Monday, September 30, 2013

Pope convenes cardinals for church reform talks

By Nicole Winfield

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis convenes his parallel cabinet on Tuesday for a first round of talks on reforming the Catholic Church, bringing eight cardinals from around the globe together in a novel initiative to get local church leaders involved in helping make decisions for the 1.2-billion strong universal Catholic Church.

While the aim is for Francis to get advice, the Argentine Jesuit has already started making a mark on his own, with important Vatican appointments already made and clear-cut indications of the direction he wants to take the church that have elated liberals and alarmed many conservatives.

Francis' recent interview with a Jesuit journal, in which he called for more balance between the church's rules on issues like abortion, homosexuality and contraception and the need for it to be a more welcoming, merciful place for all, has become the must-read mission statement of his papacy.

It's unclear which of those issues feature in the 80-odd documents that will be considered by the pope and his so-called "Group of Eight" cardinals meeting behind closed doors this week. One core agenda item is certain: overhauling the Vatican bureaucracy, an antiquated administration that is universally disparaged as unhelpful to both the pope and the bishops it's designed to serve.

The scandal over leaked documents last year showed the Vatican bureaucracy to be a dysfunctional warren of political infighting and turf battles, fueling calls for reform from the cardinals who elected Francis pope.

Beyond the scandal, local church leaders have long bemoaned that Vatican courts take years to process requests for annulments and that Vatican offices are simply unresponsive to requests from them and lay faithful. Francis himself is a critic, frequently telling Vatican officials to be more pastors than bureaucrats. Just this weekend he told the Vatican police force that it was their job to stop the "devil" from creating internal wars through Vatican employees spreading gossip.

"It's a war that you don't fight with weapons, but with your tongue," he said.

How the pope's chosen cardinal cabinet will interact, if at all, with the existing Vatican cabinet is a topic for much speculation among Vatican watchers.

The Curia is organized according to a 1988 document "Pastor Bonus," which metes out the work and jurisdictions of the congregations, councils, courts and other offices that make up the governance of the church.

Honduran Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, who heads the pope's advisory commission, said the planned reform won't just make a few changes to the document.

"No, that constitution is over," he told the Catholic channel Salt and Light Television. "Now it's something different. We need to write something different. But it's not going to take one month or two months."

Indeed, no decisions are expected this week from the talks, and the pope has said reform takes time.

That hasn't stopped reform groups from pinning their hopes for a more progressive church on Francis and his council of cardinals, who hail from North and South America, Africa, Asia, Europe and Australia.

The worldwide church reform group We Are Church has written Francis asking for greater say among lay Catholics about the selection of bishops and for church officials to be removed from office if they mishandled cases of sexually abusive priests.

"Our fondest hope is that Pope Francis will accept a delegation of our leaders at the Vatican," organizer Rene Reid said in a statement. "He has been reaching out to atheists, gays and others. He wants dialogue. We want that too."

Conservatives and traditionalists, however, have reacted with dismay and downright alarm at the direction Francis has taken, particularly in the interview with the Jesuit-run La Civilta Cattolica, in which he bemoaned the church's obsession with "small-minded rules."

American canon lawyer Edward Peters suggested that Francis wasn't referring to abortion in rejecting such rules, but rather more superfluous ones like the one dictating who can march under the flag of certain religious societies on feast days.

Conservative commentator George Neumayr went further, writing in The American Spectator that Francis was in sore need of "correcting." Francis' "culturally conditioned liberalism threatens to undermine the unity and orthodoxy of the faith," he wrote.


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Why Catholicism? A Former Episcopalian Priest’s Story

By Jürgen Liias

(Catholic Exchange) Since announcing my decision to become a Catholic and to seek ordination through the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, I have had many an inquiry from folk wondering, “Why?” Some of these were authentic expressions of inquisitiveness; others came with perplexity; not a few came with consternation and dismay.

My first reason is this decision is an act of obedience to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As my Spiritual Autobiography details, this has been a long personal journey, of twenty-five years or more. However, I would add that, as personal as it is, it is not just a private or uniquely individual call. It is not simply a private denominational predilection.

There is in the Christian life a force of gravity which draws the believer ever deeper into union with Christ. That union is not only a private mystical union—though it is that–but a deepening union with the mystical body of Christ, the Church. It is a dogmatic principle of the Catholic Church that “this Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in the Catholic Church.” (Lumen Gentium). If this is true, then this gravitational pull of Christ’s Spirit is universally active, drawing all humanity to Christ the Head and to the fullness of his saving grace which he mediates through His Body the Church. John Henry Newman, an Anglican convert to Rome, insightfully quipped there was no steady state between Atheism and Catholicism! There is always in the human soul that spiritual battle—the psychomachia—between the centrifugal forces of the world, the flesh, and the devil drawing us away from the Love of God, and the centripetal dynamic of the Holy Spirit pulling us ever deeper into the love of God. There is a gravitas to the Catholic Church, to the See of Peter, that is, I believe, a true and objective  charism intended by Christ to draw his followers into union with him in the fellowship of the Catholic Church. Whatever the individual contours of my own movement into the Catholic church have been, I believe they are part of this larger, universal gravitational grace that emanates from the Heart of Jesus which is in his Body.

That, of course, already displays the second reason for my decision: theology. The great divide between the churches of the Reformation and the Catholic church is in the domain of Ecclesiology—What is the church? In the protestant world Anglicanism has sought to maintain a catholic ecclesiology; that is to say an ordering of the body that is organic, universal, and apostolic. Bishops; creeds; sacraments; and conciliarism have been maintained as integral pieces of Anglican ecclesiology – Papal Primacy alone being set aside. Within that catholic structure, Anglicanism has also asserted a principle of theological freedom and diversity: one may believe in spiritual regeneration in baptism, but one may not; one may believe in the Real Presence in the eucharist, but one may not; one may believe in the authority of scripture, but one may not; one may believe in the sanctity of marriage but one may not. For much of my life as an Anglican, that freedom was a pleasant gift; but increasingly it had become a source of distress and a profound impediment to my priestly work as a pastor and preacher. How could I proclaim from the pulpit, “the Bible teaches…” or “Christianity asserts…” when my Bishop says quite the opposite? How could I advise a person in the confessional, when the priest in the neighboring parish would advise the opposite?; and I speak here of matters essential and primary. My authority as a teacher and confessor needed to be based on something other than my own best opinion (of course, this quandary becomes even more confusing, on almost any given point of doctrine or morality, in the vast panoply of protestant denominational theologies)... (continued)


Saturday, September 21, 2013

What Happens If You're Struck By Lightning?

"The chances of you being hit by lightning are small by comparison, but it does happen! Hank will go through what ultimately happens when you are struck by lightning because chances are you will survive to tell it to your friends."

Lightning strikes the basilica of St.Peter's dome during a storm that struck Rome on the same day Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation - Daily Mail

Friday, September 20, 2013

Why are SSPX Masses valid, but not marriages or absolutions?

By Father John Zuhlsdorf

(WDTPRS)  ....The priests of the SSPX are validly ordained.  They celebrate Mass illicitly but validly.  In normal situations they do not validly absolve, because they lack faculties to absolve (because faculties are necessary – in addition to valid ordination – to absolve validly).  They cannot act as proper witnesses to marriages, because they are not recognized as such by the Church.  A proper witness is require by the Church for the form of marriage.

How to sort this out?  Let’s try it this way.

Not all sacraments are juridic acts, and not all juridic acts are sacraments but, as in the classic Venn Diagram, some sacraments are juridic acts.

A juridic act (canons 124-128) is a human act by which a person, capable in law, observing the requisite formalities, manifests his intention to bring about a certain juridic effect.

For example, baptism is both a juridic act, and a sacrament. A juridic effect is intended (incorporation into the Church).  Formalities are observed. The person, capable in law, manifests his intention to baptize (he uses the proper matter and form). The Church, in her clemency and her desire that no one be denied baptism, extends jurisdiction to confer baptism to “any person who has the requisite intention” (can. 861§2). So, while bishops, priests, and deacons are the ordinary ministers of baptism, anyone – even an unbaptized person – is capable in law of baptizing validly.

Confirmation, Marriage, Penance, and Holy Orders are the other sacraments which are simultaneously juridic acts. Reception of these sacraments changes a person’s juridic status in the Church.  The Church is more restrictive about who can administer these four sacraments. Anointing of the Sick and Holy Communion/Eucharist are not juridic acts. Reception of these sacraments does not change a person’s juridic status in the Church.

Absolution of sins after Confession is a juridic act. The priest, the confessor, acts in persona Christi and judges the penitent.  Remember that the confessional has the aspect of a tribunal.  The confessor/judge absolves and lifts the sin from the penitent.  Confessors also at times lift censures.  As a juridic act, it can only be done by someone capable in law. The Church has restricted this, not because the Church wants to make penance less available to people, but rather in order to ensure that the faithful are getting the best possible pastoral care and that they remain within the fold of the Church. Thus, the Church gives faculties, permission, jurisdiction, to act in this way, to use his priestly abilities in a performing a sacramental act which is also a juridical act.

With marriage, there’s an added wrinkle. The ministers of the sacrament of marriage are the parties who get married. The spouses are the ministers of the sacrament of matrimony. Therefore, for a valid marriage to be effected, they are required to be “capable in law”. For example, a couple of thirteen year-olds are not capable of marriage. Someone already married is not capable of marriage. Other capabilities are more relational.  For example, Sempronius may be capable of marriage, but he is not capable of marrying his sister, Caia.  Neither is Sempronius capable of marrying Titus). For Catholics, an additional burden must be met. For a Catholic to marry validly, he or she must marry before an authorized witness, usually a bishop, priest, or deacon.

The priest or deacon or bishop who officiates at a Catholic wedding is there, necessarily, as the Church’s official witness to ensure that the proper form is followed, etc.  The Church tightly restricts the ability of clergy to officiate at weddings. Priests who have the ordinary faculty, the jurisdiction, the permission from the Church, to witness marriages, are limited to doing so within the territory of the parish where they are the pastor, the parish priest. If they go outside their territory, they need the express permission of the pastor in whose territory they are witnessing a marriage. If they don’t have that permission, the marriage would be invalid because it would lack one of the essential requirements for marriage. The pastor of the parish (or the bishop, the vicar general, or an episcopal vicar with jurisdiction in the area) can delegate to another priest the jurisdiction, the faculty, to witness the marriage. He should do so in writing. If the delegation cannot be proven, the marriage might well be invalid!... (continued)


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Catholics Should Note British Petroleum’s Ads Exposing Fraud and False Claims

By Father Gordon J. MacRae

(These Stone Walls) In the three years since, British Petroleum has spent more than $14 billion on the response and clean-up of Gulf waters and seashore, and more than $11 billion to settle over 300,000 claims for damages brought by individuals and businesses, most of whom suffered real losses and devastating hardships.

But not all. Among those claims, investigators have found an alarming amount of fraud, so much fraud that the company was forced to look more carefully at every claim. BP’s recent full-page ads have described these fraud attempts in terms that should sound familiar to Catholics who have been paying attention to some of the published reports at the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, The Media Report, and These Stone Walls. A recent BP ad in The Wall Street Journal (September 5, 2013) quoted Thomas J. Donohue, President and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce describing the settlement process at BP:
“Enter a parade of trial lawyers, a who’s who of some of the nation’s wealthiest lawyers. They smell big bucks and want a piece of the action . . . . The result is that thousands of claimants that suffered no losses are coming forward, obtaining outrageous windfalls, and making a mockery of what was intended to be a fair and honest settlement process.” (Thomas J. Donohue, The Weekly Standard, July 8, 2013)
Jay Timmons, President of the National Association of Manufacturers, added another point that should sound familiar to informed Catholics:
“BP’s settlement has spawned a cottage industry. Trial lawyers are actively recruiting businesses to make claims against BP . . . . What’s happening on the Gulf isn’t isolated to BP. All manufacturers have a stake, because next time it may be one of us in trial lawyers’ cross hairs . . . . “ (Jay Timmons, The Washington Times, July 8, 2013)
More recently, former FBI Director Louis Freeh was commissioned to conduct an independent investigation of fraud and misconduct in the Gulf settlement claims process. Among other things, he found that lawyers engaged in pervasive improper and unethical conduct, and corrupted the claims process to enrich themselves. British Petroleum has made the Louis Freeh Report available to the public at

Back in April, I wrote a post for TSW entitled, “Why the Catholic Abuse Narrative Needs a Fraud Task Force.” It described some of the fraud attempts British Petroleum has uncovered and exposed. On the same day BP ran one of its full-page ads, The Wall Street Journal, (August 29), also published a news brief about a new round of claims and settlements in the Archdiocese of Dubuque, Iowa. $5.2 million was just paid to 26 people claiming abuse by 10 priests – almost all of the priests are deceased – alleged to have occurred 30 to 50 years ago. This was the fourth round of settlements in Dubuque since 2006 for a total of $17.2 million.

Remember my recent post, “News on Sale”? It was about the diminishment of much of the mainstream news media, and especially the erosion of the media’s ability to act as a watchdog for society. I quoted a noted career newspaperman who wrote that the role of responsible bloggers is to hold the rest of the media accountable to the truth.

So let’s do that. It’s a symptom of the news media’s erosion that it reports on stories such as that settlement in the Archdiocese of Dubuque without ever asking any of the necessary questions that would arise in any thinking person. Where were these 26 accusers – mostly men now in their 50s and 60s – during all the previous settlements? Where were they when the national story broke in 2002? Does anyone really believe that every two years since 2006 another 26 middle-aged men in Iowa suddenly recall being sexually abused by priests forty to fifty years earlier?

Iowa isn’t the only field of dreams for tort lawyers who usually glean up to forty percent or more of such settlements – sometimes for doing little more than writing a few letters demanding money. The math tells the story best. Out of that $17.2 million in settlements from the Archdiocese of Dubuque, about $7 million has gone to the tort lawyers. One such lawyer – now serving time in prison with me – described the mediated settlement process in my own diocese, the Diocese of Manchester: “We provide the train. Anyone who wants to make money need only get aboard.”

At his A Ram in the Thicket blog, writer Ryan MacDonald recently posted an article entitled, “In Fr Gordon MacRae Case, Whack-A-Mole Justice Holds Court.” He analyzed the Bishop-Accountability website that has published a diocese-by-diocese, priest-by-priest description of every claim of abuse – proven or not, corroborated or not – that has resulted in a settlement for alleged abuse. The site is set up and maintained for the stated purpose of serving as a clearinghouse for the news media. The Media Report has examined that claim, and found it scurrilous.


I want to tell you a story that gets lost in the shuffle as we focus on the claims for which I am in prison. One day in 2004, after Bishop-Accountability published the files of scores of accused priests handed over by my diocese, I was awaiting a medical appointment in the prison infirmary. In the crowded waiting room, I sat next to another priest of my diocese in prison for accusations in the mid-1990s. He told me that he received a letter the previous day from a church lawyer asking him to cooperate in a settlement of two new claims brought by two men the priest said he had never met or even heard of. In the end, however, he remained silent about the settlement, believing our diocese was acting in his best interest... (continued)


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Gene Simmons Defends Tim Tebow - "He’s Proud to be a Christian, What’s Wrong with That?"

 AFP/Getty Images
 (AFP/Getty Images)

(CBS/ Has polarizing football player Tim Tebow gotten a raw deal in the press because of his religious beliefs? And would he be treated more respectfully if he were not Christian, and specifically, Muslim? Gene Simmons thinks so.

“He’s got a religious passion, as well he should, we’re in America,” the KISS frontman told earlier this week. ”He’s proud to be a Christian, what’s wrong with that? And yet, with sports media and pop culture media, they make fun of his religion. Really? In America? If he was wearing a burqa, they wouldn’t dare say anything [editor's note: only Muslim women wear burqas].

But if you’re a Christian, you get to be picked on? What the hell? The guy’s got family values. I never saw the media picking on Michael Vick for torturing dogs. Or this other football player, who’s alleged to have killed, committed murder.  That’s ‘cool.’ But a guy who’s religious and has got family values isn’t ‘cool?’ He’s cool to me...”  (continued)


Friday, September 6, 2013

Father Ray Blake: Bill Gardner is "an Unscrupulous Journalist"

By Father Ray Blake

(Fr Ray Blake's Blog)  Have a look at this article by a 'journalist' called Bill Gardner,  in our local paper, it is his take on this piece I wrote on the poor.

I was saying that the poor, the really poor, turn our lives upside down. I know the local paper pays peanuts and expects its journalists to create stories in order to get onto the news networks but this is just a malicious and deliberate misrepresentation.

It is very interesting to see what a disreputable journalist can do with a few carefully chosen adjectives. I didn't 'condemn', 'complain', 'blast' etc, and I am pretty certain that some of his other quotes are not my words, especially not, 'test my holiness', I don't speak like that, 'only God is Holy'. Though I admit in an informal moment I might question the marriage of the parents of someone who disrupts the worship of an entire congregation, especially if they consistently steal from the church or other poor people.

It is interesting to see how an unscrupulous journalist can so easily put an entirely different slant on a simple theological reflection, presumably even basic Christian concepts are beyond the comprehension of some.

Well, journalists are obviously as messy as the poor; except unscrupulous journalists can do more damage. Perhaps Mr Gardner might like to help on our soup run, it doesn't have to be 365 day a year, once a week would be fine, providing he treats our clients with respect, or maybe he could take Jason or Daryl or Pawel or Dawn out for a cup of coffee or a meal, or just come a clear up the next time someone comes in and vomits or bleeds all over my kitchen because he is drug or has been beaten up... (continued)


Russia calls for protection of Christian holy places in Maalula

Moscow, September 6, Interfax - The Russian Foreign Ministry has expressed concern over the attempts made by the armed opposition in Syria to take over the city of Maalula, a symbol of the Christian presence in Syria.

"Moscow is deeply concerned over the fact that terrorist attacks in Syria have affected Maalula, a symbol of the Christian presence in this country. Its residents speak the Aramaic language, which is almost extinct and is the language in which Jesus Christ preached, and the churches located in this city are among the oldest and most honored churches of Christians," the Russian Foreign Ministry's information and press department said in a commentary released on Friday.

The Russian Foreign Ministry called "on everyone who cares about the fate of the people of Maalula to do everything possible to prevent their killing and the destruction of Christian holy places."

"Terrorist attacks need to be stopped immediately. Special responsibility for them rests with those forces in the region and outside of it that encourage terrorists, intentionally or not," the document says.


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Doctors Tell Mom to Abort “Brain Dead” Baby, Mom Sues After Delivering Healthy Child

By Steven Ertelt 

( A mother in England is filing suit against a hospital where doctors told her she should have an abortion of her supposedly “brain dead” unborn baby. Sarah Hagan is now suing City Hospitals Sunderland after giving birth to a healthy child.

Hagan says that, after a 24-week ultrasound scan of her unborn baby, doctors told her that her son Aaron was “brain dead,” had just one eye and no chance of survival.

The mother of two says physicians adviser her to take an abortion drug, even though the mifepristone abortion pill is only authorized to be used to destroy the life of an unborn baby much earlier in pregnancy.

When the abortion drug didn’t work, another doctor informed Hagan her baby needed to be delivered immediately and she gave birth to Aaron, who was born at 1lb 7oz with both eyes  and healthy other than the fact that he was born prematurely — which has left him with chronic lung problems he wouldn’t have had otherwise. Now Aaron is 15 months old and Hagan is taking legal action.


Can Demons Cause Disasters and Accidents?

From Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction:


Q. Father Fortea, can demons cause disasters and accidents?

A. If demons had the freedom to cause natural disasters, the whole world would fall into chaos. So the short answer is no – demons cannot cause disasters and accidents at will. Why? Simply because God prevents them from doing so.

Storms, hurricanes, earthquakes, and other disasters ordinarily happen as a result of natural causes. Nonetheless, the book of Revelation does teach us that God, at the end of time, will allow a freer manifestation of the power of demons (see Rev 13:13-14), even to the point of affecting the physical world. But meanwhile we should not think that disasters or accidents have their cause in demonic action without strong objective evidence. Cases of poltergeist (the presence of a demon in a place evidenced by noises and the movement of objects) are proof that a demon can suspend something in the air or move an object. Since demons hate human beings and want them to suffer, it seems likely that if they were not restrained by God from causing continuous accidents, they would do so.

Once, I was praying for a lady who suffered from a demonic influence. Soon it began to rain, then hail, and the hail became gradually more intense. Then a strong storm wind began to buffet the church. The wind was so loud that I had to stop praying; no one could hear the prayers over the noise. We needed to shout to be heard. The entire church creaked like a wooden boat in the ocean. Suddenly, the roof of the church gave out and lifted off in one of the corners. We prayed that the whole roof would not come off. It was an unforgettable scene: the wind furiously shaking the altar cloths (which did not blow away), the bricks falling on the presbytery from the highest part of the roof, and the thunder roaring without interruption.

Here we have an episode in which it is reasonable to think that there was a relation between the prayer upon that person and what happened afterward. A curious aspect of this event is that the nearest weather station did not detect any abnormal winds, so the insurance company at first refused to pay to repair the damage!