Catholic News Agency

Subscribe to Catholic News Agency feed Catholic News Agency
ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa ( is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
Updated: 59 min 49 sec ago

Pope: Mass is for the Eucharist, not pictures. Put the phone away.

Wed, 11/08/2017 - 17:35

Vatican City, Nov 8, 2017 / 04:35 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday a fiery Pope Francis chastised those who spend Mass talking to others, looking at their phone or even taking pictures during papal liturgies, saying these are distractions that take focus away from the “heart of the Church,” which is the Eucharist.

“The Mass is not a show: it is to go to meet the passion and resurrection of the Lord,” the Pope said Nov. 8. “The Lord is here with us, present. Many times we go there, we look at things and chat among ourselves while the priest celebrates the Eucharist... But it is the Lord!”

In particular, Francis condemned the use of cell phones to take photos at papal Masses. At one point during the Mass the priest says, “we lift up our hearts,” he said. “He does not say, ‘We lift up our phones to take photographs!’”

“It’s a bad thing! And I tell you that it gives me so much sadness when I celebrate here in the Piazza or Basilica and I see so many raised cellphones, not just of the faithful, even of some priests and even bishops.”

“But think: when you go to Mass, the Lord is there! And you're distracted. (But) it is the Lord!”

During the general audience, Pope Francis said the Eucharist would be the new focus of his weekly catechesis for the year, because “it is fundamental for us Christians to understand well the value and meaning of the Holy Mass to live more and more fully our relationship with God.”

In the Eucharist we rediscover, through our senses, what is essential, he said. Just as the Apostle Thomas asked to see and touch the wounds of Jesus after his resurrection, we need the same thing: “to see him and touch him to be able to recognize him.”

In this way, the Sacraments meet this very "human need" of ours, he said. And in the Eucharist, in particular, we find a privileged way to meet God and his love.

The Second Vatican Council was inspired by the desire to help Christians understand the beauty of the encounter in the Eucharist even better, he continued. This is why “it was necessary first to implement, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, an adequate renewal of the liturgy.”

A central theme emphasized at Vatican II was the liturgical formation of the faithful, which Francis said is also the aim of the series of catechesis he began today: to help people “grow in the knowledge of this great gift God has given us in the Eucharist.”   

As a side note, Francis asked if people had noticed the chaotic way children make the sign of cross at Mass, moving their hand all over their chest, and asked people to teach children to make the sign of the cross well.

“We need to teach children to do the sign of the cross well,” he said, noting that this is how Mass begins, because just as Mass begins this way, “so life begins, so the day begins.”

Concluding his reflection on the Mass and the Eucharist, Pope Francis said that he hopes that through these brief weekly lessons everyone will rediscover the beauty "hidden in the Eucharistic celebration, and which, when revealed, gives a full meaning to the life of everyone."

Vatican to host nuclear disarmament conference

Wed, 11/08/2017 - 00:52

Vatican City, Nov 7, 2017 / 11:52 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Vatican is preparing for a conference on nuclear disarmament this week in the wake of an international effort to ban nuclear weapons.

Hosted by the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development, the Nov. 10-11 conference will explore solutions and prospects for a world free of nuclear weapons and integral disarmament, in cohesion with Pope Francis' emphasis on promoting peace.

In a Nov. 7 Vatican communique Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the dicastery, said the event “responds to the priorities of Pope Francis to take action for world peace and to use the resources of creation for a sustainable development and to improve the quality of life for all, individuals and countries, without discrimination.”

At the International Atomic Energy Agency conference in Vienna in September, department secretary Msgr. Bruno Marie Duffé also emphasized the importance of the “moral responsibility of the States” and the challenge of a “common strategy of dialogue” invoked by Pope Francis.

The international symposium represents “the first global gathering on Atomic Disarmament” after the approval of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was passed in New York July 7.

Until the treaty, nuclear weapons were the only weapons of mass destruction not explicitly banned by any international document.

The treaty passed with 122 votes in favor and one abstention, Singapore. However, 69 countries – all the nuclear weapon states and NATO members except the Netherlands –  did not take part in the vote.

One of the conference’s speakers Saturday will be Masako Wada, one of the last survivors of the Hiroshima nuclear attack and an assistant secretary general of Nihon Hidankyo, a confederation of nuclear weapons and experiments victims.   

Other attendees include 11 Nobel Peace Laureates, representatives from the United Nations and NATO, diplomats from Russia, the United States, South Korea, and Iran, experts on armaments and weapons and leaders from foundations engaged in the topic.

There will also be representatives of bishops' conferences and other Christian organizations and a delegation of professors and students from US and Russian universities.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, as well as the leadership of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, will deliver speeches on behalf of the Holy See; Pope Francis will meet with participants and give an address Nov. 10.

The conference builds on a conference held in New York in March to negotiate the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty.

Pope Francis sent a message to that conference saying the doctrine of nuclear deterrence has become ineffective against 21st century threats like terrorism, asymmetrical conflicts, environmental problems, and poverty.

These threats, the Pope stressed, are “even greater when we consider the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences that would follow from any use of nuclear weapons, with devastating, indiscriminate and uncontainable effects, over time and space.”

Pope names two laywomen to key positions in Vatican's family office

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 20:16

Vatican City, Nov 7, 2017 / 07:16 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Tuesday the Vatican announced Pope Francis’ appointment of two lay women – experts in bioethics and canon law – as the first two under-secretaries of the mega-dicastery for Laity, Family and Life.

The appointment of Dr. Gabriella Gambino for the section on life and Dr. Linda Ghisoni for the section on laity was announced in a Nov. 7 Vatican communique, bringing the leadership of the dicastery more clearly into shape after it's establishment in 2016.

The Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life officially began its work Sept. 1, 2016, replacing the former Pontifical Council for the Laity and Pontifical Council for the Family, which were dissolved.

The department is responsible for projects relating to the apostolate of laity, families, and the institution of marriage, within the Church, and is responsible for the organization of events such as the World Meeting of Families, which will take place in Dublin in August 2018.

Both Gambino and Ghisoni join dicastery secretary Fr. Alexandre Awi Mello and prefect Cardinal Kevin Farrell, in leading the department. However, the appointment of a third under-secretary for the section on family is still forthcoming.

Gambino, 49, is currently a professor at the John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences, is a professor of bioethics at the Faculty of Philosophy, and a researcher and associate professor in the philosophy of law at the University of Rome “Tor Vergata.”

Originally from Milan, she holds a doctorate in bioethics from the Institute of Bioethics at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Rome.

From 2001-2007, she taught and did research at the Institute of the Methodology of Social Sciences of the LUISS-Guido Carli University in Rome, and in 2002 was appointed scientific expert of the National Committee for Bioethics at the Presidency of the Council of Ministers.

Gambino collaborated with the former Pontifical Council for the Laity and the Pontifical Academy for Life from 2013-2016.

She is married with five children, and has written numerous publications on the themes of life, family and marriage. In addition to Italian, she speaks five other languages.

Dr. Linda Ghisoni, 52, works as a judge at the First Instance Court of the Vicariate of Rome, as a professor of canon law at the Pontifical Gregorian University, and as a professor of law at Roma Tre University.

She is from the town of Cortemaggiore in the north of Italy and studied philosophy and theology at the Eberhard-Karls-University in Tübingen, Germany.

In 1999 she received a doctorate in canon law from the Pontifical Gregorian University, and in 2002 she received the diploma of Rotary Attorney at the Studium rotale of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota.

Since 1997 Ghisoni has held various positions at the Tribunals of First Instance and Appeal of the Vicariate of Rome, including Notary, Defender of the Bond, Auditor and Judge.

She has also served as Judicial Counselor at the Tribunal of the Roman Rota from 2002-2009, and Commissioner of the Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments for the Defense of the marital bond in causes for the dissolution of the marriage “ratum sed non consummatum” (ratified but not consummated).

Since November 2011, she has also worked at the Tribunal of the Roman Rota. From 2013-2016, she collaborated with the former Pontifical Council for the Laity in the field of specialist laity studies in the Church. She is married and has two daughters.

Pope Francis grieved by 'senseless violence' of Texas church shooting

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 19:15

Vatican City, Nov 7, 2017 / 06:15 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Tuesday Pope Francis voiced his sorrow after 26 people were killed at a Baptist Church in Texas over the weekend, offering his support and praying that such acts of meaningless violence would come to an end.

In a Nov. 7 telegram signed by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Pope Francis said he was “deeply grieved by news of the loss of life and grave injuries” caused in Sunday's shooting at a Baptist church in Texas.

Francis condemned the “senseless violence” and offered his “heartfelt condolences” to the families of the victims and wounded, members of the congregation and the local community.

He closed the letter, addressed to Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller, Archbishop of San Antonio, by praying that the Lord would “console all who mourn and to grant them the spiritual strength that triumphs over violence and hatred by the power of forgiveness, hope and reconciling love.”

The Pope's telegram comes just two days after at least 26 people were killed when a gunman opened fire at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Sutherland Springs is a small town located about 35 miles southeast of San Antonio.

At least 20 others were taken to the hospital after the shooting, which police believe was motivated by a domestic dispute.

After the shooting, the gunman fled the scene, and was later found dead in his car by police. The shooting marked the latest in a series of similar incidents throughout the United States in recent months, and is the deadliest on record in the State of Texas.

In a message after the event, Archbishop Garcia-Siller offered his condolences and support, saying “We need prayers! The families affected in the shooting this morning at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs need prayers.”

“The evil perpetrated on these who were gathered to worship God on the Lord’s Day – especially children and the elderly – makes no sense and will never be fully understood,” he said, adding that there are no adequate words for the “disbelief and shock” produced by the deadly affair.

“There can be no explanation or motive for such a scene of horror at a small country church for families gathered to praise Jesus Christ,” he said, adding that “these Baptist brethren are our family, friends and neighbors who live among us in the archdiocese … We are committed to work in unity with all our brothers and sisters to build peace in our communities; to connect in a more direct and substantial way. The Catholic Church in Texas and across the United States is with you.”

How do we help trafficking victims re-enter society? Vatican conference takes a look

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 04:21

Vatican City, Nov 6, 2017 / 03:21 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A Vatican workshop this past weekend drew attention to the vast challenges faced by victims of human trafficking when reintegrating into society, suggesting concrete steps for helping victims.

One of the first challenges faced by trafficking victims upon being freed is recourse to legal aid and restitution, attorney Jami Solli told CNA Nov. 6.

Founder of the Global Alliance for Legal Aid, an association of jurists who provide legal aid in developing countries, Solli participated in the Vatican workshop.

She said that when it comes to legal aid, the challenges are complex.

“If they’re coming from overseas, they don’t speak the language, they don’t know the law,” she said. In addition to this, many countries do not offer any financial compensation to trafficking victims, and it can be hard to find quality lawyers who are willing to help them.

Unfortunately, Solli said, prosecution rates for human trafficking crimes are very low.

According to U.S. reports, there are about 10,000 prosecutions of trafficking perpetrators globally each year, while the number of trafficked people is estimated to be around 40 million.

What does prosecution of perpetrators actually achieve for victims? It can bring significant peace of mind, Solli said, allowing victims to know that the person who trafficked them is in jail.

However, victims are still left with a “slew of problems,” including mental suffering, a lack of skills, education and a job.

“How is this person going to restart their life?” Solli reflected, noting that restitution money is one way to recognize the immense harm that victims have suffered, and while it will not solve all of their problems, it can help them get a fresh start.

The Nov. 4-6 workshop, “Assisting Victims in Human Trafficking – Best Practices in Resettlement, Legal Aid and Compensation,” addressed these challenges and others.

The workshop’s focus was on how to better provide legal aid and restitution for trafficking victims, not only to try to achieve justice for the crimes committed against them, but to support their reintegration into society and help with necessities such as food, housing and education.

Critical to this reintegration is the broad cooperation of different entities, including the Church’s vast network of parishes, said Dr. Margaret Archer, president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, in a press conference Monday.

“If we can turn passive parishes into active parishes for this cause, we'll have made a giant step forward,” she said.

Dr. John F. McEldowney, a law professor at the University of Warwick and a newly appointed member of the Academy of Social Sciences, agreed with Archer. He told journalists that he thinks the next step is “very much a collaborative effort throughout the world.”

The hope is to bring together not just government entities and NGOs, but also the “smallest communities, in the smallest parts of the world,” such as parishes and small villages.

One of the big projects to come out of the weekend, still a work in progress, is a document to define the rights of victims and the resources available to them.

McEldowney told CNA that this “victims’ charter” would work as a sort of map to help people get from point A to point B to point C.

The document would connect information and resources from all the different areas in which victims likely need assistance – including legal aid, housing assistance, education, and mental and spiritual guidance. Together, these resources would help trafficking victims answer the question, “Where do I go from here?”

It is also hoped that the act of compiling the charter will draw attention to those areas which are lacking adequate, or perhaps any, resources. For example, it can be difficult for trafficking victims to know how to apply to a university if they are not a citizen of the country or don’t have the correct documentation.

“It's an ambitious project,” McEldowney noted in his comments to journalists. “It requires patience and dedication. And education, knowledge, information is at the heart of this, so that people know that slavery has not been abolished.”



More than just giving – World Day of the Poor highlights change of attitude

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 00:45

Vatican City, Nov 6, 2017 / 11:45 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As the Church prepares to celebrate the first World Day of the Poor, an event announced by Pope Francis last year, one Vatican official said it will be an opportunity to grow in mercy and charity, shaping attitudes toward the poor and needy.

The World Day of the Poor, which was announced in Pope Francis' closing letter for the Jubilee of Mercy, is founded on “this whole notion of reciprocity, of sharing with each other of what each other has,” Msgr. Geno Sylva told CNA in an interview.

It's also based on “our understanding that each of us is poor in some way, and that we need to empty ourselves of certain things so that God's grace can fill us, God's mercy can fill us,” he said, adding that “there's so much we can learn from those who are poor as we try to provide.”

An English-language official of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, Msgr. Sylva spoke ahead of the first-ever World Day of the Poor, which is titled “Love not in word, but in deed,” and is set to take place exactly one year after the close of the Jubilee of Mercy.

The event, Sylva said, is “so beautiful and so powerful as a perpetual fruit of the jubilee of mercy.”

World Day for the Poor “ties perfectly in with the New Evangelization,” he said, “because the New  Evangelization is able to engage people by presenting the mercy of God and seeing people in that mercy.”

Pope Francis has announced the World Day for the Poor as an annual observance on the Thirty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, a week before the Solemnity of Christ the King.

“This would be the worthiest way to prepare for the celebration of the Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, who identified with the little ones and the poor and who will judge us on our works of mercy,” he said, adding that the event would also “represent a genuine form of new evangelization which can renew the face of the Church as She perseveres in her perennial activity of pastoral conversion and witness to mercy.”

In Rome, the event will begin with a Nov. 18 prayer vigil and solemn vespers for all those who volunteer in organizations or associations that care for the poor.

The vigil, which will be presided over by Archbishop Rino Fisichella, President of the Council for the New Evangelization, will be held at the Roman Basilica of St. Lawrence Outside the Walls, a venue symbolically chosen in honor of the saint who once said that “the treasure of the Church are the poor.”

The following morning, local poor and needy people will be bused to the Vatican for Mass with Pope Francis in St. Peter's Basilica, and will be offered a celebratory lunch afterward in different locations around Rome, including the Vatican's Paul VI Hall.

In addition, the council has arranged for Italian doctors, nurses and specialists from varying practices to provide free medical care to the poor and needy attending the World Day of the Poor. They will set up tents and offer free services to attendees the week prior.

The council is expecting around 3,000 people to participate in the event. Since not everyone will be able to fit in the Vatican's hall, other organizations and institutions have offered to host groups of the poor for lunch, such as the Pontifical North American College, which will serve around 200 people.

The meal, Syvla said, is meant to show attendees “that they are really special, and that we're honored to be with them.”

Flowers will be placed on all the tables, multiple courses will be served, and a group of children will come into the Paul VI Hall to sing, while a band plays outside.

Those serving lunch will include a group of deacons from the Diocese of Rome, which Sylva said is a “very symbolic” gesture.

The World Day of the Poor will also be celebrated in dioceses and parishes “around the world,” Sylva said.

To this end, he said the council has developed a pastoral aid for parishes and schools, available on the council's website, which has already been given to bishops' conferences and nunciatures around the world.

Available in seven languages, the aid includes, among other things, prayer vigils, lectio divina prayers and the stories of Saints associated with the poor, “so it really will give priests and laypeople involved with leadership a concrete pastoral resource they can use with the people to whom they minister.”

Pointing to the logo for World Day of the Poor, Msgr. Sylva said the essence of the event can be summed up in the design, which portrays two people reaching toward each other – one from a doorway and the other from the outside – with a road in between.


If you haven't seen it yet, here's the logo for the World Day of the Poor (Nov. 19) #Catholic

— Michelle Bauman (@Michelle_Bauman) November 6, 2017


“It's so beautiful because you almost don't know who's the one asking for assistance and who's the one giving assistance, but what we see is that this reciprocity, this shared essence in being in that the one on the outside realizes that to get in he's got to hold that hand out, and the one on the inside realizes that he or she has to go out in order to encounter one another,” he said.

The image, he said, is a reminder that “everybody has something to share, everybody has something to give, and everybody is poor in some way.”

“So how do we hand-in-hand, heart-in-heart reach out to one another, and again to not only welcome each other into the doorway of the Church, into the heart of each believer, but also along that road in which we also accompany each other closer toward heaven?”

Pointing to Pope Francis' message for the World Day of the Poor, published in June, Sylva noted that the Pope had said care for the poor shouldn't be limited to occasional offerings that appease our consciences, but that charity must be a true encounter that shapes our daily lives.

As Christians, we are called to love everyone simply because “he or she has a need,” he said, explaining that the World Day of the Poor event “expands the notion of what ‘neighbor’ means.”

Christian charity, Sylva explained, is “not just for one day to put a coin in, but it's an attitude towards the other that needs to change in each one of us, that we need to see each other as brothers and sisters, and that's the real profundity of what our experience can be.”


New book reveals details of John Paul I’s death

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 17:08

Rome, Italy, Nov 6, 2017 / 04:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A new book discloses details and evidence of the death of Pope John Paul I – who died in 1978 after just 33 days in office – showing his death was the result of a heart attack, as previously held.

In the book, called “Papa Luciani: Chronicle of a Death,” Vatican journalist Stefania Falasca presents thoroughly-researched evidence, including previously undisclosed medical reports, witness testimonies and Vatican documents, confirming original reports that the late pontiff died of a heart attack.

Albino Luciani, who was born on Oct. 17, 1912 in Italy’s northern Veneto region, was elected Bishop of Rome at the age of 65. He took the name Pope John Paul to honor both of his immediate predecessors, St. John XXIII and Bl. Paul VI.

His term as pope was short-lived, however, as he died suddenly on Sept. 28, 1978, after only 33 days in office. It has been presumed his death was caused by a heart attack, but a lack of published evidence has allowed conspiracy theories to surface, including insinuations of murder.

The book will be released Nov. 7, which is said to coincide with the announcement that John Paul I’s cause for sainthood is moving forward. According to Vatican journalist Andrea Tornielli, Nov. 7 or 8 the Vatican may announce Pope Francis’ approval of the “heroic virtue” of Albino Luciani, declaring him “venerable.”

This then opens the path for his beatification, which requires the approval of a miracle attributed to his intercession. Currently, the Vatican is examining two alleged miracles from the late Pope’s intercession.

In her book, Falasca, who also serves as vice-postulator of Luciani’s cause for sainthood, outlines evidence of John Paul I’s death, including how the evening before his death he suffered a severe pain in his chest for about five minutes, a symptom of a heart problem.

It occurred while sitting and praying vespers in the chapel with his Irish secretary, Msgr. John Magee, before dinner. The pope rejected the suggestion to call for a doctor and the pain went away without treatment. His doctor, Renato Buzzonetti, was only informed of the event after his death.

Contrary to what was first announced by the Vatican, however, it wasn't the pope's secretaries who first found him the next morning, but a young nun.

When the elderly Sr. Vicenza, who helped care for the pope, noticed that he had not come out of his room to take his morning coffee, she knocked on his door, opening it when he didn't answer.

She immediately came back out in a state of shock, however, and called for the younger Sr. Margherita Marin. In her sworn testimony, Sr. Margherita relates that entering the room she “touched his hands, they were cold, and I saw, and was struck by the fact that his nails were a little dark.”

Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who is from the same region as Luciani, contributed a preface to the book. In it he explains that while serving as Patriarch of Venice in 1975, Cardinal Luciani also suffered from a heart problem and was treated with anti-coagulants appearing to resolve it.

Sr. Margherita, now 76 years old, said in her testimony that John Paul I did not seem tired or weighed down by his new responsibilities, but that she always saw him “calm, serene, full of trust, confident.”

Though his papacy was very short, requests to begin John Paul I’s beatification process followed shortly after his death and came from many parts of the world. These requests were formalized in 1990, with a document signed by 226 Brazilian bishops.

On Nov. 23, 2003 he was declared a Servant of God by his immediate successor, Pope John Paul II.

Despite reports, Pope Francis isn’t opening the door to all married priests

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 00:00

Vatican City, Nov 5, 2017 / 11:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis has reportedly said he will allow for debate as to whether married men could be ordained to the priesthood in the region during a 2019 Synod of Bishops focusing on the Church in the Amazon basin.

His comments came in response to a question on the matter from Cardinal Claudio Hummes, the president of the Episcopal Commission for the Amazon, according to the newspaper Il Messaggero.

The comments have been broadly interpreted in media outlets to mean that Pope Francis is considering opening the door for priests throughout the Roman Catholic Church to get married. However, the Pope’s comments in response to Cardinal Hummes were specifically about whether “viri probati” or “proven men” could be ordained to the priesthood. Such men, who have displayed virtue and prudence, are thought by some to be a possible solution to a shortage of priestly vocations in Brazil.

Dr. Kurt Martens, a canon lawyer and professor at The Catholic University of America, said there is no reason to think that the Pope’s comments mean he is open the door to the married priesthood throughout the Church.

“Even if the synod would recommend or ask for the ordination of viri probati in the Pan-Amazon area, it is important to note that the Pope still would have to accept the request and make it into law, and it would most likely be limited to that area,” Martens told CNA in e-mail comments.

“So we are not talking about changing the law on celibacy for the whole Church: it would be the ordination of viri probati for only that region,” he added.

The ratio of Catholics to priests in the Amazon is region is 10,000 to one, about three times the worldwide ratio of Catholics to priests throughout the world, and more than five times the ratio in the United States.

The Pope has raised the possibility of the married priesthood in previous interviews, although usually in response to direct questions about the subject.

Earlier this year, Pope Francis answered a question about the priest shortage in a March 8 interview published in the German weekly Die Zeit. The pontiff offered a variety of possible solutions to the priest shortage, but did not mention the married priesthood until he was asked about it specifically.

In response, the Pope spoke about the possibility of ordaining ‘viri probati’, especially in areas “where priests are needed. But optional celibacy is not the solution,” he said.

The celibate priesthood has long been a tradition of the Roman Catholic Church, with exceptions made only in the cases of married ministers of other denominations who convert to Catholicism and then become priests.

Early on in the Church, bishops were selected from the celibate priests, a tradition that stood before the mandatory celibate priesthood. As the “culture of celibacy” became more established, it increasingly became the norm in the Church, until married men who applied for ordinations had to appeal to the Pope for special permission.

In the 11th century, St. Gregory VII issued a decree requiring all priests to be celibate and asked his bishops to enforce it. Celibacy has been the norm ever since in the Latin Rite, with special exceptions made for some Anglican and other Protestant pastors who convert to Catholicism.

Fr. Gary Selin is a priest and professor at St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver. His research on the topic, “Priestly Celibacy: Theological Foundations” was published last year by CUA press.

Fr. Selin told CNA earlier this year that while the debate about married priesthood often centers on pragmatics, it usually ignores the rich theological reasons behind the celibate priesthood.

“Jesus Christ himself never married, and there’s something about imitating the life our Lord in full that is very attractive,” Fr. Selin told CNA at the time.

“Interestingly, Jesus is never mentioned as a reason for celibacy. The next time you read about celibacy, try to see if they mention our Lord; oftentimes he is left out of the picture.”

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI also once told priests that celibacy agitates the world so much because it is a sign of the kingdom to come.

“It is true that for the agnostic world, the world in which God does not enter, celibacy is a great scandal, because it shows exactly that God is considered and experienced as reality. With the eschatological dimension of celibacy, the future world of God enters into the reality of our time. And should this disappear?” Benedict XVI said in 2010.

Christ himself said that no one would be married or given in marriage in heaven, and therefore celibacy is a sign of the beatific vision, Fr. Selin has pointed out.

“Married life will pass away when we behold God face to face and all of us become part of the bridal Church,” Fr. Selin said. “The celibate is more of a direct symbol of that.”

Pope: Those in authority can't live 'double life,' must lead by example

Sun, 11/05/2017 - 19:06

Vatican City, Nov 5, 2017 / 06:06 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Sunday Pope Francis offered some punchy advise to both average faithful and people in positions of authority, saying true power is expressed through service and a good example, which Christians must always show to others in humility.

Speaking during his Nov. 5 Angelus address, Pope Francis told pilgrims that “a frequent defect in those who have authority, whether it is civil or ecclesiastical authority, is to demand from others things, even justly, but which they do not put into practice firsthand. They lead a double life.”

He noted how in day's Gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus, whose death is drawing nearer, offers “serious critiques” of the scribes, and at the same time leaves “important signs” for Christians not just of that time, but of all times, including us today.

Jesus, Francis noted, tells his disciples to listen to the scribes and the Pharisees say, because they have the authority to teach on the law, but not to imitate what they do, because “they preach but they do not practice.”

Quoting the day's Gospel passage, the Pope said the scribes and Pharisees “tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people's shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them.”

This attitude “is a bad exercise of authority,” which ought to have strength in offering a good example, rather than a show of power, he said.

Real authority “is born from the good example, in order to help others practice what is right and proper, supporting them in the trials that they encounter on the path of good,” Francis said, explaining that authority ultimately ought to be used to help people.

However, if it is exercised badly, “it becomes oppressive, it does not allow people to grow and it creates a climate of mistrust and hostility and even brings corruption.”

When speaking to the Christians in the day's reading, Pope Francis noted how Jesus gives his disciples some specific instructions, telling them to “Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not be called 'Master'; you have but one master, the Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant.”

As disciples of Jesus, Christians “shouldn't look for titles of honor, authority or supremacy,” he said, adding that it pains him personally “to see people who psychologically live running behind the vanity of honors.”

“We disciples of Jesus must not do this, but rather, there should be a simple and fraternal attitude among us,” he said, explaining that as Christians, “we are all brothers and we must in no way overwhelm others and look down on them from above. No.”

If we have received certain qualities or authority from God, then we must put these at the service of others, the Pope said, rather than trying to take advantage of them “for our own interests and personal satisfaction.”

Neither should a Christian consider themselves superior to others, he said, adding that a healthy dose of modesty “is essential for an existence that wants to be conformed to the teaching of Jesus, who is meek and humble of heart and came not to be served, but to serve.”

Pope Francis closed his address asking Mary intercede for us so as “to avoid pride and vanity, and to be meek and docile to the love which comes from God for the service of our brothers and sisters, and for their joy, which will also be ours.”

Pope taps inner Tom Petty on forced migration, a 'sign of the times'

Sat, 11/04/2017 - 17:38

Vatican City, Nov 4, 2017 / 05:38 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Echoing strains of the 1979 hit “Refugee” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Pope Francis on Saturday told representatives from Catholic universities that just because people are often forced into becoming migrants are refugees, they don't have to live like it – at least, not where education is concerned.

Among other things, he said the phenomenon of forced migrations is a “sign of the times,” and urged Catholic universities to find more opportunities for migrants and refugees to study, even if it means creating distance programs for people living in camps or welcome centers.

He also encouraged universities to conduct in-depth studies on both the causes of forced migration, as well as the “discriminatory” and “xenophobic” attitudes that traditionally Christian countries can at times have toward incoming migrants.

Catholic universities, he said Nov. 4, have the task of carrying out “a scientific, theological and pedagogical reflection” of the topic which is rooted in Catholic social teaching, and which looks to “overcome the prejudices and fears linked to a lack of knowledge about the migratory phenomenon.”

He spoke at the close of a conference organized by Catholic universities around the world, titled “Migrants and Refugees in a Globalized World: the Response of Universities.”

Happening in Rome Nov. 1-4, the conference was put on by the International Federation of Catholic Universities (IFCU) in partnership with the Being the Blessing Foundation, the Pontifical Gregorian University, and the Center for Interreligious Understanding.

In his speech to participants, the Pope said the work of Catholic universities is to “harmonize” scientific research with theology, and to promote true “dialogue” between faith and reason.

And this happens primarily through three fundamental aspects, which according to Francis are research, teaching and social activity.

He encouraged the academics to launch deeper studies on the “remote causes” of forced migration with the aim of finding practical solutions, even if those solutions are long-term, so that from the start people are ensured of the basic right “of not being forced to migrate.”

“It's also important to reflect on the negative, and at times discriminatory and xenophobic reactions, that the welcome of migrants is having in countries of ancient Christian tradition,” so that a real and true formation in conscience can be achieved.

To this end, the Pope said the contribution migrants offer their host countries is “worthy of greater appreciation.”

Francis also urged participants to delve into a solid theological reflection “on migrations as a sign of the times,” saying the stories that migrants and refugees bring with them are “a challenge to the faith and love of believers,” who themselves are called on “to heal the evils that derive from migrations” and to discover how God works through them, even if they were caused “by obvious injustices.”

When it comes to teaching opportunities for migrants, Francis said Catholic universities ought to provide those living in refugee camps or migrant welcome centers the opportunity to pursue higher education, whether that is through the development of courses and distance-learning programs, or scholarships that allow for relocation.

The “dense international academic network” must also be taken advantage of, he said, allowing for the recognition of the professional qualifications that migrants and refugees already have both for their own benefit, and that of the societies who welcome them.

Students must also be educated in “a careful reading of the migratory phenomenon, in a perspective of justice, global co-responsibility and of communion in cultural diversity,” Pope Francis said, noting that many of these students will go on to become political leaders, entrepreneurs and “artisans of culture.”

In terms of acting in society, he said the university is often viewed as an entity that “takes charge of the society in which it operates, exercising, first and foremost, a role of critical consciousness in respect to the different forms of political, economic and cultural power.”

He then pointed to 20 “action points” proposed by the Migrants and Refugees section of the Vatican dicastery for Integral Human Development regarding the U.N. Global Compacts of migrants and refugees for 2018, saying these can help Catholic universities become “privileged actors” in society.

Part of this social action, he said, might include something like creating incentives for student volunteering programs that assist refugees, those who have requested asylum and migrants that have freshly arrived in their new country.

Francis closed his speech by telling the academics that their work is linked to the “four cornerstones” of the Church's attitude toward reality of contemporary migrations, which are “to welcome, protect, promote and integrate.”

Pointing to the day's feast of St. Charles Borromeo, the Pope said the saint was “an enlightened and passionate pastor, who made humility his motto,” and prayed that his “exemplary life” would inspire the “intellectual and social activity, and also the experience of brotherhood” in the IFCU.

Analysis: How Pope Francis defies stereotypes when it comes to the family

Sat, 11/04/2017 - 12:00

Vatican City, Nov 4, 2017 / 12:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Last weekend, Pope Francis delivered a keynote speech to a major conference on the future of the European Union. Although the Pope is often characterized as a staunch progressive, his Oct. 28 speech was a reminder that his views on life, marriage, and sexuality go beyond the stereotypes with which he is often characterized.

During the speech, the Pope spoke out against abortion, and said the Christian understanding of the family can serve as a model on which the European continent can base its identity as it faces a changing and uncertain future.

Speaking to participants in the Oct. 27-29 conference “(Re)Thinking Europe: A Christian Contribution to the Future of the European Project,” Pope Francis stressed that the family, “as the primordial community,” is fundamental to understanding Europe's increasingly multicultural and multiethnic identity.

In the family, “diversity is valued and at the same time brought into unity,” Francis said, explaining that the family “is the harmonious union of the differences between man and woman, which becomes stronger and more authentic to the extent that it is fruitful, capable of opening itself to life and to others.”

Likewise, he said secular communities are also “alive” when they are capable “of openness, embracing the differences and gifts of each person while at the same time generating new life, development, labor, innovation and culture.”

He also pointed to the low birth rate in Europe, lamenting the fact that there are so few children because “all too many were denied the right to be born.”

These comments, which echo the critiques of European secularism often proffered by Benedict XVI, might surprise those who have, since the beginning of his pontificate, painted Francis as being untethered by Catholic doctrine.

Yet while the Pope has often seemed to take a progressive approach to liturgy and has been outspoken on environmental issues, he has also been equally loud when defending Catholic doctrine on moral issues like abortion and homosexuality in the public square.

Of course, there is still significant internal debate surrounding the interpretation of Chapter 8 of his 2015 apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, which addresses the Church’s response to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics.

In fact, this week the debate flared up again when news came out that Father Thomas Weinandy, OFM, Cap., a member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission, resigned from his position as a consultant to the USCCB’s Committee on Doctrine after publishing a 5-page letter he had written to Pope Francis calling for a correction to the “chronic confusion” of his pontificate, which the priest said “fosters within the faithful a growing unease.”

The letter, which charged that Pope Francis has downplayed the importance of doctrine, created confusion, and appointed questionable bishops, made waves throughout the Catholic world, especially given Fr. Weinandy's prominent role within the USCCB and the Pope's theological commission.

But while Francis seems to invite debate on this and other points, he demonstrated last Saturday that he does so while calling for respect for the Catholic worldview in secular culture, especially regarding the family.

Who am I to judge?

It was early in his pontificate, on a return flight from World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in 2013, that Pope Francis famously responded to a question about homosexuality in the priesthood with “who am I to judge?”  

In some ways, the question became a lens through which his pontificate is often viewed, especially in the media.

Since 2013, the “who-am-I-to-judge Pope” has spoken out frequently on the need to be more welcoming of people with homosexual orientation, and has insisted on the need to use language reflecting welcome, rather than a closed door.

During his September 2015 visit to the United States, images of Pope Francis hugging a gay man circulated on the internet after he met with the man and his partner in Washington D.C. The man was a former student who had written to ask for a meeting, and the Pope accepted.

And while Pope Francis' approach to homosexuality has been depicted by some as a deviation from the Church's doctrine, and hailed by others as a step in the right direction, his speech to E.U. leaders is a reminder that he aims to promote a worldview guided by Catholic doctrine, rather than contradicting it.  

A Catholic Worldview

Looking back throughout Francis' pontificate, his speech on Saturday was the latest among dozens of times he has spoken on behalf of the role of the traditional family, the sacredness of human life, or the Church’s teaching on sexuality in the public square.

Some of these occasions, just to name a few, are as follows:

1. In a 2014 audience with members of the German-born, international Schoenstatt movement marking the 100th anniversary of their founding, Pope Francis said the family, in the Christian understanding, was being attacked.

“The family is being hit, the family is being struck and the family is being bastardized,” he said, noting that in the modern context, “you can call everything family, right?”

He said contemporary society has “devalued” the sacrament of marriage by turning it into a social rite and removing the most essential element, which is union with God. “So many families are divided, so many marriages broken,” he said, adding that frequently, there is “such relativism in the concept of the sacrament of marriage.”

2. On the flight back from his trip to Georgia and Azerbaijan a year ago, in October 2016, the Pope was asked about the possibility of biological roots to homosexuality and transgender identities.  

Pope Francis said that those who struggle with sexuality and gender identity must be “accompanied as Jesus accompanies them,” and Jesus “surely doesn't tell them 'go away because you are homosexual,'” he said.

But Francis also pointed to the “wickedness which today is done in the indoctrination of gender theory” that is now frequently being taught in schools, and which he said “is against the (nature of) things.”

Pastoral accompaniment “is what Jesus would do today,” he said, but asked journalists to “please don't say: 'the Pope sanctifies transgenders.'...Because I see the covers of the papers.” Gender theory, he said, is “a moral problem. It's a human problem and it must be resolved...with the mercy of God, with the truth.”

During the same trip, the Pope gave a lengthy, off-the-cuff speech to priests, seminarians and pastoral workers in which he said “the whole world is at war trying to destroy marriage,” not so much with weapons, “but with ideas...(there are) certain ideologies that destroy marriage. So we need to defend ourselves from ideological colonization.”

3. In his environmental encyclical Laudato Si, published in June 2015, Pope Francis condemned abortion, population control and transgenderism.

Regarding gender, the Pope said that, like creation, “man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will. ”

Further, he said that “valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment.”

He also said that to protect nature is “incompatible with the justification of abortion,” and that it is “clearly inconsistent” to combat human trafficking or protect endangered species while being indifferent to the choice of many people “to destroy another human being deemed unwanted.”

Francis also lamented that “instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate.”

“Demographic growth is fully compatible with an integral and shared development,” he said, adding that to blame a growing population for poverty and an unequal distribution of resources rather than the “extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues.”

4. In February 2015, the Pope praised Slovakia, which had voted against a referendum to legalize same-sex “marriage,” voicing his appreciation “to the entire Slovak Church, encouraging everyone to continue their efforts in defense of the family, the vital cell of society.”

Defying stereotypes

The Pope has made more statements along the same lines over the past few years in general audiences, as well as in homilies, speeches and letters, advocating for public respect for the Church's position on life, marriage, and family.

When the Pope spelled out his vision for the Christian contribution to the continent of Europe on Saturday, he made it clear that his moral and political vision is one based on the Church's longstanding teaching on the family.

Pope Francis can be hard to pin down at times, and the resulting “gray area” often leads to stereotype – which is why he is so frequently the subject of caricature, rather than serious study. But caricatures of Francis inevitably miss the mark.

On Saturday, Pope Francis proved this by again reminding Europe of its roots, and of the importance of the family and of Christianity to those roots, showing himself to be a leader who, instead of falling into stereotypes, defies them.

Catholic universities study how to respond to migrant, refugee crisis

Sat, 11/04/2017 - 02:53

Vatican City, Nov 3, 2017 / 02:53 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- This week, representatives from Catholic universities around the world are gathered in Rome to study how higher education can better respond to the global migrant and refugee crisis, particularly when it comes to research.

Catholic universities have a lot of potential, and “it was thought that if this potential was put at the service of one of the principal concerns of the Holy Father, migrants and refugees, we can really make a change, make a difference in respect to what was done before,” Fr. Fabio Baggio told CNA.

One of two undersecretaries for the migrants and refugees section of the Vatican dicastery for Integral Human Development, Baggio spoke ahead of a conference organized by Catholic universities around the world, titled “Migrants and Refugees in a Globalized World: the Response of Universities.”

Happening in Rome Nov. 1-4, the conference is organized by the International Federation of Catholic Universities (IFCU) in partnership with the Being the Blessing Foundation, the Pontifical Gregorian University, and the Center for Interreligious Understanding.

In his comments to CNA, Baggio said as soon as the dicastery heard about the initiative, they offered their support, and are hopeful that “the good practices that some universities already have can be applied, multiplied and that many others can do it.”

Baggio also voiced his hope that the universities would be able to build a stronger network in order to both share resources among the wealthier universities and those with less funding, and to share best practices.

Key goals for the conference include garnering a better understanding of the reality of the global migrant and refugee crisis, studying the different approaches to teaching university students about the issue, and exploring various ways to respond to the need for higher education of those living in refugee camps.

Various representatives from Catholic universities throughout the world are speaking on the issue from their local perspectives, and exchanging ideas on how to conduct better research in order to come up with concrete action points when responding to the educational needs of migrants.

The topic of migrants and refugees has been among the leading issues of Pope Francis' pontificate. Not only does he address it in many of his speeches, but he has chosen to directly oversee the migrant and refugee section of the dicastery for Integral Human Development.

Fr. Baggio technically works under dicastery president Cardinal Peter Turkson. However, he reports directly to the Pope on the topic of migrants and refugees. He said Francis has been very clear about the issue from the beginning.

“The Holy Father was very clear the first time he spoke about this in Strasbourg (and) he was very clear when he received the Charlemagne Prize here in Rome, where he said that Europe must rediscover its roots, cultural roots and the roots of civilization,” he said.

“The moment in which we abdicate that which we built as a civilization, is the moment when we completely annul everything, we are resigned,” he said, explaining that in Europe, “we are in the cradle of law and the cradle of human rights and the cradle of dignity.”

“So I say that in this sense it's a great invitation for Europe to rediscover her own roots, and to go forward with a great project of unity for all peoples, not being afraid of losing one's own identity, but on the contrary, to be enriched with the wealth that others bring.”

Pope Francis will be meeting with conference participants Saturday, Sept. 4, to close out the event, to discuss what he believes universities can and should be doing when it comes to the migrant and refugee crisis.


In latest prayer video, Pope shines light on challenges in Asia

Fri, 11/03/2017 - 23:04

Vatican City, Nov 3, 2017 / 11:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In his prayer video for November Pope Francis prays for the Church in Asia, that despite challenges it may continue to be a source of peace and dialogue between religions.

"On this continent, where the Church is a minority, the challenges are intense," the Pope says in the video.

"Let us pray that Christians in Asia may promote dialogue, peace, and mutual understanding especially with those of other religions."

Released Nov. 3, the video shows people of different religions and countries from throughout Asia. It also shows scenes of life in Asia, including the celebration of Mass.

"The most striking feature of Asia is the variety of its peoples who are heirs to ancient cultures, religions and traditions," the Pope says.

Because of this variety, dialogue becomes an "essential part of the mission of the Church" in Asian countries, he pointed out.

The Pope's prayer for Asia comes just a few weeks ahead of his Nov. 27 – Dec. 2 pastoral visit to Burma and Bangladesh.

The Catholic population in both countries is very small. In Bangladesh less than three percent of the population is Catholic, and in Burma it’s less than one percent.

In addition to being a minority religion in itself, the Church in these countries is also made up of people from a variety of ethnic minority backgrounds as well.

His visit is expected to focus on peace and coexistence, especially amid persecution of minorities.

An initiative of the Jesuit-run global prayer network Apostleship of Prayer, the Pope’s prayer videos are filmed in collaboration with the Vatican Television Center and mark the first time the Roman Pontiff’s monthly prayer intentions have been featured on video.

The Apostleship of Prayer, which produces the monthly videos on the Pope’s intentions, was founded by Jesuit seminarians in France in 1884 to encourage Christians to serve God and others through prayer, particularly for the needs of the Church.

Since the late 1800s, the organization has received a monthly, universal intention from the Pope. In 1929, an additional missionary intention was added by the Holy Father, aimed at the faithful in particular.

Choose everlasting life, not death, Pope Francis says

Fri, 11/03/2017 - 16:43

Vatican City, Nov 3, 2017 / 04:43 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Friday Pope Francis said that in contemplating death we are reminded of our ultimate purpose – and how the choices we make here on earth will determine whether we eventually spend eternity in heaven.

“A fundamental mark of the Christian is a sense of anxious expectation of our final encounter with God,” the Pope said Nov. 3. “Death makes definitive the ‘crossroads’ which even now, in this world, stands before us: the way of life, with God, or the way of death, far from him.”

The Pope’s reflection on life and death was made in a special Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica for the souls of the cardinals and bishops who have died in the past year.

In his homily Francis reflected on the longing found in the words of the Responsorial Psalm: “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?”

These words, he said, were impressed upon the souls of the cardinals and bishops remembered in today's Mass. They served the Church and the people entrusted to them while keeping their eyes set on the prospect of eternity.

Today’s celebration of the Mass can help us to do the same, he said. In praying for the dead we are confronted with the reality of our own death, and though it may renew our sorrow for our friends and family members who have died, it also increases our hope.

We especially find hope in the Eucharist, he said. In the Eucharist is the physical expression of Jesus’ words in the Gospel of John: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.”

“These words evoke Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. He accepted death in order to save those whom the Father had given him, who were dead in the slavery of sin. By his love, he shattered the yoke of death and opened to us the doors of life.”

When we receive the body and blood of Jesus, he said, we unite ourselves to his faithful love and to his “victory of good over evil, suffering and death.”

In this divine bond with the charity of Christ we can know that communion with those who have died before us is not “merely a desire,” but that it “becomes real,” he said.

Francis closed saying that through his death and resurrection, Jesus has shown us that “death is not the last word.” And faith in this resurrection transforms us into “men and women of hope, not despair, men and women of life, not death.”

“This hope, rekindled in us by the word of God, helps us to be trusting in the face of death.”

Philosophy professor launches international pro-life academy

Fri, 11/03/2017 - 07:00

Vatican City, Nov 2, 2017 / 07:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A former member of the Pontifical Academy for Life has launched an independent organization he claims will work to “unfold the splendor of truth about life and family.”

Josef Seifert, president of the new lay-run John Paul II Academy for Human Life and Family, announced the academy Oct. 18 in Rome at a conference on the topic of Blessed Paul VI's encyclical “Humanae Vitae.”

“The academy’s aim is to clarify, to teach and to spread that part of the truth about man and about God that serves human life and the natural family, and, through serving these, serves and glorifies God,” said Seifert.

Seifert, a philosophy professor from Austria, has taught at the University of Dallas. He was founding rector of the International Academy of Philosophy in Liechtenstein. Until recently, he had served as Dietrich von Hildebrand Chair for Realist Phenomenology at the International Academy of Philosophy-Instituto de Filosofía Edith Stein.

He has said he was forced to retire for asking whether parts of Pope Francis’ 2016 post-synodal exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” led to the conclusion that there are no intrinsically wrong acts. He had previously been suspended from teaching seminarians, following the publication of a different essay criticizing the exhortation.

According to Seifert, the new organization aims to serve the same goals as the original Pontifical Academy for Life, founded in 1994 by St. John Paul II. This academy will be “a lay non-governmental organization that will remain independent of civil and religious organizations.”

The Pontifical Academy for Life is a team of scientists and ethicists representing different branches of biomedical sciences who are appointed by the Holy Father to work with Vatican dicasteries to discuss issues related to science and the protection of the dignity of human life. Under Pope Francis, its new statutes explicitly advocate care for the human person “at different stages of life” as well as an authentic “human ecology” that aims to restore balance in creation “between the human person and the entire universe.”

The American members of this academy appointed or confirmed by Pope Francis include Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus; John M. Haas, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia; and Kathleen M. Foley, M.D., attending neurologist in the Pain and Palliative Care Service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and professor of neurology, neuroscience, and clinical pharmacology at Weill Cornell Medicine of Cornell University.

In Nov. 2016, Pope Francis promulgated new statutes for the Pontifical Academy for Life, withdrawing the lifetime appointments of 139 members, including Seifert.  While 28 members were reappointed in June 2017, Seifert was not among them.

The academy’s new statutes explicitly allow non-Catholics to be appointed to the pontifical academy, and establish that new members would no longer be required to sign a statement promising to defend life according to Catholic teaching.

Some new appointees were criticized for apparent disagreement with Catholic teaching on questions like euthanasia.

Seifert said his new lay academy includes several former members of the pontifical academy. Most of these were lifetime members. The members of the new lay academy are “deeply committed” to the original pontifical academy and its goals as envisioned by St. John Paul II, he said. Their Catholic members are, in his words, “fully faithful to the authentic Magisterium and perennial doctrine of the Catholic Church,” while open to the truths of human reason. Membership in this lay academy is also open to non-Catholics.

The independent academy will also consider medical, social and health developments; “anti-life and gender ideology”; topics like “brain death”; and the ethics of death and transplant medicine.

In his remarks introducing the new lay academy, Seifert was critical of a “new emphasis on subjective conscience that would justify committing adultery, homosexual relations or even abortion subjectively.” He opposed the claim that God would want people to commit acts like adultery “because leaving our new partner might lead us to greater sins and cause greater evils.”

He emphasized the importance of John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, encyclical Veritatis Splendor, and Blessed Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae to the new academy.

Have souls in Purgatory visited people on earth?

Thu, 11/02/2017 - 15:03

Vatican City, Nov 2, 2017 / 03:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Nestled in Rome just outside the Vatican, a small unassuming museum dedicated to the souls in Purgatory displays simple items such as prayer books and clothing.

Nothing too unusual, until you realize that each allegedly show the marks of the deceased – such as inexplicably burned fingerprints – when they appeared to loved ones asking for prayers from Purgatory.

The Museum of the Souls in Purgatory is located inside of the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Prati, near Castel Sant’Angelo, and contains around 15 of these testimonies and artifacts, collected from around Europe by a French priest Victor Jouët.

In many of the cases, it is held that the marks were left as proof that the deceased had really appeared, asking for prayers or for Masses to be said for their souls.

One artifact in the museum is the fingerprint of Sr. Mary of St. Luigi Gonzaga, left on a pillowcase when she appeared to Sr. Margherita of the Sacred Heart on the night after she died in 1894.

The appearance was recorded in the archives of the monastery of St. Clare of the Child Jesus in Bastia, Italy. According to the records, Sr. Mary told Sr. Margherita that she was in Purgatory as expiation of her lack of patience in accepting God’s will.

Another is the prayer book of Maria Zaganti which shows three fingerprints left by her deceased friend Palmira Rastelli on March 5, 1871. The sister of the parish priest, she asked appeared to her friend to ask for Masses to be said by her brother Fr. Sante Rastelli.

A mark of fiery fingerprints were also left on the German prayer book of George Schitz by his brother Joseph on Dec. 21, 1838. He asked for prayer in expiation of his lack of piety during his life.

The Museum of the Souls in Purgatory was created by Fr. Victor Jouët in 1897. A Missionary of the Sacred Heart, Fr. Jouët founded in Rome the Association of the Sacred Heart of the Suffrage of the Souls of Purgatory. The chapel the Association used from 1896-1914 was located at the place where the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is now.

In 1897 the chapel caught on fire. When Fr. Jouët rushed into the chapel, he saw the image of a human face, looking sad and melancholy, impressed upon the wall behind the altar. He believed it to be from the soul of a deceased man trying to contact those on earth.

After this occurrence, the priest decided to create a museum dedicated to the artifacts of other appearances of souls in Purgatory. He travelled around Europe and Italy collecting the items and testimonies.

Each piece in the museum was collected by Fr. Jouët from the same person who experienced the vision. The image of the man from the chapel can also be found there.

While he travelled around, Fr. Jouët also asked for money to build a church on the site of the chapel, which he had received a message to build in a dream.

Other artifacts in the museum include the print of a hand and a cross left on a the wooden table of Venerable Clara Isabel Fornari, abbess of the Poor Clares of the Monastery of St. Francis in Todi, Italy, by the deceased Fr. Panzini, on Nov. 1, 1731.

There is also a copy of an Italian 10 lira banknote, one of 30 notes left at the Monastery of St. Leonardo in Montefalco by a deceased priest between Aug. 18 and Nov. 9, 1919.

Catholic teaching on the afterlife is that there are three places for a soul to go after death: Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, those who go to Heaven are “(t)hose who die in God’s grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live for ever with Christ.”

Those souls that go to Hell are those who have freely chosen through mortal sin “exclusion from communion with God and the blessed.”

Purgatory is a place where the souls go who die in friendship with God but are still imperfectly purified. Purgatory is where “after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.” These souls are ensured eventual entrance into Heaven, once they are purified.

The Church teaches that souls in Purgatory rely on the prayers of souls still on Earth to relieve some of their temporal suffering and speed their journey to Heaven. In return, the souls in Purgatory can also pray for those on earth.


This article was originally published on CNA Nov. 4, 2016.

Pope Francis mourns victims in string of recent terror attacks

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 18:17

Vatican City, Nov 1, 2017 / 06:17 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After nearly 40 people were killed in terrorist attacks this week in Somalia, New York and Afghanistan, Pope Francis voiced his sorrow for loss of innocent life, and prayed for an end to the “murderous” hatred that spurs violence.

During his Nov. 1 Angelus address on All Saints Day, Pope Francis voiced his sorrow for the various attacks, saying he is “deeply saddened” by the loss of life.

“In deploring these acts of violence, I pray for the deceased, for the wounded and for their families,” he said, and prayed for the Lord to “convert the hearts of terrorists and free the world from hatred and the murderous folly that abuses the name of God so as to spread death.”

On Oct. 29, five Islamic extremists stormed a hotel after a suicide bomber detonated a vehicle filled with explosives at the entrance gate, killing some 23 people. The attack, which was claimed by Africa's most deadly Islamic extremist group, Al-Shabab, took place just two weeks after another deadly blast in Somalia killed 350 people, marking the country's worst-ever terrorist attack.

Three days later, on Oct. 31, a suicide bomber blew himself up near the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan's capital of Kabul, killing at least 5 and wounding around 20 others. In a video posted to social media, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, but did not specify what its target had been.

Also on Oct. 31, eight people were killed and at least 12 injured in New York City after a man in Home Depot truck plowed through a crowd on a pedestrian and bike path on West Street in lower Manhattan, before striking a school bus.

In a statement after the incident, New York Archbishop Cardinal Timothy Dolan said the city and the nation “are stunned and horrified by another act of senseless violence.”

“While details continue to emerge, one thing is clear: once again, no matter our religion, racial or ethnic background, or political beliefs, we must put our differences aside and come together in faith and love,” he said, and encouraged New Yorkers of all faiths “to support those who are injured, pray for those who have died as well as their families and loved ones, and work towards greater respect and understanding among all people so that heinous and evil acts like this become a thing of the past.”

Pope: the saints weren't perfect, but they allowed God to touch their lives

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 17:54

Vatican City, Nov 1, 2017 / 05:54 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday Pope Francis marked the feast of All Saints Day saying the saints are honored not because they were perfect or did everything right, but because they allowed God to touch their lives and fought hard against sin.

“The Solemnity of All Saints is 'our' feast: not because we are good, but because the holiness of God has touched our lives,” the Pope said Nov. 1.

Saints, he said, “are not perfect models, but are people whose lives God has crossed,” and can be compared with the stained glass windows of a church, “which allow light to enter in different shades of color.”

The Saints above all are our brothers and sisters “who have welcomed the light of God into their hears and have passed it on to the world, each one according to their own 'tone',” he said, but stressed that no matter the “color” they give, “all of them are transparent.”

“They have fought to take away the stains and darkness of sin, so as to let the gentle light of God pass through,” he said, adding that “this is the purpose of life, even for us.”

Pope Francis offered his reflection in an Angelus address marking the feast of All Saints Day, which the Church celebrates each year on Nov. 1. Since the solemnity is a national holiday in Italy and the Vatican, the Pope offered the special Angelus address, rather than giving his typical Wednesday general audience.

Pointing to the day's Gospel reading from Matthew, in which Jesus outlines the Beatitudes, Francis said the world “blessed” with which Jesus begins his preaching is in itself an announcement of the “good news,” because it points to the path of happiness.

“Whoever is with Jesus is blessed, is happy,” he said, explaining that happiness “is not having something or becoming someone,” but rather, “true happiness is being with the Lord and living for love.”

The “ingredients” for a happy life, then, are what Jesus calls the beatitudes, he said, explaining that the blessed ones “are the simple, the humble who make room for God, who know how to weep for others and for their own errors, those who stay meek, who fight for justice, who are merciful toward all, who guard purity of heart, who always work for peace and remain in joy, not in hate, and, even when suffering, respond to evil with good.”

The beatitudes, then, are not “sensational acts” reserved only for “supermen,” but are attitudes for those who live through the trials and fatigues of everyday life.

Even the Saints are like this, he said, explaining that like everyone, “they breath the air polluted by the evil that's in the world, but along the way they never lose sight of Jesus' path, the one indicated in the beatitudes, which are like the map of Christian life.”

And the feast of All Saints, then, is not celebrated only in honor of those who have reached the “goal” this map leads to, but it is also for the many “simple and hidden people” who we may know, and who, through everyday holiness, help God to “carry the world forward.”

Francis highlighted the importance of the beatitude “blessed are the poor in spirit,” which he said does not mean living for success, power or money, since “whoever accumulates treasures for themselves is not rich before God.”

Rather, those who are poor in spirit believe that “the Lord is the treasure of life, and that love of neighbor is the only true source of income.”

“At times we are unhappy about something we lack or are worried whether or not we are though of as we would like (to be),” he said, and urged pilgrims to remember that true beatitude is not found in these things, but only “in the Lord and in love.”

Pope Francis closed his address pointing to a final “beatitude” that is not found in the Gospel, but in Chapter 14 of the Book of Revelation, which reads “blessed are the dead who die in the Lord henceforth.”

Looking toward tomorrow's celebration of All Souls Day, Francis said Christians pray for their departed loved ones, “so that they enjoy the Lord forever.”

After leading pilgrims in the traditional Angelus prayer, Pope Francis voiced his sorrow for the terrorist attacks that have taken place over the past week in Somalia, Afghanistan and New York, saying he is “deeply saddened” by the attacks.

“In deploring these acts of violence, I pray for the deceased, for the wounded and for their families,” he said, and prayed for the Lord to “convert the hearts of terrorists and free the world from hatred and the murderous folly that abuses the name of God so as to spread death.”

He noted how for tomorrow's Nov. 2 feast of All Souls Day, he will visit the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery and Memorial in Nettuno, where he will celebrate Mass to remember the faithfully departed, and how afterward he will stop at the Fosse Ardeantine Museum and memorial commemorating the site of a Nazi massacre during World War II.

Pope Francis asked that pilgrims and faithful accompany him in prayer as he remembers the victims of war and violence honored in the two locations.

“Wars do not produce anything other than cemeteries and death. This is why I wanted to offer this sign at a time when humanity seems to have not learned it's lesson, or does not want to learn it,” he said, and asked for prayer.

Catholics, Lutherans look toward Christian unity in Reformation statement

Tue, 10/31/2017 - 22:02

Vatican City, Oct 31, 2017 / 10:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Reformation anniversary gives us a renewed impetus to work for reconciliation, said a statement released jointly Tuesday by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Lutheran World Federation.

“We recognize that while the past cannot be changed, its influence upon us today can be transformed to become a stimulus for growing communion, and a sign of hope for the world to overcome division and fragmentation,” it said Oct. 31.

“Again, it has become clear that what we have in common is far more than that which still divides us.”

The statement was released to mark the end of the year of common commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity is the Roman Curia's office for ecumenism, while the Lutheran World Federation is the largest communion of Lutheran ecclesial communities. In the US, the Lutheran World Federation includes the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, but neither the Missouri nor Wisconsin Synods.

The common commemoration was opened last year with an ecumenical prayer service between Lutherans and Catholics at the Lutheran cathedral in Lund, Sweden during the Pope’s Oct. 31-Nov. 1, 2016 visit.

During the service, Catholics and Lutherans read out five joint ecumenical commitments, including the commitment to always begin from a perspective of unity. Pope Francis and Munib Younan, then-president of the Lutheran World Federation and Lutheran bishop of Jordan and the Holy Land, also signed a joint statement.

Quoting the 2016 declaration between Pope Francis and Younan, this year’s statement acknowledged the pain of disunity, particularly that caused by the inability to share in the Eucharist.

“We acknowledge our joint pastoral responsibility to respond to the spiritual thirst and hunger of our people to be one in Christ. We long for this wound in the Body of Christ to be healed. This is the goal of our ecumenical endeavors, which we wish to advance, also by renewing our commitment to theological dialogue,” the statement declared.

The new statement also emphasized the commitment to continue this journey toward unity “guided by God’s Spirit…according to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

With God’s help, we hope to continue to seek “substantial consensus” on issues pertaining to the Church, Eucharist, and ministry, it said. “With deep joy and gratitude we trust ‘that He who has begun a good work in [us] will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ’.”

They gave thanksgiving for the spiritual and theological gifts received through the Reformation, as well as the need to ask forgiveness for failures and the ways in which “Christians have wounded the Body of Christ and offended each other” over the past 500 years.

One positive effect of the past year’s common commemoration has been viewing the Reformation with an ecumenical perspective for the first time, it concluded.

“In the face of so many blessings along the way, we raise our hearts in praise of the Triune God for the mercy we receive.”

What caused the Reformation? A Catholic explainer

Tue, 10/31/2017 - 04:36

Washington D.C., Oct 30, 2017 / 04:36 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- One fated Halloween, 500 years ago, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg Castle in a dramatic act of defiance against the Catholic Church.

Or, he may have just hung it on the doorknob. Or mailed out copies.

Or, if he did nail it, the act of the nailing itself would not have been all that significant, because the door may have been used as a bulletin board where everyone was nailing announcements.

And he probably wasn’t all that defiant; he likely had the attitude of a scholar trying to raise questions and concerns. At that point, Luther didn’t know how defiant he would eventually become, or that his act, and his subsequent theological work, would lead to one of the greatest disruptions of unity in the Church’s history.

“This was not a declaration of war against the Catholic Church, nor was it a break,” Dr. Alan Schreck with Franciscan University of Steubenville told CNA.

“It was a concerned, Augustinian monk and biblical scholar correcting an abuse, and it was really a call for a dialogue.”

However, it took fewer than five years for this call for dialogue to transform into schism, rejection of the authority of the Church’s tradition and bishops and most of the sacraments, and a growing number of Protestant communities, united only by their rejection of the Catholic Church.

While historians debate just how dramatic was the actual posting of the 95 theses, its anniversary is an occasion to look back at what the role of the most popular Protestant was in the movement that ultimately split Western Christendom in two.

Who was Martin Luther?

Martin Luther was born on November 10, 1483, the oldest son of Hans and Margarethe Luther. His father, a successful business and civic leader, had grand visions for his eldest son’s life and sent him to school with the hopes he would become a lawyer.

While Luther completed his bachelor’s and master’s degree according to his father’s plan, he dropped out of law school, finding himself increasingly drawn to the subjects of philosophy and theology.

Soon after leaving law school, Luther entered an Augustinian monastery, a decision he would later attribute to a vow he made during a precarious horseback ride, when he was nearly struck by lightning in the midst of a storm. Terrified that he was about to die, the 21-year-old Luther cried out to St. Anne, promising that he would become a monk if he survived. He felt it was a vow he could not break; his father felt it was a waste of his education.

By all accounts, Luther was a Catholic success story before he became the leading figure of the Reformation. He joined the monastery in 1505, and by 1507 he was ordained a priest. He became a renowned theologian and biblical scholar within the order, as well as a powerful and popular preacher and lecturer at the University of Wittenberg in Germany.

During his years of study and growing popularity, Luther began developing the groundwork of his theology on salvation and scripture that would ultimately become deal-breakers in his relationship with the Catholic Church.

The offense of selling indulgences

But it wasn’t strictly theological ideas that first drove Luther to the ranks of reformation ringleader – it was his critique of the practice of selling indulgences, the central subject of his 95 theses, that catapulted him into the limelight.

According to Catholic teaching, an indulgence is the remission of all or part of the temporal punishment due to sins which have already been forgiven, and can be applied either to the person performing the prescribed act or to a soul in Purgatory.

To obtain an indulgence, one must complete certain spiritual requirements, such as going to the sacraments of Confession and Communion, in addition to some other act or good work, such as making a pilgrimage or doing a work of mercy.

But even years before Martin Luther, abuses of indulgences were rampant in the Church.

Instead of prescribing an act of prayer or a work of mercy as a way to obtain an indulgence, clerics began also authorizing a “donation” to the Church as a good work needed to remit the temporal punishment due to sin.

Increasingly, people grew critical of the sale of indulgences, as they watched money gleaned from people’s afterlife anxiety go to fund the extravagant lives of some of the clergy. The money was also often used to buy clerical offices, the sin of simony.

During Martin Luther’s time, in northern Germany, the young and ambitious prince-Archbishop Albrecht of Brandenburg was offered the position of the Archbishop of Mainz, but was unwilling to relinquish any of his previously-held power.

Meanwhile in Rome, Pope Leo X was demanding a considerable fee from Albrecht for his new position, as well as from the people of his dioceses for the fund to build St. Peter’s Basilica. Albrecht took out a loan and promised Rome 50 percent of the funds extracted from – as critics would describe it – preying on people’s fear of Purgatory.

For the St. Peter’s fund, the Pope had employed Dominican friar Johann Tetzel to be the Grand Commissioner for Indulgences for the country of Germany.

According to historians, Tetzel liberally preached the indulgence, over-promising remission of sins, extending it to include even future sins one might commit, rather than sins that had already been repented of and confessed. He even allegedly coined the gimmicky indulgence phrase:  "As soon as a coin in the coffer rings / the soul from Purgatory springs."

It was Tetzel’s activities that ultimately pushed Luther to protest by publishing his 95 theses.

The 95 theses and the seeds of reform

“When he posted the 95 theses, he wasn’t a Lutheran yet,” said Michael Root, professor of systematic theology at The Catholic University of America.

“In some ways they get things rolling, but what’s important is what happens after the 95 theses when Luther gets pushed into a more radical position.”

Regardless of how dramatically they were posted to the door of Wittenberg Castle on October 31, 1517, Luther nailed not only his theses but the feelings of many faithful at the time who were also frustrated with the corruption and abuse they saw in the Church.

Christian humanists such as Erasmus and St. Thomas More were contemporaries of Luther who also objected to abuses within Church while not breaking from it.

Meanwhile, Luther’s already-established reputation as a respected professor, as well as access to the printing press, allowed his theses and ideas to spread at a rate previously unmatched by previous reformers who had similar critiques of the Church.

“Clearly there was a kind of symbiosis between Luther and the development of the printing press,” Root said. “What he was writing was able to engage lots of people. Many of them were short pamphlets that could be printed up quickly, they sold he was on the cutting edge of technology and he fit what the technology needed - short, energetic things people wanted to read.”

Most historians agree that Luther’s original intent was not to start a new ecclesial community - that idea would have been “unthinkable at the time,” Root noted. ??“So that’s too much to say; however, it’s too little to say all he want to do was reform abuses.”

By 1518, his theses spread throughout Germany and intellectual Europe. Luther also continued writing prolifically, engaging in disputes with Tetzel and other Catholic critics and further developing his own ideas.

For its part, the Church did not issue an official response for several years, while attempts at discussions dissolved into defensive disputations rather than constructive dialogue. As a result, early opportunities to engage Luther’s criticisms on indulgences instead turned into arguments about Church authority as a whole.

Swatting flies with a sledgehammer – Luther becomes a Lutheran

One of Luther’s most well-known critics was Catholic theologian Johann Eck, who declared Luther’s theses heretical and ordered them to be burned in public.

In 1519, the two sparred in a disputation that pushed Luther to his more extreme view that scripture was the only valid Christian authority, rather than tradition and the bishops.

“The Catholic critics quickly changed the subject from indulgences to the question of the Church’s authority in relation to indulgences, which was a more dangerous issue,” Root said. “Now you’re getting onto a touchy subject. But there was also an internal dynamic of Luther’s own thought,” that can be seen in his subsequent writings.

In 1520, Luther published three of his most renowned treatises: The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, On the Freedom of a Christian Man, and To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation.

By that time, it was clear that what Luther thought was wrong in the Church was not just the abuse of indulgences, but the understanding of the message of Christianity on some basic levels. Besides denouncing the Pope as a legitimate authority, Luther also declared that faith alone, sola fide, was all that was necessary for salvation, rather than faith and good works.

“Luther was definitely trying to fix what was a legitimate problem, which was pelagian tendencies, or people trying to work their way into heaven,” said Dr. Paul Hilliard, Assistant Professor and Chair of Church History at Mundelein Seminary. It had created a “mercantile attitude” in some people at the time of Luther – “if I do this, God will do this.”

“So Luther was trying to correct these things, but the phrase I sometimes say is that Luther swatted the fly of pelagianism with a sledgehammer. In order to keep any trace of humans earning salvation out of the system, he changed the system.”

Luther’s distrust of human beings did not particularly spring from his criticisms of indulgences and the subsequent pushback from the Church – it was in line with most anthropological thought at the time, which tended toward a very negative view of human nature. Therefore, in his Protestant views, he sought to get rid of any human involvement wherever possible – particularly when it came to interpreting scripture and salvation.

“On the scale of beasts to angels, most people (at the time) would have us a lot closer to beasts,” Hilliard noted.

The Catholic Church officially condemned Luther’s theses in a papal bull, Exsurge Domine, promulgated in June 1520, and in part authored by Eck. The declaration afforded Luther a 60-day window to recant his positions, lest he be excommunicated.

But by the time the papal bull was issued, Luther had not only denounced the authority of the Pope, but had declared him an anti-Christ. The window for reconciling views was all but closed.

The popular and political reforms

Despite Luther’s increasingly radical claims against the Pope and the Church, his popularity spread, due to his compelling and prolific writings and, to Luther’s dismay, his populist appeal.

Luther popularized the idea of a “priesthood of all believers” to the exclusion of an ordained, ministerial priesthood. Rather than bearing an indelible mark on their soul, in Luther’s view ministerial priests did not differ from the “priesthood of believers” except in office and work. This, along with his personality and background, appealed to the poor and working class of the time who were frustrated with the lavish lives of Church hierarchy, which typically came at the expense of the poor in rural areas.

“Luther was very much a populist, he was a man of the people, he was scruff, he came from sort of peasant stock, he spoke the language of the people, so I think a lot of the common people identified with him,” Shreck said.

“He was one of them, he wasn’t far away in Rome or a seemingly wealthy bishop or he appealed particularly to Germans because he wanted a German liturgy and a German bible, and the people said, ‘we want a faith that is close to us and accessible’.”

But Luther balked when his religious ideals spurred the Peasant’s War of 1525, as peasants in rural areas of German revolted, motivated by Luther’s religious language of equality. The year or so of subsequent bloody war seemed to justify those who dismissed Luther as nothing more than a social movement rather than a serious religious reformer.

In order to maintain the esteem of those higher up, Luther disavowed the unruly peasants as not part of the official reform movement, laying the groundwork for the Anabaptists to fill in the religious gaps for the peasants in the future.

However, the Peasant’s War wasn’t the only time the Reformation got political – or lethal. Because of the vacuum of authority that now existed in Luther’s pope-less, emerging ecclesial community, authority was handed over to the local princes, who took advantage of the reformation to break from the fee-demanding Pope.

Much of Germany had embraced Lutheranism by the mid 1500s, though some parts, such as Bavaria, retained their Catholic faith.

For his part, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V officially condemned Luther’s theology at the 1521 Diet of Worms, a meeting of German princes, during which Luther famously refused to recant his position with the words: “Here I stand. God help me. I can do no other.”

Despite Charles V’s opposition to Luther’s views, he allowed for Luther’s safe passage from the diet, rather than enforcing the customary execution of heretics, and thus forfeited his best chance for stomping out the Reformation at its roots.

Historians speculate that while Charles V personally opposed Luther’s views, he let him live because he also saw the decentralizing of power from the Vatican as something of which he could take political advantage.

Reformation fever was also catching throughout Europe, and soon Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland and England were all following Germany’s example of breaking from the Catholic Church and establishing state-run, Protestant ecclesial communities.

“I like to think of the story with the little Dutch boy with his the finger in the dyke,” Shreck said. “Once the breach was made, others follows his example. Once Luther did it, it was like the domino effect.”

“In a book by Owen Chadwick, he said the Reformation came not because Europe was irreligious, but because it was fervently religious,” Shreck added. “This was after the black death and a lot of social turmoil – people really wanted to turn to God and seek solace in faith.”

But the reformers were not all agreed on their beliefs, which led to the rise of numerous sects of Protestantism, including Calvinism, Anglicanism, and Anabaptism.

“Protestantism became very divided, though they all claimed to be doing the right thing because they believed they were maintaining the purity of the faith,” Schreck said.

Root noted that once the Protestant-Catholic divide “got embedded in political differences, between southern Europe and northern Europe, between Spain and England, and so the religious differences also became national differences, that just made matters far worse.”

“Once you have the wars of religion in 1546, then attitudes become very harsh. Once you start killing each other, it’s hard to sit down and talk,” he added.

The wars over religion would become especially pronounced in the 30 Years War of the 1600s, though at that point, religion had become more of a political tool for the state, Hilliard said.

“The 30 Years War is a really good indication that while religion was important, it was not the most important thing – it was a war between different competing princes to gain greater control of territories, during which religion was thrown into the mix,” Hilliard noted.

Could the Reformation have been avoided?

The million-dollar question at the center of Reformation history is whether the Reformation and the splitting of Western Christendom could have been avoided.

“Some would say by two years into the Reformation, the theological differences already ran very deep and there was no way you were going to get reconciliation,” Root said.

“But there are others who would argue that as late as the 1540s it was still possible that perhaps the right set of historical circumstances could have brought people together, and there’s no way of knowing, because you can’t run history again and change the variables.”

“Whether one could have settled it all then short of war, there were missed opportunities for reconciliation, that’s clear,” he added.

Luther’s fiery and rebellious personality, matched with the defiant and defensive stance that the Catholic Church took in response to his ideas, created a perfect storm that cemented the Protestant-Catholic divide.

Much of Luther’s thinking remained Catholic throughout his life, Schreck noted, including his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

“I think if there had been a sincere effort on the part of the Catholic hierarchy that his concerns were legitimate, history might have gone in a different direction.” 

It wasn’t until Pope Paul III (1534–1549), 17 years after the fated theses first made their rounds, that the Catholic Church as a whole took a serious and official look at its own need for reform, and its need to respond to the Protestant Reformation.

This is Part 1 in a three-part series on the Reformation. Part 2 will discuss the Council of Trent and the Counter-Reformation. Part 3 will discuss ecumenism today.