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The Pope’s address to the Curia: official summary

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Photo: Pope Benedict XVI addresses prelates for Christmas wishes in the Clementine Hall at the Vatican on Monday (AP Photo/Tony Gentile, Pool)

The Pope’s address to the Roman Curia is one of the highlights of the Vatican year. In it, the Pontiff reflects on the previous 12 months and tries to draw out key themes.

Benedict XVI delivered this year’s address yesterday. Frustratingly, the full English translation does not appear to be available yet. So for the moment we must make do with the Vatican’s official summary:

Today in the Clementine Hall of the Vatican Apostolic Palace, the Holy Father held his traditional meeting with the cardinals, archbishops, bishops, and members of the Roman Curia and of the Governorate of Vatican City State, in order to exchange Christmas greetings.

Opening his address, the Pope recalled two events that marked the year 2009 – the conclusion of the Pauline Year and the beginning of the Year for Priests – affirming that both St Paul and the saintly Curé of Ars demonstrate “the broad scope of priestly ministry”.

‘The year now drawing to a close passed largely under the sign of Africa,’ said the Holy Father. In this context he mentioned his apostolic trip to Cameroon and Angola where, ‘in the meeting with the Pope, the universal Church became manifest, a community that embraces the world and that is brought together by God through Christ, a community that is not founded on human interests but that arises from God’s loving attention towards us’.

In Africa ‘the celebrations of the Eucharist were authentic feasts of faith’ characterised by ‘a sense of holiness, by the presence of the mystery of the loving God moulding … each individual gesture,’ said Benedict XVI. He also recalled his meeting with African bishops in Cameroon and the inauguration of the Synod for Africa with his consignment to them of the Instrumentum laboris.

His visit to Africa likewise ‘revealed the theological and pastoral force of pontifical primacy as a point of convergence for the unity of the Family of God’. And, when the Synod itself was celebrated in Rome in October, ‘the importance of the collegiality – of the unity – of the bishops emerged even more powerfully’, he said.

‘The Vatican Council II renewal of the liturgy took exemplary form’ in the liturgies in Africa while, ‘in the communion of the Synod, we had a practical experience of the ecclesiology of the Council’.

Referring then to the theme of the 2009 Synod – ‘The Church in Africa at the service of reconciliation, justice and peace’ – the Pope described it as ‘a theological and, above all, a pastoral theme of vital relevance. Yet’, he said, ‘it could also be misunderstood as a political theme. The task of the bishops was to transform theology into pastoral activity; in other words, into a concrete pastoral ministry in which the great visions of Holy Scripture and Tradition are applied to the activities of bishops and priests in a specific time and place’.

The problem of ‘a positive secularism, correctly practised and interpreted’, which was the focus of the African bishops’ concerns, was ‘also a fundamental theme of my Encyclical Caritas in veritate’, published in June. That document ‘returned to and further developed the question concerning the theological role – and the concrete application – of Church social doctrine’.

On the subject of reconciliation, which ‘the Synod attempted to examine profoundly … as a task facing the Church today’, the Pope noted that ‘if man is not reconciled with God, he is also in disharmony with the creation. … Another aspect of reconciliation is the capacity to recognise guilt and to ask forgiveness, of God and of neighbour’, he said.

‘We must learn the ability to do penance, to allow ourselves to be transformed, to go out to meet others and to allow God to grant us the courage and strength for such renewal. In this world of ours today we must rediscover the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation’. In this context, the Holy Father described the fact that people are confessing less than they used to as ‘a symptom of a loss of veracity towards ourselves and towards God; a loss that endangers our humanity and diminishes our capacity for peace’.

‘If the power of reconciliation is not created in people’s hearts, political commitment lacks the interior precondition necessary for peace. During the Synod, the pastors of the Church worked for this interior purification of man, which is the essential preliminarily requirement for creating justice and peace. But such interior purification and maturity … cannot exist without God.’

The Holy Father then turned his attention to the pilgrimage he made in May to Jordan and the Holy Land. In this respect, he thanked the king of Jordan for ‘the exemplary manner in which he works for peaceful coexistence among Christians and Muslims, for respect towards the religion of others and for responsible collaboration before God’.

The Pope also thanked the Israeli government ‘for all it did to ensure my visit could take place peacefully and securely’, and for having enabled him ‘to celebrate two great public liturgies: in Jerusalem and in Nazareth’. He likewise expressed his thanks to the Palestinian Authority for its ‘great cordiality’ and for having given him the opportunity to celebrate a ‘public liturgy in Bethlehem and to perceive the suffering and the hopes present in their territory’.

‘The visit to Yad Vashem represented a disturbing encounter with human cruelty, with the hatred of a blind ideology which, with no justification, consigned millions of human beings to death and which, in the final analysis, also sought to drive God from the world: the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob, and the God of Jesus Christ.’ Thus the museum is, ‘first and foremost, a commemorative monument against hatred, a heartfelt call to purification, forgiveness and love’.

The Holy Father also mentioned his September trip to the Czech Republic where, ‘I was always told, agnostics and atheists are in the majority and Christians now represent only a minority’. In this context he noted how ‘people who describe themselves as agnostics or atheist must also be close to our hearts, as believers. When we speak of a new evangelisation these people may perhaps feel afraid. … Yet the critical question about God also exists for them. … We must take care that man does not shelve the question of God, the essential question of his existence’.

In closing his address, the Holy Father again mentioned the current Year for Priests. ‘As priests,’ he said, ‘we are here to serve everyone. … We must recognise God ever and anew, and seek Him continually in order to become His true friends’.

‘This is my hope for Christmas,’ he concluded, ‘that we become ever greater friends of Christ, and therefore friends of God, and that in this way we may become salt of the earth and light of the world.’


Written by Luke Coppen

December 22, 2009 at 12:50 pm

SSPX and Holy See talks: new details emerge

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The excellent New Liturgical Movement has a fascinating post on the ground rules for the discussions between the Holy See and the SSPX. What jumped out at me were that both parties are taping and filming each session. This is presumably a precaution in case the talks end in acrimony.

Here’s the full list of conditions:

1) The outcome of the first meeting has been good.

2) Primarily the agenda and the method of discussion were established.

3) The issues to be discussed are of a doctrinal nature to the express exclusion of any canonical question regarding the situation of the SSPX.

4) The common doctrinal reference point will be the Magisterium prior to the Council.

5) The talks follow a rigorous method: an issue is raised, and the party raising it sends a paper substantiating its doubts. The Holy See responds in writing, after prior email exchanges among the technical advisers. At the meeting, the issue is discussed.

6) All meetings are taped by both parties and filmed.

7) The conclusions of each topic will be submitted to the Holy Father and the Superior General of the SSPX.

The timing of these meetings depends on whether the topic is new or is already being discussed. In the first case, it will be approximately every three months. In the second, every two. The next meeting is planned for mid January.

9) The theological representatives of the Holy See “are people you can talk with”, they speak “the same (theological) language as we”. (meaning presumably they are Thomists).

10) Some of the topics mentioned by the bishop in his homily, not exhaustively, are:

a) The Magisterium of the Council and after the Council.

b) The conciliar liturgical reform.

c) Ecumenism and interreligious dialogue.

e) Papal authority and collegiality.

f) Freedom of conscience, religious freedom, secularism and the social reign of Jesus Christ.

g) Human rights and human dignity according to the Council’s teaching.

Written by Luke Coppen

December 22, 2009 at 11:45 am

John Paul II and Pius XII are declared Venerable

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Photo: Pope John Paul II visits Uganda in February 1993 (CNS photo from L’Osservatore Romano, Arturo Mari)

It’s official: Benedict XVI has approved a degree attesting to his immediate predecessor’s heroic virtues. Greg Burke advises you to book your hotel now for John Paul II’s beatification.

In a move that’s likely to be controversial, he has also declared the wartime pope Pius XII Venerable. Philip Pullella of Reuters assesses the impact of the Pius XII decision, as does John Allen. Bear in mind that Pope Benedict is due to visit the Great Synagogue in Rome on January 17.

Three other notable Causes making progress today were those of Fr Jerzy Popiełuszko, Mary MacKillop and Mary Ward.

Written by Luke Coppen

December 19, 2009 at 1:42 pm

Pope issues Motu Proprio modifying Canon Law

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Pope Benedict XVI has just made public a Motu Proprio modifying aspects of the Code of Canon Law.

The Vatican press release reads:

Made public today was Benedict XVI’s Motu Proprio, “Omnium in mentem”. The document is dated 26 October 2009 and contains two variations to the Code of Canon Law (CIC), variations which have long been the object of study by dicasteries of the Roman Curia and by national episcopal conferences.

The document published today contains five articles modifying canons 1008, 1009, 1086, 1117 and 1124. According to an explanatory note by Archbishop Francesco Coccopalmerio, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, these variations “concern two separate questions: adapting the text of the canons that define the ministerial function of deacons to the relative text in the Catechism of the Catholic church (1581), and suppressing a subordinate clause in three canons concerning marriage, which experience has shown to be inappropriate”.

The variation to the text of canon 1008 will now limit itself to affirming that “those who receive the Sacrament of Orders are destined to serve the People of God with a new and specific title”, while canon 1009 “will be given an additional third paragraph in which it is specified that the minister constituted into the Order of the episcopate or the priesthood receives the mission and power to act in the person of Christ the Head, while deacons receive the faculty to serve the People of God in the diaconates of the liturgy, of the Word and of charity”.

Archbishop Coccopalmerio’s note then goes on to explain that the other changes contained in the Motu Proprio all concern the elimination of the clause “actus formalis defectionis ab Ecclesia Catholica” contained in canons 1086 para. 1, 1117 and 1124. This clause, “following much study, was held to be unnecessary and inappropriate”, he writes. “From the time the Code of Canon Law came into effect in the year 1983 until the moment of the coming into effect of this Motu Proprio, Catholics who had abandoned the Catholic Church by means of a formal act were not obliged to follow the canonical form of celebration for the validity of marriage (canon 1117), nor were they bound by the impediment concerning marriage to the non-baptised (canon 1086 para. 1), nor did they suffer the prohibition on marrying non-Catholic Christians (canon 1124).

The abovementioned clause contained in these three canons represented an exception … to another more general norm of ecclesiastical legislation according to which all those baptised in the Catholic Church or received into her are bound to observe ecclesiastical laws (canon 11).

“With the coming into effect of the new Motu Proprio”, Archbishop Coccopalmerio adds, “canon 11 of the Code of Canon Law reacquires its full force as concerns the contents of the canons thus modified, even in cases were there has been a formal abandonment. Hence, in order to regularise any unions that may have been made in the non-observance of these rules it will be necessary to have recourse, if possible, to the ordinary means Canon Law offers for such cases: dispensation from the impediment, sanation, etc”.

I look forward to hearing what canonists make of this. (To give them a headstart, the Latin text is here.)

Wikipedia has some interesting background on the deleted clause, actus formalis defectionis ab Ecclesia Catholica:

Actus formalis defectionis ab Ecclesia catholica (a formal act of defection from the Catholic Church) is the action by which someone formally, and not just de facto, leaves the Catholic Church. Canons 1086, 1117 and 1124 of the Code of Canon Law indicated some effects of such an act. A notification from the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts in 2006 specified in what the act consists.

The Catholic Church in Germany and some other countries previously treated as such an act the declaration that some made to the civil authorities for the purpose of avoiding the extra tax traditionally collected by the state for the benefit of whatever Church the tax-payer was a member of. The Church in those countries considered people who made this declaration as no longer entitled to the privileges of membership of the Church, such as having a wedding in church.

The 2006 notification ruled that such declarations do not necessarily indicate a decision to abandon the Church in reality. It laid down that only the competent bishop or parish priest is to judge whether the person genuinely intends to leave the Church through an act of apostasy, heresy, or schism. It also pointed out that single acts of apostasy, heresy or schism (which can be repented) do not necessarily involve also a decision to leave the Church, and so “do not in themselves constitute a formal act of defection if they are not externally concretized and manifested to the ecclesiastical authority in the required manner.”

The decision to leave the Church must therefore be manifested personally, consciously and freely, and in writing, to the competent Church authority, who is then to judge whether it is genuinely a case of “true separation from the constitutive elements of the life of the Church … (by) an act of apostasy, heresy or schism.”

If the bishop or parish priest decides that the individual has indeed made a formal act of defection from the Catholic Church – making a decision on this matter will normally require a meeting with the person involved – the fact of this formal act is to be noted in the register of the person’s baptism. This annotation, like other annotations in the baptismal register, such as those of marriage or ordination, is unrelated to the fact of the baptism: it is not a “debaptism”. The fact of having been baptized remains a fact, and the Catholic Church holds that baptism marks a person with a seal or character that “is an ontological and permanent bond which is not lost by reason of any act or fact of defection.”

Written by Luke Coppen

December 15, 2009 at 3:45 pm

The Pope’s offer to Anglicans: eccentric or inspired?

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Fr John Hunwicke SSC, a thoughtful commentator on Anglo-Catholic affairs, wonders whether the theology of Anglicanorum coetibus is in fact eccentric:

Archbishop Rowan didn’t – despite the claims of his critics – call the ecclesiology of Anglicanorum Coetibus eccentric. He suggested that there are others who might say it…

His Grace has a point. The ecclesiology of AC does diverge from the norms to which we are accustomed and which he himself has lucidly expounded: that a “local church” is not a denomination or a province but bishop-and-presbytery-and-diaconate-and laos. Perhaps his words indicate that he is going to make one last herculean effort to secure just such an uneccentric provision for us from General Synod. If he is, all power to his elbow…

Where Rowan fails is in not taking account of some aspects of the exercise of Primacy. This was well set out in The Gift of Authority (ARCIC 1999). “We envisage a primacy that will even now help to uphold the legitimate diversity of traditions, strengthening and safeguarding them in fidelity to the Gospel … This sort of primacy will already assist the Church on earth to be the authentic catholic Koinonia in which unity does not curtail diversity … Such a universal primate … will promote the common good in ways that are not constrained by sectional interests …”

It is the ministry of the Roman Church to uphold diversity. Roman Pontiffs have not always done that as robustly as they should; in North America they once were less forthright than they ought to have been in defending the patrimony of Eastern Catholic communities – or even the Poles – against local Irish and German diocesan bishops.

But this pope, as far as one can see, has got a well screwed on head.

Written by Luke Coppen

December 14, 2009 at 7:01 pm

Benedict XVI to write pastoral letter to Irish Catholics

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The Catholic News Service reports on the Irish Church leaders’ meeting with Pope Benedict XVI today:

Pope Benedict XVI shares ‘the outrage, betrayal and shame’ felt by Irish Catholics over cases of clerical sexual abuse and the way abuse claims were handled by church leaders, and he plans to write a special pastoral letter to the Catholics of Ireland, the Vatican said.

The letter ‘will clearly indicate the initiatives that are to be taken in response to the situation’, said a statement issued by the Vatican on December 11. The statement was released after the pope and top Vatican officials spent 90 minutes meeting with Cardinal Sean Brady of Armagh, Northern Ireland, president of the Irish bishops’ conference, and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin.

Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said Pope Benedict approved the statement, which “obviously reflects his style and tone” in discussing revelations about clerical sex abuse.

The spokesman said he was not sure when the letter would be ready, but he expected it fairly soon since the pope wanted to respond to the sense of outrage and hurt Irish Catholics currently are experiencing.

Written by Luke Coppen

December 11, 2009 at 3:35 pm

This morning’s Catholic must-reads

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Here are a few interesting news reports and comment pieces to start the day:

Mgr Andrew Faley says incoming Anglicans must not become a “sect” within the Catholic Church.

Senior Irish Church leaders prepare to discuss child abuse with Pope Benedict XVI later today.

The head of the Holy See’s delegation in Copenhagen explains what he hopes the summit will achieve.

The Vatican confirms the programme of Pope Benedict XVI’s May trip to Fatima.

Talks between Israel and the Holy See have reportedly hit another dead end.

Archbishop Chaput explains why he signed the Manhattan Declaration.

Matthew Milliner names the theological book of the decade.

Rod Dreher discovers what St Nicholas really looked like.

And Zenit wonders if cuddly toys might be the solution to the priestly vocations crisis.