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Cupich, Tobin appointed by Pope Francis to October synod on young people

Denver, Colo., Sep 17, 2018 / 10:44 am (CNA).- Pope Francis has appointed several Americans to participate in October’s Vatican synod on young adults, the faith, and vocational discernment. They will join the bishops elected as delegated to the synod by the U.S. bishops’ conference.

In an announcement Saturday, the Vatican said that Francis had appointed Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago and Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark as delegates to the synod. They are among 29 bishops appointed personally by Pope Francis to participate in the synod, to complement those who had been elected by national and regional bishops’ conferences and those who will participate because of other roles they hold in the Church.

CNA reported Tobin’s appointment last month.

In addition to Cupich and Tobin, the bishops appointed by the pope include Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Germany, Cardinal Gerald Lacroix of Quebec, Canada, and Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

Pope Francis also tapped several priests to participate, among them Fr. Antonio Spadaro, director of the influential Italian journal La Civilta Cattolica, and Fr. Robert Stark, director of the office of social ministry in the Diocese of Honolulu.

Several Americans were also appointed U.S. Catholics as auditors to the synod, who will be invited to participate in some of the meeting’s deliberations, but are not given a vote in its proceedings. Those Americans are Sr. Sally Marie, CSJ, superior general of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Chambery, Jonathan Lewis, Assistant Secretary for Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns in the Archdiocese of Washington, Fr. Robert Panke, rector of the St. John Paul II Seminary in Washington, DC, Sr. Briana Regina Santiago, of the Apostles of the Interior Life, and Yadira Vierya, a researcher on families and immigration at the University of Chicago.

A Greek Orthodox American bishop, Metropolitan Nikitas of Dardanellia, will also attend the synod as an observer.  

Tobin will join Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Archbishop José H. Gomez, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano, and Bishop Robert E. Barron, who, according to a July 23 USCCB press release, were elected by the U.S. bishops’ conference to attend the conference, after which their election was ratified by Pope Francis.

Chaput is officially listed by the Vatican among those delegates who are members of the ordinary council of the Synod of Bishops, rather than listed among those elected by the U.S. bishops’ conference, although the USCCB had previously reported that he was elected to attend. Chaput was elected in 2015 by U.S. bishops to serve on the ordinary council of the Synod of Bishops for a three year term.

Archbishop William Skurla, leader of the Ruthenian Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh, will participate as an ex officio member of the synod.

The synod is scheduled Oct. 3-28. According to its preparatory document, the synod’s purpose is to reflect on the Church’s call “to accompany all young people, without exception, towards the joy of love.”

Archbishop McCarrick’s unofficial role in Vatican-China relations

Vatican City, Sep 17, 2018 / 08:05 am (CNA).- Following reports that the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China could be about to sign an agreement on the appointment of bishops in the country, attention has turned to the role of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick in fostering Vatican-China relations over the last two decades.

Over 20 years, Archbishop McCarrick traveled to China on at least eight occasions, sometimes staying in a state-controlled Beijing seminary, often serving as an unofficial bridge between the Vatican and Chinese government-appointed bishops until 2016.

Prior to allegations of sexual abuse and harassment becoming public this summer, the former cardinal had been an outspoken proponent of a deal between Chinese President Xi Jinping and the Church under Pope Francis, according to Chinese reports.

“I see a lot of things happening that would really open many doors because President Xi and his government are concerned about things that Pope Francis is concerned about,” McCarrick told The Global Times, in an exclusive interview in Feb. 2016.

The interview quoted McCarrick as saying that the similarities between Pope Francis and Xi Jinping could be “a special gift for the world.”

The the state-approved Chinese newspaper also reported that McCarrick traveled to China in Feb. 2016 -- “a trip in which the cardinal said he would visit some ‘old friends.’”

“His previous visits included meetings with Wang Zuo'an, head of the State Administration for Religious Affairs and late bishop Fu Tieshan, former president of Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCCC), an organization not recognized by the Holy See,” The Global Times reported.

In June 2014, David Gibson reported in the Washington Post that McCarrick had traveled to China “in the past year” for “sensitive talks on religious freedom.”

This detail aligns, in part, with the 11-page “testimony” of former apostolic nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò. Viganò recounted a meeting with McCarrick in June 2013, during which Vigano claims he was told by McCarrick, “The pope received me yesterday, tomorrow I am going to China.”

McCarrick was hosted by the Beijing seminary during at least two trips to China, according to a 2006 State Department document made available via Wikileaks.

The vice-rector of a Communist-approved seminary, Fr. Shu-Jie Chen, described twice hosting McCarrick in an account found in a cable from Christopher Sandrolini, Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See.

Chen described himself as “king” of the seminary, saying that he “could do what he wanted within its walls.”

Sandrolini also noted that the vice rector “downplayed persecution of the underground Church,” calling the underground church “uneducated” and “elderly.”  He said that Chen seemed “unconcerned” that “evangelization was not an option for official religious personnel.

A cable from U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Francis Rooney in March 2006 noted that Archbishop Claudio Celli, who was at that time the Holy See’s principal China negotiator, insisted that McCarrick was not in a position to negotiate with China and that his visits to China were “unofficial.”

There appears to be a gap between McCarrick’s trips to China between 2006 and 2013, though McCarrick’s influence was still active.

In 2009, the archbishop had a message relayed to a friend in China through Nancy Pelosi, then Speaker of the House of Representatives. Pelosi conveyed McCarrick’s greetings to Bishop Aloysius Jin of Shanghai, formerly a leading Chinese Jesuit.

“She [Pelosi] relayed Cardinal McCarrick's good wishes to Bishop Jin. Bishop Jin said he and Cardinal McCarrick had exchanged visits, beginning when the latter was Bishop of Newark,” the State Department cable reads.

During McCarrick’s time as Archbishop of Newark, Aloysius Jin Luxian was not recognized as a bishop by the Vatican. He was ordained a coadjutor bishop of Shanghai without papal approval in 1985, his position was not recognized by the Vatican until 2004. Bishop Jin died in 2013.

A 2007 article in The Atlantic described the close friendship between McCarrick and Jin, and how McCarrick claimed to have relayed messages from the Chinese government-appointed bishop to the pope in the 1990s.

Both the State Department and Chinese media recorded a 1998 visit to China by Archbishop McCarrick. On that trip he was one of three American clerics to visit China to discuss religious freedom, meeting with Bishop Michael Fu Tieshan, vice-chairman of the Chinese Communist Party’s Standing Committee of the Chinese National People's Congress.

Fu was made a bishop by Beijing 1979 without approval of the pope.

Chinese media reported that McCarrick paid a visit to the National Seminary in Beijing in 1998.

In Aug. 2, 2003, the South China Morning Post reported that McCarrick “spent three days in Beijing earlier this week on what was ostensibly a private visit.”

McCarrick was “the first cardinal from a western country to visit the mainland since relations between China and the Vatican turned frosty after a dispute over canonisation in October 2000,” the article continued.

In a Dec. 2003 State Department cable, U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Jim Nicholson wrote that Vatican Office Director for China Monsignor Gianfranco Rota-Graziosi “did not expect concrete improvement stemming from the informal trip last summer of Washington Cardinal McCarrick to China.”

On Sept. 14, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Holy See could be about to enter a deal with China which would include the recognition of seven illicitly consecrated bishops serving in the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association - a state-sponsored form of Catholicism whose leaders are chosen by Communist authorities.

Reports of the Holy See and Chinese government working towards a formal agreement on the appointment of bishops have been circulating since January, 2018. At the same time, China has launched an increasing crackdown on religious practice in the country, demolishing churches and harassing worshippers.

Pope Francis: Discipleship takes sacrifice

Vatican City, Sep 16, 2018 / 06:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A fundamental rule of being a disciple of Christ is the necessity to make sacrifices and deny one’s self, Pope Francis said in his Angelus address Sunday.

“Jesus tells us that in order to follow him, to be his disciples, one must deny oneself – that is, the claims of one’s own selfish pride – and take up one’s very cross,” the pope said Sept. 16. “Then he gives everyone a fundamental rule. And what is this rule? ‘Whoever wants to save his life will lose it.’”

To have faith, he said, must go further than mere words – it must lead to concrete actions and choices, “marked by love of God, by a great life, by a life with so much love for neighbor.”

The pope explained that for many reasons, people may end up on the wrong path, “looking for happiness only in things, or in the people we treat as things.”

“But we find happiness only when love, real [love], meets us, surprises us, changes us. Love changes everything! And love can change us too, each of us. The testimonies of the saints demonstrate this,” he said.

Francis said that the Lord wants his disciples to have a personal relationship with him and to make him the center of their lives. Like Jesus asks to his disciples in the day’s Gospel: “Who do you say that I am?”

“Everyone is called to respond, in his own heart, letting himself be illuminated by the light that the Father gives us to know his Son Jesus,” he said. And like Peter, one might confirm enthusiastically, that he is Christ.”

“But when Jesus tells us clearly what he said to the disciples, namely that his mission is accomplished not in the broad road of success, but in the arduous path of the suffering, humiliated, rejected and crucified Servant,” then it can be easy to want to protest and rebel, like Peter did, he said.

He said: In these moments, Christians deserve the same reproof Jesus gave Peter: “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

After the Angelus, in honor of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, celebrated by the Church on Sept. 14, Pope Francis distributed small metal crucifixes to those present in St. Peter’s Square.

“The crucifix is the sign of God’s love, which in Jesus gave life for us. I invite you to welcome this gift and bring it into your homes, your children’s room, or your grandparents..., in any part, but in the house,” he said.

Emphasizing that the crucifix is a religious sign for contemplation and prayer, not a merely ornamental object, he said “looking at Jesus crucified, we look at our salvation.”

He added that the cross “is a gift from the pope,” and is free, so to beware if anyone asks them to pay. The crucifixes were handed out by religious sisters, poor, homeless, and refugees. “As always, faith comes from the little ones, from the humble ones,” Francis noted, thanking them.

According to the pope’s charity office, the silver-plated crucifixes, packaged in a transparent envelope, included a card with a quote from Pope Francis in Italian, English, and Spanish. From July 2013 during World Youth Day in Brazil, it says: “In the Cross of Christ there is all the love of God, there is his immense mercy.”

After handing out the 40,000 crosses, the around 300 volunteers and needy were given a sack lunch by Pope Francis.  

 

What is the pontifical secret?

Vatican City, Sep 14, 2018 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Following the allegations made by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò about the case of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, many have called for official Vatican files on the former cardinal to be released. While this may seem like the easiest way of assessing the truth of Viganò’s claims, many of the documents in question could be protected by the “pontifical secret.” But what is that?

The pontifical secret, also sometimes called papal secrecy, is a rule of confidentiality protecting sensitive information regarding the governance of the universal Church. It is similar to the “classified” or “confidential” status common in companies or civil governments.

While the use of the English word “secret” in relation to Church documents and processes is often invoked dramatically, the term is actually taken from the Latin word “secreto,” which simply means “confidential.”

According to the “Secreta continere,” a canonical instruction issued by the Secretariat of State in 1974, those bound by the pontifical secret take an oath at the beginning of their service in the Curia or the diplomatic corps, promising to “in no way, under any pretext, whether of greater good, or of very urgent and very grave reason,” to break the secret.

Materials covered by the pontifical secret include diplomatic communications made between the Vatican’s nunciatures around the world, but also apply to a range of other subjects. These include private dossiers and recommendations on priests and bishops being considered for promotion. Controversially, the secret also covers penal processes concerning major crimes handled by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, including cases involving the sexual abuse of minors.

The reasons why the secret is applied to different materials depend upon the circumstances. Private communications between what are effectively papal embassies and the Vatican’s Secretariat of State are protected by confidentiality in the same way, and for the same reasons, that other diplomatic correspondence is kept classified. Files pertaining to bishops or prospective bishops are handled in much the same manner as confidential personnel matters are treated in companies or other institutions.

In judicial cases, the secret is meant to protect the privacy of victims, the good name of the accused (at least until they are convicted), and even the confidentiality of the accusers, who might be under the authority of someone under investigation.

Concerning the case of Archbishop McCarrick, Vatican files could conceivably contain materials covering all of these categories. In addition to possible penal processes and the circumstances surrounding his various promotions - including what was known about his behavior at different times - records could also concern any work undertaken by McCarrick as a papal envoy in different places including, for example, China.

As the name “pontifical secret” implies, it is only the pope - or someone empowered by him - who can dispense from it. Those hoping for curial officials to act on their own initiative, even for the supposed good of the Church, are likely to be disappointed. If they were to do so, they could find themselves subjected to disciplinary measures in the same way that any government official might if they were to release classified documents without authorization.

The seriousness of any violation of the secret by curial officials in relation to McCarrick’s case would depend on the nature of the material disclosed.

Fr. Pablo Gefaell Chamochín, a canon lawyer and professor at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, told CNA that if a person is judged to have acted in violation of pontifical secrecy, he or she could be subjected to punishment.

Pointing to the Secretariat of State’s instruction, Gefaell said, “if the violation of pontifical secrecy becomes known, a penalty proportionate to the wrongdoing and the damage it causes could be inflicted by the competent dicastery.”

Canon law does not establish a specific penalty for a violation of the secret. It would be left to the discretion of the competent Vatican authority to decide what the appropriate punishment would be for a particular violation, Gefaell clarified.

Regarding the potential release of any documents relating to Archbishop McCarrick, potentially held either at the apostolic nunciature in Washington, D.C. or at the Congregation for Bishops in Rome, it is Pope Francis alone who could order their effective declassification.

Until the pope decides otherwise, it is unlikely that Vatican officials bound by oath to observe the secret will be making any new documents available.

Pope Francis tells new bishops holiness is their 'most urgent task'

Vatican City, Sep 13, 2018 / 12:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The most important duty of bishops is total dedication to the pursuit of holiness and the holiness of their local Church, Pope Francis said to a group of 130 new bishops Thursday.

“I speak to you here of the most urgent task of Pastors: that of holiness!” Francis said Sept. 13, explaining that holiness is not a “bookkeeping” of one’s virtues, a schedule of ascetic practices, a diet, or “a gym of personal effort.”
 
“Before we existed, God was there and he loved us. Holiness is touching this flesh of God that precedes us. It is getting in touch with his goodness,” he said. “Each of us [bishops] must humbly enter into the depths of ourselves and ask ourselves what he can do to make the face of the Church we govern in the name of the Supreme Pastor more holy.”

To do this, the pope recommended they face the wounds of their local Church and dialogue with their flock about the questions they have. He also advised paying special attention to their clergy and seminaries.

He said the challenges facing clergy and seminaries cannot be confronted without “updating our processes of selection, accompaniment, evaluation.” But solutions will only be fruitful if they also address “the spiritual chasm that, in many cases, has allowed scandalous weaknesses”

Answers need to reveal “why God has been so mute, so silenced, so removed from a certain way of life, as if he were not there,” he stated.

Warning that pointing the finger at others is counter-productive, he told the bishops to work together, remembering that holiness is a work of God which happens when “we return to the simple joy of the Gospel, so that his blessedness becomes flesh for others in our choices and in our lives.”

Speaking at the conclusion of a training course for new bishops organized annually by the Vatican, the pope condemned the idea that the position of a bishop might come with “automatic privileges.”

Bishops do not have “titles of property or acquired rights,” he said. Referencing Matthew 13 and the “treasure buried in a field,” he said they have found the treasure of their ministry “by chance,” and are called “to sell everything” to buy the field and protect it.

Becoming a bishop “is not the result of a merely human scrutiny, but of a choice from Above” and the ministry “requires not intermittent dedication, fidelity to alternating stages, a selective obedience, no.” He said: “you are called to consume yourselves day and night.”

He told them their identity as bishops is a gift from God and must be considered in the right perspective, begging them to put God at the center of their lives. “He is the one who asks everything but in return offers life fully,” he said.

He urged them not to become discouraged when faced with dark times or difficulty, but to take consolation in the fact that the fate of the Church is in God’s hands.

“The destiny of the Church, of the little flock, is victoriously hidden in the cross of the Son of God. Our names are engraved on his heart – engraved on his heart!” he said. “Therefore, do not spend your best energies recording failures and bringing up disappointments, letting the heart shrink and horizons narrow.”

He praised ministers and consecrated men who persevere in doing good, even though it is not noisy and is not “the theme of blogs nor does it reach the front pages [of newspapers].”

These men, he said, “continue to believe and to preach with courage the Gospel of grace and mercy to men thirsting for reasons to live, to hope and to love.” They are not afraid by the wounds of Christ caused by sin or by “sons of the Church.”

He criticized the spread of individualism and indifference toward others, especially when the situation of the lost does not even prick consciences or is avoided by those who have the greatest responsibility.

“We are not allowed to ignore the flesh of Christ, which has been entrusted to us not only in the Sacrament that we break, but also in the people we have inherited,” he stated. “Even his wounds belong to us.”

It is right for these metaphorical wounds to be seen and touched, he said, not just used programmatically as a manifestation “of understandable anger.” Instead, the wounds are where the Church learns what happens when the face of Christ fades in memory, is not kept at the forefront.

“Christ be your joy, the gospel and your nourishment. Keep your gaze fixed only on the Lord Jesus and, accustoming yourself to his light, know how to search [the light] incessantly even where it is refracted, even through humble gleams,” he encouraged.

Cardinal DiNardo calls meeting with pope lengthy, fruitful

Vatican City, Sep 13, 2018 / 10:10 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal Daniel DiNardo has called a Sept. 13 meeting between Pope Francis and leaders from the Church in United States “lengthy and fruitful.”

The cardinal, who is Archbishop of Galveston-Houston and president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, travelled to Rome together with Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, the vice-president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and USCCB General Secretary Msgr. Brian Bransfield.

Also present at the meeting was Cardinal Séan O’Malley of Boston, who serves as president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and is a member of the C9 Council of Cardinals charged with advising the pope on the governance of the universal Church.

DiNardo requested the meeting with Francis to discuss the ongoing sexual abuse scandals which have rocked the Church in America, in particular the case of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick. Cardinal DiNardo had previously pledged to investigate the case of Archbishop McCarrick to “the full extent of the USCCB’s authority.”

Following a private audience with Pope Francis this morning, DiNardo released a brief statement through the U.S. bishops’ conference.

"We are grateful to the Holy Father for receiving us in audience. We shared with Pope Francis our situation in the United States – how the Body of Christ is lacerated by the evil of sexual abuse. He listened very deeply from the heart. It was a lengthy, fruitful, and good exchange.”

The meeting follows a series of calls by commentators for the Pope Francis to release files held on Archbishop McCarrick in Rome and at the apostolic nunciature in Washington, D.C.

While the statement did not specify if McCarrick’s case or Vatican files related to it were discussed during the meeting, DiNardo has previously called for greater transparency by Church authorities on matters of sexual abuse, and especially that case of Archbishop McCarrick.

DiNardo’s statement said he, together with Cardinal O’Malley, Archbishop Gomez, and Msgr. Bransfield, looked forward to continuing to work together with Pope Francis on resolving the crisis facing the Church in the United States.

“As we departed the audience, we prayed the Angelus together for God's mercy and strength as we work to heal the wounds. We look forward to actively continuing our discernment together identifying the most effective next steps.”

Earlier this week, Pope Francis announced a special meeting with all the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences to discuss sexual abuse in the Church. That meeting is expected to be held in February of next year.

Pope accepts resignation of Bishop Bransfield as inquiry into misconduct claims launched

Vatican City, Sep 13, 2018 / 04:52 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis Thursday accepted the resignation of Bishop Michael J. Bransfield from the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, and asked the Archbishop of Baltimore to launch an investigation into allegations of misconduct.

Archbishop William E. Lori was named apostolic administrator of the diocese and instructed by the Vatican to investigate allegations of “sexual harassment of adults” against Bishop Bransfield, according to a Sept. 13 statement from the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.

The diocese said the archbishop was asked by the Holy See to announce the forthcoming investigation. Upon its announcement, Lori stated that his “primary concern is for the care and support of the priests and people of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston at this difficult time.”

He pledged to conduct “a thorough investigation” of the allegations against Bishop Bransfield, “in search of the truth,” and “to work closely with the clergy, religious and lay leaders of the diocese until the appointment of a new bishop.”

Bransfield’s resignation was accepted just eight days after he turned 75, the age at which diocesan bishops are required by canon law to submit a letter of resignation to the pope.

Bransfield is a Philadelphia native and was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in 1971. He served in parish ministry and at Lansdale Catholic High School before he began at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., in 1980, eventually becoming its rector.

He was appointed bishop of Wheeling-Charleston in 2004 and was consecrated Feb. 22, 2005.

Accusations of abuse against Bransfield arose in 2012 during the criminal the criminal trial in Philadelphia of Fr. James Brennan on child sex abuse charges and of Msgr. William Lynn for conspiracy and endangerment.

Two witnesses and a prosecutor alleged that Bishop Bransfield “may have known about sexual misconduct by [another priest] or abused minors himself,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

The witnesses said they were sexually abused as teens by Fr. Stanley Gana, who was highlighted in Philadelphia grand jury reports in both 2005 and 2011.

The 2005 report mentioned in passing that “Father Gana demanded and received fellatio at the rectory and at a beach house belonging to a friend of Fr. Gana’s, Fr. Mike Bransfield.”

At the 2012 trial, one witness said that Fr. Gana would call Bransfield after assaulting him in his rectory: “They would be talking, and Stanley Gana would have me get on the phone and talk to Father Bransfield,” the man said. “Father Bransfield would jokingly say, ‘I’m going to have Stanley put you on the train to come down and see me sometime.’”

The other witness said that once at Fr. Gana’s farmhouse, Bransfield pulled up in a car with several teen boys, and that Fr. Gana later told him, “They’re his fair-haired boys. The one in the front seat he is having sex with.”

Bishop Bransfield denied the allegations made against him.

“To now be unfairly included in that group and to hear the horrific allegations that are being made of me is unbelievable and shocking,” he said April 19, 2012. He added that the allegations, “the nature of these statements and the manner in which they were released . . . go way beyond any sense of fairness and propriety.”

“I have openly been an advocate for the eradication of the abusive behavior of priests in every diocese, and have demonstrated this in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.” He said: “I have never sexually abused anyone.”

Bransfield also stated that the witnesses’ statement regarding abuse by Fr. Gana taking place at the beach house he owned in Brigantine, N.J., is “misleading” because it fails to mention that he allowed many people to use his home and that he was neither present nor aware of the incident.

Bishop Bransfield said the 2012 trial was “a circus” and that prosecutors were smearing his name “to bolster their persecution of the church.”

 

Gluten and Communion: What's a celiac to do?

Vatican City, Sep 13, 2018 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On a Saturday morning in July last year, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments issued a circular letter to bishops reiterating existing norms regarding the matter of the Eucharist, including the norm that Communion hosts must contain some amount of gluten to be valid matter for consecration.

By that night, the (misconstrued) news had spread like wildfire: “Catholic Church bans celiacs from Communion!” many media outlets declared. It was such a hot topic that Twitter declared it a “moment” in world news.

But these were existing norms - there was no change, no announcement of new norms, nor banning of celiacs from the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Gluten-free hosts have always been invalid matter for the sacrifice of the Mass, meaning that Catholics with celiac disease have already grappled with other options for Communion.

Usually, such “reminder” letters are issued when someone, generally a bishop, has raised a question or has been alerted of a possible abuse of the norm.

Still, the letter left lingering questions regarding people with celiac disease (or those with other serious allergies to wheat) and Communion. Here’s what the Church, and Catholics with celiac disease, have to say about going gluten free for Communion.

Why must a Communion host contain at least some gluten?

Wheat bread and wine of the grape are the matter of the sacrament of the Eucharist because Christ instituted the sacrament under these species. Moreover, Christ compared himself to a grain of wheat, and to the vine.

At some point along the line the question of gluten came arose, and whether the bread used for Holy Communion necessitated at least some gluten (and its accompanying protein gliadin) to be considered wheat bread that was valid matter for the sacrament.

A July 2003 circular letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, noting documents from the 1980s and '90s, recalled that “Hosts that are completely gluten-free are invalid matter for the celebration of the Eucharist.”

It added that “Low-gluten hosts (partially gluten-free) are valid matter, provided they contain a sufficient amount of gluten to obtain the confection of bread without the addition of foreign materials and without the use of procedures that would alter the nature of bread.”

And in 2004 the Congregation for Divine Worship wrote in its instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum that “The bread used in the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharistic Sacrifice must be unleavened, purely of wheat, and recently made so that there is no danger of decomposition. It follows therefore that bread made from another substance, even if it is grain, or if it is mixed with another substance different from wheat to such an extent that it would not commonly be considered wheat bread, does not constitute valid matter for confecting the Sacrifice and the Eucharistic Sacrament.”

That said, the Church recognizes that it mustn't exclude from receiving Communion Catholics with celiac disease, and has made accommodation for those who are unable to consume normal bread.

Options celiacs have for Communion: Advice from a priest with celiac disease

A layperson affected by celiac disease who is unable to receive even a low-gluten host may receive Communion under the species of wine only.

A priest in a similar situation, when taking part in a concelebration, may with permission of the Ordinary receive Communion under the species of wine only. But such a priest may not celebrate the Eucharist individually, nor may he preside at a concelebration.

Father Joseph Faulkner, a priest of the diocese of Lincoln, was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2008.

Already a priest, he had to receive special permission from his diocese to use low-gluten hosts in order to celebrate the Sacrifice of the Mass.

Fr. Faulkner told CNA he was surprised that the letter regarding communion norms exploded so quickly on Twitter, but he saw it as a teachable moment.

The problem of gluten is especially pressing for priests, who must consume Communion under both species at a Mass which they celebrate individually.

For Father Faulkner, he has found that the best low-gluten hosts are made by the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Clyde, Missouri. The sister’s website includes a page about proper storage and distribution of low-gluten hosts so as to avoid cross-contamination.

While the hosts are not low-gluten enough to be considered gluten free (which is understood to be less than 20 parts per million), they are low enough to be approved by the Celiac Support Association, which has some of the most stringent guidelines available on what celiacs can safely consume, Father said.

“I throw up if I eat bread, but I consume 8-9 large, low gluten hosts per week, and have done that for 9 years, and I don’t get sick from them,” he told CNA.

Father Faulkner said he recommended that any celiac wary of the low-gluten hosts obtain a few of them, unconsecrated, and try tiny particles to see if they are able to safely consume them.

For celiacs who are unable to receive these low-gluten hosts, Fr. Faulkner said “the safest and most certain thing a person could do would be to ask to receive (the Precious Blood) from a chalice other than the chalice that the priest uses.”

That’s because the chalice of wine that the priest uses contains the frumentum - the little bit of Host dropped in during the Angus Dei. To avoid any cross-contamination, a separate chalice is necessary.

“That’s the most certain way, and when you receive the Precious Blood, you receive Jesus’ body, blood, soul and divinity, so you don’t have to worry” about only receiving part of the sacrifice, he said.

For those who are able to receive the low gluten hosts, travelling with a sleeve of unconsecrated hosts can be a way to ensure that they can receive Communion in different parishes, Fr. Faulkner said.

“Just go up to the pastor and explain, ‘Hi, I’m a celiac, can I have one of these hosts consecrated on a separate paten?’” he said. “Because parishes want to be accommodating, but if they don’t have a celiac in their parish they’re probably not going to stock (low-gluten hosts) in their fridge.”

The lay Catholic experience: What it’s like finding gluten-free Communion

Michelle De Groot is a layperson with celiac disease in the Diocese of Arlington. She said that for a long time, she would approach priests in the sacristy before Mass to ask them to consecrate a separate chalice of wine, so that she could safely receive without cross-contamination.

“That was always kind of stressful because sometimes the priest would understand what I was talking about and sometimes not. And they didn't always have a second chalice handy,” De Groot told CNA.

“So sometimes I'd just receive anyway from the cup with (the frumentum) and sometimes I'd make a spiritual communion instead,” she said. A spiritual communion is a uniting of oneself to the Sacrifice of the Mass through prayer, and can be made whether one is able to receive Communion or not.

Then, De Groot found out about the low-gluten altar breads made by the Benedictine Sisters. After doing her research, she decided to try these hosts, since they are approved as celiac-safe.

“I've never had any symptoms,” she said. De Groot says she also travels with her own supply of low-gluten hosts and a pyx (a small, round container for hosts) that allow her to receive Communion at parishes that may otherwise be unprepared.

She said while her celiac diagnosis was an emotional one for her at first, it has allowed her to establish relationships with priests and Eucharistic ministers at her parish and other churches she frequents.

“At my home (parish), it's even not the end of the world if i'm running a few minutes late because they know me and my needs - whereas when I was first diagnosed, I had to get to church 15 minutes ahead to give time for the awkward explanations,” she said.

“If anything, celiac has been good for me in terms of my relationship to my parishes - I'm not an isolated stranger there, I'm known!”

Molly O’Connor is also a Catholic with celiac disease, who expressed similar frustrations with trying to make sure the Communion she received was both valid and safe. Having lived in six local Churches throughout the country, she said experiences varied widely from parish to parish.

“I typically just receive the cup at Communion, and I try both to sit in a part of the church where Communion is distributed by a priest so I may receive a blessing and near a cup that doesn't have part of the host in it. If that sounds complicated, it is!” she said.

Travelling can be difficult, she said, as it can be hard to know whom to approach about receiving Communion. Parishes also often don’t announce whether they have low-gluten hosts, or how low-gluten they are, and not all parishes are conscious about cross-contamination, she said.

The U.S. Bishops issued a letter in 2012, updated in April 2016, regarding low-gluten and gluten-free communion options, as well as guidelines to avoid cross-contamination that can be found here.

O’Connor said the best situations have been when priests consecrate a separate chalice for her, and when parishes announce specifics about low-gluten or gluten-free options.

“As the Eucharist is the source and summit of our Catholic faith, I think making Communion accessible to celiac and gluten-sensitive Catholics, in a manner consistent with Vatican and the U.S. Bishop’s norms, is paramount,” she said.

“How diminished is our faith life if we are unable to share in the paschal mystery with our fellow Catholics?”

 

An earlier version of this article was published on CNA July 11, 2017.

New Catholic group aims to form next generation of women leaders

Washington D.C., Sep 12, 2018 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The GIVEN Institute hopes to shape a new generation of Catholic leaders through a program of faith formation, mentoring, and leadership for young women.

The institute was launched on Sept. 12, as it announced a program focused on engaging and supporting young women in the work of evangelization, vocational discernment, and professional advancement.

The GIVEN Institute was founded in response to what it says are bleak statistics on female involvement with the Church. According to a 2018 study published by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, only about 17 percent of young Catholic women attend Mass each week, while only about one-third of those women say they pray every day.

"At a time where millennial women are disaffiliating from the Church in increasing numbers, it would be really important for the Church to turn its attention to shoring up the faithfulness of the women who do want to serve the Church, so that they can carry on the legacy of faithful women who have gone before them," GIVEN executive director Elise Italiano told CNA.

The first iteration of the GIVEN project was a 2016 conference called the GIVEN Catholic Young Women’s Leadership Forum.

That event was sponsored by the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religions (CMSWR) and gathered together 300 young women from across the United States who met and discussed how best to “receive the gift they are, recognize the gifts they have been given, and respond with the gift that only they can give.”

The new GIVEN Institute aims to continue that mission by confronting what it says are two major challenges facing young Catholic women today: disaffiliation from the faith and Church, and a lack of integration of their gifts in areas of Church ministry.

"GIVEN celebrates the Church's vision for women's dignity and flourishing," Italiano said, stressing that this will form the baseline from which the institute will develop its programming to form young leaders.

“The question that GIVEN wants to tackle is: given that vision--for women's dignity and call--where can we move forward? Where can we expand on that?” 

The institute’s work will be based around two related programs.

The Catholic Young Women’s Leadership Forum will be GIVEN’s centerpiece event, held every two to three years. There participants will focus on different tracks, including vocational discernment, post-missionary work, and secular professional careers. The forum will feature keynote speakers, spiritual accompaniment, and networking opportunities, in addition to track-specific workshops and speakers.

Additionally, the institute will also launch the “Art of Accompaniment Mentoring Program” for alumnae of the Leadership Forum. This program will begin at the Leadership Forum, where attendees will be paired with a mentor from their specific track.

After the Leadership Forum, GIVEN will release digital webinars to assist with ongoing formation and to “extend the exploration of topics covered at the forum.” The mentoring program aims to build a network of female leaders who will meet with forum attendees on a one-on-one basis and provide them with personalized accompaniment.

“It’s always the right time to help young people pursue a path to holiness,” said Italiano, “but it’s increasingly clear that the Church must better facilitate a more robust presence of skilled, faithful women in its ranks.”

“The Church is always strongest and most effective in its mission when men and women work together.”

The GIVEN Institute’s events program will commence in 2019, with the first Leadership Forum expected to be held in June.

What do Church abuse policies mean by 'vulnerable adult'?

Denver, Colo., Sep 12, 2018 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- A Vatican summit on abuse prevention next February will gather the presidents of bishops’ conferences from around the world. While a Sept. 12 statement from the Vatican said the gathering’s theme would be the “protection of minors,” a Vatican spokesperson clarified that the meeting would discuss “prevention of abuse of minors and vulnerable adults.”

Wednesday’s announcement of the meeting has raised questions about who the Church considers to be a “vulnerable adult.”

The USCCB’s “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” does not use the term “vulnerable adult.”

Nor do the “Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons,” which are binding Church policies for addressing sex abuse allegations in the United States.

Several dioceses, do, however, define the term in their own sexual abuse policies.

Policies of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis say that: “‘Vulnerable Adult’ means persons with physical, mental or emotional conditions that render them unable to defend or protect themselves, or get help when at risk of harm.”

In the Archdiocese of Louisville, “an adult 18 years or older is considered vulnerable when, because of impairment of mental or physical functions, that person is unable or unlikely to report abuse or neglect without assistance.”

The Archdiocese of Miami defines a “vulnerable person” as “a minor under 18 years of age or a person whose ability to perform normal activities of daily living is impaired due to a mental, emotional, long-term physical or developmental disability or dysfunction, or brain damage, or the infirmities of aging.”

The Archdiocese of Washington’s policies for child protection say that “a vulnerable individual over the age of seventeen (17) is also covered by this policy…when such a person is unable or unlikely to report abuse without assistance because of impairment of physical or mental function or emotional status.”

Edward Mechmann, director of the Safe Environment Program in the Archdiocese of New York, told CNA that the archdiocese considers a vulnerable person to be “a person of any age who lacks the capacity to give consent due to a mental or developmental condition or disability.”

The Code of Canon Law does not use or define the term “vulnerable adult.” However, the Church’s 2010 “Norms on delicta graviora” say that “a person who habitually lacks the use of reason is to be considered equivalent to a minor” with regard to allegations of clerical sexual abuse.  

The February summit was announced in the wake of clerical sexual misconduct allegations across the Church involving minors, as well as allegations of misconduct that targeted seminarians, priests, and other adults.

On Aug. 14, a Pennsylvania grand jury released a report documenting 70 years of sexual abuse allegations in six dioceses in that state. On Sept. 12, a report from the German bishops’ conference documented allegations of clerical sexual abuse during a similar time period.

On June 20, the Archdiocese of New York announced that it had deemed credible an allegation that Archbishop Theodore McCarrick had serially sexually abused a teenage boy in the 1970s. Subsequent reports, however, allege that McCarrick had serially sexually coerced and assaulted seminarians and young priests during decades of his episcopal ministry in New Jersey and Washington, D.C.

Mechmann told CNA that the term “vulnerable adult” as his archdiocese defines it, “would not include seminarians. It is really aimed at protecting people who have developmental disabilities or cognitive disabilities, for instance someone who is suffering from Alzheimer's disease.”

“A sound diocesan policy, however, would also encompass any kind of non-consensual sexual conduct, even if it is not strictly covered by the Charter,” Mechmann added.

The Archdiocese of New York’s “Policy on Sexual Misconduct” includes in its definition of sexual misconduct “any sexual act with another person without consent,” as well as “any sexual conduct that is a violation of civil law.”
 
Deacon Bernie Nojadera, executive director of the USCCB’s office for child and youth protection, told CNA that several U.S. dioceses use the definition of “vulnerable adult” provided by civil law.

That definition often refers to a “dependent adult,” he said.

Nojadera noted that “there is nothing in [the Charter] that talks about differential of power. So if you’re looking at differential of power, that’s not addressed in the Charter.”

“That’s where applicability of state law comes in, with regard to the differential of power. A lot of dioceses are looking at their state laws and trying to apply them accordingly,” he said.

With regard to allegations of abuse involving seminarians and other adults, he said he thinks “it would be wise for those types of situations to also be brought forward” at the February meeting of bishops.

“I would hope that there would be a seat at the table for seminarians and for that issue to be addressed,” he told CNA.

In addition to the abuse of minors, vulnerable adults, seminarians, and other adults, Nojadera noted other situations that could, in his view, be addressed, mentioning the difficulties faced by the children of priests, the use of corporal punishment in the Church, and situations involving religious orders.

He also mentioned the importance of consulting with victims of clerical sexual abuse.

“I would hope that survivor victims were invited to this table as well, to be able to address [the meeting],” he said.

Nojadera said that his office often looks for insights from victims of clerical sexual abuse, calling their perspective “invaluable.”

“There’s an awareness that those who have not been abused do not have.”

He also encouraged broader lay involvement in discussions about sexual misconduct in the Church. “The lay faithful have been offering to help and contribute to the solution to this,” he said.

Nojadera said he hopes the February summit will take an expansive view of abuse-related problems in the Church.

“I think we have an opportunity here to just talk about abuse in general. Period.”

“Hopefully,” he said, “they’ll have an opportunity to see the big picture.”