Who could be on the new pathway to sainthood?

Chiara Petrillo

[Austen Ivereigh] Pope Francis yesterday declared a third category of holiness recognizable by the Catholic Church that could have far-reaching consequences for the way sainthood is viewed in the contemporary age.

In his motu propio or papal edict dated July 11, entitled Maiorem Hac Dilectionem — “Greater Love Than This” — Francis defines a new class of saint:”Those Christians … who …have offered their life voluntarily and freely for others and have persevered in this to death.” The title of the edict — so far available only in Latin and Italian — comes from Jesus’ words in John 15:13, that there is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends.

The pope writes: “It is certain that this heroic offering of life, suggested and sustained by charity, expresses a true, full and exemplary imitation of Christ and, therefore, is worthy of that admiration which the community of the faithful have usually reserved for those who have voluntarily accepted the martyrdom of blood or have exercised the Christian virtues to a heroic degree.”

It is the first major change to sainthood procedures in centuries. Until yesterday there were two categories of sainthood, and a third way of declaring holiness without the need of either category.

The two usual categories — into which virtually all saints recognized by the Church fall — are martyrdom (in which a person is killed out of odium fidei, or hatred of the faith) and virtue, that is, a person whose life that displays the virtues of Christian life to a heroic degree. Both of these require documentary evidence and proof of miracles.

The third is not a category of sainthood, but a process, known as an “equipollent” or “equivalent” canonization, in which the pope can bypass the usual processes and procedures and simply declare a person to be a saint because, in effect, he can be absolutely sure he or she is. Pope Benedict declared Hildegard of Bingen a saint, as did Pope Francis with Peter Faber, without the need for a process because the People of God recognize them as such (See CV Comment).

Fr Mychal Judge

What Francis has done now is to introduce a third category of holiness: neither a martyr nor someone who displays heroic virtue but who freely volunteers their life to save others. There are three essential criteria:

  1. There must be “the free and voluntary offering of life and the heroic acceptance out of charity of certain death in a short term” as well as “a link between the offering of life and the premature death.
  2. There must be the “practice of the Christian virtues, at least to an ordinary degree, before the offering of one’s life, and then until death”.
  3. There must be the fame and signs of sanctity after death, and therefore the need for a miracle as a result of his or her intercession.

The edict is the result of a longstanding discussion within the Congregation of Causes for Saints, which carried out an in-depth study of the new proposal in early 2014. After extensive consultation, the cardinal and bishop members of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes approved the new measure in 2016.

Writing in L’Osservatore Romano, Archbishop Marcello Bartolucci, congregation secretary, said the addition is meant “to promote heroic Christian testimony, (that has been) up to now without a specific process, precisely because it did not completely fit within the case of martyrdom or heroic virtues.”

What kind of testimony could the edict cover? Archbishop Bartolucci gives the example of Christians who willingly put their lives at risk by, for example, serving people with highly infectious diseases, and then dying of that disease.

Another example might be Chiara Petrillo, a 28-year-old Italian woman who refused treatment for carcinoma, a type of skin cancer, while pregnant because it would have risked the life of her unborn child. She died in 2012, nearly a year after giving birth, when the cancer had become terminal and treatment was ineffective.

Or there is Fr Mychal Judge, a Franciscan friar and New York Fire Department chaplain who rushed to the scene of the twin towers following the 9/11 attacks, and was the first recorded death that day.

Blessed Oscar Romero

At Crux, John Allen gives the example of two Catholic missionaries killed in Burundi in 2011, Croatian sister Lukrecija Mamić and Italian layman Francesco Bazzani. They were not killed out of odium fidei — in fact, the killers were likely to have been Catholics also — but because they were in the way during the robbery of a convent.

But despite the dangers, lawlessness and phenomenal risks involved in choosing to live in that corner of Burundi, says Allen, “they  chose to stay there, among some of the world’s most forgotten and exploited people, because their faith compelled them to do so. To use the language made popular by Pope Francis, they risked their lives, and ultimately gave them up, to serve victims of a “throw-away culture” on the peripheries of the world.”

Allen points out that the new edict also cuts through a longstanding difficulty with many of the martyrdom cases, which involve examining often mixed or dubious motivations on the part of the killer.

Thus the cause of Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador slain at the altar in 1980 after speaking out against the army’s repression of the poor, was for a long time held up by those who argued that his death was the result of political disagreement, rather than “hatred of the faith” (again, Romero’s killers were Catholics, at least culturally).

Another example given by Allen: when St John Paul II canonized St. Maximilian Kolbe, the Polish Franciscan priest who volunteered to take the place of a stranger in the Auschwitz death camp in 1941, some theologians and canonists objected on the grounds that Kolbe wasn’t put to death for his religious convictions. When John Paul canonized him in 1982, he termed the Polish priest a “martyr of charity”, which is a good name for the new category of saint Francis has now declared.

In short, says Allen, Francis “may have untied a theological knot that’s long hobbled efforts to venerate the memory of contemporary victims of anti-Christian persecution.”

In reminding the world that love for others is the primary feature of any saint, Francis has also put self-sacrificial giving at the heart of the Christian witness. The men and women he will be raising to the universal altars alongside the martyrs and the heroically virtuous are a sign of contradiction to the ethic of autonomy and the me-first obsessions of our culture.

Posted in Pope Francis, saints

Cardinal Nichols on Finsbury Park mosque attack: “I am appalled”

Following a brutal attack on Muslims leaving a mosque in Finsbury Park last night that left one dead and ten injured, the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, today said:

Together with people all over this country I am appalled at the deliberate attack on people leaving their late night prayers, as the end of their day of fasting, at the mosque in Finsbury Park. I have assured the leadership of the Mosque and the Muslim Welfare Centre of our prayers and support.

Violence breeds violence. Hatred breeds hatred. Every one of us must repudiate hatred and violence from our words and actions. We must all be builders of understanding, compassion and peace, day by day, in our homes, our work and our communities. That is the only way.

The cardinal is adding his voice to that of other religious leaders (see Guardian here). The prime minister, Theresa May, said this morning: “This was an attack on Muslims near their place of worship and like all terrorism, in whatever its form, it seeks to drive us apart. We will not let this happen.”

Posted in Cardinal Nichols

Pope Francis message for first ‘World Day of the Poor’

(At the conclusion of the Jubilee of Mercy in November last year, Pope Francis in his message ‘Misericordia et Misera‘ instituted a World Day of the Poor to be marked on the 33th Sunday in Ordinary Time, which this year is 19 November. Ahead of that day, the Vatican today issued this, the Pope’s first message, in which he urges that, in the week before that Sunday, parishes and other Christian communities “make every effort to create moments of encounter and friendship, solidarity and concrete assistance” with the poor.)

Pope Francis with homeless guests for birthday breakfast, December 2016 (Photo: Greg Burke).

Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for the First World Day of the Poor

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, 19 November 2017

Let us love, not with words but with deeds

1. “Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in deed and in truth” (1 Jn 3:18).  These words of the Apostle John voice an imperative that no Christian may disregard.  The seriousness with which the “beloved disciple” hands down Jesus’ command to our own day is made even clearer by the contrast between the empty words so frequently on our lips and the concrete deeds against which we are called to measure ourselves.  Love has no alibi.  Whenever we set out to love as Jesus loved, we have to take the Lord as our example; especially when it comes to loving the poor.  The Son of God’s way of loving is well-known, and John spells it out clearly.  It stands on two pillars: God loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:10.19), and he loved us by giving completely of himself, even to laying down his life (cf. 1 Jn 3:16).

Such love cannot go unanswered.  Even though offered unconditionally, asking nothing in return, it so sets hearts on fire that all who experience it are led to love back, despite their limitations and sins.  Yet this can only happen if we welcome God’s grace, his merciful charity, as fully as possible into our hearts, so that our will and even our emotions are drawn to love both God and neighbour.  In this way, the mercy that wells up – as it were – from the heart of the Trinity can shape our lives and bring forth compassion and works of mercy for the benefit of our brothers and sisters in need.

2.  “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him” (Ps 34:6).  The Church has always understood the importance of this cry.  We possess an outstanding testimony to this in the very first pages of the Acts of the Apostles, where Peter asks that seven men, “full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (6:3), be chosen for the ministry of caring for the poor.  This is certainly one of the first signs of the entrance of the Christian community upon the world’s stage: the service of the poor.  The earliest community realized that being a disciple of Jesus meant demonstrating fraternity and solidarity, in obedience to the Master’s proclamation that the poor are blessed and heirs to the Kingdom of heaven (cf. Mt 5:3).

“They sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:45).  In these words, we see clearly expressed the lively concern of the first Christians.  The evangelist Luke, who more than any other speaks of mercy, does not exaggerate when he describes the practice of sharing in the early community.  On the contrary, his words are addressed to believers in every generation, and thus also to us, in order to sustain our own witness and to encourage our care for those most in need.  The same message is conveyed with similar conviction by the Apostle James.  In his Letter, he spares no words: “Listen, my beloved brethren.  Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?  But you have dishonoured the poor man.  Is it not the rich who oppress you, and drag you into court? … What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works?  Can his faith save him?  If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled”, without giving them the things needed for the body; what does it profit?  So faith by itself, if it has not works, is dead’ (2:5-6.14-17).

3. Yet there have been times when Christians have not fully heeded this appeal, and have assumed a worldly way of thinking.  Yet the Holy Spirit has not failed to call them to keep their gaze fixed on what is essential.  He has raised up men and women who, in a variety of ways, have devoted their lives to the service of the poor.  Over these two thousand years, how many pages of history have been written by Christians who, in utter simplicity and humility, and with generous and creative charity, have served their poorest brothers and sisters!

The most outstanding example is that of Francis of Assisi, followed by many other holy men and women over the centuries.  He was not satisfied to embrace lepers and give them alms, but chose to go to Gubbio to stay with them.  He saw this meeting as the turning point of his conversion: “When I was in my sins, it seemed a thing too bitter to look on lepers, and the Lord himself led me among them and I showed them mercy.  And when I left them, what had seemed bitter to me was changed into sweetness of mind and body” (Text 1-3: FF 110).  This testimony shows the transformative power of charity and the Christian way of life.

We may think of the poor simply as the beneficiaries of our occasional volunteer work, or of impromptu acts of generosity that appease our conscience.  However good and useful such acts may be for making us sensitive to people’s needs and the injustices that are often their cause, they ought to lead to a true encounter with the poor and a sharing that becomes a way of life.  Our prayer and our journey of discipleship and conversion find the confirmation of their evangelic authenticity in precisely such charity and sharing.  This way of life gives rise to joy and peace of soul, because we touch with our own hands the flesh of Christ.  If we truly wish to encounter Christ, we have to touch his body in the suffering bodies of the poor, as a response to the sacramental communion bestowed in the Eucharist.  The Body of Christ, broken in the sacred liturgy, can be seen, through charity and sharing, in the faces and persons of the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters.  Saint John Chrysostom’s admonition remains ever timely: “If you want to honour the body of Christ, do not scorn it when it is naked; do not honour the Eucharistic Christ with silk vestments, and then, leaving the church, neglect the other Christ suffering from cold and nakedness” (Hom. in Matthaeum, 50.3: PG 58).

We are called, then, to draw near to the poor, to encounter them, to meet their gaze, to embrace them and to let them feel the warmth of love that breaks through their solitude.  Their outstretched hand is also an invitation to step out of our certainties and comforts, and to acknowledge the value of poverty in itself.

4. Let us never forget that, for Christ’s disciples, poverty is above all a call to follow Jesus in his own poverty.  It means walking behind him and beside him, a journey that leads to the beatitude of the Kingdom of heaven (cf. Mt 5:3; Lk 6:20).  Poverty means having a humble heart that accepts our creaturely limitations and sinfulness and thus enables us to overcome the temptation to feel omnipotent and immortal.  Poverty is an interior attitude that avoids looking upon money, career and luxury as our goal in life and the condition for our happiness.  Poverty instead creates the conditions for freely shouldering our personal and social responsibilities, despite our limitations, with trust in God’s closeness and the support of his grace.  Poverty, understood in this way, is the yardstick that allows us to judge how best to use material goods and to build relationships that are neither selfish nor possessive (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 25-45).

Let us, then, take as our example Saint Francis and his witness of authentic poverty.  Precisely because he kept his gaze fixed on Christ, Francis was able to see and serve him in the poor.  If we want to help change history and promote real development, we need to hear the cry of the poor and commit ourselves to ending their marginalization.  At the same time, I ask the poor in our cities and our communities not to lose the sense of evangelical poverty that is part of their daily life.

5.  We know how hard it is for our contemporary world to see poverty clearly for what it is.  Yet in myriad ways poverty challenges us daily, in faces marked by suffering, marginalization, oppression, violence, torture and imprisonment, war, deprivation of freedom and dignity, ignorance and illiteracy, medical emergencies and shortage of work, trafficking and slavery, exile, extreme poverty and forced migration.  Poverty has the face of women, men and children exploited by base interests, crushed by the machinations of power and money.  What a bitter and endless list we would have to compile were we to add the poverty born of social injustice, moral degeneration, the greed of a chosen few, and generalized indifference!

Tragically, in our own time, even as ostentatious wealth accumulates in the hands of the privileged few, often in connection with illegal activities and the appalling exploitation of human dignity, there is a scandalous growth of poverty in broad sectors of society throughout our world.  Faced with this scenario, we cannot remain passive, much less resigned.  There is a poverty that stifles the spirit of initiative of so many young people by keeping them from finding work.  There is a poverty that dulls the sense of personal responsibility and leaves others to do the work while we go looking for favours.  There is a poverty that poisons the wells of participation and allows little room for professionalism; in this way it demeans the merit of those who do work and are productive.  To all these forms of poverty we must respond with a new vision of life and society.

All the poor – as Blessed Paul VI loved to say – belong to the Church by “evangelical right” (Address at the Opening of the Second Session of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, 29 September 1963), and require of us a fundamental option on their behalf.  Blessed, therefore, are the open hands that embrace the poor and help them: they are hands that bring hope.  Blessed are the hands that reach beyond every barrier of culture, religion and nationality, and pour the balm of consolation over the wounds of humanity.  Blessed are the open hands that ask nothing in exchange, with no “ifs” or “buts” or “maybes”: they are hands that call down God’s blessing upon their brothers and sisters.

6. At the conclusion of the Jubilee of Mercy, I wanted to offer the Church a World Day of the Poor, so that throughout the world Christian communities can become an ever greater sign of Christ’s charity for the least and those most in need.  To the World Days instituted by my Predecessors, which are already a tradition in the life of our communities, I wish to add this one, which adds to them an exquisitely evangelical fullness, that is, Jesus’ preferential love for the poor.

I invite the whole Church, and men and women of good will everywhere, to turn their gaze on this day to all those who stretch out their hands and plead for our help and solidarity.  They are our brothers and sisters, created and loved by the one Heavenly Father.  This Day is meant, above all, to encourage believers to react against a culture of discard and waste, and to embrace the culture of encounter.  At the same time, everyone, independent of religious affiliation, is invited to openness and sharing with the poor through concrete signs of solidarity and fraternity.  God created the heavens and the earth for all; yet sadly some have erected barriers, walls and fences, betraying the original gift meant for all humanity, with none excluded.

7. It is my wish that, in the week preceding the World Day of the Poor, which falls this year on 19 November, the Thirty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Christian communities will make every effort to create moments of encounter and friendship, solidarity and concrete assistance.  They can invite the poor and volunteers to take part together in the Eucharist on this Sunday, in such a way that there be an even more authentic celebration of the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King, on the following Sunday.  The kingship of Christ is most evident on Golgotha, when the Innocent One, nailed to the cross, poor, naked and stripped of everything, incarnates and reveals the fullness of God’s love.  Jesus’ complete abandonment to the Father expresses his utter poverty and reveals the power of the Love that awakens him to new life on the day of the Resurrection.

This Sunday, if there are poor people where we live who seek protection and assistance, let us draw close to them: it will be a favourable moment to encounter the God we seek.  Following the teaching of Scripture (cf. Gen 18:3-5; Heb 13:2), let us welcome them as honoured guests at our table; they can be teachers who help us live the faith more consistently.  With their trust and readiness to receive help, they show us in a quiet and often joyful way, how essential it is to live simply and to abandon ourselves to God’s providence.

8. At the heart of all the many concrete initiatives carried out on this day should always be prayer.  Let us not forget that the Our Father is the prayer of the poor.  Our asking for bread expresses our entrustment to God for our basic needs in life.  Everything that Jesus taught us in this prayer expresses and brings together the cry of all who suffer from life’s uncertainties and the lack of what they need.  When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he answered in the words with which the poor speak to our one Father, in whom all acknowledge themselves as brothers and sisters.  The Our Father is a prayer said in the plural: the bread for which we ask is “ours”, and that entails sharing, participation and joint responsibility.  In this prayer, all of us recognize our need to overcome every form of selfishness, in order to enter into the joy of mutual acceptance.

9. I ask my brother Bishops, and all priests and deacons who by their vocation have the mission of supporting the poor, together with all consecrated persons and all associations, movements and volunteers everywhere, to help make this World Day of the Poor a tradition that concretely contributes to evangelization in today’s world.

This new World Day, therefore, should become a powerful appeal to our consciences as believers, allowing us to grow in the conviction that sharing with the poor enables us to understand the deepest truth of the Gospel.  The poor are not a problem: they are a resource from which to draw as we strive to accept and practise in our lives the essence of the Gospel.

From the Vatican, 13 June 2017

Memorial of Saint Anthony of Padua

Posted in Pope Francis, Pope Francis address, poverty/poor

Bishops issue voter guidelines ahead of ‘pivotal’ general election

[Austen Ivereigh] In advance of what they describe as a “pivotal” general election on 8 June, the Catholic bishops of England and Wales have issued their customary considerations to help voters decide in conscience whom to vote for, suggesting 10 issues to raise with their local candidates.

As always, the bishops urge everyone with a right to vote to do so. They say: “Please do vote. Your vote is a matter of conscience. It is your judgement about all that God wants of us, both personally and as a society.”

But in their pastoral letter to be read in all parishes this Sunday, the bishops turn to Pope Francis’s magna carta, the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, to draw out general considerations to guide voters’ thinking at this time. They stress the importance of leaving this earth in a better state than we found it, of bolstering families as the primary vehicle of God’s mercy, as well as human fraternity and solidarity.

Noting how “these broad principles impact directly on many of the practical issues being debated at this time” the bishops  point to what they call “a pivotal moment in the life of our nations as we prepare to leave the European Union”, observing that the outcome of the election will help to determine the shape not only of Brexit but of post-Brexit Britain’s place in the world — including whether the Kingdom itself remains united.

The bishops stress in particular ten issues.

On Europe, they flag the rights of UK citizens following Brexit, as well as human and workers’ rights in future trade deals. On migration and asylum they urge a “fair migration system” that is “respectful of the unity of marriage and family life” and ask future governments to commit to and expand the UK’s current pledge to take 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020.

They also urge political support for efforts to fight modern slavery and assist its victims, and say they want to see the parties committing to helping poorer countries and to assisting religious, including Christian, minorities facing persecution abroad.

The bishops also ask for candidates to protect the family and oppose euthanasia, urge urgent prison reform to deal with the unprecedented levels of suicide and violence, and call for action to help those in poor housing and struggling to make ends meet. The bishops of England and Wales also urge support for Catholic schools as part a commitment to parental choice in the education of their children.

They conclude the letter with a prayer: “Lord grant us wisdom to act always with integrity, seeking the protection and flourishing of all, and building a society based on justice and peace.”

The Catholic bishops’ letter, which can be downloaded in PDF here, follows the pastoral letter issued over a week ago signed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.

They, too, stress the significance of the historical moment, arguing that the election takes place “against the backdrop of deep and profound questions of identity,” and offers a rare opportunity “to renew and reimagine our shared values as a country and a United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”.

A recent study by St Mary’s University in Twickenham suggests that the decline in Anglicanism has “stabilized” on the back of an upsurge in patriotism which has made it more acceptable to own up to being Christian.

Last Sunday the Bishop of Portsmouth, Philip Egan, pre-empted the bishops’ conference pastoral by issuing his own ten-point election letter which differs substantially from it. The letter makes no mention of Pope Francis, Europe or asylum and immigration, but asks of candidates: “How will they strengthen Britain’s Christian patrimony, its history, classics and values, whilst curbing fundamentalism in its various forms, scientific and religious, and promoting a fruitful dialogue between faith and reason?”

In Scotland, meanwhile, Catholic bishops have also penned a letter to be read at all 500 Catholic churches there. According to a preview summary sent out today by the Scottish Catholic media office, the bishops say society will be judged on how it treats its poorest and most vulnerable citizens.

The letter highlights life, marriage and family, poverty, asylum, and religious freedom, while urging Catholic voters to “remind our politicians that abortion, assisted suicide and euthanasia are always morally unacceptable.” The bishops will also ask voters to ensure their candidates are “committed to the right of people not to be forced to act against their conscience.” The letter concludes: “Our nation, our Parliament, and our Government will be judged on how it treats its poorest and most vulnerable citizens.”

Posted in General Election 2017

Cardinal Nichols calls for ‘prayer, solidarity & calm’ after Westminster terrorist attack

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, who is Archbishop of Westminster and president of the bishops’ conference of England and Wales, said this morning:

Yesterday’s attacks in Westminster have shocked us all. The kind of violence we have seen all too often in other places has again brought horror and killing to this city.

I know you will lead people in prayer, especially for those who have lost their lives and those who have lost one they love. Pray for Aysha Frade, killed by the car on Westminster Bridge. Her two children attend St Mary of the Angels Primary School. Pray for them and for their father. And please remember the young French students who have been injured.

We remember too all who have been injured, and those who care for them.

We pray in particular as well for Keith Palmer, the police officer who died, and for his family, thanking God that so many show such brave dedication to keeping our society safe.

Let our voice be one of prayer, of compassionate solidarity, and of calm. All who believe in God, Creator and Father of every person, will echo this voice, for faith in God is not a problem to be solved, but a strength and a foundation on which depend.

Meanwhile, Pope Francis has sent a message to Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, assuring the nation of his prayers.

Deeply saddened to learn of the loss of life and of the injuries caused by the attack in central London, His Holiness Pope Francis expresses his prayerful solidarity with all those affected by this tragedy.

Commending those who have died to the loving mercy of Almighty God, His Holiness invokes divine strength and peace upon their grieving families, and he assures the nation of his prayers at this time.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin
Secretary of State

Posted in terrorist attacks

Collins’s resignation doesn’t mean pope’s anti-abuse body is not working

Marie Collins with Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston

Marie Collins with Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston

[Austen Ivereigh in Rome] The resignation of the Irish abuse survivor, Marie Collins, from the Vatican’s Commission for the Protection of Minors (see statements below), is doubtless a major blow to the perception of the pope’s commitment to creating a safeguarding environment in the Church that is a model for other institutions.

The commission was created in early 2014 to advise the Pope on developing better practices and policies in the universal Church for tackling abuse. Its credibility was doubtless assisted by the presence of Collins, who was one of the original nine members of the commission. She is a figure of considerable authority, admired for her willingness to act as a bridge between clerical sex abuse survivors and the Church, and for her dedication to the cause of reforming its culture.

Although he is still technically on leave of absence, the other survivor on the commission, Peter Saunders, stood down in February last year (see CV Comment), meaning that Collins’s departure deprives the body of the voice of those who have directly experienced abuse. Yet the other expert members of the commission have great credibility and expertise in this field, and there has been talk for some time of creating a separate body that could articulate survivors’ experiences to the commission.

But while it is a blow, it is important not to rush to the conclusion that the commission is not working. In her interview with Crux explaining the decision, Collins herself acknowledges that commission’s work has been important, and will go on. In September last year, the commission gave a summary of that work, showing it has been highly effective in a number of areas, notably education and accountability.

In her statement below, which is further spelled out in an editorial for the National Catholic Reporter (NCR), Collins blames the Vatican bureaucracy, the curia, rather than Pope Francis. Although she says she will continue to assist the Church in this area, she says she is standing down from the commission in protest at the curia “hindering and blocking” the commission’s work. She is adamant that Pope Francis has accepted all the commission’s reccomendations, but that the curia has frustrated their implementation. In a reference to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), she says that “the lack of co-operation … has been shameful.”

To NCR she has described “lack of resources, inadequate structures around support staff, slowness of forward movement and cultural resistance” before citing “the most significant problem” as “the reluctance of some members of the Vatican Curia to implement the recommendations of the Commission despite their approval by the pope.”

Because her resignation comes on the heels of an Associated Press story about Pope Francis seeking to soften certain sentences of abusive priests — a story we will return to below — a connection will naturally be made between the two. Yet her decision to resign, as is clear from the statement below, is prior to that story; and in any case, she is not blaming Pope Francis.

What, then, are the areas where she believes the curia has dragged its feet or actively obstructed the commission?

One is lack of resources. The Australian commission member, Kathleen McCormack, recently testified that the commission’s budget is far too small for the work it has to do. That is undoubtedly true, but according to commission sources the Holy See has not yet refused any of its funding requests. Some of what the commissioners would like to do — special research projects etc — will require special funding, but the applications for funding have not yet been made.

Another grievance is her belief that the commission’s proposal for a tribunal for judging bishops who have been negligent or have covered up in cases of clerical abuses was jettisoned. Yet there is confusion on this point. The tribunal — at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) — already existed; the commission proposed that it could be used for the judging of bishops in these cases; the CDF raised no objection, and the tribunal remains available for that purpose, whenever a judicial process  — that is, in cases which require a trial because there are opposing views on the evidence — is required.

Part of the confusion on this point is that in his motu propio of June last year, ‘As a Loving Mother’ (see CV Comment) the pope gave four Vatican congregations the power to investigate and ask the pope to remove bishops in cases of negligence. This appeared to some to be an alternative option to the tribunal, but it wasn’t. Rather, it made it easier for action to be taken against bishops in cases where no trial was required because the evidence was clear. Because the process would be an “administrative” one (the canonical term for a process that doesn’t involve a trial), it would be faster and easier. (Collins tells NCR that “it is impossible to know if it has actually begun work or not”).

Although at the time US-based Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said it was skeptical about the motu propio, Collins herself welcomed it, saying she hoped it would “succeed in bringing the accountability survivors have waited for so long.” But later, in September last year, she appeared to believe that the motu propio had in effect put paid to the tribunal. “After [the tribunal] was announced last year, I was really positive about that and then when it sort-of didn’t go anywhere I was quite down-hearted,” she told NCR. But she added that while the tribunal “is no longer on the cards, I think the new process is actually more wide-ranging”, and that this was “very positive for everyone on the commission because it’s one thing that we said at the very beginning we were going to deal with: bishops’ accountability.”

A third possible point of contention, mentioned in both the NCR and the Crux interview with Collins, is that a template for guidelines for dioceses on the prevention, detection and response to abuse has not been sent by the Vatican to dioceses around the world, as the commission had requested.

The template is available on the commission website. In fact, the commission did not ask for it to be sent to the dioceses, but for clarification on which Vatican authority will be responsible for overseeing it. The answer to this is expected “soon”, according to my sources, but the slowness of the response of the CDF has further contributed to Collins’s frustration.

Yet overall it is not true to say that the Vatican has not cooperated with the commission. In many ways, given its novelty, the cooperation that the commission has received has been notable. The commission itself is not part of the Curia; it is not a “dicastery”, as curial departments are called. It does not operate on behalf of the Holy See, and juridically other Vatican departments are not expected to work with it as if it were.

This has been particularly frustrating for Collins in the case of the CDF, which she accuses of refusing to cooperate in the case of one simple recommendation put forward by the commission, which she says Pope Francis directed all Vatican departments to follow, namely that all correspondence from survivors receives a response. The CDF’s refusal was the “last straw” that led to her handing in her letter of resignation.

“I find it impossible to listen to public statements about the deep concern in the church for the care of those whose lives have been blighted by abuse, yet to watch privately as a congregation in the Vatican refuses to even acknowledge their letters”, she said in the editorial, adding: “It is a reflection of how this whole abuse crisis in the church has been handled: with fine words in public and contrary actions behind closed doors,” she said.

However, sources in the Vatican say the request that all correspondence be acknowledged will be fulfilled in the future.

Because the commission exists as an advisory body, intended to assist the pope in improving policies and procedures, it lacks the power to hold the Vatican to account. It is not an outside auditing body, such as MoneyVal, the European Union’s anti-money laundering agency, which the Vatican brought in to help clear up its finances.

As John Allen points out at Crux, this is why it is difficult for the commission to include abuse survivors’ advocates. Such advocates are under enormous pressure from survivors to show that they are holding the Church to account and delivering change, and the relentlessness of that pressure is surely one of the factors in leading Collins to decide to resign.

The question must therefore be asked, as Allen does, whether it was ever feasible to include survivors, and the fact that they were demonstrates, again, that the status and purpose and lines of accountability of the commission and its status within the Vatican need to be better defined, and the commission itself reconstituted on a firmer and clearer basis.

A revision of its statutes and a rethinking of the commission’s role is expected at the end of this year. The commission’s work remains, predominantly, that of promoting best-practices and strict guidelines across the Church, and especially that of the developing world, and this is likely to be its future focus. As Allen says, “the exit of Marie Collins isn’t necessarily the end of the road in terms of abuse survivors being represented on the pope’s commission. It could actually mean a transition to a more honest, freer, and less personally conflicted way of doing it.”

Meanwhile, however, the question of how the Church punishes abusive priests will remain under scrutiny. The story recently by Associated Press that certain priests had their laicization sentences reduced following interventions by Pope Francis using the argument of mercy has inevitably raised concerns that the oft-touted “zero tolerance” of abusive priests is being in some way eroded by an inappropriate application of the pope’s theology of mercy.

Two points, however, need to be made here. The first is that, while the story is likely to be true, the fact that it was leaked shows that the intention of officials who spoke to AP was in some way to harm Pope Francis. The CDF’s processes are governed by the highest form of confidentiality in canon law, known as the pontifical secret, and the violation of that confidentiality is a very serious matter.

The second point is that the lesser punishment of a lifetime of prayer and penance is still a very serious form of punishment. It is the canonical punishment meted out, for example, to Maciel, the most notorious abuser of recent times, by Benedict XVI. It means that the priest can no longer function as a priest. He is removed from ministry, confined to a place of retreat, and cannot say Mass or in hear Confessions or have contact with the People of God.

The only difference between a lifetime of prayer and penance and laicization, in fact, is that in the second case, the priest is stripped of his priestly powers, and ceases to be the responsibility of the diocese or order to which he belongs. Laicization is automatic in cases where the priest has served lengthy prison sentences, but is not automatic in other cases. Mercy, in this case, allows for the possibility that a priest may convert and change and be reconciled with God, perhaps after many years. It is a hard judgement for the CDF tribunals and the pope to make, and it is not surprising that the pope has come to a different judgement in some cases.

But the important point remains. A punishment of prayer and penance is still a severe punishment, one that protects the vulnerable just as much as laicization, and arguably more so.

STATEMENTS from (1) Marie Collins, (2) The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (3) its president, Cardinal Sean O’Malley

(1) Marie Collins

I sent my letter of resignation (copied to Cardinal O’Malley), from the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, to Pope Francis on the 9th February 2017 to have effect from 1st March 2017.

Since the beginning of the Commission in March 2014 I have been impressed with the dedication of my colleagues and the genuine wish by Pope Francis for assistance in dealing with the issue of clerical sexual abuse. I believe the setting up of the Commission, the bringing in of outside expertise to advise him on what was necessary to make minors safer, was a sincere move.

However, despite the Holy Father approving all the recommendations made to him by the Commission, there have been constant setbacks.

This has been directly due to the resistance by some members of the Vatican Curia to the work of the Commission. The lack of co-operation, particularly by the dicastery most closely involved in dealing with cases of abuse, has been shameful.

Late last year a simple recommendation, approved by Pope Francis, went to this dicastery in regard to a small change of procedure in the context of care for victims/survivors. In January I learned the change was refused.

At the same time a request for co-operation on a fundamental issue of Commission work in regard to safeguarding was also refused. While I hope the Commission will succeed in overcoming this resistance, for me it is the last straw.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley has invited me to continue to be part of training projects including those for the Curia and new bishops and I am happy to accept. This will be the area on which I will now concentrate.

I wish my colleagues on the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors the very best for the future.

Marie Collins

(2) The PCPM

On Monday, February 13, 2017, Mrs. Marie Collins, a Member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors [PCPM] advised Cardinal Sean O’Malley, President of the PCPM, of her intent to resign from the Commission effective March 1, 2017.

Mrs. Collins, a Member of the Pontifical Commission since its inception in 2014 is a survivor of clerical abuse, and consistently and tirelessly championed for the voices of the victims/survivors to be heard, and for the healing of victims/survivors to be a priority of the Church.  In discussing with the Cardinal, and in her resignation letter to the Holy Father, Mrs. Collins cited her frustration at the lack of cooperation with the Commission by other offices in the Roman Curia.

Mrs. Collins accepted an invitation from Cardinal O’Malley to continue to work with the Commission in an educational role in recognition of her exceptional teaching skills and impact of her testimony as a survivor.

The Holy Father accepted Mrs. Collins resignation with deep appreciation for her work on behalf of the victims/survivors of clergy abuse.

The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors was established by Pope Francis in March of 2014. The Chirograph of His Holiness Pope Francis states specifically, “The Commission’s specific task is to propose to me the most opportune initiatives for protecting minors and vulnerable adults, in order that we may do everything possible to ensure that crimes such as those which have occurred are no longer repeated in the Church. The Commission is to promote local responsibility in the particular Churches, uniting their efforts to those of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, for the protection of all children and vulnerable adults.

(3) Cardinal O’Malley

“On behalf of the Members of the Commission I have expressed to Marie Collins our most sincere thanks for the extraordinary contributions she has made as a founding member of the Commission.  We will certainly listen carefully to all that Marie wishes to share with us about her concerns and we will greatly miss her important contributions as a member of the Commission.  As the Commission gathers for the plenary meeting next month we will have an opportunity to discuss these matters.  With the members of the Commission I am deeply grateful for Marie’s willingness to continue to work with us in the education of church leaders, including the upcoming programs for new bishops and for the dicasteries of the Holy See.  Our prayers will remain with Marie and with all victims and survivors of sexual abuse.”

Posted in abuse, Pope Francis, Vatican reform