“Dear Bishops, don’t be fooled…”

Sara Manzardo, a young married woman connected with the Italian Catholic blog “Cor XIII”, wrote this beautiful letter to the bishops on the occasion of the Synod on youth; it’s appeared on a couple of sites. The translation is mine. She writes:

Now that the Synod has just begun, the media buzz has started too and, looking at what the newspapers report, this synod on youth will be talking mostly about migrants, LGBT, and naturally about premarital sex, because chastity seems to be the main reason why youth drift away from the Church.

But we young people deserve much more. We aren’t satisfied any more to hear homilies full of politics, the common good, the news, the environment. And above all we don’t need anyone to be soft about premarital chastity: there’s already a whole world that gives us permission to live our sexuality any way we want. We young people in the Church are looking for valid, credible, convincing reasons to understand and choose a different sexuality: one that knows about waiting, choosing, bearing fruit.

We don’t drift away from the Church because it’s preventing us from having sex before marriage, let alone if we’re interested in any of what the priest thinks. We drift away because we don’t find anything in the Church different from what they say to us outside: nothing more moving, nothing worth the trouble of living and dying.

Instead we come closer to the Church when someone explains to us why they have chosen chastity (and it’s never “because the Church says so”, hardly). We come closer when someone opens our eyes about our life, when someone says words to us that burn like salt in a wound, but they’re living, true, strong words.

We come closer when someone gives us testimony of real, lived faith. We come closer when someone shows they wish us well and wish what is good for us, helping us to grow as persons from every point of view, even showing us the junk that makes us sad and unsatisfied.

We come closer when we see courageous people who make extreme choices, who know what they want, who live sexuality as a gift and as a responsibility. We come closer when someone tells us that to make love is an experience of paradise and it needs to be done well. Not to possess, not to please the other person, not a game, not out of habit. And precisely for the sake of this, they have chosen to become one flesh with the one person they have really chosen, once and for all, for ever, for eternity. Because youth know that love is for ever, or else it’s not love, it’s something similar, a nice friendship, or a substitute.

Dear bishops, don’t be fooled by the headlines in the newspapers. Don’t be influenced by what the world would like from you, but be daring. Have the courage to be fathers. Have the courage to be attentive and merciful guides, have the courage to say great things that start us discussing, things that unveil the mystery, that speak of the infinite.

Have the courage to address us, young married people, young engaged people, young priests, young consecrated people, young people searching. Have the courage and the patience to ask us the “why” for our choices, to ask us the “Who” we are living for, and then, tell the young people you see around you that it is possible to be happy, to live fully, to make great choices, to go against the current.

Have the courage to form future priests and future married people conscious of what they are choosing, in love with Christ and the Gospel, ready to give testimony to the youth who are far away, shy, undecided: that they will not be coming back to a Church in line with the world. They will be coming back to a beautiful and holy Church that lives what it believes in and has the courage to show it.

Sara Manzardo

Swiss bishop offers guidance on Amoris Laetitia

This week the bishop of Chur, Switzerland published his guidance for confessors for the implementation of Amoris Laetitia.  Here I offer an English translation:

The Holiness of the Marriage Bond:
a word on the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia

Dear confreres in the priestly ministry,

In discussion about the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, the eighth chapter, with the question about civilly remarried divorced persons, has come to stand in the center. For this reason I am, in my responsibility as bishop, bringing some guidance to the attention of pastoral ministers (confessors).

As a preface, I would like to hold fast to the following: the Holy Father says in the introduction to Amoris Laetitia, “that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium” (AL 3). This statement helps us recognize the level of authority of the post-synodal apostolic exhortation.

“If we consider the immense variety of concrete situations such as those I have mentioned, it is understandable that neither the Synod nor this Exhortation could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases. What is possible is simply a renewed encouragement to undertake a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases” (AL 300), says the Pope in connection with discernment in irregular situations. This also means that the bishop is called upon all the more to point the way with a word, because priests have the task to “accompany [the affected persons] in helping them to understand their situation according to the teaching of the Church and the guidelines of the bishop.” (AL 300). Furthermore, “every effort should be made to encourage the development of an enlightened conscience, formed and guided by the responsible and serious discernment of one’s pastor, and to encourage an ever greater trust in God’s grace” (303). This corresponds fully to what the Holy Father says in Amoris Laetitia 307: “In order to avoid all misunderstanding, I would point out that in no way must the Church desist from proposing the full ideal of marriage, God’s plan in all its grandeur: ‘Young people who are baptized should be encouraged to understand that the sacrament of marriage can enrich their prospects of love and that they can be sustained by the grace of Christ in the sacrament and by the possibility of participating fully in the life of the Church’. A lukewarm attitude, any kind of relativism, or an undue reticence in proposing that ideal, would be a lack of fidelity to the Gospel and also of love on the part of the Church for young people themselves.” Keeping in mind all this guidance within Amoris Laetitia, I ask priests to observe the following:

1. The starting point for accompaniment, discernment, and integration must be the holiness of the marriage bond. The task of the pastoral minister is to convey to people an awareness of the holiness of the marriage bond; or to reconvey it. The Holy Father speaks of “pastoral care … centered on the marriage bond” (AL 211: in the Italian language, “vincolo”). The official German translation of “vincolo” with “Bindung” (connection) is too weak. Therefore I am speaking expressly here of the bond.

2. The marriage bond is already holy, from the creation itself (natural marriage), and all the more through the new creation (the order of grace), through sacramentally contracted marriage (the supernatural order). The formation of conscience in regard to this truth is a pressing duty in our time (cf. AL 300).

3. This formation of conscience is all the more necessary, as a pastor cannot be satisfied “simply to apply moral laws to those living in ‘irregular’ situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives.” (AL 305). The marriage bond itself is a gift of God’s love, wisdom, and mercy that lends grace and help to the married couple. Therefore reference to the marriage bond must come first on the path of accompaniment, discernment, and integration.

4. If, during the confession of an unknown penitent, a confessor recognizes questions that call for clarification, in regard to the marriage bond, he will ask the penitent to confide in a priest who can accompany him on a longer path of conversion and integration; or the penitent should contact the confessor himself outside the context of confession.

5. In the pastoral accompaniment of civilly remarried divorcees, the next point to examine is whether the marriage contract (the “first marriage”) was made validly: whether a marriage bond really exists. The individual priest cannot undertake this examination, and certainly not in the confessional. The confessor must refer the affected person to an official of the diocese.

6. As always in regard to the validity of the marriage contract, a failed marriage must be treated in every case humanely and according to our faith. That means one must tread a longer pastoral way which demands more patience. “Useful in this process is an examination of conscience through moments of reflection and repentance. The divorced and remarried should ask themselves: how did they act towards their children when the conjugal union entered into crisis; whether or not they made attempts at reconciliation; what has become of the abandoned party; what consequences the new relationship has on the rest of the family and the community of the faithful; and what example is being set for young people who are preparing for marriage. A sincere reflection can strengthen trust in the mercy of God which is not denied anyone” (AL 300). “The Church’s pastors, in proposing to the faithful the full ideal of the Gospel and the Church’s teaching, must also help them to treat the weak with compassion, avoiding aggravation or unduly harsh or hasty judgements” (AL 308).

7. The reception of Holy Communion by civilly remarried divorcees may not be left to subjective decision-making. One must be able to base oneself on objective factors (on the conditions of the Church for the reception of Holy Communion). In the case of civilly remarried divorcees, respect for the existing marriage bond is determinative.

8. If in conversation (during a confession) the absolution of a civilly remarried divorcee is requested, it must be established that the person is ready to take on the prescriptions of Familiaris consortio 84 (John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio, November 12, 1981). That means: if both partners cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they are required to live together as brother and sister. This rule still applies now as then, because the new apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia expressly does not intend “a new set of general rules, canonical in nature” (cf. AL 300). The penitent must manifest the firm intention to live with respect for the marriage bond of the “first” marriage.

9. In the preparation and accompaniment of engaged couples, married couples, and families, let us always keep the word of St. Paul in view: “This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:32) – Sacramentum hoc magnum est, ego autem dico in Christo et in Ecclesia.

With my thanks for your fidelity to the Lord and his work, I send cordial greetings, together with my episcopal blessing

Chur, February 2, 2017
+Vitus Huonder, Bishop of Chur

On the topic: José Granados, Stephan Kampowski, Juan José Pérez-Soba: Amoris Laetitia, Accompagnare, discernere, integrare. Vademecum per una nuova pastorale familiare, Siena 2016.  A German translation is anticipated from femedienverlags GmbH, D-88353 Kisslegg. [Translator’s note: Also available in Spanish as “Acompañar, discernir, integrar”.]


The Legion, Regnum Christi, canon law and pastoral advice

[UPDATE: I have updated part 6 below for a second time. My initial understanding of the time-frame for RC promises now appears to have been incorrect. There may also be other updates as I am now receiving more information from LC sources. – Pete]
With the Holy See having announced an apostolic visitation of the Legion of Christ, a modest discussion is taking place in the canon law world over a number of canonical and pastoral issues relating to the Legion and its lay affiliate Regnum Christi (LC/RC). I’ve formed my own reflections, some of which I share below.
Before I begin, there are three things I feel the LC must do to restore credibility and regain the trust of orthodox Catholics outside the movement (and many on the inside) who are both angered and hurt by this crisis. That is, besides accept and implement what reforms the apostolic visitors may reccomend.
The first is a clear and sincere apology to Fr. Maciel’s alleged victims. The second is to speak the truth plainly about the current situation. And the third is to stop playing hardball with its critics.
In the recent past the LC/RC has sued ReGAIN, as well as that involving the Sellors, who founded the Familia programme before falling out with RC (click here). Now there are reports, from the same sources that helped convince the CDF to reopen the investigation against Fr. Maciel that led to his 2006 invitation to retire, of a Legion priest mentioning a lawsuit against a parent of a Legion seminarian who showed up at a Legion apostolate and persuaded his son to come home with him.
While I haven’t heard the Legion’s side of the story – I’ve been unable to get a contact number for Legion spokesman Jim Fair [Update: a reader emailed me his number late Monday evening] – my communication with sources close to the family tell me the son came voluntarily, albeit somewhat grudgingly. So I haven’t seen any evidence of kidnapping.
You can read more about the incident here. If one believes the father acted criminally, then call the police and press criminal charges. Otherwise, if what was allegedly said by the LC priest is true, then parents may think twice before allowing their sons to go off to Legion seminaries in the future.
Besides, with the Legion currently asking everyone’s patience and understanding, the alleged content of the priest’s phone call reminds me an awful lot of what Christ warned against in Matthew 18:28-34. Specifically, “I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?”
On to my other points:
1 – How does a diocese find out what LC/RC apostolates are taking place within their diocesan boundaries?
I’m far from being an expert on this point, but my understanding is that many RC apostolates in North America are incorporated under the Mission Network. A list of their apostolates can be found by clicking here.
Personally, I see a lot of good ideas there being implemented by a lot of good laity who are simply trying to carry out lay apostolate in fidelity to the Church. No matter what happens, I hope the RC can be salvaged, especially since most RC with whom I have corresponded are very open to reform. What I think would be helpful is if bishops and pastors provided stronger oversight over RC, or at least closer collaboration. In fact, this crisis has really taught me to respect the role of the diocesan bishop in the life of Church ministry, as both a successor to the Apostles and as the legitimate hierarchical authority within his diocese.
2 – Additionally, Archbishop O’Brien in Baltimore has been a model for demanding transparency from the LC/RC in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. He has also prohibited LC/RC from giving spiritual direction to minors in the Archdiocese. I believe this to be a wise and prudent decision on his part, and think that other dioceses should take a good look at the Archbishop’s reasons for doing so.
3 – Along the same lines (and this comes more from being a pro-family journalist than a canon lawyer) the LC operates minor seminary-type boarding schools for boys as young as twelve. Some of my friends attended these schools during their teens. I hardly saw my them after they went off to these schools.
Several parents have told me the boys are limited to approximately two weeks during the summer, and a short Christmas and Easter break. The rest of the time is spent at the minor seminary, where contact with parents is extremely limited, and reportedly monitored.
I really question how healthy it is in today’s society and culture to separate young people from their families, especially in light of Pope John Paul the Great’s Familiaris Consortio. I know many older churchmen who I admire, including the current pope, attended minor seminaries of youth. But today is a different age. And besides, as far as we know, Our Lord received his religious education from the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph.
In today’s society, where our greatest ministerial need is to the family and family structure. So shouldn’t we be encouraging as much formation in the family as possible?
As a pro-family journalist, God has blessed me with the opportunity to interview many great bishops, priests and religious about their vocation. With one exception, all have stressed how essential their family was to fostering their vocation, as well as how their experience with family life while growing up greatly aided them in pastoral ministry within today’s context.
Additionally, this raises another pastoral concern that I keep hearing about from many RC parents. They discern the need to take some time away from the movement while the Holy See sorts things out, but are not sure how to pull their sons (who they seldom see anymore) from the Legion’s minor seminary-type schools. This further complicates the pastoral process of spiritual healing, in my opinion.
4 – There has been a lot of speculation and debate – among canonists, pastors and laypeople – about the content of LC/RC constitutions. I cannot comment authoritatively because I have been unable to obtain a copy from LC/RC sources, despite multiple requests in the past. However, the following on wiki-leaks purports to be sections of their contents.
To the best of my recollection they match those that were previously available from the ReGAIN Network (a loose association of concerned former LC/RC members) prior to the 2007 or 2008 legal settlement that forced ReGAIN to remove LC constitutions from their website. (ReGAIN ran out of money and could no longer afford the legal fees).
As an interesting side note, my understanding is that the LC did not contest their content, but rather the Legion reportedly argued theft of intellectual property. (See WaPo write-up here).
5 – As far as leaving Regnum Christi, I understand that RC members make private promises (or vows, depending upon who you talk to in the movement) when they join. These can be dispensed by the local ordinary (diocesan Bishop, vicar general, or episcopal vicar) in accordance with canon 1196. The process in most dioceses is pretty simple. Simply approach your parish priest or bishop, explain the situation, and request a dispensation from the promises or vows. Many bishops and priests are concerned with what’s happening, and will gladly assist you. It’s a pretty simple process in most dioceses.
A – For purely pastoral reasons, I suggest you meet with your pastor (or if possible the local ordinary) after the dispensation is granted, should you decide God is calling you to pursue one. I feel that pastoral followup is important because several former LC allege (and have told me, both publicly and personally) that the expression “Lost vocation, sure damnation” was repeated to them in the past.
Many who leave the movement purport to continue struggling with this thought after their departure, some for years. I’m not sure how credible this claim is – except to say the individuals who told me this also proved credible in other allegations they made against the Legion – nor am I sure whether it carried over to the RC. However, if this was shared with you or you personally struggle with this issue, bring it to your pastor or local Ordinary.
B – Whether one discerns God is calling him/her to stay and reform the movement from within, or to leave, I have strongly suggested to every RC member seeking my advice that he or she write the diocesan bishop, expressing both the positives and negatives. This goes back to what I believe to be one of the fundamental problems of the movement, namely, that in many dioceses the LC/RC appear to have limited contact with diocesan authorities.
6 – Along these lines I hope the Apostolic Visitors won’t be limited to the LC, but that they will also be given the mandate to visit and make recommendations about the LC. My biggest concern is the apparent lack of stability of Third Degree members. If I understand correctly, they make a commitment to the movement that are renewable every two years. (Again, making their constitutions available would help clarify discrepancies that have arisen over this point.) This strikes me as the ecclesiastical equivalent of living together without the benefit of marriage (minus the sin of fornication, of course!).
[Update 2: I have deleted a section here that noted contradictory claims over whether the commitment to RC Third Degree was one or two years, vows or promises, after coming across the following article on the RC website. As of April 7, 2009 at 1:20 p.m. Eastern, it appears to be promises renewable every two years. That being said, the problem here, in my opinion, is not whether they are vows or promises, for one year or two, but whether RC Third Degree receive adequate health care coverage and other benefits while dedicating themselves to full-time RC apostolate.]
With all the caveats that come when one hears from former members who don’t recall the most positive of experiences, several former Third Degree RC members allege that they were without health insurance and other basic benefits during their time as Third Degree, having been told to trust God. Some also claim to have been suddenly sent home when they developed medical issues.
Again, I haven’t heard the LC/RC side of the story, but there are enough former members making this claim publicly that it’s being added to the allegations swirling about the Legion. Thus bishops and parents of potential Third Degree members may want to ask questions, and the RC may want to take a proactive approach, to ensure that the LC/RC is meeting the Church’s social justice obligations.
7 – I have heard similar complaints (again without getting the LC/RC side of the story) from former LC about LC seminarians, also called brothers. Additionally, I have heard – both from LC and former LC sources – that their seminarians are not given a specific time frame for ordination, but that it just kinda happens when the LC feel a brother is ready. If true, I am reminded of Fr. Frank Morrisey’s classes on religious law. Fr. Morrisey is one of the Church’s foremost experts in this area and he always stressed the importance of having a specific time-frame (albeit with some flexibility) toward ordination or permanent incorporation into an institute of consecrated life. This is another area that I hope the apostolic visitors will look at.
8 – For some reason, more than any other institute, comparisons to Jesuits or Opus Dei keep popping up when discussing the LC/RC. Other people who interact with the movement report the same phenomena.
With apologies to Jesuit and Opus Dei readers, I tend to hear variations of: “I thought RC was just like Opus Dei, but more active and connected to a priestly apostolate,” or “I thought the Legion was the new Jesuits, practicing obedience the way the Jesuits use to.”
On the surface, there appears to be some similarities. This in itself is not problematical in that an institute’s charism belongs to the Church, and so institutes throughout the Church’s history have borrowed from institutes that came before. Thus as a Catholic journalist much wiser than me noted, the problem does not appear to be what LC/RC borrowed from the Jesuits and Opus Dei, but rather what they may have forgotten to borrow.
With regards to the Opus Dei comparison, I believe the spiritualities are quite different. For RC members who are curious why, I recommend reading St. Josemarie Escriva’s The Way and/or Frances Fernadez’s In Conversations with God to gain a better understanding in Opus Dei spirituality. I assume RC individuals raising these questions are already familiar with RC spirituality.
As far as the Jesuit comparison, Nathan O’Halloran, a Jesuit scholastic and Franciscan University of Steubenville alumni, who prior to entering the Jesuits was encouraged to consider the Legion as an alternative, has blogged an excellent reflection. In it he contrasts the Jesuit understanding of obedience with what he believes to be the Legion practice of obedience. Although I found a few of his comments to be a tad polemical, he offers some excellent insights on how Jesuit obedience is sensitive to a person’s conscience when asking for religious obedience. You can read the article here.
9 – All of us, both inside and outside the RC/LC, need to take refuge in St. Joseph, patriarch and protector of the universal Church.

Giving credit where it’s due

Wow! I’d better take my temperature. Hugo Chavez, that anti-Catholic tinpot Commie dictator-wannabe, is saying something that sounds laudably sensible!
Apparently some Venezuelans have turned plastic surgeries into routine quinceañera gifts, an idea which is, on the CL scale of foolishness, “nuttier than a cheese log”. Hugo agrees with me.
Good job, Hugo! I’m sending a whole “peace sign” your way today; usually, I’m only willing to give you half.

Mulieris Dignitatem, 20 years on

Genevieve Kineke, the Catholic writer on authentic femininity, has news about a noteworthy anniversary for Catholic lay life:

It is our great joy to learn that the Pontifical Council for the Laity is encouraging the faithful worldwide to observe the 20th anniversary of Mulieris Dignitatem in the coming year. This Apostolic Letter (signed August 15th, 1988) was written by John Paul II to encourage women in their vocations, to highlight the essential feminine genius that they provide to the world, and to restore spiritual and physical motherhood to a culture that was quickly losing sight of the very meaning of nuptial love.
The Catholics of North America have been asked in particular to consider the document in light of one overarching theme: The Dignity of Women in a Technological and Consumeristic Society. To that effect, a website has been created in order to provide a comprehensive resource for those looking for ways to reflect on this timely anniversary. Dignityofwomen.com will point to books, speakers, study guides, and other initiatives that will bring the beauty of this document to as many people as possible, while constantly integrating suggestions, additions, and a bulletin board of events for women to access over the coming year.
Your help would be greatly appreciated in spreading the word, contacting the appropriate persons at the parish and diocesan level to alert them to this anniversary, fostering the publication of articles on the topic for various periodicals, encouraging local women to gather and discuss the theme in various settings, and to pray for the message in Mulieris Dignitatem to be studied and lived. This is also a marvelous opportunity to reach out to women of good will in other denominations and faiths, inviting them to prayerfully consider its themes and to see if common ground could be found. We invite qualified speakers to submit a request, and thereby add their names to the site. Similarly, relevant books and organizations are welcome to provide their links.
The timeliness of this observance cannot be overestimated. With debates raging over the nature of marriage, the sanctity of human life, the needs of children, and how the gifts of women are best promoted, what better way to form ourselves than by returning to the foundational questions of who women are and why the divine plan hinges on their cooperation.
Kindly help us share this good news with as many as you can and please pray with us for a fruitful observance. Any questions, suggestions, or submissions of resources should be sent to gskineke at feminine-genius.com. May Our Lady, in whose fidelity the entire world rejoices, bless this coming year and all our efforts to understand the richness of the feminine vocation.
[addendum: I will be discussing this with Teresa Tomeo Wednesday morning on EWTN Radio at 9:45 EST]

Happy Assumption Day!