determine how to obtain the desired information.

The chairman of the German Bishops' Conference, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, simply passed the survey on, providing no further instructions on who was to respond to the Vatican survey.

Zollitsch proved to be more decisive on another, albeit very important issue. In a letter to German bishops written by his secretary, he noted: "Questions 1, 2, 5, 7 and 8 will be answered by the central office." To save time, existing church positions were to be used.

In fact, this meant that particularly issues were being withheld from churchgoers. For instance, the set of questions under item 5 relates to gay and lesbian couples, while question 7 concerns contraception and abortion.

This somewhat clumsy attempt at censorship might have worked in a world with no Internet. But when the English bishops, who are not as timid, abruptly placed the entire questionnaire online, Catholics in Germany simply took matters into their own hands.

Pastor Klaus Zedtwitz from the Archdiocese of Freiburg in southwestern Germany is a case in point. On the evening of Nov. 1, the 63-year-old was browsing through news sites on the Internet when he happened upon a surprising story. The pope, he read, had commissioned a survey on family doctrine that was directed at the faithful around the world. Zedtwitz was thrilled. He promptly downloaded and printed out the questionnaire, and on the following Sunday, he addressed the subject during his sermon to his congregation, Am Luisenpark, in the city of Mannheim.

But Zedtwitz found that the Latin-heavy verbiage of the document from Rome was far too complicated. How could he expect his congregants to understand that the Curia was interested in common-law marriages when it asked about people living together "ad experimentum?" The Mannheim pastor wrote a simpler version, dispensing with both the theological tone of the original and the Bishops' Conference attempts at censorship. "There is something shady" about simply excluding sensitive issues, says Zedtwitz. "Why shouldn't Catholics be allowed to comment on gay and lesbian relationships? The specifications of the Bishops' Conference were too narrow for my taste." In his view, laypeople are certainly capable of forming their own opinions.

The Pope's Sex ProblemWhich is exactly what they did. The pastor received 116 completed surveys from his congregation. "Terms like compassion, respect, love, openness and forbearance were used very often," he writes in his evaluation. Many condemned Catholic doctrine as being "out of touch with reality."

The papal survey quickly spread throughout Germany. Lay organizations jumped at the opportunity to finally make their opinions known. The German Catholic Youth Federation (BDKJ), for example, produced a simplified form of the survey, which was completed online by about 10,000 respondents.

If thepope and his bishops were still harboring any illusions about their influence on young Catholics, they have now been dashed. "The church's sexual morals are irrelevant to nine out of 10 young Catholics," reads the BDKJ summary. "Sex before marriage and birth control are a given in their intimate relationships."

And hardly anyone feels guilty about it. For their grandparents' generation, premarital sex was tantamount to living a life in sin. In sermons, Grandma and Grandpa were taught to feel "tainted" after taking sexual liberties. Today, according to the BDKJ, 96 percent of people who are in "sexual relationships" without having been married in the church have no qualms about it. Young Catholics simply do as they please, and yet they still participate in the sacraments.

"I believe that if God had not wanted us to have sex, he certainly wouldn't have made it as exciting," writes a 20-year-old survey respondent.

But young people aren't the only ones protesting. People from all age groups vented their displeasure to the dioceses. The level of response varied in different places, depending on how user-friendly church officials made the survey. In Bonn, for example, 2,217 Catholics completed an online survey. In Upper Bavaria, on the other hand, there were "apparently substantial gaps in the official flow of information," say Katharina Hänel of a local chapter of the Catholic Women's League of Germany. In fact, says Sabine Slawik, a fellow member of the League in the Diocese of Augsburg, a number of pastors didn't even pass on the survey to their congregations.

'Many Issues Were Ignored'

Despite the differences, there was widespread unanimity in the evaluation of the survey. Rarely has an institution received such low marks from its members. "Even though they are not representative, the survey results create and amplify the impression of an unfortunate, calamitous situation," says Cardinal Karl Lehmann, the bishop of Mainz. The 77-year-old has long been Germany's leading proponent of open-minded Catholicism. "Actually, we've known about this for a long time," says Lehmann, referring to the deep divide between churchgoers and the hierarchy, "but many issues were ignored."

His staff has written a 156-page report describing the mood in the Mainz diocese. It is a rare document of alienation, revealing how even well-meaning Catholics are at odds with their church, beginning with its language, which is perceived as an "imposition." After sermons, some parishioners complained: "As a Central European, one feels set back by at least 100 years." Others refused to allow the church to interfere in their family lives, especially by "people forced into celibacy, who secretly father children but are not allowed to marry."

A question that asked respondents about their knowledge of the doctrine of "Humanae vitae" was also the source of great confusion. "Ten out of 10 random respondents thought it referred to an invigorating body lotion," reads a questionnaire received at the diocese in Mainz. In fact, the term refers to an encyclical letter written by Paul VI in 1968, titled "On Human Life," which banned the use of contraceptives, causing a deep divide between the official church and the faithful.

Since then, the Vatican has repeatedly engaged in heated arguments with German Catholics on sexual morality. In 1998, for example, Rome asked Catholic churches in Germany to stop providing pregnancy conflict counseling, a demand that disappointed many church members and liberal bishops alike. Pope John Paul II relentlessly insisted on a ban on condoms. People who are divorced and remarry are marginalized, and homosexuals are discriminated against.

The hardliners within the official church have consistently prevailed in the past, but now they appear to be fighting a lost cause, as parishioners refuse to toe the line on central issues of sexuality.

The most contentious issue is the church's strict prohibition of contraception, which almost all Catholics ignore. "The overwhelming majority explain their decision-making on these issues by referring to their responsibility to their partners," reads an assessment by the Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart.

'Crass Terms'

The Vatican's notion that couples should only live together and have sex after marriage is equally outdated. Living together before marriage "is an unmistakable reality today," notes the Diocese of Augsburg. The same conclusions are drawn throughout the alphabet of dioceses, ending with Würzburg, where "about 90 percent of all couples practice cohabitation 'ad experimentum'."

Hardly anyone among the faithful understands how the various prohibitions are supposed to fit together. To begin with, couples are not supposed to have sex before marriage. Once they are married, they are not permitted to use birth control. And if the marriage fails, the church has other objections.

Many Catholics are especially incensed over the treatment of people who have been divorced and then remarried, which, according to the wording of the survey, places them in "irregular marriage situations" and excludes them from communion. One respondent writes: "I have been living in one of these 'irregular' situations for the last 14 years, but no one has ever described my situation in such crass terms as this questionnaire. I'm shocked." Another person writes: "In the more than 30 years of my being divorced then remarried, the church has never shown an interest in me, my problems or my doubts about my faith."

Another group the church accused of committing sins also enjoys considerable support from the base: homosexuals. "Many Christians cannot understand this attitude," the staff of Cologne's Cardinal Joachim Meisner concluded after reading the survey responses they received. In fact, Catholics in Cologne are all too familiar with their conservative archbishop's condemnation of gays and lesbians. Now Meisner can read about the consequences in the analysis prepared by his own priests, who conclude: "Many have already turned away from the church. And many are convinced that this is no longer acceptable."

Finally, many Christians took advantage of a unique opportunity to tell the pope how they felt about issues that were not even included in the survey. One is the vow of chastity for the clergy.

Peter Brandl, a pastor in Neunkirchen, in the Archdiocese of Bamberg, spent 10 days discussing the survey with members of his congregation. In the end, it was clear that his parish, St. Michael and St. Augustine, was not only demanding a new approach to remarried divorcees and same-sex couples. The parishioners also wanted to see the church do away with mandatory celibacy. "Everyone here agrees that it ought to be abolished," says Pastor Brandl. "It was very important to our parishioners to include this issue."

Unadulterated and Unadorned

The results of the survey are clear, from Neunkirchen to the St. Joseph Catholic Youth Group in Berlin. Now the question is whether a diagnosis so painful for the church will reach the pope in an undistorted form.

It's doubtful that it will. Some of the survey analyses by the bishops' staff members are filled with solemn prose. "Good and descriptive sermons should point out, once again, that the husband is the shepherd in the family, and that his duty is to be its spiritual leader," the Diocese of Augsburg wrote after surveying its base.

Lay representatives are alarmed. "We are calling upon the bishops to deliver the results of the surveys to Rome in unadulterated and unadorned form, as difficult as it may be for the bishops," says Christian Weisner, the national chairman of the "We are Church" movement.

The chairman of the BDKJ, Dirk Tänzler, also cautions church leaders "to ensure that the results they deliver to Rome are transparent." Elisabeth Bussmann, president of the Catholic Family Federation in Germany, says: "The survey unleashed a development that can no longer be stopped." And Alois Glück, head of the Central Committee of German Catholics, explains: "The survey was certainly hampered by methodological deficits. But the signal effect emanating from it is extremely important." He also perceives a strong discrepancy between church teachings and reality. "The key issue now is: What will Rome do with the results?"

That is precisely what the recipient of all of this information, Pope Francis, has yet to reveal.

At first glance, it seems that the pope has nothing to worry about. Millions of people have already flocked to his appearances, far more than those who came to see his predecessor, Benedict XVI.

His modest demeanor and often unconventional appearances have been the key to his popularity. Francis kisses the tattooed foot of a convict on live camera. He washes the feet of women, blacks and Muslims, to the dismay of many a cardinal. He embraces the disfigured Vinicio Riva, from Isola Vicentina, a suburb of Vicenza, dubbed the "wart man" by the tabloids, and pats his gnarled skin. He pays no attention to the footmen at the Vatican, preferring to carry his worn leather bag himself. During morning prayers, the Holy Father sits in the back rows of the Vatican chapel, like any other worshipper. And he drives himself to appointments in a used Ford Focus or a Fiat Idea.

'Papastroika'Each of these appearances feels like a calculated signal, a message carefully addressed to various regiments from the army of the disadvantaged. If he were a politician, one would say that he is appealing to previously neglected groups of voters.

"If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?," Francis said, seemingly with sympathy, when he was flying back to Rome after attending World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro. He also expressed empathy for divorced Catholics as he hovered above the clouds. "I believe we live in a time of mercy," he added. In his first apostolic exhortation, "Evangelii gaudium," the word "joy" appeared 48 times in the introduction alone.

The public has reacted with understandable delight. Shortly before Christmas, Time named Pope Francis its "Person of the Year."

But the public pays little attention when the Vatican -- even under Bergoglio's leadership -- energetically defends Catholic doctrine. The church's new leader has already sent the relevant signals to the Roman Catholic community. "I am a son of the church," he reassured the curia, when public expectations were running so high that the catechism seemed on the verge of suffering a fate similar to socialism.

Critics derisively refer to Pope Francis's approach as "Papastroika, as if he were opening the Church like Mikhail Gorbachev opened the Soviet Union. That, as we now know, ended in chaos. But it should be noted that, unlike Gorbachev, Francis has yet to modify or eliminate a single relevant rule or regulation in his realm.

"Fornication is carnal union between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman. It is gravely contrary to the dignity of persons," reads the Catholic catechism. "Moreover, it is a grave scandal when there is corruption of the young." Masturbation ("a gravely disordered action") is condemned, as are homosexual acts ("Under no circumstances can they be approved"). Divorce is considered especially egregious, even "immoral," because "it introduces disorder into the family and into society," and "because of its contagious effect," it is "truly a plague on society."

The man whose job it is to strictly monitor compliance with these rules is Gerhard Ludwig Müller, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican, known in the past as the Holy Roman Inquisition. Benedict XVI brought Müller, the then Bishop of Regensburg in southern Germany, to Rome in the summer of 2012. He had commended himself through his deeply conservative positions, as well as his unabashed handling of the critical media, which he likened to a "flock of hissing geese."

Creating Confusion

Francis could have transferred Müller to a less exposed and less influential position. Instead, he announced that Müller would be made a cardinal in February.

A division of labor modeled after American police dramas is emerging between the pope and Müller. As the "good cop," Francis greets ordinary sinners with a smile on his face, while "bad cop" Müller is sharply critical of every transgression. This is how it works in practice: The pontiff calls a divorced woman and comforts her, and it seems almost accidental that half the world finds out about it. Meanwhile, his prefect criticizes an initiative from the Archdiocese of Freiburg, which wanted to stop excluding people who have divorced and remarried from participating in communion. "If such people were admitted to the Eucharist, it would create confusion among the faithful with regard to the teachings of the church," Müller said, by way of reprimand to Freiburg Archbishop Zollitsch, the head of the German Bishops' Conference. Müller also published a treatise "On the Indissolubility of Marriage" in L'Osservatore Romano, the Holy See newspaper.

The most important factions in the Catholic Church still have eight months to prepare for the extraordinary bishops' synod in October, when the pope and his shepherds will discuss the recently completed family survey. Not just German bishops, but also bishops from Belgium to South Africa and New Zealand, had placed the survey online, so that the results are guaranteed to be colorful. In Rome, it will now be a question of who gains the upper hand: Reformers who want to update the catechism or hardliners like Müller, who are defending centuries-old tradition against the zeitgeist.

Francis knows that his church consists of many currents and factions. If he acts alone, he could quickly fail, which is why he has created a crown council of sorts, consisting of eight cardinals from around the world. The group, sometimes referred to as the "G8," is seen as a counterweight to the Curia. The pope's personal advisers are from countries like India, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Honduras, but the group also includes the Archbishop of Munich, Cardinal Reinhard Marx. The choice of cardinals from around the world is intended to ensure that more attention is paid to the concerns of Catholics worldwide at the Rome-centric Vatican.

The coordinator of the papal "G8" is Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, a colorful archbishop from Honduras, who has attracted attention for some of his pursuits, including flying helicopters, working as a psychotherapist and playing the piano. No one knows how much influence the international shadow cabinet already has, and to what extent it can shape church policy, especially in matters of sexual morality. Everything that has been discussed and developed within the panel has remained secret.

But Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga has revealed one thing: his deep distrust of Prefect Müller. "In his mentality, there is only right or wrong, that's it," Rodríguez Maradiaga said in an interview. "But I say: The world, my brother, isn't like that. You should be slightly flexible."

For now, Francis is keeping all options open. He has repeatedly demonstrated his respect for the conservative camp in his personnel decisions to date. He appointed a member of Opus Dei to his commission to reform the Vatican bank, for instance, while a member of the equally reactionary Legionaries of Christ was named general secretary of the Vatican state.

El Viejo

In a strategically shrewd move, Francis has emphasized inclusion of the supporters of Benedict XVI. He demonstratively embraced the former pope from the very beginning, referring to him as a relative living in his house. He speaks highly of his predecessor when possible, and he completed Benedict's unfinished encyclical, changing only a few words in the process. Francis has no desire to unnecessarily stylize himself as an antithesis to Benedict XVI, even though that is undoubtedly what he is.

The retired pope is the fixed star of the traditionalists in the Roman Catholic Church. His residence, the Mater Ecclesiae (Mother of the Church) monastery, is only a few steps from St. Peter's Basilica, set idyllically in the Vatican gardens. It forms the intellectual center of old Catholicism.

Joseph Ratzinger keeps the strict worldview of his era alive through his presence alone. Benedict was in poor health during the weeks following his resignation. He suffered from heart and circulatory ailments, was emaciated and weak and plagued by depression. Many in his circle were convinced that he was dying. But then he recovered.

His ideal of a spiritual church as an antithesis to a secularized, uninhibited society is very much alive. For the conservative establishment, Ratzinger continues to set the standard today.

Of course, the retired pontiff keeps a low profile when it comes to the public. "El Viejo," or "the old man," as his successor respectfully calls him, has held only one larger mass in the Vatican so far: for his former employees, doctoral candidates and students, a meeting of elderly gentlemen. The group of Benedict's former students had come together in late August for an annual conference. Benedict's sermon revolved around one of the new pope's favorite subjects: humility and modesty. It seems as if Benedict were making an effort not to unnecessarily provoke opposition to Francis.

The old elites are not as discreet. They are already turning up their noses because Francis, unlike his predecessors, doesn't want to sing or chant at mass. And they feel it is beneath the Holy Father's dignity to stick both thumbs into the air during a general audience, as if he were attending a football match.

Even more shocking to his detractors is the pope's choice of a residence, the Santa Maria guesthouse, where Bergoglio occupies Suite 201, a 90-square-meter (970-square-foot) apartment on the third floor, next door to his closest advisers. For the traditionalists, the new center of power, unlike the Apostolic Palace, is hardly better than a second-class hotel frequented by traveling salesmen. During lunch in the Santa Maria cafeteria, the pope sometimes spots an acquaintance, jumps up from his table, runs after the man and calls out: "Can I talk to you?" And when he does meet with one of these people, there are no appointments and no preliminary meetings, and no one is ever told about what was discussed. For some at the Vatican, this behavior is nothing short of outrageous, after centuries of strict protocol surrounding the lives of popes.

Overwhelming Public Expectations

So much unconventional behavior causes discomfort among longstanding members of the Vatican staff. But the dictate of the moment is to act as if none of this mattered. Even Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, 72, the head of social communications in the Curia, has taken to proudly reporting, in neo-Italian, how often the pope's words were "re-tweettati." The number of Bergoglio's Twitter followers has increased fivefold to more than 11 million. In the Latin version, the prince of the church addresses his "highly esteemed followers" as "Fautores dilecti."

Is this compatible with the traditional image of the earthly representative of Christ, who can proclaim eternal truths while speaking ex cathedra? Of course not, say the pope's critics in Italy, most notably the philosopher Mario Palmaro and his co-author, journalist Alessandro Gnocchi.

"We don't like this pope," they asserted in a commentary. They subsequently lost their jobs with a Catholic radio station as a result. But otherwise, as Gnocchi reports, their remarks were well received, even within the divided Curia.

Both authors deplore the tendency toward simplification and the softening of doctrine under Francis. They miss the justified rigor that had returned under Benedict XVI and, together with asceticism and prayer, protected against the siren songs of the world." In their verdict, Francis is someone who tells the masses what they want to hear and, regrettably, "the number of followers on Twitter is inversely proportional to the power and clarity of the message." According to Palmaro and Gnocchi, the pope is destroying the roots of the Catholic faith with qualifying statements on the inviolability of the marriage sacrament.

Their attack offers a foretaste of the power struggle of the coming months. "This pope is authentic. He knows what he wants and he carries through with it. It's obvious why people are grumbling in the Curia and elsewhere, because suddenly everyone can be asked what kind of expensive car he drives," says retired Curial Cardinal Walter Kasper, who has been asked to write a position paper on the sensitive family issue for the pope by the end of February. "What Francis says has nothing to do with relativism, but with realism. He is familiar with real life. He will not be able to completely change the Curia during his papacy, but he will manage to reform it. In the future, it should see itself more as a service provider."

That was what countless Catholics were hoping when they completed the surveys the pope sent out in October. A year of decisions is beginning for Francis and his church. Will the calls for attention from the basis be heard behind the thick walls of the Vatican? Can laypeople expect the church to change in accordance with their wishes? And can they expect Rome to stop despising and condemning the realities of their lives?

Even Francis's open-minded advisers are concerned that he will be unable to put the genie back into the bottle. Marcello Semeraro is the secretary of Pope Francis' "crown council," the group of eight cardinals from around the world tasked with advising the pope on reforms. Semeraro does everything he can to dampen the overwhelming expectations of ordinary Catholics.

Some apparently felt "that the questionnaire created the impression of a survey in which majority opinion would be declared valid," Semeraro said recently. "That is absolutely not the case. The role of the pope and the bishops is not to be the notaries of a majority."

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

Monday, January 20, 2014

Ronald Rolheiser

The Imperative for Wholeness inside Christ

For more than a thousand years, Christians have not had the joy of being one family around Christ. Although there were already tensions within the earliest Christian communities, it was not until the year 1054 that there was a formal split so as to, in effect, establish two formal Christian communities, the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church in the West. Then, with the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century, there was a further split within the Western Church and Christianity fragmented still further. Today there are more than a hundred Christian denominations, many of them, sadly, not on friendly terms with each other.

Division and misunderstanding are understandable, inevitable, the price of being human. There are no communities without tension and so it's no great scandal that Christians sometimes cannot get along with each other. The scandal is rather that we have become comfortable, even smug, about not getting along with each other. The scandal is that we no longer hunger for wholeness and that we no longer miss each other inside our separate churches. In virtually all of our churches today there is too little anxiety about those who are not worshipping with us, whether these separated brothers and sisters belong to other denominations or whether they belong to our own. For instance, teaching Roman Catholic seminarians today, I sense a certain indifference to the issue of ecumenism. For many seminarians today this is not an issue that is of particular concern to them. Sad to say, this holds true for most Christians in all denominations.

 But this kind of indifference is inherently unchristian. Oneness was close to the heart of Jesus. He wants all his children at the same table, as we see in this parable in the Gospels:

A woman had ten coins and lost one. She became extremely anxious and agitated and began to search frantically and relentlessly for the lost coin, lighting lamps, looking under tables, and sweeping all the floors in her house. Eventually she found the coin. She was delirious with joy, called together her neighbors and threw a party whose cost far exceeded the value of the coin she had lost. (Luke 15, 8-9)

Why such anxiety and such joy over the loss and the finding of a coin whose value was that of a dime? The answer lies in the symbolism: In her culture, nine was not a whole number; ten was. Both the woman's anxiety on losing the coin and her joy in finding it had little to do with the value of the coin but with the value of wholeness; an important wholeness in her life had been fractured, a precious set of things was no longer complete. Hence the parable might recast this way:

 A woman had ten children. With nine of them, she had a good relationship, but one of her daughters was alienated. Her nine other children came regularly to the family table, but this daughter did not. The woman could not rest in that situation; she needed her alienated daughter to rejoin them. She tried every means to reconcile with her daughter and, one day, miracle of miracles, it worked. Her daughter came back to the family. Her family was whole again, everyone was back at table. The woman was overjoyed, withdrew her modest savings from the bank, and threw a lavish party to celebrate that wholeness.

Christian faith demands that, like that woman, we need to be anxious, dis-eased, lighting lamps and searching, until the Church is whole again. Nine is not a whole number. Neither is the number of those who are normally inside our respective churches. Roman Catholicism isn't a whole number. Protestantism isn't a whole number. The Evangelical Churches aren't a whole number. The Orthodox Churches aren't a whole number. No one Christian denomination is a whole number. Together we make up a whole number.

 Thus we are meant to ask ourselves uncomfortable questions: Who no longer goes to church with us? Who feels uncomfortable worshipping with us? Are we comfortable that so many people can no longer join us in our church?

Sadly, today, too many of us are comfortable in churches that are far, far from whole. Sometimes, in our less reflective moments, we even rejoice in it: "Those others aren't real Christians in any case! We're better off without their kind! There's more peace this way! We are a purer, more faithful, church because of their absence! We're the one true remnant!"

But this lack of a healthy solicitude for wholeness compromises both our maturity and our following of Jesus. We are mature loving people and true followers of Jesus, only when, like Jesus, we remain in tears over those "other sheep that are not of this fold" and when, like the woman who lost one of her coins and would not sleep until every corner of the house was turned upside down in a frantic search for what was lost, we too set out solicitously in search of that lost wholeness.

Ron Rolheiser
San Antonio, Texas
January 19, 2014.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Dismissed Priest

John Dear, Jesuit known for peace witness, dismissed from order

 By Joshua J. McElwee | Jan. 7, 2014


A popular U.S. Catholic priest and author known for his peace writings and some 75 arrests for civil disobedience actions across the country has been dismissed from the international Jesuit religious order, which says he was "obstinately disobedient" to its directives.

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NCR suspends comments on website

 by Dennis Coday | Jan. 6, 2014

National Catholic Reporter suspended the commenting feature of its website,, effective Monday 10 a.m. Central time.

Click to read more

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Vatican expert's view of Pope Francis

A rather sad article

Francis— the exhaustion of a lonely pope

by Marco Politi | 7 December 2013

English Translation by Anne Goodrich Heck

 A touch of dizziness, a meeting missed, a sharp comment on the choices made by the new pontiff. Last Wednesday, in just a few hours, an alarm bell went off for Pope Bergoglio. After the general audience in St. Peter's Square - the temperature was cold - Francis felt dizzy and this minor ailment forced him to leave at once and go rest, giving up a meeting with Cardinal Angelo Scola, who had come specially from Milan to talk about a future visit to the Expo. This is no small matter. Scola was his main opponent at the conclave, not for personal reasons of course, but as the proponent of a different platform. Scola is still one of the most influential among the Italian bishops, and a good relationship with him is crucial to guide the CEI (Italian Bishops Conference) on the kind of reform the pope has in mind.

In fact Francis is working too hard. At the age of 76 and with responsibility for an organization of over a billion one hundred million adherents, the Argentine pope did not take a moment of vacation this summer. Unlike John Paul II he does not take restorative small "flights" into nature, and unlike Benedict XVI he does not allow himself a regular, daily hour's walk in the Vatican gardens. He told the young people of St. Cyril's parish in Rome last Sunday that he takes only a half hour nap after lunch and then "goes back to work again until evening." Francis demands too much of himself.

There is a reason for this. Bergoglio feels that he does not have much time – probably ten years or so before he himself decides to hand over his position. And ten years in the history of the Church is quite a short time. In the midst of the flood of praise and applause that surrounds him, the Argentine pope is alone, very alone. If the task were limited to the program that many cardinals expected of him, there would be no problem. Reorganizing the IOR (Vatican Bank) and streamlining the Curia are technical issues not difficult to achieve. Consulting more often with the bishops - as was asked of the future Pope during the general meetings prior to the conclave - could be achieved with more frequent plenary meetings, with a precise agenda, of the College of Cardinals.

But Francis is doing much more than many of those who voted for him could imagine (as happened also with John XXIII). He wants to remodel the Curia from the ground up, reorganize the Synod of Bishops, shape a new approach to sexual issues, spur the clergy to abandon bureaucratic and self-referential attitudes, change the style of episcopal power, put women into governing positions, and give new impetus to the fight against child sexual abuse by setting up a new commission (announced yesterday) to protect victims and give instructions to bishops' conferences.

There is one question hovering over the Apostolic Palace: Who is supporting Francis? What forces can he count on? The answer is that there is no "party" or active "movement" among the pro - Francis clergy and bishops. A bulky apparatus like that of the church – thousands of bishops, hundreds of thousands of priests and religious, a network of centers of power, both large and small – cannot be reformed without a robust group of loyal and engaged followers. In the curia there in still no Team Bergoglio. The new Secretary of State, Msgr. Parolin, is the right man (especially because of his strong priestly character) to work with Bergoglio, but the majority of the offices of the curia are provisional. Up to now, in the curial departments and in the world-wide episcopacy, there is no firm bloc of cardinals, bishops and priests ready to fight for his reforms, like the champions of the Gregorian reform of the Middle Ages or of the shift in direction made at the Council of Trent. The national bishops conferences are inert. Too many pay only passive attention to what Francis says and does. Many conservatives wait in silence for him to make a blunder. The bureaucracies of large organizations know how to bounce back.

In this atmosphere, the statements of Msgr. Gaenswein, Ratzinger's secretary, in the German weekly Die Zeit, are worrisome. The magazine reported, without quoting him directly, that Benedict's right-hand man felt that Francesco's decision not to live in the papal apartments was an "affront." Moreover, while recognizing that the pope is only one man, Gaenswein sadly exclaims, word for word: "Every day we wonder what new thing will be different (from before)." A rejection of a new course rather than an encouragement. Francis is alone, even if the hearts of the faithful beat for him.

Il Fatto Quotidiano, 6 dicembre 2013

[Marco Politi is an Italian journalist]

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Family Synod

Editorial: Synod questionnaire an opportunity to hear from the people

By NCR Editorial Staff  

The documents we reprinted as a pullout in the center of the Nov. 22-Dec. 5 issue of the newspaper were sent to NCR by someone who feared the questionnaire from the Vatican about next year's Synod of Bishops on the family wouldn't get as wide a distribution as intended, at least here in the United States. The bishops of England and Wales put the questionnaire online for all to examine and respond to, but the instructions from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops didn't seem to push for widest possible distribution.

Read more

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Family Synod

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Jose Arregi: Open Letter to Pope Francis on the Family

The following open letter from Basque theologian José Arregiwas published in Spanish on his blog on 11/6/2013. English translation by Rebel Girl.

Dear Pope Francis:

As everything goes so fast today, the questionnaire on the family that you just sent to the bishops all over the world has already come into our hands -- 38 very specific questions organized into 8 thematic blocks. We understand that we are not just the subjects, but also the ones to whom these questions that affect -- and hurt -- us, even more than the bishops, are addressed. Therefore we are allowing ourselves to answer them directly, because of the affection we have for you and the trust you inspire in us. Thank you, Pope Francis, for asking us about so many uncomfortable issues that have been, and still are, taboo. And thanks for listening to us, for receiving our voices speaking from the soul, with their certainties and doubts.

1. Whether the teachings of Sacred Scripture and the hierarchical Magisterium on sexuality, marriage, and the family are known and accepted among the faithful.

Perhaps they're not well known, and certainly they are poorly accepted or simply ignored. We note that in recent decades the gap, or rather the rupture, between official doctrine and the feelings of a wide majority of believers, has grown to a critical degree. It's serious and it grieves us. But we sincerely believe that the reason for the growing break is not the ignorance, much less the irresponsibility of the believers, but rather the hierachy's being locked into patterns from the past.

Times have changed a lot in a short period in everything that has to do with family, matrimony, and procreation, and with sexuality in general. We know they are delicate subjects, that what is most holy is at stake, that the utmost care is necessary. But you can't care for life by repeating the past. We believe deeply that the Spirit of Life goes on speaking to us from the heart of life, with its joys and sorrows. We believe that the living Ruah cannot be closed in any doctrine, or document, or words of the past, and that it goes on inspiring the feelings of all believers and all men and women today. Nothing should ever remain closed.

Pope Francis, we congratulate you on your willingness to listen again to the voice of the Spirit in the men and women of today, and we dare to ask you to keep speaking words of mercy and encouragement, to not go back to obsolete and meaningless "truths" and "norms". In the name of Life!

2. On the place that the concept of "natural law" in relation to marriage has among believers.

We will tell you simply and frankly: For the great majority of thinkers, scientists, and believers in our society, the concept of "natural law" no longer has any place at all. Yes, the nature that we arehas a wondrous order, some marvelous laws, and thanks to them, science is possible. But the supreme law of nature is its capacity for change and novelty. Nature is creative and inventive. The fruits of that creative and inventive capability, of that holy creativity, are all the atoms and molecules, every star and galaxy. All of us living beings, all languages and cultures, all religions are fruits of it. For billions of years to come, infinite new forms yet unknown to us will be the results of it.

Nature is inhabited by the Spirit, by the holy Ruah that blew on the waters in Genesis, that goes on vibrating in the hearts of all beings, in the heart of every atom and particle. The family too has been changing unceasingly, from the first clans to the nuclear family, through the patriarcal family we have known until recently.

Before our very eyes, the model of the family is still changing: families without children, single parent families, families with children of different fathers and mothers...And it will go on changing, we don't know how. It's all very delicate. There's a lot of pain. We ask the Church not to speak ill of the new forms of family, since they already have enough living day to day and getting ahead amid the greater threats that come to us from a cruel, inhumane economic system. It's not the Church's job to dictate but, first of all, to provide accompaniment, relief, and encouragement, as you yourself have said.

3. On how faith, spirituality, and the Gospel are lived out and transmitted in families

A crucial question. Yes, we note with sorrow that families have stopped being "domestic churches" where there is prayer and where the good news of Jesus is nurtured, felt, and transmitted. But we don't believe it's fair to blame the families for this. The crisis in religion and the transmission of faith in the family has to do in the first place with the deep cultural transformation we are going through. And a big challenge not only or perhaps primarily for the families themselves, but for the church institution itself, is accepting the new spiritual keys and religious forms that the Spirit is inspiring in the men and women of today.

4. On how the Church ought to face certain "difficult marital situations" (couples who live together without getting married, "common law marriages", divorced and remarried people,...).

Thanks again, Pope Francis, just for wanting to raise these questions again! Thanks for wanting to listen to us and for showing mercy through your questions! You know well the complex and changing history of "the Sacrament of Matrimony" since the beginning of the Church. The history has been quite variable and will go on being so. Look, for example, at what is happening among us, in this ultra-modern Europe. Our young people have neither the houses nor the economic means to get married and live with their partners until their 30s in the best of cases. How can the Church ask them to abstain from sexual relations until that age?

The forms change, but we believe that the criterion is very simple and that Jesus would agree: "Where there's love, there's a sacrament, whether the couple get married or not, and where there's no love, there's no sacrament, however canonically married they may be." Everything else is extra. And if the couple is having difficulties, as happens so often, only God will help them solve their difficulties and love each other again, and only God will help them separate peacefully, if they can't solve their problems and go back to loving one another.

Eliminate, then, we beseech you, the canonical impediments so that those who have failed in their marriages can remake their lives with another love. Let the Church not go on adding more pain to their pain. And let it in no way prevent them from sharing the Bread of comfort at Jesus' table, because Jesus did not impede anybody.

5. On same-sex unions.

The harm caused by the Church to homosexuals is huge, and someday it will have to ask their forgiveness. Let's hope that Pope Francis, in the name of the Church, will ask forgiveness for so much shame, contempt, and feelings of guilt that have been laid on them over the centuries.

The vast majority of men and women in our society today can't understand this obsession, this hostility. How can they go on saying that homosexual love isn't natural, being that it has been so common and natural, for biological and psychological reasons, among so many men and women of all times and on all continents, and in so many other animal species?

In this case, as in many others, the Church should go first, but society precedes us. We celebrate that there are increasingly more countries that recognize that persons of the same sex have the same right as persons of the opposite sex to form unions. What prevents us from calling them "marriages"? Aren't heterosexual unions that, for whatever reason, aren't going to have children called that too? So, let the dictionaries and canon law change to conform to the times and meet the needs of the people.

And what is stopping us from calling homosexual marriage a sacrament? It's love that makes us human and makes us divine. It's love that makes the sacrament. And everything else is gloss and human tradition.

6. On the education of children in irregular marital situations.

We believe that this language -- regular, irregular -- is inaccurate, even harmful. It's harmful to a child to hear that he has been born into or lives within an "irregular" marriage or family. And it hurts their parents, whoever they be. What hurts is not being an exception, but being censured for being an exception. Moreover, we all know that it is sufficient for the cases to multiply for the exception to become the norm. In any case, the Church is not here to define what is regular and what is irregular, but to accompany, encourage, and support each person as they are, where they are.

7. On the openness of spouses to life.

Fortunately, there are very few among us believers under 60 who have heard of Humanae Vitae, that encyclical by Paul VI (1968) that declared it a mortal sin to use any "unnatural" contraceptive method, any method other than abstinence or adjusting to the female fertility cycle. But it made almost all our parents suffer a lot. That doctrine, adopted against the advice of much of the episcopate, was unfortunate in its time and it is no less regrettable that it is still maintained today.

Today no one understands it and almost nobody complies with it among Catholics themselves. And few priests or bishops dare to lay it out these days. It no longer makes sense to state that sex has to be open to reproduction. It no longer makes sense to distinguish between natural and artificial methods, much less to condemn a method for being "artificial", since for the same reason one would have to condemn any vaccination or injection.

Nowadays we are witnessing a momentous change in everything that has to do with sexuality and reproduction: for the first time after many millennia, sex is no longer necessary for reproduction. It is a technological change that brings with it an anthropological change and requires a new moral paradigm. Sexuality and life remain as sacred as ever and it is necessary to care for them with utmost delicacy. But the criteria and standards of Humanae Vitae don't help in this, but rather make it harder. Let the words of the Church be light and comfort, like the Spirit of God, as Jesus' words were in his time and would also be in ours.

8. On the relationship between the family, the individual and the encounter with Jesus

We believe that Jesus comes out to meet us on all paths, in every situation. In whatever model of family, in any family situation. We believe that Jesus doesn't distinguish between regular and irregular families, but tends to each situation, with its grace and its woundedness. We believe that being closed in on ourselves (our ideas and norms, our fears and shadows) is the only thing that separates us from others and from God. And we believe that humility, clarity, and trust bring us closer each day to others and open us every day to the Presence of the Living One, being where we are and being as we are. And we believe that a Church that would proclaim this, like Jesus, would be a blessing to humankind in all its situations.

José Arregi

[Arregi follows his letter with this poem/prayer by Jesuit José Enrique Ruiz de Galarreta on which to meditate. I have included it in both Spanish and my English translation - RG]

Bendito seas mi Dios, mi aire,
que estás ahí, tan cierto como el aire que respiro.
Bendito seas, mi Dios, mi viento,
que me animas, me empujas, me diriges.
Bendito seas, mi Dios, mi agua,
esencia de mi cuerpo y de mi espíritu,
que haces mi vida más limpia, más fresca, más fecunda.
Bendito seas, mi Dios, mi médico,
siempre cerca de mí,
más cerca cuanto me siento más enfermo.
Bendito seas, mi Dios, mi pastor,
que me buscas buenos y frescos pastos,
que me guías por las cañadas oscuras,
que vienes a por mí
cuando estoy perdido en la oscuridad.
Bendito seas, mi Dios, mi madre,
que me quieres como soy
que por mí eres capaz de dar la vida,
mi refugio, mi seguridad, mi confianza.
Bendito seas, Dios, bendito seas

Blessed are you, my God, my air,
who are there, as sure as the air I breathe.
Blessed are you, my God, my wind,
who encourages, pushes, and steers me.
Blessed are you, my God, my water,
essence of my body and my spirit,
who makes my life cleaner, fresher, and more fertile.
Blessed are you, my God, my healer,
always near to me,
closest when I'm feeling the sickest.
Blessed are you, my God, my shepherd,
who finds good fresh pastures for me,
who leads me through the darkened canyons,
whom comes for me
when I am lost in the shadows.
Blessed are you, my God, my mother,
who loves me as I am,
who is able to give your life for me,
my refuge, my safety, my trust.
Blessed are you, God, blessed are you.
Posted by Rebel Girl at 5:53 PM 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Report from our National Team in Ireland

Report on Meeting with We Are Church Ireland, 

Dublin, 29 July 2013

 The core group of WAC Ireland invited Francoise and myself for lunch at the home of Phil Dunne to meet them and exchange news. The lunch went on for four hours, and was a veritable feast. Phil and Brendan Butler are both IMWAC Council members. The other four members are: Dairne McHenry, Jackie Nelson, Finbarr Quigley and Jerry McCarthy. This core group, consisting of 3 women and 3 men, is like an executive committee. WAC Ireland has about 300 members, most of whom are in Dublin. Meetings are held only in Dublin, and are monthly meetings which are open to the public. They were impressed by the fact that we have 3 regional groups, but as we said, distances in South Africa are much larger, and we have many more big cities than Ireland. The core group like our name.

They meet in a hall in a Jesuit facility, for which they have to pay. They couldn’t believe that our Archbishop has forbidden us to meet on Catholic property or that I was prevented from practising as a Minister of the Eucharist. They don’t usually have a speaker at their meetings, except at their AGM, so the core group proposes topics to help keep meetings focussed. They thought that our public lectures were an excellent idea for spreading the word and for recruiting members. They also have a spiritual and liturgical component, so they will have prayers, readings and hymns. Recently they organised a liturgical celebration in a hotel (to make it more accessible) and many members of the ‘public’ attended and enjoyed it. They thought that our annual retreats were something they might like to try. Most of their members are older people. They were impressed with our idea of holding our next meeting at the University chaplaincy and will think about doing something similar. The question of having a social justice component has been raised, but generally the feeling has been that they should stick to their core business.

The core group are most impressed that we are in discussion with our bishops’ conference. They don’t have much personal contact with their bishops. Once, when they wanted to hand the bishop a petition, he refused to meet with them. They work fairly closely with the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland, many of whose members share the same aspirations and concerns. Some of the WAC Ireland members are involved with women’s ordination groups. A new movement was started in Ireland recently called The Association of Irish Catholics. They are less ‘radical’ than WAC Ireland, but are affiliated to the Association of Catholic Priests of Ireland.

We are Church Ireland began in 1997 but was re-launched in 2011. They have drawn up “Principles of Organisation” and have an AGM, with audited accounts etc. Read more about them on their impressive website and see why we need to have such a website asap:

Our discussion with the Irish core group was lively and inspiring. As we all said at the end of the afternoon, it is amazing how alike we all think, despite the fact that we come from different cultures and different continents. The Holy Spirit is truly at work all over the world to reform our Church. On parting the group gave us a copy of the alternative Last Supper painting which is on their website!

Brian and Francoise Robertson