John Henry Newman: A Saint for Today

by Jack Valero

John Henry Newman (1801-1890) will be canonised by Pope Francis this Sunday 13 October in Rome. He lived through almost the whole of the 19th century and spent half his life as an Anglican and half as a Catholic. He was a priest, a popular preacher, a writer and an eminent theologian in both churches. Although he lived such a long time ago, he is still very relevant to people today, as shown in the following nine areas. 

1. Education

Newman’s book The Idea of a University continues to be a reference work for tertiary educational institutions. His vision that education had to be for its own sake, and not a technical preparation for a specific profession or job, is still discussed in academic circles. But Newman not only spoke and wrote about universities; he started one himself, in Dublin, at the request of the Catholic bishops in Ireland. He commuted from his Oratorian community in Birmingham. Later, aware of the lack of high-quality schools for Catholics in England, he set out to start a secondary school that would be like a “Catholic Eton”, the best possible to prepare Catholics for professional or public life. Both projects continue to this day: UCD in Dublin and the Oratory School near Reading.

2. Conscience

Newman’s views on conscience have become standard Catholic teaching, as put together in the Catechism of the Catholic Church promulgated in 1992. These are found mainly in Chapter 5 of Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, a book written in response to Gladstone’s assertion that because the Pope had been declared infallible, Catholics were no longer suitable for public life. Newman answers this charge in a subtle way, explaining that Catholics follow their conscience rather than obeying anyone blindly. Conscience, he says, is not a subjective feeling but the voice of God within. These teachings have been the basis for political action for many people, including the anti-Nazi White Rose Movement started by Sophie Scholl and her friends in Munich in the early 1940s. Newman’s works, which had recently been translated into German, inspired these students to give their lives for the truth. Many politicians and people in public life today acknowledge the help they have received from Newman’s teachings on conscience and integrity.

3. Friendship

Newman had many good friends during his life, from prime ministers to beggars. His 20,000 letters are witness to depth of his friendships. The writer George Eliot remarked how moved she was by the fraternal love shown at the end of the Apologia Pro Vita Sua where Newman thanks his brothers in the Oratory, especially Ambrose St John, for their care over so many years. These are the people who were Anglicans with him, who became Catholics with him, who were ordained priests with him, who joined the Oratory he founded. In fact, although he wrote many important books on theology and the Church, Newman thought that the main way the faith would be transmitted was through friendship. This is particularly relevant in an age when relationships of all kinds have become transient. Newman teaches us the value of having many and deep friendships.

4. Lay people

Newman had a very modern vision of the role of lay people in the Church. In his Lectures on the Present Position of Catholics he writes of his dream of a “laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men [and women] who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it”. This vision is what inspired the Catholic Voices project in 2010. Newman looked forward to a time when the laity received proper formation and preparation in philosophy, theology, history and other related subjects so they could take on their proper role in the Church — something that only started to happen a century after his death. Furthermore, his On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine outlined the idea that the people of the Church as a whole are collectively given a supernatural knowledge of the truth of the faith, known as the sensus fidelium. He explains that at the time of the Arians of the fourth century, it was the Christian people rather than their leaders who kept the faith. 

5. The spiritual life

Newman’s writings on the spiritual life have become classics of the genre. His Meditations and Devotions are frequently quoted. Lines such as “God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission . . . He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do His work” have been an inspiration to many. He wrote extensively on Christ (meditations on the Passion), Our Lady and the saints, and of course on God. His guiding aim was to make the spiritual life accessible to people of all kinds.

6. Theology

Newman’s historical approach to theology, going back to the Fathers of the Church, was a very original one, and it helped him to understand not just the history of theology but also his own position in the Anglican Church and then the Catholic Church. This method became more widespread after his lifetime, especially in the lead-up to, and during, the Second Vatican Council. Newman’s theological works that have become classics include his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, quoted in theological discussions to this day, and Grammar of Assent, which examines what it means to believe in God. Newman has a following among all kinds of Catholics, whether conservative or progressive. In an age of great polarisation, including within the Church, Newman is a unifying figure who speaks effectively to different Catholic sensibilities and brings them all closer to God.

7. Culture, beauty, music

Newman was interested in everything in the modern world. His study at the Birmingham Oratory is lined with all kinds of books including many novels, from Walter Scott to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. He started playing the violin at the age of ten and kept it up all his life, playing it with his brethren at the Oratory well into old age. His poem The Dream of Gerontius, about a soul going to purgatory after death, became an instant classic and set to music by one of the most famous English composers, Sir Edward Elgar (a Catholic who was married at the Brompton Oratory). General Gordon was reading it when he was killed in Khartoum. Newman can teach us to appreciate the good things in the modern world and how they can all lead us to God.

8. A modern English saint

The English canonised saint who lived most recently died in the 17th century. Newman will be the first English saint of the modern period. He lived in the 19th century, the age of rationalism, the age of Darwin and Marx, and age he understood deeply. His writings help people to have faith at a time when it is difficult to believe in God. He is a very important figure not just for the Catholic Church or for the Anglican Church, but for the whole country. To show Newman’s importance for Britain, the canonisation ceremony will be attended by Prince Charles and a parliamentary delegation that includes members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

9. Birmingham

Newman settled in Birmingham when he returned from Rome as a Catholic priest in 1848 and stayed there for over four decades until his death in 1890. He became involved in the life of the city and made many friends of all social levels. He was much loved by the people. When he died more than 15,000 people lined the streets between the Oratory and his burial place in Rednal. The lord mayor of Birmingham, Mohammed Azim, will also be attending the canonisation in Rome.

Jack Valero is the press and media coordinator for the Newman Canonisation Committee. For more information and links to resources visit the Newman Canonisation Website.

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Do Christians hate gay people?

Total mania swept across Twitter recently after Bishop Tobin, Bishop of Providence, Rhode Island, said that Catholic families should not be attending LGBTQ pride events.

He said:

“A reminder that Catholics shout not support or attend LGBTQ “Pride Month” events held in June. They promote a culture and encourage activities that are contrary to Catholic faith and morals. They are especially harmful for children.”


He was widely criticised, both on social media and in the mainstream media. This follows the recent sacking of Israel Folau, an Australian rugby player, after he shared a passage from the Bible which said “hell awaits” “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters”. He added that they should “repent” as “only Jesus saves.”

This is not the first time he has got into trouble for sharing his Biblical views, and in April of last year, he was reprimanded for sharing a quote from 1 Corinthians 6: 9-10. This furore prompted him to defend himself in a PlayersVoice article.

It is often levelled at Christians that they hate homosexual people. Of course, the Bible is unequivocal in condemning homosexual acts but is this the same as condemning homosexual people?

When dealing with fraught issues such as homosexuality, Catholics have a priceless resource in the catechism. The Catechism sets out clearly the position of the Church on homosexual acts.

It says, “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered” because “They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life”.

On homosexual people, the Catechism states, “This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

Therefore, the Catechism presents two positions: homosexual acts are a moral evil and people with homosexual inclinations must be treated with respect. It is equally condemnatory of, for example, pornography, saying “it is a grave offence”, but no-one in their right mind would say the Catholic Church hates people who watch porn.

Lust, masturbation, fornication, and prostitution are also dealt with harshly by the catechism but the accusation that the Church hates prostitutes or people who masturbate is not bandied around with such venom.

So why the fixation on homosexuality?

We live in a sex-obsessed society as anyone with eyes can see. Billboards, music videos, films, TV shows, even newspapers, are all full of sexual images and material. Sex has become a god in of itself, a way for people to fill the void of a Christ-less existence.

Thus, due to the huge amount of emphasis society puts on sex, our sexuality is now held up as an integral part of our identity. A man with homosexual urges is now a homosexual before he is a son, father, brother, artist or friend. He is encouraged to make this the foundational stone for his whole existence.

If what you are sexually attracted to is the most important part of you – it determines the places you drink, the people you date, the friends you have, the journalism you consume, the music you listen to, the literature you read – any criticism of this will feel like a direct assault on your very person.

But why does our sexual attraction have to determine us so viscerally? If I am a married man, is my identity an adulterer because every now and then I might feel fleeting, unasked for attraction to a woman on the street? If I am a single woman, am I a homewrecker because I think my married colleague is handsome?

Speaking against the need to label ourselves, Pope Francis, speaking to British actor Stephen K Amos, said: “Giving more importance to the adjective rather than the noun, this is not good.

“We are all human beings and have dignity. It does not matter who you are or how you live your life, you do not lose your dignity.”

The Christian life is not to deny the existence of these human emotions and impulses, but to teach us how to discern what to act upon, and what to ignore. It is, as the Catechism states, about “self-mastery”. Yet, when it comes to homosexual inclinations, all of a sudden this is the number one defining feature of you.

Why? Why reduce yourself to your genitalia?

We live in a secular society where the underlying assumption is that we are naked apes on a rock hurtling through space. There is no reason for our existence, no meaning to our lives, and we enter and leave a cruel, callous world that cares not one jot about us.

When presented with such a nihilistic, confusing worldview, is it not surprising that people grope around in the dark to find something that grounds them. Something that gives their life purpose and thrust.

When they ask themselves, “Who am I? Why am I here?” they can answer, “I’m John, I’m gay and I spend my life trying to make the world a more welcoming place for gay people.” Through this constructed identity, and commendable synthetic purpose, they can cope with the terrible absurdity of a Godless existence.

Yet, the Church doesn’t see our identity as decided by arbitrary factors such as race, gender or sexuality. Our identity is fundamentally as a child of God. Our purpose is to carry out God’s will for our lives. We are not the acts we commit, the people we are attracted to: we are precious, unique, treasured human beings crafted with love and care.

We are miracles.

The strategic merit of Folau’s social media post is up for debate. Only God knows whether it brought people closer to Him or drove them away.

Yet, his treatment shows that the powers that be believe that Christians hate gay people, rather than condemn homosexual acts. “Hate the sin, not the sinner,” is the phrase that is used to explain the truly Christian position. Jesus loved sinners, but he told them, “go and sin no more.”

The battle Catholics and Christians face is in extracting sexual acts from identity, for the two have been firmly wedded. The answer to the riddle is Christ, for through His eyes we see ourselves as what we really are: children of God.

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Is Christianity a peaceful religion?

By Fionn Shiner

A stir was caused recently after the Home Office refused asylum to a Christian convert from Iran. He said he converted to Christianity because it talks of “peace, forgiveness and kindness” whilst “in Islam there is violence, rage and revenge.”

Using passages from the bible from Leviticus, Matthew, Exodus and Revelation as evidence, the Home Office case worker denied his application. They said: “These examples are inconsistent with your claim that you converted to Christianity after discovering it is a ‘peaceful’ religion’.”

In the secular mind, Christianity is often seen as a religion of oppression. The crimes of the Crusades, Spanish Inquisition and the sex abuse crisis are immediately conjured at the sight of the cross.

But is this fair? Do the facts suggest that Christianity is peaceful or violent?

The Church’s charitable contributions to society are unrivalled, rooted in Jesus’ clear exhortations to help the poor. This includes soup kitchens and night shelters for the homeless, hospitals, shelters for domestic abuse, and a great deal more.

Worldwide the Catholic Church has more than 140,000 schools, 5,000 hospitals, 16,000 heath clinics and 10,000 orphanages. Caritas estimates that Catholic aid agencies spend between £2 billion to £4 billion a year on charitable courses throughout the world.

This doesn’t include the work that individual parishes do, which are hard to include on official statistics, as well as the many religious orders that contribute. It is not a huge stretch to conclude that works of charity targeted at the most vulnerable in society come from a peaceful religion rather than a violent one.

Further, Catholicism, and in particular St. John Paul II, played a pivotal role in bringing about the end of the Cold War. The Cold War threatened the entire globe: the USA and the USSR had enough nuclear weapons to obliterate humanity from our beautiful planet. Hardly peaceful.

Yet St. John Paul II, celebrating mass in his home country in 1979, inspired such fervour in the crowd that they began chanting: “We want God! We want God! We want God!” Poland was, at the time, an officially atheist country.

Poland, with its devout Catholic population, was always a difficult country to manage for the Soviets and the Pope’s visit inspired the Solidarity movement in Gdansk. The movement gathered steam throughout the 80s and the Soviet empire beginning to wobble. This culminated with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, ten years after St. John Paul II’s message of peace.

It’s not just Catholics who have contributed to world peace, but other denominations of Christianity. Martin Luther King, Nobel Peace Prize winner and spearhead of the American civil rights movement, was a devout protestant.

William Wilberforce, the famous slave abolitionist, was an evangelical Christian. It was not a surface level faith, but one that informed his political beliefs, ethics and actions. He said: “Let them [Christians] boldly assert the cause of Christ in an age when so many, who bear the name of Christians, are ashamed of Him.”

Throughout the 19th and 20th Century, the eugenics movement, which said you could improve the human race by selective breeding, was opposed by Christian thinkers. Catholic journalist G.K. Chesterton wrote an entire book on the inhumane movement, calling it “Eugenics and Other Evils.” His good friend Hilaire Belloc was an outspoken critic too.

The saints are what Christians might call “religious extremists”: those who have applied the precepts of our demanding religion in every facet of their life. Thus, if Christianity were a violent religion we would expect the saints to be violent; if it were a peaceful religion we would expect them to be peaceful.

Regrettably, violence has been done in the name of Christianity but the saints – those who are held up as examples of the Christian life – are overwhelmingly peaceful. Would a religion “inconsistent” with peace produce St. Maximilian Kolbe, the Franciscan friar who volunteered to die in the place of a stranger at Auschwitz?

The life of St. Paul also acts as evidence for Christianity’s peaceful nature. Before his conversion he violently persecuted Christians, after his conversion he didn’t. There is a clear demarcation in his life: before Christ violence, after Christ none.

If Christianity were not a peaceful religion, if it were violent, then surely his reign of violence and terror would have continued.

The final evidence for the peaceful nature of Christianity is the life of Christ. Whilst someone may deny Christ’s divinity, they cannot deny that Christians follow Christ. The clue is in the name. Therefore, even if one might say Christ didn’t live, or isn’t the Son of God, they cannot, in good conscience, say that Christians don’t follow His teachings as set out in the Gospel.

Therefore it follows that the example of Christ will provide the best clue as to whether Christianity is peaceful or not. Yes Christ sometimes spoke strongly, and yes he did say “I did not come to bring peace but a sword”. But his life was clearly a life of peace, the climax being His crucifixion, something He accepted humbly.

It would be boneheaded to deny that there have been instances of violence done in the name of Christianity, and chapters in the Church’s history to be ashamed of. Yet the actions done in the name of a religion do not necessarily reflect its true nature.

Christianity has brought peace to the world in a myriad of ways: outreach to the poor, the propagation of education, the insistence that each individual life has equal value because it was crafted by God.

It is tempting to categorise things in a swift, easy way in accordance with the zeitgeist. Yet, there is plenty of evidence that Christianity is, indeed, peaceful. Just look to the lives of the saints, and of Jesus Christ Himself, to see the true nature of Christianity.

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The Politics of Papal Etiquette (to kiss the ring or not to kiss the ring?)

By Joe Ronan

Until comparatively recently, the etiquette of greeting people was rather straightforward.  A handshake would suffice for all other than close relatives, and even then polite restraint was the rule.   Increasingly though social greetings seem increasingly diverse and difficult to judge.  My own sincere and eagerly offered handshake can now be seen as overly formal when compared with a mix of hugs, kisses and full-blown embraces.

This minefield of greeting etiquette was evident in the viral video of the Pope greeting people at the Church in Loreto, Italy, where he was a recent visitor.

When I was young I recall the visits of a Bishop as being a great occasion in the life of a Parish. We were instructed that the correct greeting would be to make a short bow, with a gesture indicative of moving to kiss his episcopal ring.  I remember being told not to actually kiss it, but to just ‘not quite’ touch it to my lips.

Just as with the handshake, the point of the gesture is to signify respect for the individual being greeted and the office he represents.  The episcopal ring is a symbol of the way the Bishop is joined both to the Church and to his Diocese.  It is often referred to as being like a marriage.

My own Diocese (Hexham and Newcastle) installed a new Bishop last week. During the installation Bishop Byrne wore an episcopal ring that was recovered from St Cuthbert’s body in the thirteenth century. This ring is a treasure of the North East and beautifully symbolises the connection between our new Bishop and those of past centuries.

For the Pope, as Bishop of Rome his ring symbolises not just his connection to the Diocese of Rome but to the global Church as the supreme shepherd of the Church.  So the respectful gesture to the ring symbolises respect both for the office of Pope, and also the individual that holds it.

Over the years the degree of formality shown in greetings has changed. As a youngster in school the class would always stand if an adult entered the room, irrespective of who they were or what status they held.  Nowadays I suspect that degree of respect would be rare. Fifty years ago the appropriate dress and comportment greeting a Pope would be very strictly laid down and adhered to.  These days a much lighter approach is taken.  The full video of the visit to Loreto shows an extended session of greeting of both religious and lay faithful, including some instances of the gesture towards kissing that I had been taught and where Pope Francis seems happy with it.   The sheer variety of methods of greeting used goes to show not only that the rules have been relaxed, but also I think that people are no longer sure of what behaviour is expected.  There are even people putting their arms around the Pope, which would have been excoriated even a decade or so again (not to mention the anxiety it can cause to the security team).   One would hope that prior to joining the queue to greet the Pope, people would have received some instruction on what was considered appropriate in those particular circumstances; but perhaps people have become used to ‘doing their own thing’ or in the excitement of the moment just forget the guidelines.

The logistics of keeping such a visit on time also come into the picture.  There will be a strict timetable, with other groups to meet; functions to attend; traffic and air schedules to comply with. There do seem signs in the later part of the video of some speeding up of the process, and needing to move some hundred or so people through more quickly.

It is always difficult to ensure that under such circumstances the people for whom this is a once in a lifetime opportunity are given a little space, but it will also be the case that the sheer pressure of time and organisation will lead to overly hurried and pressured activity.

There has been a storm of comment on the meaning of the Pope’s actions in a particular section of the video, where he is withdrawing his hand quite suddenly, whilst also using shoulder touches and similar movements to move people along.  It has been variously claimed that this was a rejection of monarchical court procedure; that it was an abandonment of tradition, or that it was due to some form of inflammation or unknown ailment causing him pain.

The truth, as always, was a little more prosaic.  The Director of the Holy See Press Office Alessandro Gisotto released a clarification a couple of days after the visit, stating that “it was a simple question of hygiene”.  A report by the news agency Zenit goes on to say

Preventing the spread of germs, Pope Francis clarified to Gisotti, especially when there are so many people, arriving one right after the other, is the Pontiff’s goal. He noted how the Pope normally allows the kissing of the ring when we are speaking about single individuals or smaller groups.

The news coverage of such events is often focused on trivialities.  In practise Popes have always modified procedure; Pope John Paul II discontinued the use of the ‘sedia gestatoria’ or portable Papal Throne and replaced it with the much more practical Popemobiles. By the 1970’s the old hand-carried portable thrones may have seemed anachronistic, but actually had the practical use of making the Pope much more visible to the crowds – a function the Popemobiles were used to continue.

So tradition and convention is not always a bad thing, nor is updating it in a way sensitive to both continuity and progress.  It is to be regretted that in the kerfuffle over greeting protocol at the Pope’s visit, what he had to say and do in Loretto was largely overlooked.

Firstly he signed what is likely to be an important document – the Apostolic Exhortation ‘Christus vivent’ (Christ lives).  This document, due to be released on April 2nd is his response to the recent synod on Youth and Vocation.

In his address to the estimated 10,000 people gathered there, the Pope emphasised the role of young people in the Church and that ‘family’ and ‘young people’ are not groups to be addressed separately, but as a single group walking closely together.

He also reiterated his view of the family in modern society “In the delicate situation of today’s world, the family based on the marriage between a man and a woman assumes an essential importance and mission”.

None of that however was treated as being more newsworthy than the fuss over the greeting. It may not be ‘news’ to learn that the Pope is, after all, a Catholic, but his message, that Christ lives, is one that has been proclaimed for nearly 2000 years, and will still be being proclaimed in the far distant future.

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When everything is gay and gay is everything

by Jack Valero

In his just-released book In the Closet of the Vatican: power, homosexuality, hypocrisy, French gay activist Frederic Martel posits that the majority of the priests, bishops and cardinals in the Vatican are gay. “Up to 80 percent of them,” claims ex-priest Francesco Lepore, one of the key informants in the book, who left the priesthood to pursue a homosexual life, though other people interviewed give a lower figure, around 40 to 50 percent.

The Vatican is painted as a dysfunctional institution, rife with sexually active priests and bishops who frequent male prostitutes, and cover up their sins in ruthless ways. According to Martel, the omnipresence of homosexuals in the Vatican isn’t a few bad sheep, a dissident movement or a freemasonry inside the Holy See – it’s a system, a system based on settling scores, revenge, rumours and gossip.

At almost 600 pages this appears a serious book, fruit of four years of work, 1500 interviews in Rome and many other countries (including 41 cardinals and 52 bishops and 45 nuncios and foreign ambassadors), with over a thousand statements plus a further 300 pages of appendices to be made available in the web.

The author says he does not want to “out” anyone. As far he is concerned, he sees nothing wrong with cardinals, bishops and priests having lovers. “Not being Catholic, I couldn’t care less if they appear to be betraying their vow of chastity, or if they are in contravention of the rules of the Church … The profound hypocrisy of such clergy, however, is questionable: that is the principal subject of this book.”

What are we to make of this? By his own reckoning Martel’s count includes “practising homosexuals”, “homophile”, “initiates”, “unstraights”, “wordly”, “versatile”, “questioning”, or simply “in the closet”. “Homophiles” are those who have many homosexual friends. “Unstraight”, he explains, is a “neologism to describe a non-heterosexual or one who is sexually abstinent”. It seems even those who are faithful to their vow of celibacy are to be included.

In addition, for Martel, a handsome male secretary, a signet ring with a goldstone, a garish bed-cover, a set of ornate liturgical vestments… are all signs that the person in question is gay, or perhaps homophile, definitely unstraight… or at least in the closet. “Nothing is too small to have a meaning,” he admits. Apart from a few named individuals, a lot of the book is based on innuendo, rumour, gossip and hearsay, which makes it very easy to bump up the numbers. And several of the people so accused have now died and cannot answer for themselves.

But it is bigger. For Martel, the gay question is at the heart of the Church, and all recent controversies are to be interpreted with this in mind. Without this key, he tells us, the most recent Vatican history remains opaque: the release of and backlash against Humanae Vitae, the fall in priestly vocations, the rejection of condoms to combat AIDS, the Vatican bank scandals, Vatileaks… Everything is gay and gay is everything.

During the pontificate of John Paul II, we are told, “homophobia spread ad nauseam through dozens of declarations, exhortations, letters, instructions, considerations, observations, motu proprio and encyclicals, so much so that it would be difficult to list all the ‘Papal bulls’ here.”

Even Pope Francis’ famous expression that the Church should stop being “self-referential” is a “secret code to talk about practising homosexuals.”

And yet, the reality belies this. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a 1992 publication of John Paul II, fruit of the work of Cardinal Ratzinger, later Benedict XVI, homosexuality dealt with in three points out of a total of 2,865. Clearly the Catholic Church is not obsessed with homosexuality, even if Martel is.

Perhaps the main problem is that Martel cannot understand priestly celibacy, seeing it as an unnatural and impossible imposition, instead of what it is: giving up the exclusive love of one person to be able to love many people very intensely, in a total gift of oneself to God and other people. This high calling applies to all consecrated celibates, independently of sexual orientation.

Celibacy is of course a challenge, and often involves struggling against one’s passions or addictions with the grace of God. But it is a fruitful struggle, and many studies indicate that priests are found to have levels of personal happiness and “job” satisfaction far higher than the median.

It’s the “Maritain code”, Martel tells us. He is referring to Jacques Maritain, a French philosopher of the early 20th Century who allegedly had homosexual inclinations but who practiced abstinence all of his life, including within his late marriage. He also encouraged several homosexual friends to live a celibate life. Martel pokes fun at Maritain’s efforts to be chaste.

Martel explains, “Apart from Christ or St Thomas Aquinas, the other great preoccupation of Jacques Maritain’s life was the gay question… That’s Maritain’s secret, and one of the most hidden secrets of the Catholic priesthood: the choice of celibacy and chastity as the product of sublimation or repression.”

And he continues, “Settling the question of homosexuality through chastity, this form of castration, to give pleasure to God: Maritain’s idea, with its hint of masochism, is a powerful one … Sublimated, if not repressed, homosexuality is often translated into the choice of celibacy and chastity, and, even more often, into an internalized homophobia.”

Martel takes the side of discredited sexologist Alfred Kinsey, who is reputed to have said that “the only real remaining perversions were three in number: abstinence, celibacy and late marriage.”

He is surprised at a cardinal who in the preface to a book, “proposes for homosexuals neither “charity” nor “compassion” but total abstinence,” adding that this brings the cardinal in question “strangely to the position of many homosexual Catholic writers and thinkers who have placed value on chastity so as not to follow their tendencies.” Strange indeed.

Throughout one chapter he makes fun of the expression “loving friendship” assuming it must have an erotic dimension, and therefore poisoning the wells: the more friends a priest or bishop has, the more suspect he becomes.

This is the opposite of what the Church proposes to homosexuals, as God calls them to no less than the highest holiness, like everyone else in the Church. Ron Belgau, a homosexual Catholic who runs the website Spiritual Friendship, encourages people to give themselves to others in chaste friendship and to have many friends, like Christ did.

Should gay priests “come out”? No, suggests Fr Timothy Radcliffe, a former Master of the Dominicans now living in Blackfriars Oxford, who was interviewed for the book. In a review for the international weekly The Tablet, Fr. Radcliffe says: “Should priests go public about their sexual orientation? I have my doubts about that. If a priest speaks openly about being straight or gay, unless there is overriding need, this might make it harder for him to be pastorally available for everyone.” And then he adds, “I have never felt, with the thousands of priests that I have met, that their sexuality is of any interest or importance.” Fr Radcliffe also mentions that most of those priests were happy in their vocation and were living it honestly.

Pope Francis is the hero of this book, but Martel can’t quite make him out. Is he gay-friendly or a gay-basher? One moment he is welcoming a transgender man to the Vatican, the next one he is railing against gender ideology. One day he tells a gay man that God loves him as he is, and the next day he confirms the guidelines discouraging seminaries from accepting young men with deep-seated homosexual tendencies or who support the gay lifestyle. He is happy to receive a gay couple but just as easily speaks against gay marriage.

Martel’s perplexity is shared by some traditionalist Catholics who say Pope Francis sends confusing messages. But the Pope is only following the tradition of St Augustine who enjoined people to “hate the sin but love the sinner” or, in an updated version, “love the person but reject the ideology”. Francis does not like any ideology, from the right or from the left, and will resist efforts to be imposed upon. On the other hand, every single person is the target of his love, whoever they are, whatever they have done. He is trying to imitate God, who loves unconditionally.

Having said all this, there is an important truth at the heart of Martel’s book but it isn’t about sexual orientation. It is about integrity and therefore the ability of the Church to proclaim its message with credibility.

Most people at the Vatican work with great dedication for little reward, but some are living a double life, even if not as many as Martel claims. They preach one thing and do another. They have made vows and promises but secretly are not keeping them. They have lost their integrity.

They may even be desperately unhappy. Francesco Mangiacapra, a high class Neapolitan escort who made public the sex lives of 34 priests in Naples in a 1200 page document in 2018, reveals that “when I sleep with rich married lawyers, important doctors or all those priests with their double lives, I can tell that they aren’t happy.” In fact, if they are victims of violence, they never report it for fear of discovery.

Their double lives are subject to blackmail and therefore lead to corruption. Networks of secrecy and extortion arise. Mantel argues that this leads to covering up for other problems such as the sexual abuse of minors.

“Behind the majority of cases of sexual abuse,” says Martel in one of his 14 rules, “there are priests and bishops who have protected the aggressors because of their own homosexuality and out of fear that it might be revealed in the event of a scandal. The culture of secrecy that was needed to maintain silence about the high prevalence of homosexuality in the Church has allowed sexual abuse to be hidden and predators to act.” This is serious stuff.

Francis seems to get this. Rather than rail against homosexual priests (“if someone seeks God and is gay, who am I to judge?”) he repeatedly condemns hypocrisy and corruption.

In his famous Christmas 2014 address he mentioned, among the “15 curial diseases”, existential schizophrenia: “This is the disease of those who live a double life, the fruit of that hypocrisy typical of the mediocre and of a progressive spiritual emptiness which no doctorates or academic titles can fill.” And then the condemnation: “they create their own parallel world, where they set aside all that they teach with severity to others and begin to live a hidden and often dissolute life. For this most serious disease, conversion is most urgent and indeed indispensable.”

The reform of the Vatican Curia that Pope Francis is undertaking is not so much a structural reform (abolishing some departments and creating new ones) but a reform of the people. Those who are involved in corruption or live double lives, however high up in the Church, should repent and change their lives or leave.

In the measure that Martel exposes what is wrong with the individuals involved, he is contributing to the renewal of the Church and Catholics should be grateful to him for making them face this truth.

This article first appeared in Mercatornet


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In his address to the Curia Pope Francis tells abuser priests to “convert and hand themselves over to human justice, and prepare for divine justice”

The full text of the address follows. His remarks on the sexual abuse crisis and call to abusive priests to give themselves up to justice come part way in the section entitled Afflictions.

“The night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light” (Rom 13:12).

Filled with the joy and hope that radiate from the countenance of the Holy Child, we gather again this year for the exchange of Christmas greetings, mindful of all the joys and struggles of our world and of the Church. To you and your co-workers, to all those who serve in the Curia, to the Papal Representatives and the staff of the various Nunciatures, I offer my cordial good wishes for a blessed Christmas. I want to express my gratitude for your daily dedication to the service of the Holy See, the Church and the Successor of Peter. Thank you very much! Allow me also to offer a warm welcome to the new Substitute of the Secretariat of State, Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, who began his demanding and important service on 15 October last. The fact that he comes from Venezuela respects the catholicity of the Church and her need to keep expanding her horizons to the ends of the earth. Welcome, dear Archbishop, and best wishes for your work! Christmas fills us with joy and makes us certain that no sin will ever be greater than God’s mercy; no act of ours can ever prevent the dawn of his divine light from rising ever anew in human hearts. This feast invites us to renew our evangelical commitment to proclaim Christ, the Saviour of the world and the light of the universe. “Christ, ‘holy, blameless, undefiled’ (Heb 7:26) did not know sin (cf. 2 Cor 5:21) and came only to atone for the sins of the people (cf. Heb 2:17). The Church, however, clasping sinners to her bosom, at once holy and always in need of purification, follows constantly the path of penance and renewal. She ‘presses forward amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God’, announcing the cross and death of the Lord until he comes (cf. 1 Cor 11:26). But by the power of the risen Lord, she is given the strength to overcome, in patience and in love, her sorrows and her difficulties, both those from within and those from without, so that she may reveal in the world, faithfully, albeit with shadows, the mystery of the Lord until, in the end, it shall be manifested in full light” (Lumen Gentium, 8). In the firm conviction that the light always proves stronger than the darkness, I would like to reflect with you on the light that links Christmas (the Lord’s first coming in humility) to the Parousia (his second coming in glory), and confirms us in the hope that does not disappoint. It is the hope on which our individual lives, and the entire history of the Church and the world, depend. Jesus was born in a social, political and religious situation marked by tension, unrest and gloom. His birth, awaited by some yet rejected by others, embodies the divine logic that does not halt before evil, but instead transforms it slowly but surely into goodness. Yet it also brings to light the malign logic that transforms even goodness into evil, in an attempt to keep humanity in despair and in darkness. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (Jn 1:5). Each year, Christmas reminds us that God’s salvation, freely bestowed on all humanity, the Church and in particular on us, consecrated persons, does not act independently of our will, our cooperation, our freedom and our daily efforts. Salvation is a gift that must be accepted, cherished and made to bear fruit (cf. Mt 25:14-30). Being Christian, in general and for us in particular as the Lord’s anointed and consecrated, does not mean acting like an élite group who think they have God in their pocket, but as persons who know that they are loved by the Lord despite being unworthy sinners. Those who are consecrated are nothing but servants in the vineyard of the Lord, who must hand over in due time the harvest and its gain to the owner of the vineyard (cf. Mt 20:1-16). The Bible and the Church’s history show clearly that even the elect can frequently come to think and act as if they were the owners of salvation and not its recipients, like overseers of the mysteries of God and not their humble ministers, like God’s toll-keepers and not servants of the flock entrusted to their care.

All too often, as a result of excessive and misguided zeal, instead of following God, we can put ourselves in front of him, like Peter, who remonstrated with the Master and thus merited the most severe of Christ’s rebukes: “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on the things of God but on the things of men” (Mk 8:33).

Dear brothers and sisters,

This year, in our turbulent world, the barque of the Church has experienced, and continues to experience, moments of difficulty, and has been buffeted by strong winds and tempests. Many have found themselves asking the Master, who seems to be sleeping: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mk 4:38). Others, disheartened by news reports, have begun to lose trust and to abandon her. Still others, out of fear, personal interest or other aims, have sought to attack her and aggravate her wounds. Whereas others do not conceal their glee at seeing her hard hit. Many, many others, however, continue to cling to her, in the certainty that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against her” (Mt 16:18). Meanwhile, the Bride of Christ advances on her pilgrim way amid joys and afflictions, amid successes and difficulties from within and from without. Without a doubt, the difficulties from within are always those most hurtful and destructive.


Many indeed are the afflictions. All those immigrants, forced to leave their own homelands and to risk their lives, lose their lives, or survive only to find doors barred and their brothers and sisters in our human family more concerned with political advantage and power! All that fear and prejudice! All those people, and especially those children who die each day for lack of water, food and medicine! All that poverty and destitution! All that violence directed against the vulnerable and against women! All those theatres of war both declared and undeclared. All that innocent blood spilled daily! All that inhumanity and brutality around us! All those persons who even today are systematically tortured in police custody, in prisons and in refugee camps in various parts of the world! We are also experiencing a new age of martyrs. It seems that the cruel and vicious persecution of the Roman Empire has not yet ended. A new Nero is always being born to oppress believers solely because of their faith in Christ. New extremist groups spring up and target churches, places of worship, ministers and members of the faithful. Cabals and cliques new and old live by feeding on hatred and hostility to Christ, the Church and believers. How many Christians even now bear the burden of persecution, marginalization, discrimination and injustice throughout our world. Yet they continue courageously to embrace death rather than deny Christ. How difficult it is, even today, freely to practice the faith in all those parts of the world where religious freedom and freedom of conscience do not exist. The heroic example of the martyrs and of countless good Samaritans — young people, families, charitable and volunteer movements, and so many individual believers and consecrated persons — cannot, however, make us overlook the counter-witness and the scandal given by some sons and ministers of the Church. Here I will limit myself to the scourges of abuse and of infidelity. The Church has for some time been firmly committed to eliminating the evil of abuse, which cries for vengeance to the Lord, to the God who is always mindful of the suffering experienced by many minors because of clerics and consecrated persons: abuses of power and conscience and sexual abuse. In my own reflections on this painful subject, I have thought of King David — one of “the Lord’s anointed” (cf. 1 Sam 16:13; 2 Sam 11-12). He, an ancestor of the Holy Child who was also called “the son of David”, was chosen, made king and anointed by the Lord. Yet he committed a triple sin, three grave abuses at once: “sexual abuse, abuse of power and abuse of conscience”. Three distinct forms of abuse that nonetheless converge and overlap.

The story begins, as we know, when the King, although a proven warrior, stayed home to take his leisure, instead of going into battle amid God’s people. David takes advantage, for his own convenience and interest, of his position as king (the abuse of power). The Lord’s anointed, he does as he wills, and thus provokes an irresistible moral decline and a weakening of conscience. It is precisely in this situation that, from the palace terrace, he sees Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, at her bath (cf. 2 Sam 11) and covets her. He sends for her and they lie together (yet another abuse of power, plus sexual abuse). He abuses a married woman and, to cover his sin, he recalls Uriah and seeks unsuccessfully to convince him to spend the night with his wife. He then orders the captain of his army to expose Uriah to death in battle (a further abuse of power, plus an abuse of conscience). The chain of sin soon spreads and quickly becomes a web of corruption. The sparks of sloth and lust, and “letting down the guard” are what ignite the diabolical chain of grave sins: adultery, lying and murder. Thinking that because he was king, he could have and do whatever he wanted, David tries to deceive Bathsheba’s husband, his people, himself and even God. The king neglects his relationship with God, disobeys the divine commandments, damages his own moral integrity, without even feeling guilty. The “anointed” continues to exercise his mission as if nothing had happened. His only concern was to preserve his image, to keep up appearances. For “those who think they commit no grievous sins against God’s law can fall into a state of dull lethargy. Since they see nothing serious to reproach themselves with, they fail to realize that their spiritual life has gradually turned lukewarm. They end up weakened and corrupted” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 164). From being sinful, they now become corrupt. Today too, there are consecrated men, “the Lord’s anointed”, who abuse the vulnerable, taking advantage of their position and their power of persuasion. They perform abominable acts yet continue to exercise their ministry as if nothing had happened. They have no fear of God or his judgement, but only of being found out and unmasked. Ministers who rend the ecclesial body, creating scandals and discrediting the Church’s saving mission and the sacrifices of so many of their confrères. Today too, there are many Davids who, without batting an eye, enter into the web of corruption and betray God, his commandments, their own vocation, the Church, the people of God and the trust of little ones and their families. Often behind their boundless amiability, impeccable activity and angelic faces, they shamelessly conceal a vicious wolf ready to devour innocent souls. The sins and crimes of consecrated persons are further tainted by infidelity and shame; they disfigure the countenance of the Church and undermine her credibility. The Church herself, with her faithful children, is also a victim of these acts of infidelity and these real sins of “peculation”.

Dear brothers and sisters,

Let it be clear that before these abominations the Church will spare no effort to do all that is necessary to bring to justice whosoever has committed such crimes. The Church will never seek to hush up or not take seriously any case. It is undeniable that some in the past, out of irresponsibility, disbelief, lack of training, inexperience, or spiritual and human short-sightedness, treated many cases without the seriousness and promptness that was due. That must never happen again. This is the choice and the decision of the whole Church. This coming February, the Church will restate her firm resolve to pursue unstintingly a path of purification. She will question, with the help of experts, how best to protect children, to avoid these tragedies, to bring healing and restoration to the victims, and to improve the training imparted in seminaries. An effort will be made to make past mistakes opportunities for eliminating this scourge, not only from the body of the Church but also from that of society. For if this grave tragedy has involved some consecrated ministers, we can ask how deeply rooted it may be in our societies and in our families. Consequently, the Church will not be limited to healing her own wounds, but will seek to deal squarely with this evil that causes the slow death of so many persons, on the moral, psychological and human levels.

Dear brothers and sisters,

In discussing this scourge, some, even within the Church, take to task certain communications professionals, accusing them of ignoring the overwhelming majority of cases of abuse that are not committed by clergy, and of intentionally wanting to give the false impression that this evil affects the Catholic Church alone. I myself would like to give heartfelt thanks to those media professionals who were honest and objective and sought to unmask these predators and to make their victims’ voices heard. Even if it were to involve a single case of abuse (something itself monstrous), the Church asks that people not be silent but bring it objectively to light, since the greater scandal in this matter is that of cloaking the truth. Let us all remember that only David’s encounter with the prophet Nathan made him understand the seriousness of his sin. Today we need new Nathans to help so many Davids rouse themselves from a hypocritical and perverse life. Please, let us help Holy Mother Church in her difficult task of recognizing real from false cases, accusations from slander, grievances from insinuations, gossip from defamation. This is no easy task, since the guilty are capable of skillfully covering their tracks, to the point where many wives, mothers and sisters are unable to detect them in those closest to them: husbands, godfathers, grandfathers, uncles, brothers, neighbours, teachers and the like. The victims too, carefully selected by their predators, often prefer silence and live in fear of shame and the terror of rejection. To those who abuse minors I would say this: convert and hand yourself over to human justice, and prepare for divine justice. Remember the words of Christ: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of scandals! For it is necessary that scandals come, but woe to the man by whom the scandal comes! (Mt 18:6-7).

Dear brothers and sisters,

Now let me speak of another affliction, namely the infidelity of those who betray their vocation, their sworn promise, their mission and their consecration to God and the Church. They hide behind good intentions in order to stab their brothers and sisters in the back and to sow weeds, division and bewilderment. They always find excuses, including intellectual and spiritual excuses, to progress unperturbed on the path to perdition. This is nothing new in the Church’s history. Saint Augustine, in speaking of the good seed and the weeds, says: “Do you perhaps believe, brethren, that weeds cannot spring up even on the thrones of bishops? Do you perhaps think that this is found only lower down and not higher up? Heaven forbid that we be weeds!… Even on the thrones of bishops good grain and weeds can be found; even in the different communities of the faithful good grain and weeds can be found (Serm. 73, 4: PL 38, 472). These words of Saint Augustine urge us to remember the old proverb: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”. They help us realize that the Tempter, the Great Accuser, is the one who brings division, sows discord, insinuates enmity, persuades God’s children and causes them to doubt. Behind these sowers of weeds, we always find the thirty pieces of silver. The figure of David thus brings us to that of Judas Iscariot, another man chosen by the Lord who sells out his Master and hands him over to death. David the sinner and Judas Iscariot will always be present in the Church, since they represent the weakness that is part of our human condition. They are icons of the sins and crimes committed by those who are chosen and consecrated. United in the gravity of their sin, they nonetheless differ when it comes to conversion. David repented, trusting in God’s mercy; Judas hanged himself. All of us, then, in order to make Christ’s light shine forth, have the duty to combat all spiritual corruption, which is “worse than the fall of the sinner, for it is a comfortable and selfsatisfied form of blindness. Everything then appears acceptable: deception, slander, egotism and other subtle forms of self-centeredness, for ‘even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light’ (2 Cor 11:14). So Solomon ended his days, whereas David, who sinned greatly, was able to make up for his disgrace” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 165).


Our joys have been many in the past year. For example: the successful outcome of the Synod devoted to young people; the progress made in the reform of the Curia; the efforts made to achieve clarity and transparency in financial affairs; the praiseworthy work of the Office of the Auditor-General and the AIF; the good results attained by the IOR; the new Law of the Vatican City State; the Decree on labour in the Vatican, and many other less visible results. We can think of the new Blesseds and Saints who are “precious stones” adorning the face of the Church and radiating hope, faith and light in our world. Here mention must be made of the nineteen recent martyrs of Algeria: “nineteen lives given for Christ, for his Gospel and for the Algerian people … models of everyday holiness, the holiness of “the saints next door” (Thomas Georgeon, “Nel segno della fraternità”, L’Osservatore Romano, 8 December 2018, p. 6). Then too, the great number of the faithful who each year receive baptism and thus renew the youth of the Church as a fruitful mother, and the many of her children who come home and re-embrace the Christian faith and life. All those families and parents who take their faith seriously and daily pass it on to their children by the joy of their love (cf. Amoris Laetitia, 259-290). And the witness given by so many young people who courageously choose the consecrated life and the priesthood. Another genuine cause for joy is the great number of consecrated men and women, bishops and priests, who daily live their calling in fidelity, silence, holiness and self-denial. They are persons who light up the shadows of humanity by their witness of faith, love and charity. Persons who work patiently, out of love for Christ and his Gospel, on behalf of the poor, the oppressed and the least of our brothers and sisters; they are not looking to show up on the first pages of newspapers or to receive accolades. Leaving all behind and offering their lives, they bring the light of faith wherever Christ is abandoned, thirsty, hungry, imprisoned and naked (cf. Mt 25:31-46). I think especially of the many parish priests who daily offer good example to the people of God, priests close to families, who know everyone’s name and live lives of simplicity, faith, zeal, holiness and charity. They are overlooked by the mass media, but were it not for them, darkness would reign.

Dear brothers and sisters,

In speaking of light, afflictions, David and Judas, I wanted to stress the importance of a growing awareness that should lead to a duty of vigilance and protection on the part of those entrusted with governance in the structures of ecclesial and consecrated life. In effect, the strength of any institution does not depend on its being composed of men and women who are perfect (something impossible!), but on its willingness to be constantly purified, on its capacity to acknowledge humbly its errors and correct them; and on its ability to get up after falling down. It depends on seeing the light of Christmas radiating from the manger in Bethlehem, on treading the paths of history in order to come at last to the Parousia. We need, then, to open our hearts to the true light, Jesus Christ. He is the light that can illumine life and turn our darkness into light; the light of goodness that conquers evil; the light of the love that overcomes hatred; the light of the life that triumphs over death; the divine light that turns everything and everyone into light. He is the light of our God: poor and rich, merciful and just, present and hidden, small and great. Let us keep in mind this splendid passage of Saint Macarius the Great, a fourth-century Desert Father, about Christmas: “God makes himself little! The inaccessible and uncreated One, in his infinite and ineffable goodness, has taken a body and made himself little. In his goodness, he descends from his glory. No one in the heavens or on earth can grasp the greatness of God, and no one in the heavens or on earth can grasp how God makes himself poor and little for the poor and little. As incomprehensible is his grandeur, so too is his littleness” (cf. Ps.-Macarius, Homilies IV, 9-10; XXII, 7: PG 34: 479-480; 737-738).

Let us remember that Christmas is the feast of the “great God who makes himself little and in his littleness does not cease to be great. And in this dialectic of great and little, we find the tender love of God. Greatness that becomes little, and littleness that becomes great” (Homily in Santa Marta, 14 December 2017; cf. Homily in Santa Marta, 25 April 2013). Each year, Christmas gives us the certainty that God’s light will continue to shine, despite our human misery. It gives us the certainty that the Church will emerge from these tribulations all the more beautiful, purified and radiant. All the sins and failings and evil committed by some children of the Church will never be able to mar the beauty of her face. Indeed, they are even a sure proof that her strength does not depend on us but ultimately on Christ Jesus, the Saviour of the world and the light of the universe, who loves her and gave his life for her. Christmas gives us the certainty that the grave evils perpetrated by some will never be able to cloud all the good that the Church freely accomplishes in the world. Christmas gives the certainty that the true strength of the Church and of our daily efforts, so often hidden, rests in the Holy Spirit, who guides and protects her in every age, turning even sins into opportunities for forgiveness, failures into opportunities for renewal, and evil into an opportunity for purification and triumph.

Thank you very much and a Happy Christmas to all!

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Ministry with young people after the Synod on Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment

By Isaac Withers

Over the month of October the Synod of Bishops on “Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment” has been taking place and it has seen a lively conversation around how the Church can accompany young people.

Pope Francis has framed the conversation of the Synod as one including both the young Church and the old Church, making sure that they were a part of the process with the Pre-Synod Meeting of Young People in March of this year, a meeting of young people that was globally representative. At that event, the Pope focused on this scripture verse from Joel and it sums up well his approach to the Synod: ‘And afterwards, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions’ (Joel 3:1). This was later echoed in his homily at the start of the Synod, ‘May the Spirit grant us the grace to be synodal Fathers anointed with the gift of dreaming and of hoping. We will then, in turn, be able to anoint our young people with the gift of prophecy and vision.’

The Pope has made sure that the Youth Synod is not just about young people but includes them heavily, and so the final document from that meeting went on to influence the Instrumentum Laboris (the working document of the synod) and the Synod of Bishops’ itself has also included young people from over forty countries as official auditors. Here are just a few things to know about the Synod and an idea of how it can guide Catholic youth ministry in the future.

There is Realism to this Conversation

From the beginning, the narrative of the Synod has been a realistic one. When addressing the Pre-Synod Meeting Pope Francis had decried the rising rates of substance abuse and suicide among young people, linking it with a lack of purpose, citing the Italian youth unemployment rate of 25% nationally, in some parts of over 50%. Pope Francis told that meeting ‘these are realities we must be conscious of. A job on the continent would save them!’ He then phrased this as a ‘disorientated generation’ in need of a counter culture that young people themselves could help to build. It is this sense of seeking purpose and meaning that led to Pope Francis to add ‘Vocational Discernment’ to the title of the Synod, instead of it simply being focused on ‘Youth and Faith’.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols of England and Wales expressed in an interview early on in the process of the Synod that this spirit of realism at the Synod itself has been a shock. ‘Its a shock of realism, the shock of reality, and the one thing the gospel and the message of Jesus are not afraid of, is reality. Often debates in the synod can become abstract and idealistic, and wishful. But this is much more realistic.’ This realism has meant that the Church’s history of child abuse, cover up and credibility has also been discussed heavily and, as Cardinal Nichols put it, ‘It’s unquestionably good for the Church to come face to face with its own past, with its own mistakes. And to come face to face with the damage that’s been done, and what the victims carry.’

This realism has been brought to the Synod also by the presence of the young people who were auditors, and in their interventions. One of the key moments of the Synod seems to have been the intervention of the young Iraqi auditor Safa Al Abbia, a 26-year-old Iraqi dentist and a Chaldean Christian. Al Abbia is quoted as saying ‘It certainly is important to talk about the family, sexuality and the social media. However, the main challenge facing young people in Iraq is peace and stability, and the need to live in dignity.’ It is reported that he received the longest applause of the whole Synod, and was later photographed being embraced by Pope Francis.

This realism will be reflected in the final document of the Synod as Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, President of the Polish Bishops’ Conference revealed that Part One of the document features ‘the topics of the digital world, immigrants, and abuse.’

Young People Want Answers

Receiving clear answers from the Church was a serious through line of the Pre-Synod discussion – the final document mentions it five times, usually in the same way. ‘We need rational and critical explanations to complex issues – simplistic answers do not suffice’, ‘The young have many questions about the faith, but desire answers which are not watered-down, or which utilize pre-fabricated formulations. We, the young Church, ask that our leaders speak in practical terms about controversial subjects.’ These statements read as though young people feel that they have not always been given proper answers by the Church, and that their pastors and teachers have sometimes been afraid of addressing difficult issues.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney addressed just this failure to provide real answers to those seeking them in his speech to the Synod. This came in the form of one long extended apology, starting with the scandal of sex abuse and cover up in the Church, but which transitioned into something broader. 

‘For the times Catholic families, parishes and schools have failed to introduce you to the person of Jesus Christ, his saving word, and his plan for your life; and for the times we’ve seemed to you unwelcoming, distant or harsh, or have not demonstrated the sheer joy of being Christians; and for the times when you were searching for your sexual, ethnic or spiritual identity, and needed a moral compass, but found Church people unsympathetic or ambiguous: I apologize.

For when we’ve sold you short not encouraging you to live heroically your baptismal call to holiness and the paschal path to life through self-renunciation; or when we’ve provided too little youth ministry or other support, so you’ve found living as a young person of faith and ideals lonely in a secular, often cynical world; or when unbeautiful or unwelcoming liturgies have failed to inspire or include you, and when you’ve been denied the Church’s treasury of examination of conscience, reconciliation, adoration, pilgrimages, penances and devotions: I apologize.’

This long apology was the first part of the Synod to go quite viral on ‘the Catholic internet’ and the  theme of answers was echoed again later by Bishop Robert Barron. Bishop Barron in his intervention to the Synod called for ‘a new apologetics’, saying: 

‘Innumerable surveys and studies over the past ten years have confirmed that young people frequently cite intellectual reasons when asked what has prompted them to leave the Church or lose confidence in it … What is vitally needed today, as an aspect of the accompaniment of the young, is a renewed apologetics and catechesis. … I hope it is clear that arrogant proselytizing has no place in our pastoral outreach, but I hope it is equally clear that an intelligent, respectful, and culturally-sensitive explication of the faith (“giving a reason for the hope that is within us”) is certainly a desideratum. … That the faith has not been effectively communicated was verified by the most recent Religious Landscape Study, from the Pew Research Center in America. It indicated that, among the major religions, Catholicism was second to last in passing on its traditions.’

Bishop Barron then made an interesting insight and suggested that the Church start with the questions that young people naturally have, instead of just rolling out the answers. He described this new apologetics saying that it, ‘would not be imposed from above but would rather emerge organically from below, a response to the yearning of the mind and the heart. Here it would take a cue from the method of St. Thomas Aquinas. The austere texts of the great theological master in point of fact emerged from the lively give-and-take of the quaestiones disputatae that stood at the heart of the educational process in the medieval university. Thomas was deeply interested in what young people were really asking. So should we.’

The Synod is not over

The Final Document of the Pre-Synod Meeting of Young People concluded by saying that the synodal process was a ‘vital and fruitful listening process. It would be a shame if this dialogue were not given the opportunity to continue and grow! This culture of openness is extremely healthy for us.’

Cardinal Tagle of the Philippines just days ago spoke about this too, saying with the young auditors behind him, that the conclusion of the synod of bishops does not mean that this dialogue and listening is finished. ‘The ‘meeting’ is about to end, but the Synod will continue where you are, in your homes, in your parishes, in your school’s. The celebration and the implementation of the synod will continue.’ 

This too will be a part of the final document. Archbishop Gadecki has said that the Final Document of the Synod is based around this idea of synodality in the wider life of the Church. ‘The first chapter talks about the Church’s missionary Synodality. The second chapter refers to synodality in everyday life. The third chapter draws attention to renewed missionary zeal. The fourth chapter addressed the topic of integral formation.’ He went on to say that, ’Only then will the time of its realization and implementation begin. Local churches will begin dealing with their final text and adapt it to their conditions, their environment.’

It is clear that Pope Francis wants the Church to be a synodal place, a place of openness and conversation more than judgement, and that this is what he wants young people to experience in the Church. In his opening homily to the Synod he said ‘The gift of that ability to listen, sincerely and prayerfully, as free as possible from prejudice and conditioning, will help us to be part of those situations which the People of God experience. Listening to God, so that with him we can listen to the cry of the people; listening to our people, so that we can breathe in with them the desire to which God calls us.’

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Australian bishops resist calls to overturn seal of confession in abuse cases

[Austen Ivereigh]

The Australian bishops have accepted “98 per cent” of the recommendations of a five-year major inquiry into institutions’ handling of sex abuse, but have rejected the commission’s calls for a change to church law that would oblige priests to break the seal of the confessional. 

The bishops said the call was “contrary to our faith and inimical to religious liberty” and that there was no contradiction between the safeguarding of children and vulnerable people and maintaining the seal.

The BBC story is here. The bishops’ response document is here. 

The royal commission inquiry, which ended last year, heard more than 8,000 testimonies about abuse in churches, schools and sports clubs. Among its recommendations specifically related to the Catholic Church, the commissioners said Catholic priests should face criminal charges if they failed to report sexual abuse disclosed to them during confession.

“Laws concerning mandatory reporting to child protection authorities should not exempt persons in religious ministry from being required to report knowledge of suspicions formed, in whole or in part, on the basis of information disclosed in or in connection with a religious confession,” the royal commission said last December. 

Responding to the findings yesterday in its 57-page report, the Australian bishops accepted almost all of the recommendations. But they said that while clergy should be obligated by mandatory reporting requirements, an exception had to continue to be made in respect of information revealed during celebration of the Sacrament of Penance (Confession). They said: 

Children will be less rather than more safe if mandatory reporting of confessions were required: the rare instance where a perpetrator or victim might have raised this in Confession would be less likely to occur if confidence in the sacramental seal were undermined; and so an opportunity would be lost to encourage a perpetrator to self-report to civil authorities or victims to seek safety. Mandatory reporting of confessions would also be a violation of freedom of religious belief and worship.

The call for the Church to revise its strict adherence to the confidentiality of confession is not new, especially in relation to sexual abuse of children. The argument is favour is apparently reasonable: that priests who have received absolution for abuse in the confessional later go on to commit further acts that might have been prevented if they had been reported to the police. In some cases, an assumption is made that receiving absolution in the confessional is seen by an offender as a kind of alternative (and far more lenient) punishment than he would have received by going to the police. 

But in reality, offenders who are not ready to turn away from their behaviour are very unlikely to go anywhere near the confessional, and those that do confess their abuse will be told to present themselves to the authorities as a condition of receiving absolution. In other words, the seal of the confession, as the Australian bishops say, makes it more, not less, likely that victims will be protected from depraved acts. 

Like doctor-patient confidentiality or a journalist’s commitment to protect her sources, the seal of the confessional is all about trust. It is inviolable because once an exception is made, the trust on which it depends breaks down. Like a journalist prepared to go to jail to protect her source, a priest cannot violate the seal, even if the law of the land demands it, and must be willing to suffer to protect, for the sake of the greater good. 

But the Australian bishops have promised to consult the Holy See on two related issues. 

The first is to clarify whether information received from a child during the sacrament of reconciliation that they have been sexually abused is covered by the seal of confession. There has been disagreement among canonists in relation to this issue, because in this instance the child is not confessing. 

The second is whether canon law should make mandatory what is almost always the case, namely, that absolution can and should be withheld from someone confessing abuse until they report themselves to civil authorities. 

Listen to Austen Ivereigh on BBC World Service here.

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Pope Francis in Ireland – Final Mass

[Melissa Byrne from Dublin]

“The joy of love, a joy for all God’s family”, my sisters and I sing at top volume as we walk alongside hundreds of others making their way to the Phoenix Park. As we sing, other voices belonging to strangers start to join in and as smiles are exchanged I feel as though I’m surrounded by family. Excitement seems like too passive a word to sum up the look on everyone’s faces as they see Papal flags flying alongside the River Liffey.

Pope Francis arrives at the World Meeting of Families closing mass in Phoenix Park

I was lucky enough to see Pope Francis in Poland at World Youth Day two years ago but being able to see him in the country I have grown up in was an experience I’ll never forget. Hearing visitors from other countries speak of the Irish welcome left me with an exceptional amount of pride for this country. How lucky we are to have held such a joyous and momentous occasion that provided an opportunity to reawaken the love of the church in Ireland.

One particular moment during the Mass which I found particularly emotional was the penitential rite. Pope Francis asked, on behalf of the Catholic church, for forgiveness for the grave sins of some members of the church in Ireland:  “We ask forgiveness for the abuses in Ireland, abuses of power, of conscience, and sexual abuses perpetrated by members with roles of responsibility in the church”. I cannot imagine the pain, heartbreak and betrayal victims of abuse and their families and friends must feel. It pains me to imagine my younger siblings being abused by the person who is supposed to be a representative of Christ in their lives. Pope Francis makes it very clear that these actions were and are inexcusable and that we must be in constant pursuit of truth and justice. Those who committed these horrific crimes were living a life far removed from the teachings of Catholicism. I, like Pope Francis and many others in the Catholic church, pray for justice, peace and healing for all those affected by abuse.

Applause was heard from the crowds after this plea for forgiveness and I have no doubt that I wasn’t the only one who was glad that Pope Francis had made very clear the condemnation of these actions by members of the church.

In his homily, Pope Francis spoke about imitating Christ’s self sacrifice, being reborn to a more enduring love and how, through this love, we can save our world from selfishness, greed and its indifference to the needs of the less fortunate. Pope Francis has always spoken on the unique dignity of every human being and the value that each person has.


How Pope Francis acted during his time here shows how he lives his life in accordance with what he preaches. His visit to the Capuchin Day Centre forced me to look at my life and evaluate how I treat those less fortunate than myself. Candice Hartigan, a woman who avails of the services provided by the centre, said “They’re non-judgmental. They don’t ask you why you want something. You just put your name down and that’s it.” We are not called to the bare minimum, but rather to extreme selflessness for others, whether they be those less fortunate or our family members.

Pope Francis when speaking to people at the Capuchin Day Centre said, “They help you without taking away your dignity. That is the face of Jesus Christ.”. To truly live as Jesus Christ requires us is to reach out to those who feel marginalised and excluded from society. “Help one another. This is what Jesus teaches us. This is what I do. And I do it with my heart.”

Another line in his homily that made me think was when he said: “The task of bearing witness to the good news is not easy”. This has never been more applicable than it is for the church in Ireland today. We can be timid in our sharing of the faith and often worry about how we may be perceived by others who don’t share our views. There is no room in Catholicism for a passive faith that we hide away from others. Our faith is beautiful, joyful and loving! Through our witness of the faith we can reignite the fire of Catholicism in Ireland!

We don’t need to hide away, but rather stand together in unity as we proclaim, as Pope Francis said, “The joy of the Gospel!”.

After many people had left the Phoenix Park, my family and extended family were still there. They’re always afraid they might miss some craic! As I witnessed crowds of people flooding the altar to take selfies, children singing and dancing as they threw ponchos up into the wind and my dad putting his arm around my mom, I felt hope. Not a meek hope, but a fiery hope for the future of the Catholic church in Ireland. A church that is very much alive!

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Pope Francis in Ireland – Day 1

[Jason Conroy from Dublin]

On Saturday, Pope Francis once again reaffirmed that he is, above all, a pastor.


His arrival in Ireland was marked by all the pomp and formality of an official state reception. He made the obligatory visit to the head of state, President Michael D Higgins, in Áras an Uachtarån, for a ceremonial tree planting, which was followed by a trip to Dublin Castle where he met the political and cultural establishment of Ireland.

Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s Prime Minister, officially addressed the Pope with a speech touching firmly yet tactfully on the main points of controversy about the Catholic Church which have increasingly occupied the media in recent years. He fairly acknowledged the good done by a Church which had provided for the education and healthcare of the nation in the earliest years of independence when the state could not.

On the other hand, he also addressed the public scandals of the Irish Church, the historic abuse of children by priests and mistreatment of women in religious run mother and baby homes. He mentioned the successive referendums in Ireland which legalised divorce, same sex marriage, and abortion, ending his speech with the prevailing theme that the country has changed and progressed a lot since John Paul II’s visit in 1979 and expressing hope that a new and positive relationship between the Church and the State can be developed for a modern Ireland.

The Pope responded with a brief address to an audience which included Varadkar’s partner Matthew, and many of the leading campaigners behind the abortion and gay marriage referendums, reminding listeners that Ireland is once again missionary territory. The main themes included the importance of family, the throwaway culture that discards even the child in the womb, and the ‘challenge to our conscience’ of homelessness and poverty, all issues of especial relevance in today’s Ireland.

In typical Francis style, having spent about half an hour at the Dublin Castle reception, he then proceeded to spend over 90 minutes in private with eight Irish victims of clerical sex abuse, followed by a meeting with homeless families at the Capuchin Day Centre, which provides shelter, food, and medical help the marginalised and deprived.

We’re all very used to this reputation of Francis, true to his namesake, and hearing about it on the internet or on television, but those of us who were among the 80,000 present in Croke Park stadium during that evening’s Festival of Families felt his warmth of character very clearly..

It became clear to many how much more Francis enjoys being among his flock, ‘the People of God’, than with officials and dignitaries – though I was only one in a huge crowd, I was struck by how closely I felt the affection of the Pontiff. It is an affirmation and a huge encouragement for the faithful in Ireland who have felt harassed and dejected, with more and more revelations of abuse and corruption surfacing in recent weeks, and ever higher figures in the hierarchy implicated.

The theme of the Festival of Families, like the World Meeting of Families Congress of the preceding week, could be summed up as ‘solidarity amongst the family of families’, with an emphasis on the international nature of this family which, though flung far across the globe, nonetheless experiences together the shared challenges of new technology, addiction, poverty, family breakup, even violence.

The crowds it gathered came from across the globe, with typically large detachments of Latin Americans from Mexico, Brazil and Argentina, but also Angolans, Nigerians, Kenyans and Ugandans, Filipinos, Russians, and Iraqis, to name just a few – in total, there were 82,000 people from 130 different nations present, and performers from Ireland and around the world, including the renowned singer Andrea Bocelli.

While most great rallies of this size are about great political movements and campaigns, issues that fill news headlines, only in the Catholic church could you find such a rally about the pressing importance of washing the dishes and the urgent need to spend quality time together as a family – indeed, Pope Francis’ revolution of tenderness really is a revolution of the little things, such as reconciling after a fight before bedtime, or helping one another with the daily household chores.

Among the performances of the night the sounds of 500 youths performing Riverdance was an altogether unrepeatable experience. The testimonies of families from around the world, from couples who recovered from heroin addiction, to Iraqi refugees, left a deep impression, and once more the theme of solidarity, not only between family members, but between families, was hammered home.

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