This piece has been inspired by two recent events. This morning (4th July), I read that “nice guy” Amir Khan was divorcing Kiran Rao, his second wife, of over a decade. The previous day I had read a Vatican News report by Devin Watkins that Pope Francis was convening the 10th edition of the World Meeting of Families (WMF) in Rome from 22nd to 26th June 2022.
Why do I co-relate these two events? Because both concern the family. Amir Khan, through his socially relevant movies like “3 Idiots” was counted among the nice guys of the otherwise brash Bollywood Brigade. His announcement of splitsville came as a shock to me. Last month we had also read how the philanthropic couple that the world loved, Bill and Melinda Gates, were also headed for an acrimonious splitsville. How could they, many wondered?
Coincidentally, the previous night I came across a You Tube video of the marriage of Prince Charles and Diana, all of 40 years ago. The pomp and pageantry of that wedding was probably the greatest in modern times. A pompous wedding and a disastrous marriage; ending in tragedy in a car crash in France. Truth is stranger than fiction. The glamour world outside is often so different from the stark reality inside. Yet, so many of us run after glamour, externals and fairy tale weddings, completely missing the meaning and goals of marriage and family life. Would that we could learn the bitter lessons of history.
Watkins’ report from the Vatican states that Pope Francis says that Rome would be the focus of WMF22. He admits that the previous nine WMFs were “unknown to the majority of families”. Hence this time around there would be more of people’s participation for which he requests the bishops to immediately begin preparations. This sounds excellent on paper. But this top-to-down pyramidical approach of the hierarchy has been found wanting in the past.
Take the example of the Family Synod of 2014. The delegates that went from India were never heard of before that and haven’t been heard of since! When a year for St Joseph (as at present) is announced prayer cards are printed for use in all parishes. No such attempt was made for the Year of the Family that preceded the Synod. To my knowledge independent surveys were conducted only in Pune, Mumbai, Chennai and Kanpur, largely at the instance of the Indian Catholic Forum (ICF).
The real betrayal was the Lineamenta (guidelines) of 46 questions prepared by the bishops. A few samples will suffice “What analytical tools are currently being used in these times of anthropological and cultural changes; and what are the more significant positive or negative results? (Q2). “Vatican II, returning to an ancient ecclesial tradition, expressed an appreciation for natural marriage. To what extent does diocesan pastoral activity acknowledge the value of this popular wisdom as fundamental in culture and society” (Q19). You are not the only one scratching your head in disbelief at these abstract questions.
It would be appropriate to revert to Vatican II to comprehend this last question. The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church refers to the family as “the domestic Church” (LG 11). This is a categorical statement. It does not say that the church is present in the family, but calls the family itself a form of actually being Church. It further elaborates “For all their works, prayers and apostolic endeavours, their ordinary married and family life, their daily labour, their mental and physical relaxation, carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life, if patiently borne – all these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God” (LG 34). And again, “The Christian family loudly proclaims both the present virtues of the kingdom of God and the hope of a blessed life to come” (LG 34). From these solemn statements we see both existential and eschatological virtues of true Christian family life.
Another document describes the family as the foundation of society (GS 52). And again, “The creator of all things has established the conjugal partnership as the beginning and basis of human society ... The family has received from God its mission to be the first and vital cell of society” (AA 11). The church is here affirming the divine origin of the family. It doesn’t call the hierarchy or the clergy the “first and vital cell of society”. The question that therefore goes abegging is, “How much time, energy and money does the hierarchical church expend on what is its primary and vital cell – the family? Bishop’s conferences spend days and hours on building or protecting institutions of brick and mortar; but spend little time on the real flesh and blood building blocks of the church – the family.
Let me now take the readers (and leaders) back to the Indian equivalent of Vatican II – the Church in India Seminar of 1969 that was organized in the first flush of Vatican II (1962-65). It was held from 15th to 25th May in Bangalore. Just three days after it concluded my father obtained a receipt for Rs15/- from the CBCI for the 600 page book with its findings. I will quote not just some of the findings pertaining to the family, but also the methodology followed by the Seminar. It was preceded by exactly 100 consultations that covered diverse groups like Regions, Dioceses, seminaries and special interest groups like the Conference of Religious of India, the Bombay Jesuits, and lay organizations like the Newman Associations, Sodalities and Catholic Students Union.
There were 2321 participants in the regional seminars, of which 1273 (55%) were laity. The diocesan seminars had 6843 participants of whom 4202 (61%) were laity. The tribal dominated diocese of Raigarh – Ambikapur had the maximum number of 912 participants, of whom 741 (81%) were laity. If such a mammoth exercise could be organized in 1969 when there were no computers, mobile phones, email, digital ticket booking, etc, one wonders why the CBCI has not organized a similar exercise since!
The seminar itself was divided into 16 workshops – Spirituality, Catechesis, Liturgy, Evangelization, Dialogue with other religions, Education, Socio-economic activities, Civic & Political life, Social Communications and Media, Leadership, Family, Labour, Ecumenism, Personnel & Resources, Health & Social Services, and Pastoral Life. An expansive landscape. I shall here limit myself to some of the observations on the Family. The first issue addressed by the Workshop on Family was Family Planning or Birth Control. This was in the shadow of Pope Paul VI’s very controversial encyclical of 1967 “Humanae Vitae” that considered the then Rhythm Method (RM) as the only morally acceptable option available to Catholic couples for birth control. Interestingly, even back in 1969, the Workshop did not endorse the encyclical. It very boldly stated “There is pressure from the Government on one side, and the teaching of the Church on the other side. No practical solution is offered”. It went on to say that “there are Catholics who feel a great concern and anguish as medical opinion is that RM is not effective in a large number of cases ... the question should be reviewed. It said that “there is a need of sympathy with those who cannot follow the Pope’s encyclical”.
It addressed several other issues pertaining to the family. For mixed marriages it said “The Church should adopt a more understanding attitude towards mixed marriages, especially with other Christians. Each case should be valued individually (sic). Mixed marriages should be treated with sympathy and understanding that implies a special preparation for them”.
Regarding education it advocated that “Concessions should be made for Catholic children in schools so that they can all go to Catholic schools”.
Its most farsighted observation was regarding the status of Divorced and Remarried Catholics (DARCs). It says that “Divorce is not frequent in India but ... sympathetic consideration is to be given to these people by the Church and more efforts should be made to find a really workable solution if the second union has proved with time to verify better the spirituality of marriage”. Now in 2021 divorce and separation are far more rampant than in 1969. And everybody isn’t as influential as Prime Minister Boris Johnson, or as lucky as the Chilean flight attendants to have their marriage solemnized mid-air by Pope Francis himself! It makes one wonder. Has the hierarchical church in India deliberately, by acts of omission more than of commission, sabotaged the teachings of Vatican II, the findings of the Seminar of 1969 and many other pronouncements related to the family? I fear so.
Now that the WMF22 has been announced by Pope Francis the CBCI will go through the regular motions of having some consultations with those who are their favourites and willing to tow the line. There will also be the chosen delegates as happened with the Family Synod of 2014. So what should the laity do? Should it remain a mute spectator?
In 2014 we took the initiative under the banner of the ICF, to organize our own seminar. The bishop in charge of the CCBI (Latin Rite) Family Commission attended it. We had submitted our findings to him for onward submission to Rome. In 2019 we had organized “We too are Church” in Kolkata. The second edition of the same was scheduled for February 2020 in Kerala, but had to be abandoned because of the Corona pandemic.
*The writer was earlier the Resource Person for the CCBI Family Commission. He has expounded these thoughts in greater detail in his recent book The Jerusalem Code.
(A sequel to “Hello ... Can you hear me?”)
A middle aged man with a shock of dishevelled straw-yellow hair approached the altar of the cathedral in London, in wedding attire. He had been born a Catholic and subsequently joined the Anglican Church. He had been twice married and divorced, and now had a child from his current partner. Could such a person get married in a Catholic sacrament of Matrimony? The average Catholic would say an emphatic “No”.
As in my last article, this one also has a Trans Atlantic saga. An old man who had been through much personal suffering, including the death of his son and first wife, was a regular Sunday Mass goer. He always carried a rosary in his pocket and often spoke of his Catholic moral beliefs. Yet he was denied Holy Communion, and the American bishops were conspiring to ensure that he did not get to receive the same; because of his support for pro-choicers; those who believed that it was a woman, and she alone, who had the right to decide about her own body. Was this fair? Again, a majority of Catholics would probably say “No”.
Yet the Catholic Church in England said “Yes” to the man whose hair looked like a straw hat; and the American bishops too said “Yes” to deny Communion to the old man. By now you would have guessed who these two are – Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister of the UK, and Joseph Biden, the President of the USA. How did this happen?
First the facts. Johnson got married this 28th May in Westminster Cathedral. How did the Church allow it, when lesser mortals in a similar situation have been vehemently denied such a facility or even the admission to Communion? They are the Divorced and Remarried Catholics (DARCs). Johnson was very much in that category.
Nine days later (6th June) was the Feast of Corpus Christi. Rev Sean Hall, a former professor of theology and now a priest in the Catholic diocese of Hexham and Newcastle, had this to say in his sermon that Sunday, as reported by La Croix International on 11/6/2021.
Hall referred to the Last Supper, the first Eucharistic celebration. He describes the recipients as “unworthy”. One was a traitor, another in denial, and the rest were cowards. The one “recipient” who did stand by the cross did nothing to alleviate Jesus’ pain or to plead on his behalf. So who then is worthy? In my previous piece I had already described the Jansenist heresy on “holiness” and Vatican II’s dogmatic teaching on “embracing sinners in its bosom”.
Hall must have been confronted by his parishioners and some DARCs on the church’s double standards. He laments “that there would seem to be one law for the rich and powerful and another for the rest ... The distress caused to these people is incalculable”. He adds that “The church has lost some excellent people because of its rigidity and coldness of heart towards those who are hurting, and in need of healing, not the wagging finger and judgment of Church law ... its rules and regulations regarding admittance to the sacraments now look ludicrous and unstoppable”.
Across the Atlantic, the antics of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) seem even more ludicrous. On 21/6/2021 Giulia Heyward reported on it in the New York Times. She said that on 18/6/21 they voted to “begin drafting new guidance (sic) that could deny President Biden and other pro-choice public officials Communion, due to their support of abortion rights”. This move is spearheaded by the conservative Abp Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, the USCCB President. After three days of virtual debate (many bishops were not tech savvy enough to even mute or unmute their mikes) 75% voted in favour of preparing the document, while 24% opposed the move. One may safely presume that most of the US bishops now in office are appointees of either Popes John Paul II or Benedict XVI, both arch conservatives.
Heyward states that though the proposed document will not specifically name Biden (it dare not) “the debate has been heavily focussed on the nation’s second Catholic President, making it clear that he is the motivating factor behind the proposed draft”.
Democratic Representative from California, Ted Lieu, called the bishops “partisan hypocrites”. Sixty Catholic Democrat lawmakers have released a statement “urging the USCCB to not formalize the practice of withholding the Eucharist based on political beliefs”. Is the USCCB stirring up another political storm, probably egged on by Donald Trump, who could hardly be described as being on a higher moral ground than Biden?
The lawmakers described the USCCB action as “the weaponization of the Eucharist to Democratic lawmakers for their support of a woman’s safe and legal access to abortion, as contradictory. No elected officials have been threatened with being denied the Eucharist as they support and have supported policies contrary to the church’s teachings”. One could also ask the USCCB what action it has taken against drug lords, war mongers, human traffickers, pornographers, paedophile clergy and the ruthless mafia; who could possibly be major donors to church coffers!
Heyward says that Catholic bishops opposed to this document have said that it has “the potential to create more division and exclusion within the faith community. Bp Robert McElroy of San Diego warned that “we will invite all the political animosities that so tragically divide our nation into the very heart of the Eucharistic celebration ... That sacrament that seeks to make us one will become for millions of Catholics, a sign of division”.
Interestingly, 61% of Catholics over the age of 18 said that abortion should be kept legal. Again, 67% said that Biden should be allowed to receive Communion. Among Democrats the figure was higher at 87% and lower at 44% among Republicans, according to a survey by the Pew Research Centre.
Is all this much ado about nothing? For now, the USCCB has only voted on preparing the document. In November it will review the “proposed document”. Even after that it will only be in the nature of a guideline, and the final decision will be “left to the discretion of the local bishop or the pope”! One therefore wonders if this is just a diversionary tactic, to detract from one’s failures on other fronts?
Yet, what is happening in the USA now is nothing new. It happened 125 years ago with the advent of Americanism – an undefined term. If the USCCB has now taken a sharp turn to the conservative right, the last time it had a spat with the Vatican was for leaning too far to the liberal left! This is found in the encyclical “Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae” issued by Pope Leo XIII on 22/1/1899, addressed to Cardinal James Gibbon, of Baltimore.
The then pope was concerned about the new opinions being expressed that “the church should shape her teachings more in accord with the spirit of the age and relax some of her ancient severity and make some concessions to new opinions. Many think that these concessions should be made not only in regard to ways of living, but even in regard to doctrines which belong to the deposit of faith”. The encyclical is uncompromising on what it considers matters of faith but acknowledges that “in regard to ways of living she has been accustomed to so yield that, the divine principles of morals being kept intact, she has never neglected to accommodate herself to the character and genius of the nations which she embraces”.
We need to remember that this encyclical was written years before the far reaching changes in ecclesiology of Vatican II. It ends by saying “We are not able to give approval to those views that, in their collective sense, are called by some as Americanism ... For it would give rise to the suspicion that there are some among you who conceive and would have the church in America to be different from what it is in the rest of the world”.
This seems like a comedy of errors, with a complete role reversal. The USCCB today seems to be talking the language of Pope Leo in 1899, and the Vatican today seems more in keeping with the liberal thinking of the condemned Americanism!
It is for this reason that Cardinal Luis Ladaria sent a letter on behalf of Pope Francis, to the USCCB in May, warning that their vote “could become a source of discord rather than unity within the episcopate and the larger church in the United States”.
Let us objectively look at Vatican II teachings, Canon Law and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) vis-à-vis the Eucharist, especially of its unifying effect.
The Eucharist manifests the unity of the Body of Christ (LG 11). It brings about the unity of the church (UR 2). It is the source of perfecting the church (AG 39). It is the hope and strength for life’s journey (GS 38). Community building must originate in the Eucharist (PO 6). Bishops should live the paschal mystery more deeply through the Eucharist and thus become a firmly united body in the solidarity of Christ’s love (CD 15).
Canon Law asserts that any baptised person who is not forbidden by law may and must be admitted to Holy Communion (Can 912), as it is an action of Christ himself, and of the church (Can 899).
The Catechism describes it as the centre of Christian life (CCC1343). It has been there from the beginning of Christian devotion (CCC 1342 & 2178, cf Acts 2:42-46 & 1 Cor 11:17). It therefore encourages the faithful to receive the Eucharist, even daily (CCC 1389).
I really wonder if the USCCB has bothered to refer to the Church’s own teachings before embarking on its present highly motivated and suspect action against Joe Biden and his ilk?
Finally, there is the abiding example of Jesus himself, who said that the Sabbath was made for man, and not the other way around (cf Mk 2:27). He did not condemn sinners but shared the table with them (cf Lk 15:2). He did not condemn the woman caught in adultery (cf Jn 8:4), or the Samaritan woman who had been through five husbands (cf Jn 4:18). Can we be more sacrosanct than Jesus?
Remember how Pope Francis blessed the marriage of a live in Chilean couple that were flight attendants on one of his journeys in 2018. He was touching hearts, not flouting or flaunting rules. He is indeed a pastor with his oft repeated “smell of the sheep”. And sheep don’t smell of eau de cologne!
He believes in the pastoral, not dogmatic approach, to situations. The dogmatist would say “Don’t jump into the water, it is dangerous”. Seeing a man drowning he says “I warned you, now you face the consequences”. The pastor, on the other hand, says, “That man is drowning. I must save him, even at the cost of my own life or reputation”.
I will conclude with some examples of what moral theologians call “situational ethics”. Firstly, Jesus said that Moses allowed divorce because of the hardness of their hearts (Mat 19:8). Today it may be permissible because of the complexities and uncertainties of modern life. If I correctly recall, Pope Francis’ sister in Argentina is a divorcee, so he understands their pain.
My wife had both her confinements in Catholic hospitals. Both were caesareans. After the second one, while my wife was still on the operation table, a Catholic nun came out of the theatre asking me to sign for a tubectomy, while her abdomen was still open, so as not to endanger her life. As a conscientious Catholic I was in a dilemma. My mother-in-law, sensing my confusion, told me to sign. I did.
Another very different example. Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Minister of U.P. is a sadhu who doesn’t even eat onion or garlic. Yet he encourages the sale of liquor because the Govt desperately needs the money, more so in these corona times. Then there is St Thomas Aquinas’ theory of “double effect”, used to justify killing in war. Protecting people is the prime motive, but killing others in the process is the unintended “double effect” (CCC 2263). Generals today refer to it as collateral damage.
My parting shot; as per Canon Law, only the Pope has the right to judge Heads of State (Can 1405:1)! Perhaps that is why he permitted Johnson’s marriage and may not permit the USCCB to get away with their antics of Weaponizing Communion and Demonizing People.
- The writer is the Convenor of the Indian Catholic Forum
“Ciao,questo e` Papa Francesco” (Hello, this is Pope Francis calling).
“Aap jis number ko call kar rahe hain,vah kaphi samay se network coverage se bahar hai” (The number you are calling has been out of the network area for some time)!
Pope Francis was desperately trying to get through to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) Secretariat; without success. He asked one of his Indian aides why that was so. The aide replied that it was because the number was part of the BSNL network. The Pope was curious to know what the acronym stood for. The aide mischievously replied, “Bhai sahab nahin lagta” (Brother it doesn’t work), a meme on the Government owned telecom network.
Jokes apart, is Pope Francis actually getting through to India? Is his message coming across? The indices are to the contrary. Has any bishop in India written a pastoral letter on papal documents like Vos Estis Lux Mundi (promulgated on 7/5/19), regarding clerical sexual abuse; Fratelli Tutti (3/10/20) on universal brotherhood and the environment; the Motu Proprio (30/4/21) on changes to the juridical procedures for the trial of prelates; or Pascite gregem Dei (1/6/21) on revision of Canon Law on penal provisions for various offences by church personnel?
What about Francis’ visit to the Dicastery of the Congregation of the Clergy in May 2015? Referring to priests fathering children he had said that it was an automatic reason for dispensation; as such a person “must fulfil his natural obligations as a father towards his child. It is not enough to give money to financially support the child. It needs to be educated, formed and accompanied by his or her parents”. This categorical statement was conveyed to Abp Filipe Neri Ferrao, the CCBI (Latin Rite) President in a letter dt 24/10/2019, signed by the then Prefect of the Congregation, Cardinal Beniamino Stella.
Has any parish priest ever delivered a sermon on any of these promulgations? There is a plethora of YouTube channels and online programmes in these pandemic times. They are full of pious platitudes, but there is no enlightenment on contemporary church teachings, especially in the Francis era. Perhaps these worthies presume that the laity is like dumb sheep (cattle class) that are best left to wallow in their own ignorance.
How many of us here in India are aware of the pot being stirred across the Atlantic, from Germany to the USA? Are we aware that Pope Francis is trying to make the church less Roman, and more catholic (universal)? He had the Amazonian Synod in 2019 that unfortunately turned out to be a damp squib; perhaps because the conservatives in North America prevailed over the liberals from South America. Despite that, last year Francis appointed Cardinal Fridolin Besungu OFM Cap of the Democratic Republic of Congo to his small inner circle of advisors. Other members are Cardinal Oswald Gracias from India, Luis Tagle from the Philippines and Reinhard Marx from Germany. This month he was chosen South Korean Bp Lazarus You Heung-sik to head the Congregation of the Clergy till now headed by Italian Cardinal Stella. Notice that none of these are Romans (Italians), and just one is a European.
Writing in La Croix International on 18/6/21 veteran Vaticanista, Robert Mickens, predicts that the “Church Implosion is right on schedule”. He says that Francis’ push for synodality (walking together) has further opened the doors for a process that will allow for the “deconstruction of a long out dated and anachronistic church structure”. Notice his choice of words. An explosion is from an external force, while an implosion is from within. Deconstruction again is very different from destruction.
Mickens says that in its existing structure the Catholic Church is the “last monarchy in the West ... an anachronism ... This outdated model no longer incarnates the lived experience of the believers who live in participative and representative democracies”. So there is a mismatch between the “rulers” and the “subjects”.
He adds that “Most important decisions are made almost exclusively by a celibate male clergy, and whose bishops are held to little or no accountability, is unsustainable in a world where patriarchal and monarchical societies are ceding rights and duties to those who are not part of the nobility, the clergy or one specific gender”. Readers may recall my oft repeated statement that “Celibate old males in boardrooms should not decide what young couples do in their bedrooms”.
To keep this old boy’s club together, Mickens says that for priestly vocations the emphasis has been on celibacy and docility. This has “resulted in lowered standards of intellectual, psychological and personal acumen” and by default “a shallower pool of talent for bishops”. Most lay persons would agree with this assessment that can have and already has had, damaging consequences for the future health and vitality of the church.
Lest he sound alarmist Mickens clarifies that he is not talking of the demise of the Catholic Church. “God is not dead and the Holy Spirit will never leave Christ’s faithful” he asserts. Rather it is “about the crumbling of the present governing and organizational structure, which mirrors certain features of the Roman Empire”.
He goes on to say “Francis is effectively laying the foundation for the deconstruction of the current model ... His goal is to make the structures and mentality of the Church more reflective of the Gospel and the person of Jesus ... He is creating a large and indispensable forum for all voices to be heard through the classic, but too often forgotten, process of discernment” (a Jesuit forte). In many ways he is echoing the call of Jeremiah. “I have put my words in your mouth. Look, today I have set you over the nations and kingdoms, to uproot and to knock down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (Jer 1:10). And again, “Prophets and priests roam the country at their wits end”(Jer 14:17).
Now back to Germany and the USA. Earlier this month Cardinal Marx of Munich and Freising submitted his resignation to Pope Francis, assuming responsibility for his inability to curtail clerical sex abuse. Ironically, he was in the forefront of Francis’ campaign against this huge blot on the church. Many hailed Marx for his humility and pragmatism. Others said that he was abandoning a sinking ship.
I was one of those who did not expect Francis to accept Marx’s resignation. Firstly, he was not responsible for what others had done. It was a situation that he had inherited and fought against. Secondly, as a close confidante of Francis, it would have been seen as an act of surrender to the lobby that oppose Francis’ reform agenda. Germany, like Australia, was one of the few countries that had adopted the synodal path, as the way forward. Of this Marx had earlier said “The church is at a dead end. Change is possible only if we take the synodal path”. The German Synod has 230 members, including lay representatives from the Central Committee of German Catholics. Topics for the Synod include power structures and participation in the Church, sexuality and partnerships, priestly existence today (notice the choice of words) and women’s ministries and offices in the Church.
There was too much at stake for Francis to accept Marx’s resignation. To the contrary he responded by saying that the whole church is in crisis because of abuse. It cannot have a “head in the sand” (ostrich like) policy. He reminded Marx of St Peter’s first interaction with Jesus. Sensing his own inadequacy he had blurted out “Depart from me a sinner”. Jesus’ response was “Feed my sheep”, the same command he gave to Peter at the Ascension. Peter is my favourite biblical character. He is so human and yet so forthright, ideal for Christian discipleship!
It is for this reason that Mickens, again writing in La Croix, says that “Marx is one of the most energetic and forceful proponents of ecclesial reform through synodality, a process of wide ranging consultation of the church members that Francis is trying to make constitutive of Catholicism”.
Now to the other end of the spectrum, across the Atlantic, in the USA. The roots go back to the time that Abp Vigano was the Nuncio. He had then levelled serious allegations against Pope Francis that were subsequently disproved. He had the backing of several American bishops, the conservative lobby that were against Francis’ reformist agenda. Many of us in India, whose only experience of the USA is through Hollywood movies, think of American society as liberal. The election of Donald Trump in 2016 proved quite the contrary, that the majority of Americans were illiberal, intolerant, racist and even mysonigistic. As with the BJP in India, Trump appealed to those same sentiments for his re-election campaign in 2020. This was compounded by the fact that his opponent, Joe Biden, was a practicing devout Catholic. The problem arose because the Democratic Party, to which Biden belonged, was pro-abortion. Trump then prevailed upon the pro-life lobby among the American hierarchy to support him on this one point agenda.
It is in this context that we must see the attempt this month by the American bishops’ conference to pass a motion to deny Holy Communion to Biden. This threatened to cause a schism in the Catholic Church in the USA. The charge against Biden was led by the President of the bishops’ conference, Abp Jose Gomez of Los Angeles; whom Francis had repeatedly passed over in his selection of cardinals.
This denial of communion is actually heretical, based on the Jansenist heresy. Its name is derived from Bishop Cornelius Jansen of Ypres in the seventeenth century. He believed that the “church constituted only of saints”. So Communion was a reward for being good. This dangerous teaching was condemned by Popes Pius VI, Urban VIII, Innocent X and Alexander VIII.
It is also contrary to the ecclesiology of Vatican II. The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church describes itself as an “initial budding forth” (LG 5), not something in full bloom. It again describes itself as a “pilgrim” (LG 8) not something that has reached its destination. It clearly admits that the “Church embraces sinners sin her bosom” (Ibid).
So who is in error – Abp Gomez or Pope Francis? The answer is obvious. That is why Francis had to intervene, warning the American bishops that they were in serious error. It was left to the Papal Nuncio, Abp Christophe Pierre to tell them that “Holy Communion is not merely a thing to be received, but Christ himself, a person to be encountered”. Writing in the National Catholic Reporter, Christopher White commented that church “unity should be based on encounter and dialogue, not merely on doctrinal or juridical unity.”
Where do the bishops of India stand? Have they answered Papa Francesco’s phone call? Have they heeded his call for a synodal, participative, transparent and accountable church? Or are they, with their medieval European Coats of Arms and honorifics like Eminence/Excellency still stuck in the Middle Ages; or worse still, the Dark Ages of Church History?
Till recently the Indian hierarchy and even the Nunciature were notorious for their ominous silences. However, in the very recent past I have had a few members of the hierarchy responding to my articles and correspondence. So all is not lost. As the poet Alexander Pope said “Hope springs eternal in the human breast”. He was an eighteenth century English poet, not a pope!
Maybe the CBCI will pick up the receiver the next time they hear “Ciao, questo e` Papa Francesco”. Perhaps they could begin by changing their telecom service provider!!
- The writer has expressed these thoughts in greater detail in his latest book The Jerusalem Code.
The red hat is synonymous with cardinals. I have no idea of the cost of such a hat in Rome; whether the cardinals have to purchase their own, or they are presented to them by the Pope. However, the tag of Forty Euros (E40) is the limit that Pope Francis has now put on the value of personal gifts that cardinals, bishops etc working in the Vatican offices may receive.
This 30th April Pope Francis issued a Motu Proprio (of his own volition – something like a government ordinance that bypasses parliament because of its urgency), wherein he set this cap on the red hats. The title of the Motu Proprio (MP) is “Amending the Jurisdiction of the Juridical Bodies of Vatican City State”. By this order the prelates would now be subject to trial by juridical tribunals headed by professionals, mostly lay persons. Earlier prelates at the Vatican could only be tried by the Corte di Cassazone, the Supreme Court of the Vatican that was presided over by a cardinal.
What prompted Pope Francis to issue this MP, subjecting prelates to a regular trial/ judicial process? It is based on two premises, one ecclesiological, the other scriptural. He quotes the ecclesiology of Vatican II. “As members (of the church), they share a common dignity from their rebirth in Christ ... All share a common equality with regard to the dignity and to the activity common to all the faithful” (LG 32). And again, “The basic equality of all must receive increasingly greater attention” (GS 29). This is also reflected in Canon Law. “There is a genuine equality of dignity and action among all of Christ’s faithful” (Can 208). Pope Francis is at pains to emphasise equality, because in the MP he also states that prelates cannot claim the privileges or indemnity of the past. He is telling the prelates that if they are equal in dignity and action, then they are also equal in the eyes of the law, when it comes to juridical processes.
His second emphasis is on stewardship (cf Lk 12:48, 1 Cor 4:1-2 and Lk 16:2).The MP begins with the words “According to scripture, faithfulness in matters of little consequence is related to faithfulness in more important ones”. For the pope this faithfulness now begins with E40.
To understand the value or insignificance of E40, let us draw some comparisons. In 2017 my wife and I were invited for my niece’s marriage in Rome, where we went on a shoe string budget on borrowed money. The taxi from the airport to our apartment that was a stone’s throw from the Vatican was E60. A meal for two on a roadside cafe (not a restaurant) would have cost E20. The cost of a double room in a furnished apartment (not a hotel) was E80. So Pope Francis’ limit of E40 is peanuts.
The MP also asks the prelates to submit a declaration, not just if they are not convicted of crimes, but even if they are under investigation. Cases of pardon, amnesty, or time bound laws of limitation would also have to be mentioned in their declarations. They would not amount to a clean chit of innocence. Among the crimes that need to be declared are – corruption, fraud, terrorism, money laundering, tax evasion or exploitation of minors. The Vatican adheres to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption that requires transparency from leaders, to prevent and combat conflicts of interest, patronage or corruption in general.
Obviously Pope Francis would have been aware of high level corruption in the Vatican, necessitating this major crackdown. At the back of his mind could be the case of a senior prelate purchasing a multi-million pound property in London as an investment! It drew much flak in the international media. That prelate has since been removed from office. He would also have been aware of the scandals in the Bank Ambrosiano that collapsed in 1982. It reportedly had close links with the Vatican bank, also known as the Institute for Religious Works. The Ambrosiano was headed by Roberto Calvi, known as God’s banker, who was found hanging beneath the Black Friar’s Bridge in London, just a week after his secretary committed suicide by jumping out of a window.
Calvi had close ties with Abp Paul Marcinkus, who was heading the Vatican bank. The latter had issued “comfort letters” to the former, for dubious unsecured loans to South American entities, including purchasing arms during the Falkland War between Argentina and the UK in 1982. These comfort letters, though not amounting to bank guarantees, gave the impression that the Vatican bank endorsed the loans. Calvi reportedly also belonged to a clandestine Masonic lodge that had infiltrated into several Vatican offices. In the process the Vatican lost several million dollars.
Strangely, this same Abp Marcinkus had in 1974 caused a loss of Thirty Million dollars to the Vatican through dubious financial dealings with a Sicilian financier Michele Sindona. Conspiracy theorists have claimed that Calvi and Marcinkus had a hand in the death of Pope John Paul I on 26/8/1978. So the muck runs really deep.
One may also recall that Pope Francis had handpicked Australian Cardinal George Pell to clean up the Vatican’s finances. Mysteriously, Pell got arrested for an alleged sexual crime committed years earlier. By the time he was exonerated Pope Francis’ purpose in appointing him was defeated. So let us not be naive enough to believe that all those working in the Vatican are saints. Pope Francis would indeed have good reason to issue this MP to clean the Augean stables. He knows that the rot runs deep. Will the E40 cap stem it? Not by itself. The MP also warns that if the prelates submit false declarations or seek to hide their criminal activities (even those under investigation) then they would be summarily removed from office and also be liable for damages caused by them.
In this context a report dated 21/5/21 in La Croix International of Vatican watcher Robert Mickens, merits our attention. He says that Pope Francis often tells young people to “shake things up”. He uses the Spanish (his native tongue) phrase “hacer unlio” that literally means to “make a mess”. This sounds much like what Jesus had said, “I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were blazing already ... Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (Lk 12:49, 51).
I have been perturbed that this far reaching action of Pope Francis has had little or no traction in the Catholic media in India. Is this because corruption and criminality is not limited to the Vatican bank? Here in India the most glaring instances of crimes that the MP addresses come from Kadapah Diocese in Andhra, Jalandhar Diocese in Punjab and Mysore Diocese in Karnataka.
Bp Gallela Prasad of Kadapah had been accused of financial misappropriation, including diversion of funds to purchase property for his alleged wife and son. He has since been suspended. The alleged multiple rapes by Bp Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar are well documented and bear no repetition. Another curious case from Jalandhar has gone off the radar; that of a priest who admitted to cash transactions in March 2019 amounting to Rupees Thirty Crores, in complete contravention of Income Tax laws and the Model Code of Conduct that was then in force because of the parliamentary elections. Yet, the acting bishop of Jalandhar, Agnelo Gracias, gave the priest a clean chit, stating that his commercial activities had been approved by the diocese. The latest, of course, are the allegations against Bp K.A. William of Mysore. He has been accused of murder, kidnapping, sexual molestation, threatening or compromising witnesses, filing false cases against his critics, and fathering children. The last case is now being investigated by an Enquiry Committee of three bishops at the instance of the Vatican.
Strangely, on 15/8/20 Cardinal Luis Tagle of Propaganda Fide had ordered William to undergo a paternity test. He had declined saying it would bring shame on the church and be the end of everything. I have in my possession the audio recording of this conversation with a top prelate of India. This also raises a very uncomfortable question. Are our prelates loyal to the Word of God, the teachings of Vatican II, the directives of Pope Francis; or are they just covering up for each other, at the cost of the credibility of the ecclesial community?
So why just the Vatican, or Denmark? There is much that is rotten in the hierarchy of India too. Many among the hierarchy are my friends, co-workers, or personally known to me. They are good people, but perhaps not good enough. A leader also needs to be tough, and decisive. I don’t see that happening. Maybe Pope Francis needs to visit India to tell us to shake things up. We don’t want to mess things up though. We already have enough of that. And what cap should we put on our prelates for receiving or giving gifts? The purchasing power parity of E40 would be about Rs 400/-. That would make those in red hats and sashes really see red.
- The writer is the Convenor of the Indian Catholic Forum
Lest one go into sixes and sevens over this title; it was occasioned by a recent headline in the Times of India that read “New Vatican Law criminalizes sexual abuse by priests, laity”. It was referring to Decalogue Six, the sixth commandment, “You shall not commit adultery” (Ex 20:14, Deut 5:18). It was also referring to Book Six of Canon Law promulgated by Pope John Paul II on 25/1/1983, titled “Sanctions in the Church”. By the Apostolic Constitution “Pascite gregem Dei” (it means – shepherd the flock of God), Pope Francis, on 1/6/2021, revised this book that is now titled “Penal Sanctions in the Church”.
Lay readers in particular would be interested to know that a plethora of church laws were first codified as late as 1917! Was it a free for all before that? Thankfully we live in an era where there is some semblance of church law, largely inspired by the teachings of Vatican II.
While promulgating the New Code of Canon Law in 1983 Pope John Paul II had this to say: “The Code therefore demonstrates the spirit of this Council ... This new Code can be viewed as a great effort to translate the conciliar ecclesiological teaching into canonical terms ... The Code is regarded as a complement to the authentic teaching proposed by the Second Vatican Council and particularly to its Dogmatic and Pastoral Constitutions (LG & GS)”. If the Code of Canon Law, old, new or revised, is not seen in the light of Vatican II ecclesiology then it could be misinterpreted or distorted. With this caveat I dare to study the revised Book Six in comparison to the New Code of 1983. For clarity I shall suffix the numbers of the Revised Code with R and the “new” one of 1983 with N. My second caveat is that I am a layman with no theological training, so I may please be pardoned if I arrive at some wrong conclusions.
Let us first quote some of the revised texts and then try and draw some lessons from them. The first line to strike me was “Any person is considered innocent until the contrary is proven” (1321R). This is natural jurisprudence, but it could be used by powerful persons to not relinquish office or accept punishment.
However, the provisions of 1321R, though largely the same as 1326N, add a new clause for graver punishment in the case of “a person who committed an offence in a state of drunkenness or other mental disturbance, if these were deliberately sought so as to commit the offence or to excuse it, or through passion which was deliberately stimulated or nourished” (1326:4R). This is a positive development that would prevent criminals from claiming temporary insanity. Nevertheless, it would have been better if it had specifically mentioned drugs and other psycho tropic substances along with “drunkenness”.
Another positive addition is in 1335:1R that provides for the competent authority to “impose penalties it considers necessary to restore justice or repair scandal”. So other than punishment there is now also a provision for restitution. Accordingly a thief, rapist or paedophile, in addition to facing punishment, would also have to make restitution or compensation. This is again expressed in 1361:4R.
As a student I have a problem with Canons 1365R-1398R where the serial numbers have been changed. This could lead to much confusion later. There does not seem to be much merit in changing these numbers.
A new provision is found in 1371:3R that provides for punishment for perjury (false statement under oath). This is a deep rooted malaise in the Indian judicial system, as the laws of perjury are not enforced, and filing false affidavits is common. In contrast, in England, Jeffery Archer, famous novelist and Member of Parliament, was jailed for several years for making a perjurous statement.
Corruption and financial misappropriation are addressed in 1376 & 1377R. Punishment is to be meted out to persons who “steal ecclesiastical goods” (1376:1R). Alienation of such goods was already covered under 1377N. Abuse of ecclesiastical power, office or function, even by acts of omission, are covered by 1378:1R. Culpable negligence is addressed in 1378:2R. So bishops are also brought to account. Canon 1393:2R has a similar provision.
A new provision that sets the cat among the pigeons is this; “Both a person who attempts to confer a sacred order on a woman, and the woman who attempts to receive the sacred order, incur latae sententiae ex-communication (automatic, without an opportunity to be heard) reserved to the Holy See” (1379:3).This is an insult to half the members of the church. It is an uncalled for retrograde provision.
We have heard umpteen arguments (based on ecclesiastical discipline, not on faith) against women’s ordination. I will here point out one of the most absurd ones, based on the teachings of St Thomas Aquinas, considered the father of systemic theology. I quote from the “Declaration on the question of the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood” by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on 3.2.1977.
“The Christian priesthood is of a sacramental nature ... The whole sacramental economy is in fact based upon natural signs, on symbols imprinted upon the human psychology. Sacramental signs, says St Thomas, represent what they signify by natural resemblance. The same natural resemblance is required for persons as for things ... there would not be this natural resemblance which must exist between Christ and his minister if the role of Christ were not taken by a man; in such a case it would be difficult to see in the minister the image of Christ. For Christ himself was and remains a man” (No 5).
This “natural resemblance” argument raises more questions that in answers. By this token priests should have long hair and beards, do rigorous manual work (like carpenters) begin and end their ministry riding on a donkey, not having a residence of their own (cf Mat 8:20) and not even a place to be buried in. How many popes, cardinals, bishops or priests bear a natural resemblance to Jesus, a circumcised Jew? As for symbols imprinted on the human psyche, were there symbols of women frontline warriors, fighter pilots or CEOs of MNCs earlier? Times change, circumstances change, the Church too must change with time, to stay relevant. I therefore find the insertion of Canon 1379:3R an insult to womanhood, an insult to Eve, an insult to Mother Mary and an unwarranted retrograde step by a male dominated church. Disappointing.
Canon 1380R condemns the practice of Simony; that of trading spiritual favours for money. This is named after Simon the magician who attracted followers with his wizardry in Samaria. “When Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money” (Acts 8:18). Peter, the other Simon’s rebuke is classic. “May your silver be lost forever, and you with it, for thinking that money could buy what God has given for nothing” (Acts 8:20). This begs the question. What about those popes who sold indulgences in the middle ages, something that was a bone of contention with Martin Luther, resulting in the Reformation and the establishment of Protestant churches? If we don’t learn the lessons of history we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes.
Canon 1392R provides for penal provisions for those who “unlawfully abandon the sacred ministry for six months continuously”. This is in consonance with the act of a malingerer in civil/ secular service, and to be welcomed.
A contentious issue that has been retained is, “A Person who actually procures an abortion, incurs a latae sententiae excommunication” (1397:2R, 1398N). This provision certainly required revision. The penal provision is disproportionate to the offence; that could have several mitigating circumstances like rape, or the danger to the life of the mother. There was the case of the 9 year old girl who had been impregnated by her step father in Brazil, and had an abortion. The local archbishop excommunicated her. When then Pope Benedict XVI was asked about the rapist he replied that the sin of the rapist was not as grave so as to invite excommunication! In the case of Savita the Indian dentist in Ireland in 2012, she had septicaemia, but was denied an abortion in “Catholic Ireland.” Both she and the foetus died, inviting much negative publicity for the “holier than though” Catholic Church.
I cannot digest the church’s double standards when it comes to the taking of human life. On the one hand it condemns abortion outright for that very reason. However, when it comes to taking lives in war (men are the prime movers), then there is another set of rules.
When the “Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World” talks of war it, inter alia, has this to say: “Governments cannot be denied the right to legitimate defence once every means of peaceful settlement have been exhausted... Armed forces should regard themselves as agents of security and freedom.... as long as they fulfil this role properly, they are making a genuine contribution to the establishment of peace” (GS 79).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church goes a step further, again based on the logic of St Thomas Aquinas. “The act of self-defense can have a double effect, the preservation of one’s own life; and the killing of the aggressor. The one is intended, the other is not” (CCC 2263). “Those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility” (CCC 2265). Earlier even the death penalty was considered ok in some circumstances (CCC 2267) until Pope Francis declared it inadvisable on 2/8/18.
Writing in La Croix International on 4/6/21 Loup Besmond de Senneville says that when Abp Fillipo Iannone, President of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts since 2018 was questioned about some of these anomalies, specifically pertaining to dismissal of priests for sexual abuse he said: “An automatic sentence would not make sense. It is a principle of justice”! Obviously then, the Catholic Church has one set of principles for women procuring an abortion, and another for the violent or heinous acts of men. I don’t buy this duality.
The next Canon, 1398, redeems the church’s image to some extent. This is what drew maximum media attention. Unfortunately it retains the archaic term, the sixth commandment of the Decalogue. It could have more specifically referred to sexual acts or relationships. It calls for punishment and deprivation from office for such acts against a minor or one who “habitually has an imperfect use of reason” (1398:1R). It also penalizes those who induce or stimulate such persons to expose themselves pornographically (1398:2R). Retention or use of such pornographic content is also punishable (1398:3R)
Senneville states that the revision of Canon Law began in 2007 under Pope Benedict XVI. For a 14 year effort, the minor changes that this revision has affected are indeed pathetic. Had the Vatican functioned a little more efficiently, like a corporate, these changes could have been affected in a month. While the norms regarding paedophilia and accountability are to be welcomed, the one on women’s ordination was totally uncalled for, and the retention of the law on abortion definitely needed to be revisited.
Unfortunately, the revision of Book Six of Canon Law, and the ambiguous references to the Sixth commandment of the Decalogue cannot be called a Sixer in cricketing parlance. It seems more a case of hit wicket. It remains to be seen what impact this will have in cleaning up the many acts of corruption, scandal and licentiousness in the church, particularly in India that is reeling with multiple cases against bishops.
*The writer has further developed some of these thoughts in his latest book THE JERUSALEM CODE.