European court: Russia violated human rights by not legally recognizing gay unions

European court: Russia violated human rights by not legally recognizing gay unions

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France / CherryX|Wikipedia|CC BY-SA 3.0

Washington D.C., Feb 6, 2023 / 09:55 am (CNA).

The European Court of Human Rights ruled Jan. 17 that Russia violated the human rights of three homosexual couples because the government did not have any formal legal recognition of those unions under Russian law.

Two female homosexual couples and one male homosexual couple claimed Russia’s failure to recognize their request for homosexual marriages violated the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights. One of the couples brought their claims to the court in 2010 and the other two brought their claims in 2014, while Russia was subject to the European Convention on Human Rights because of an international treaty. Although Russia backed out of the treaty on Sept. 16, 2022, the court ruled that it still had jurisdiction because the country was subject to the treaty when the claims were originally brought before the court.

The court ruled in the case of Fedotova v. Russia that Russia did not need to recognize homosexual marriage under the convention but that it needed to have some formal legal recognition of same-sex couples, such as civil unions, as long as the homosexual couples had similar legal rights to married couples. 

According to the court, the Russian government argued that “it was necessary to preserve the traditional institutions of marriage and the family” because they are “fundamental values of Russian society that were protected by the Constitution.” The court ruled against that argument, claiming that the recognition of these unions would not jeopardize the rights of heterosexual couples. 

“There is no basis for considering that affording legal recognition and protection to same-sex couples in a stable and committed relationship could in itself harm families constituted in the traditional way or compromise their future or integrity,” the court ruled.

“Indeed, the recognition of same-sex couples does not in any way prevent different-sex couples from marrying or founding a family corresponding to their conception of that term,” the court ruled. “More broadly, securing rights to same-sex couples does not in itself entail weakening the rights secured to other people or other couples. … The Court considers that the protection of the traditional family cannot justify the absence of any form of legal recognition and protection for same-sex couples in the present case.”

Although Russia does not have an explicit ban on homosexual marriage, according to the court, Article 1 of the Russian Family Code defines marriage as a “voluntary marital union between a man and a woman” and does not include any recognition of homosexual marriages. The court also noted that the form for a notice of marriage contains two fields, one for the man and one for the woman, which means the form’s structure prevents it from being used to marry homosexual couples. There is no alternative legal recognition of homosexual couples in Russia. 

The homosexual couples sought €50,000 (more than $54,000) in damages, but the court stated that its common practice is to only award money to offset the costs and expenses incurred through the proceedings. Because the applicants did not submit any claims for those costs, the court did not award any monetary damages. 

Homosexual unions are legally recognized in 21 of the 27 countries in the European Union and homosexual marriages are legally recognized in only 14 of them. 

The consistent teaching of the Catholic Church is that marriage is between a man and a woman. As Pope Francis noted in Amoris Laetitia, quoting the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “as for proposals to place unions between homosexual persons on the same level as marriage, there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.” 

Charges dropped, for now, against woman arrested for praying silently outside UK abortion clinic

Charges dropped, for now, against woman arrested for praying silently outside UK abortion clinic

Isabel Vaughan-Spruce / ADF UK

Denver, Colo., Feb 3, 2023 / 15:45 pm (CNA).

Authorities in the U.K. have dropped charges against a woman arrested for silent prayer in a “buffer zone” that bans pro-life advocacy outside an English abortion clinic.

However, Isabel Vaughan-Spruce says the charges still could be revived, leaving her in an ambitious legal situation.

“It can’t be right that I was arrested and made a criminal, only for praying in my head on a public street,” Vaughan-Spruce said in a Feb. 3 statement.

“So-called ‘buffer zone legislation’ will result in so many more people like me, doing good and legal activities like offering charitable support to women in crisis pregnancies, or simply praying in their heads, being treated like criminals and even facing court,” she added.

Vaughan-Spruce was arrested Dec. 6, 2022, in Birmingham, England, outside an abortion facility that was closed at the time. 

Video footage of her arrest shows an officer asking her if she was praying, to which she answers: “I might be praying in my head.” You can watch the exchange in the video below.

She was charged Dec. 15 with four counts of breaking Birmingham’s Public Space Protection Order around the abortion facility. The order is intended to stop antisocial behavior. The terms of the order include prayer under “protest,” which is banned within the “buffer zone” around the clinic. For standing still and praying silently inside a buffer zone, she was accused of “protesting and engaging in an act that is intimidating to service users.”

Vaughan-Spruce is the director of March for Life UK

The Crown Prosecution Service dropped the charges in late January and Vaughan-Spruce did not have to appear in court, as previously scheduled. However, she can still be prosecuted if the charge is reinstated.

Her case has the support of ADF UK, a religious freedom legal group.

Jeremiah Igunnubole, legal counsel for ADF UK, said in a Feb. 1 statement that Vaughan-Spruce faces “significant legal uncertainty.” She aims to “obtain legal clarity on what, if any, liability she may incur in the future based on the charges laid against her.”

Vaughan-Spruce said she will pursue a verdict in court to clarify her legal situation.

“It’s important to me that I can continue my vital work in supporting women who’d like to avoid abortion if they only had some help,” she said. “In order to do so, it’s vital that I have clarity as to my legal status. Many of us need an answer as to whether it’s still lawful to pray silently in our own heads.”

“Isabel is right to request proper clarity as to the lawfulness of our actions,” Igunnubole said.

“It’s one thing for the authorities to humiliatingly search and arrest an individual simply for their thoughts,” the attorney said. 

“It’s quite another to initially deem those thoughts to be sufficient evidence to justify charges, then discontinue those charges due to ‘insufficient evidence,’ and then to warn that further evidence relating to the already unclear charges may soon be forthcoming so as to restart the entire grueling process from the beginning,” he said.

“This is a clear instance of the process becoming the punishment, creating a chilling effect on free expression and freedom of thought, conscience, and belief,” the attorney added.

Several localities in England have implemented strict buffer zones, which some critics characterize as censorship zones. On the national level, the U.K. Parliament is expected to pass legislation to create buffer zones around abortion clinics. The House of Lords approved the proposed legislation, called Amendment 45, in a voice vote on Jan. 30.

Amendment 45, sponsored by Conservative peer Baroness Sugg of Coldharbour, would make it a crime to engage in activity that seeks to “influence” women who are seeking abortions or “any person’s decision to access, provide, or facilitate the provision of abortion services.”

It criminalizes “harassment, alarm, or distress to any person in connection with a decision to access, provide, or facilitate the provision of abortion services” within 150 meters, about 500 feet, of an abortion clinic.

Those convicted of violating the law could face an unlimited fine, the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children reported. 

The House of Lords rejected an amendment to investigate whether exclusion zones are justified and their possible denial of rights of association, conscience, freedom of expression, and freedom of religion. Amendment 54 replaces similar legislation in the House of Commons, which is expected to ratify the amendment.

Alithea Williams, public policy manager for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, lamented the passage of the bill.

“This is a black day for democracy and basic civil liberties,” she said Jan. 30. “Ordinary, peaceful citizens will now be branded criminals and subject to crippling financial penalties for the simple act of praying in public, and offering help to women in need.”

“Parliament has literally just criminalized compassion,” Williams said. “This is not just an outrageous assault on civil liberties, it removes a real lifeline for women. Many children are alive today because their mother received help and support from a compassionate pro-life person outside a clinic. Many women feel like they have to choose to have an abortion, and pro-life vigils give them options. Now their choices have been taken away.”

Williams cited Vaughan-Williams’ arrest and the arrest of Adam Smith-Connor, who faces fines after he prayed outside of an abortion clinic for his son who died in an abortion.

“Thoughtcrime is now very real in the U.K. It is very disappointing that peers ignored these warnings and voted for this extreme and cruel legislation,” Williams said.

Television station rediscovers lost interview with priest who developed Big Bang theory

Television station rediscovers lost interview with priest who developed Big Bang theory

Father Georges Lemaitre. / Credit: VRT/YouTube

CNA Newsroom, Feb 1, 2023 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

A Belgian television station has rediscovered a 20-minute video in which Father Georges Lemaitre, considered the father of the Big Bang theory, explains what the origin of the universe may have been like.

Lemaitre was a Belgian astrophysicist known for being the first academic to propose the theory of the expansion of the universe from a massive explosion of what he called a “primordial atom” or “cosmic egg.”

Until now, only photographs of Lemaitre were preserved, the most popular being the one where he appears alongside Albert Einstein.

However, the VRT television station recently found a video in which the father of the Big Bang explains his theory.

Kathleen Bertrem of VRT’s archives mentioned in late December 2022 that finding this historic material was like “looking for a needle in a haystack” due to the company misclassifying its extensive files.

Nevertheless, the television channel found among its archives the tape of an interview in French that producer Jerome Verhaeghe conducted with Lemaitre on Feb. 14, 1964, and broadcast then.

Lemaitre explains the origin of the universe

Lemaitre points out in the interview that the expansion of the universe was not accepted at first because it made the idea of a creation necessary.

In the video, the astrophysicist explains that “before the theory of the expansion of the universe, some 40 years ago [in the 1920s], we expected the universe to be static, because nothing changes.”

“It was an idea that, a priori, basically applied to the entire universe,” the priest notes.

However, discovering expansion made the idea of a static universe “out of the question.”

The priest and astrophysicist also says that this led him to propose the Big Bang theory, describing it as the “primordial atom.”

“There is a very different beginning to the state of today’s universe, a beginning of multiplicity that can be described, as far as we can describe it, in the form of the disintegration of all matter in the form of atoms,” he states.

This expansion leads us to have “a universe, an expanding space full of plasma, with very energetic rays that go in all directions.”

Lemaitre called these rays “primeval fireworks,” which have been preserved in space “giving us a testimony of the first ages of the world.”

The Belgian priest emphasized that he tries to present his theory in scientific terms and that he has no interest in having his position thought to be a profession of his religious convictions.

The full video in French of the interview with Lemaitre can be seen on the VRT YouTube channel.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

New report details abuses of L’Arche founder

New report details abuses of L’Arche founder

Jean Vanier at a Templeton Prize press conference in London March 11, 2015. / Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images

CNA Newsroom, Feb 1, 2023 / 07:35 am (CNA).

A new independent report commissioned by L’Arche International and released on its website Jan. 30 has shed light on the magnitude of psychological and sexual abuse committed by its famous founder, Jean Vanier, who died in 2019.

Founded in the French commune of Trosly-Breuil in 1964, L’Arche is an international federation gathering networks of community where people with and without intellectual disabilities live and work together. The initiative has inspired thousands of faithful around the world, allowing it to expand to 38 countries on five continents through 150 different communities. The shockwaves caused by the revelations about its founder were all the greater because he was often regarded as a saint.

While a previous report issued in February 2020 revealed Vanier’s sexual misconduct with six women in the context of providing spiritual direction to them, this new investigation found that between 1952 and 2019, at least 25 women — all of them adults without disabilities, single, married, or consecrated — experienced “at some point of their relationship with Vanier a situation implying a sexual act or intimate gesture.” 

The more than 900-page report, the result of a two-year investigation, also looks into the actions of Father Thomas Philippe, a Catholic priest who died in 1993 and whom Jean Vanier considered his spiritual mentor. Philippe was also the subject of a parallel investigation by the Dominican order, which will be published Wednesday.

Stephan Posner and Stacy Cates Carney, leaders of L’Arche International, wrote in a letter to the federation’s members that they were “appalled” by the report’s findings. The leaders wrote that “we once again condemn, without reservation, the actions of Jean Vanier and Thomas Philippe which are in total contradiction with the elementary rules of respect and integrity of persons, and contrary to the fundamental principles of our communities.”

Composed of six researchers from different backgrounds, the independent commission sought to understand the context and sectarian mechanisms that enabled Vanier, as a great spiritual figure, to use his power to take advantage of young women. His relationships with those women, according to a synthesis provided by L’Arche, “all fit into a continuum of confusion, control, and abuse.”

The report stated that “while some people described themselves as ‘victims’ or ‘survivors’ of an abusive relationship, a few described themselves rather as consenting partners in a transgressive relationship … justified by mystical-sexual beliefs inherited from Philippe.”

Investigators also looked into Vanier’s complicity in Philippe’s actions, covering up his spiritual and sexual abuses for decades, despite the Vatican’s canonical sanctions against the religious and his brother, Marie-Dominique Philippe, who was also a Dominican, as early as the 1950s.

Among the most shocking revelations of the report is the fact that the foundation of L’Arche had as its primary objective to serve as a “screen” against Rome’s sanctions against Philippe and to continue the work he had been developing through his spiritual center L’Eau Vive, which the commission described as a sect.

The researchers, however, concluded that “L’Arche as a project and as an organization has nothing to do with a sect, and that while the original sectarian nucleus did form a microsystem at the heart of L’Arche, in the light of the facts of abuse identified by the commission, it did not seem to have developed beyond the [French] mother house in Trosly-Breuil.”

Contacted by CNA, Father Christian Mahéas, chaplain of L’Arche in France for 16 years until 2020, expressed his deep pain and dismay at reading the new report and the details of the abuses committed by Vanier.

Mahéas, whose priestly vocation flourished through his mission at the service of L’Arche and its members with intellectual disabilities, accompanied Vanier the last five months of his earthly life and was beside him when he died.

“I find it very disturbing that a man as seemingly free as Jean Vanier could have remained under the influence of Father Thomas Philippe for so many years without standing up to him,” he told CNA. He said that Vanier had been under Philippe’s thumb since he was 20 years old and that Philippe had shaped Vanier’s entire spiritual development.

According to Mahéas, the aura of holiness that surrounded Vanier, and Philippe before him, was likely to aggravate the sectarian aberrations in which he engaged.

“This warns us against the all-too-common temptation to canonize people during their lifetime by putting them on a pedestal,” he said, also underlining the extreme prudence that spiritual guides must show toward their flock, always taking care to respect the inner freedom of each person.

“There is a path, a work of purification and conversation to live in the Church and this is all part of it. It is a matter of continuing our mission in this sense without losing sight of the innumerable fruits borne by L’Arche in its service to the least of this world, and which are to be dissociated from its founder,” Mahéas continued, expressing his appreciation for the strong support the federation continues to receive from Christians around the world.

“It would be a great shame if people who need to be welcomed by L’Arche were to suffer the double punishment of being rejected by society in principle, and now rejected a second time because of this case which concerns its founder only. What a tragedy that would be!”

In their official communique that accompanied the release of the report, the federations’ leaders also announced that a new audit will be undertaken in 2023 in all the communities of L’Arche and that from then on audits will be scheduled every three years to protect its members against all types of abuse in the future.

Spanish bishop: Reference to UN’s Agenda 2030 on World Youth Day website was ‘a mistake’

Spanish bishop: Reference to UN’s Agenda 2030 on World Youth Day website was ‘a mistake’

Logos of WYD Lisbon 2023 and the 2030 Agenda. / Credit; WYD and U.N.

CNA Newsroom, Jan 31, 2023 / 15:11 pm (CNA).

The bishop of Orihuela-Alicante in Spain, José Ignacio Munilla, called the reference to the United Nations’ Agenda 2030 on the World Youth Day (WYD) website “unnecessary.” However, once the reference was later qualified to read “following the guidelines of the Holy See,” he said he considered not going to WYD in Lisbon — as some have said they would — to be a mistake, because it would cause a “wound in communion.”

In the Jan. 30 edition of the “Sixth Continent” program on Radio María Spain, Munilla responded to the “very many” questions that have been addressed to him regarding the inclusion of references to Agenda 2030 on the website for World Youth Day in Lisbon.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is “the most comprehensive blueprint to date for eliminating extreme poverty, reducing inequality, and protecting the planet,” according to the United Nations website.

There is a section on sustainability on the WYD website that includes a commitment letter, which says: “Our mission is to build WYD Lisbon 2023 taking into account the sustainability goals embraced throughout the world, the Laudato Si' goals presented by the Vatican and the United Nations’ Agenda 2030.”

Underneath the letter could be seen the logos of the Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals proposed by the U.N.

Munilla explained that “since there were many complaints, the reference was later qualified. The logos have been removed and the qualification was made that we adhere to Agenda 2030 ‘as it is interpreted according to the Catholic Church.’”

What this qualification literally means is “following the guidelines of the Holy See,” an expression associated with a note signed in 2016 by Archbishop Bernardito Auza, at the time the apostolic nuncio and permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations.

Auza’s note makes precisions and clarifications that go further into the value and meaning that the Holy See attaches to Agenda 2030, both regarding its objectives and in the clarification of essential concepts and the methods of application of the proposed goals.

These concepts are mainly those referring to man, his nature and dignity, sexuality, the right to life, the family, and the importance of the foundations of international law in the interpretation and implementation of Agenda 2030 in such relevant issues such as gender, the idea of empowerment, and the so-called right to sexual and reproductive health.

A ‘fair complaint’ in the face of a ‘mistake’

The Spanish prelate acknowledged that the reference to Agenda 2030, a document not signed by the Holy See because it has a voice but not a vote in the United Nations, “has created controversy.”

“What is the WYD page doing making that reference? What need was there to have to make that reference?" asked Munilla, who said that the complaint “is fair” because citing Agenda 2030 “is a mistake.”

“The fact that it has gone away little by little — now I remove the logos, now I say that ‘according to the Catholic Church’ — it’s a kind of rectification without completely rectifying, which makes it clear that a mistake has been made,” the prelate pointed out.

A wound in the communion of the Church

The bishop of Orihuela-Alicante also responded to the question about whether, in view of the confusion that has been caused, it is opportune to go to the youth event with the pope in Lisbon next summer in Europe.

For Munilla “it’s a mistake that there are Catholic movements and schools that have decided not to attend WYD in Lisbon for the mere fact that this inclusion has been made.”

The bishop believes that “they are depriving themselves of a very great good” and, furthermore, “non-attendance creates a wound in the communion of the Church, of youth ministry.”

The prelate considers that the qualification that WYD’s support of Agenda 2030 is “following the guidelines of the Holy See” that has been added onto the controversial letter of commitment “substantially saves some face, although they don’t finish explaining why it’s not eliminated, period.”

“It’s an error to have put that mention on the webpage but it’s also an error to announce that it’s not going away. It’s too bad that this happens and that such a thing is cause for perplexity,” he said.

A qualified but unnecessary statement

At the end of his commentary, Munilla made reference to the conference given by the apostolic nuncio in Spain, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, last Friday at Abat Oliba CEU University in Barcelona in which he explained the position of the Holy See regarding Agenda 2030 from its genesis to its application.

Munilla stressed what Auza said regarding the policy on donations for Agenda 2030, noting that “the most sensitive thing is that when it comes to implementing it, the one who donates determines what program it goes to.”

Thus “a direct link is established between the approval of aid and the adoption of ideologies.” So for example, for some donor nations in order to receive aid for the relief of hunger, the implementation of contraceptive policies is required.

For the prelate, it’s a “poisoned model” that implies “a risk of paternalism that ultimately ends up being an ideological instrument.”

Munilla also emphasized the risk of “declarationist nominalism” expressed by Pope Francis in the U.N. General Assembly, which means that in Agenda 2030 “there are super beautiful words that are utopian.”

To sum up the controversial reference to Agenda 2030 on the website of the World Youth Day in Lisbon, the bishop of Orihuela-Alicante said that “a statement has been rectified that, in its literal meaning by introducing this qualification, it can no longer be said to be wrong. But, obviously, it’s unnecessary.”

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

The little-known story of when the Masons tried to kill Don Bosco

The little-known story of when the Masons tried to kill Don Bosco

St. John Bosco. / Credit: Public Domain

CNA Newsroom, Jan 31, 2023 / 14:25 pm (CNA).

History notes how much the Freemasons hated St. John Bosco, the founder of the Salesians — whose feast the Church celebrates on Jan. 31 — but less known are their attempts to kill him.

The two assassination attempts ordered by Freemasons against Don Bosco were recounted in the June 1, 1980, issue of the Salesian Bulletin, the official publication of the Salesian Family.

The title of the article was “Purpose: To get rid of our Don Bosco,” published close to 100 years after those attempts by the Freemasons to kill the saint.

The story can also be found in “The Biographical Memoirs of Don Bosco.”

According to the account, a former student of Don Bosco named Alessandro Dasso showed up at the gatehouse in late June 1880 asking to speak to the priest.

“His eyes were full of anguish,” the bulletin related. “Don Bosco received him with his usual kindness,” but faced with the “growing agitation” of the young man, the founder of the Salesian Family asked him: “What do you want from me? Speak! You know that Don Bosco loves you.”

At these words, Dasso “fell to his knees, burst into tears and sobs,” and revealed the truth.

“The young man himself belonged to Freemasonry; the sect had sentenced Don Bosco to death; 12 men had been drawn; 12 individuals had to succeed with that order, to carry out the sentence,” the Salesian Bulletin recounted.

Dasso told Don Bosco that “it was up to me to be the first, just me! And this is why I came! I will never do it. I will draw down upon myself the revenge of the others; revealing the secret is my death, I know I’m done for. But killing Don Bosco, never!”

After confessing what his mission was, the young man threw the weapon he was hiding on the floor.

Despite Don Bosco’s attempts to console him, the young man quickly left the house. On June 23, Dasso tried to commit suicide by throwing himself into the Po River but was rescued in time by policemen.

Some time later, Don Bosco helped him escape from Italy and he lived in hiding “until the end of his days,” the Salesian publication stated.

Months later, in December 1880, another “young man of about 25 years of age visited Don Bosco.”

The “sinister” gleam in the young man’s eyes caused the holy priest to have “very little trust.”

The young man, the Salesian Bulletin related, expressed himself as “a high and mighty man.” As he spoke, “a small six-shooter slipped out of his pocket onto the sofa.”

“Don Bosco, without him noticing, deftly placed his hand on it and slowly put it in his pocket.”

The young man tried to find the gun in his own pocket to no avail and looked astonished.

Don Bosco, very calm, asked him: “What are you looking for, sir?” The confused young man replied: “I had something here in my pocket ... who knows how... But where did it go?”

“Don Bosco, moving quickly toward the door and putting his left hand on the handle in order to get ready to open it, pointed the gun at him and, without getting angry, said: ‘This is the tool you were looking for, isn’t it?  At the sight of this, the scoundrel was stunned.” And he “tried to grab his revolver. But Don Bosco told him forcefully: ‘Go on, get out of here right away! And may God have mercy on you!’

“Then he opened the door and asked some of those who were in the anteroom to accompany the man to the gatehouse. The assassin hesitated, but Don Bosco told him: ‘Get out and don’t come back!’” And the young man who wanted to end the priest’s life had to leave along with other companions who were waiting for him outside in a carriage.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Spanish bishops lament low participation in Synod on Synodality, especially by young people

Spanish bishops lament low participation in Synod on Synodality, especially by young people

Materials from the Synodal Final Assembly in Spain. / Credit: Spanish Episcopal Conference

CNA Newsroom, Jan 31, 2023 / 11:30 am (CNA).

The Spanish bishops consider “synodality to be advancing in our Church” although they report low participation, especially among young people, to whom the Church must learn to listen and modulate the way of communicating the Gospel, they say.

The Spanish Bishops’ Conference has presented the Synthesis for the European Continental Stage of the Synod on Synodality, which will be used in preparing the final document to be taken to the Continental Assembly.

The text notes that the diocesan work at this stage “has been short and  participation less” than the previous phase. This is especially true of young people, both “in the synodal process” and “in the life of the Church.”

Despite this and the fact that attitudes of “skepticism, fear, and even rejection” are identified, the bishops’ conference affirms that “synodality is advancing in our Church that is on pilgrimage in Spain.”

The document is divided into three sections, compiling the so-called “intuitions,” the “tensions and divergences,” and the “priorities” for future analysis within the synod.

Regarding “intuitions,” the bishops identify “the positive evaluation of the experience of the journey undertaken up to now” although they admit that there are contrary or at least disinterested attitudes.

The bishops also stress that the synodal process is not “the solution to the problems that the Church has” but “a gift of the Holy Spirit” that requires “continuous personal conversion.”

According to the prelates, the ecclesial consultation “is helping to raise awareness of the common dignity of all the baptized” and to reinforce the idea of a “Church that reaches out in the context of secularization.”

In addition, there is a greater agreement “on the importance of ecumenism and interreligious dialogue,” the appreciation of popular religiosity, and “the fundamental role that family ministry should have.”

Tensions and divergences

The bishops note that “the same existing polarizations in society are found within the Church”: diversity-unity, tradition, and renewal or pyramidal or synodal organization.

Among the impediments to communion, participation, and co-responsibility, identified are “the resistance of the clergy and the passivity of the laity” as well as a strong “tension of clericalism that leads to confusing service with power.”

In addition, the “divergences” about the synod are expressed in the form of mistrust, skepticism, fear, disinterest, confusion, and obstruction.

The synthesis identifies “the difficulty and sometimes the rejection in encountering the diverse, the different.” Specifically mentioned are the poor, marginalized, and people with disabilities or with “various family or affective situations.” 

“The scandal of sexual abuse also produces tension,” and the prelates noted the repeated mention of “the scarce participation of young people in the synodal process and in the life of the Church.”

Faced with this issue, the bishops feel challenged “to learn to listen to them” and to change the way of communicating the Gospel, “which must be creative, understandable, inclusive, and generate intergenerational dialogue.”

The summary document also includes the call for greater liturgical formation and the call to “show the relationship between the liturgy and life” through “a renewal of forms and language.”

Synodal priorities

Finally, the synthesis prepared by the Spanish bishops raises several “specific priorities that must be the object of further discernment in the Synodal Assembly.”

The first is “promoting welcoming in our communities, particularly of those who feel excluded due to their origin, their affective situation, sexual orientation, or other reasons.”

Second is the call to “promote the real and effective co-responsibility of the people of God, overcoming clericalism, which impoverishes our being and mission.”

Recognizing definitively “the role of women in the Church and promoting their full participation and in conditions of equality, at all levels of ecclesial life” constitutes the third priority.

In addition, the bishops point to the integration and participation of young people, making formation more dynamic, promoting “dialogue with the world and culture, with other religious denominations and with nonbelievers.”

Finally, they point out the need to “attend to the liturgy through formation and a greater comprehensibility of its rites and contents.”

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

German bishops’ president rebukes Pope Francis for criticism of Synodal Way 

German bishops’ president rebukes Pope Francis for criticism of Synodal Way 

Bishop Georg Bätzing, chairman of the German bishops’ conference, meets with Pope Francis at the Vatican, June 24, 2021. / Vatican Media.

CNA Newsroom, Jan 30, 2023 / 11:45 am (CNA).

Bishop Georg Bätzing has criticized Pope Francis and dismissed the pope’s recent words that the controversial German Synodal Way is unhelpful, damaging, and ideologically poisoned, saying the Germans had “fundamentally different views of synodality” than Rome. 

In an interview published Jan. 27, the president of Germany’s Bishops’ Conference said he considered the pope’s “way of leading the Church by way of interviews” as “extremely questionable,” reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner. Bätzing was referring to comments Pope Francis made about the Synodal Way, among other subjects, in a wide-ranging interview last week with the Associated Press. 

Bätzing, the bishop of Limburg, noted that the German bishops had their ad limina visit with Pope Francis in November.

“Why didn’t the pope talk to us about this when we were with him in November?” Bätzing asked. “There would have been the opportunity, but he did not take the opportunity for discussion then.”

Previously, Bätzing’s co-president of the German Synodal Way accused the Vatican of “snubbing” German Catholics by raising “fundamental criticism” of the controversial process and resolutions at the November meetings.

In the interview published Friday, Bätzing said Pope Francis understood synodality to mean “a broad gathering of impulses from all corners of the church, then bishops discuss it more concretely, and in the end there is one man at the top who makes the decision.” 

This was not “the kind of synodality that is viable in the 21st century,” Bätzing added.

Pope Francis and other Church leaders have expressed serious concerns about plans to create a permanent synodal council for the German Church. Such a body would function “as a consultative and decision-making body on essential developments in the Church and society,” according to a Synodal Way proposal.

More importantly, it would “make fundamental decisions of supra-diocesan significance on pastoral planning, questions of the future, and budgetary matters of the Church that are not decided at the diocesan level.”

In response to warnings from Rome about taking such a step, Bätzing suggested he would pursue a “fallback option.”

“We in Germany are looking for a way of truly deliberating and deciding together without overriding the canonical regulations that affect the authority of the bishop,” the German prelate said.

“In Germany, we have already had the so-called Joint Conference since the 1970s, in which the Bishops’ Conference and the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) consult with each other, i.e. laypeople and bishops,” he continued. “This Joint Conference has been given certain tasks. So the fallback option is: We stay with this model and just add important tasks to it that are feasible under Church law.”

As to the objections raised at the meetings in the Vatican — and confirmed in the January letter approved by Pope Francis — Bätzing repeated his public dismissal of these concerns — and vowed the Synodal Way would continue pursuing its controversial agenda in the face of these.

‘This is not Catholic’

Confirming the Vatican’s warnings, the prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, said in no uncertain terms that the German push for a synodal council was unacceptable, CNA Deutsch reported

“If this is to be the way the Church in Germany is to be governed in the future,” he said, “I have already told the bishops very clearly [during the ad limina visit in November]: This is not Catholic.”

Speaking to the Spanish magazine Omnes, Ouellet said a synodal council “may be the practice of other churches, but it is not ours.” 

Such a German council would “not correspond to Catholic ecclesiology and the unique role of bishops, which derives from the charism of consecration and which implies that they must have the freedom to teach and to decide.”

Regarding attempts to bring German bishops to “renounce” voluntarily their authority to a new council or other overseeing body, Ouellet said: “The truth is that this is not possible; it would be a renunciation of the episcopal office.” 

On Jan. 30 the Vatican announced that Pope Francis had accepted Ouellet’s resignation at the age of 78, more than three years past the usual retirement age for bishops. He will be succeeded by Bishop Robert Francis Prevost, 67, effective April 12. How Prevost will handle the German controversy remains to be seen. The American prelate has served as a bishop of the Diocese of Chiclayo in Peru since 2015. As prefect he will lead the Vatican office responsible for evaluating new members of the Catholic Church’s hierarchy.

‘The brink of schism’

Cardinal Walter Kasper also warned the German bishops that they could not sidestep “the authority of the pope and ultimately the Second Vatican Council” or be undermined by “tricky reinterpretation.” 

A bishop cannot “subsequently renounce, in whole or in part, the authority conferred sacramentally in the succession of the apostles” by binding himself to a synodal council “without violating the responsibility conferred on him personally,” Kasper emphasized, according to CNA Deutsch

“Resistance to the letter from Rome, or attempts to slyly reinterpret and avoid it, despite all well-intentioned protestations, inevitably lead to the brink of schism and thus plunge the people of God in Germany into an even deeper crisis.”

According to Ouellet, it was now important for the Holy See to continue the dialogue with the German bishops. 

“We will see how the dialogue will continue,” the cardinal said, adding it was now the obligation of Bätzing to respond to the letter approved by Pope Francis.

“Then we will see how to continue the dialogue, because it is obvious that we must continue it, also to help them remain in the Catholic channel,” Ouellet stressed.

Nuncio in Spain explains the Holy See’s position on the UN’s Agenda 2030

Nuncio in Spain explains the Holy See’s position on the UN’s Agenda 2030

The apostolic nuncio in Spain, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, together with the Grand Chancellor of the Abat Oliba CEU University, Alfonso Bullón de Mendoza. / Credit: Abat Oliba-CEU

CNA Newsroom, Jan 30, 2023 / 11:15 am (CNA).

The apostolic nuncio of the Holy See in Spain, Archbishop Bernardito Cleopas Auza, explained the Holy See’s position on the United Nations Agenda 2030, from the preliminary discussions to its application.

The reflection on the role of the Holy See regarding Agenda 2030 took place during a ceremony held at the Abat Oliba CEU University in Barcelona on the occasion of the Jan. 25 feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, patron saint of the academic center.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is “the most comprehensive blueprint to date for eliminating extreme poverty, reducing inequality, and protecting the planet,” according to the United Nations website.

Auza detailed how the Holy See participated “very intensely” in the preliminary discussions held in 2013 and 2014 for the preparation of Agenda 2030.

However, he stressed that “by its own choice” the Holy See has not voted for the adoption of the document that contains the 16 Sustainable Development Goals.

Main objections

In addition, the nuncio highlighted that among the many caveats raised by the Holy See is the consideration that the declared goals are too numerous and that they entail “excessive idealism,” even more so when they have to be met in 15 years, since they were approved in 2016.

Auza noted that Pope Francis himself has criticized the “declarationist nominalism” found in Agenda 2030, which involves the risk of “assuaging consciences with solemn declarations.”

The Holy See also points out that the formulation of the Sustainable Development Goals often poses “an a priori solution, a response to all challenges in all countries.”

This implies that the will of the donors prevails over the real needs of the countries receiving aid.

The nuncio in Spain also recalled that the Holy See has identified as problematic the risk of having a common document but that each country should make its own interpretation, as well as the issue of ideological colonization.

“The Holy See has promptly and clearly made known its reservations about some aspects of the Agenda 2030,”  the prelate stressed, noting that “there are many people who think that the Holy See is completely in agreement with the Agenda 2030. Not so, of course.”

However, he pointed out, “it must be recognized that the goals of Agenda 2030 are widely shared. Who is not going to share the issue of ending poverty or hunger, providing education to all, strengthening peace and justice, strengthening dialogue, saving the planet, etc.?”

Controversial concepts

Archbishop Auza pointed out that “although the Holy See agrees with most of the objectives and goals listed in the agenda,” in accordance with its “nature and particular mission” it has made clarifications and made reservations about some concepts.

These are mainly those referring to man, his nature and dignity, sexuality, the right to life, the family and the importance of the foundations of international law in the interpretation and implementation of Agenda 2030.

To illustrate it, the prelate addressed some relevant issues such as the concept of gender, the idea of empowerment and the so-called right to sexual and reproductive health.


Auza recalled that there is an “old debate” on the use of the term “gender” that goes back to the Conference on Development held in Cairo in 1994 and the Conference on Women in 1995 that took place in Beijing.

The nuncio explained that in its note expressing its reservations, the Holy See “emphasizes that any reference to gender, gender equality, and the empowerment of women and girls is understood according to the generally accepted common use of the word gender based on biological criteria.”


The nuncio also explained that “by using the term promotion instead of empowerment, the Holy See seeks to avoid a disordered vision of authority as power instead of service.”

The apostolic nuncio in Spain, who was the representative of the Holy See to the U.N. for seven and a half years, explained that the term empowerment has only been used since the 1990s.

Right to reproductive and sexual health

Auza acknowledges that the term sexual and reproductive health “is one of the most controversial because it implies abortion.”

This was used for the first time in 1995 at the Women’s Summit in Beijing. There, the prelate recalled, “there was a great struggle between the Holy See” especially with the United States, whose delegation was headed by Hillary Clinton.

The term was introduced in the final document, but with an interpretation that “thanks to the support of many other countries” could remain in the document and which Auza noted “does not imply abortion.”

This consideration is reflected in the text of the agreement and “is not an interpretation,” the nuncio pointed out.

“It does not include the right to abortion and even less abortion as a fundamental right,” the archbishop said and then “emphasized that no United Nations document has ever mentioned abortion as a right.”

What happens, he argued, is that many countries and U.N. agencies like the World Health Organization and UNICEF do take it this way.

Thus, some nations “have given 67% to 70% of their aid for the implementation of Agenda 2030 only for this term: the right to sexual and reproductive health. This means promoting population control,” he said.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Skull of St. Thomas Aquinas unveiled at 700th anniversary of his canonization

Skull of St. Thomas Aquinas unveiled at 700th anniversary of his canonization

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Denver, Colo., Jan 28, 2023 / 05:00 am (CNA).

The skull of St. Thomas Aquinas has arrived at the Dominican Convent of Toulouse, France, and placed in a new reliquary as the order celebrates the 700th anniversary of the saint’s canonization in the Catholic Church.

The new reliquary was created by Augustin Frison-Roche and was blessed during a Mass on Jan. 27 in the church of the convent. It was then transferred to the Jacobin Convent of Toulouse for the opening Mass of the seventh centenary of the Italian saint, theologian, and philosopher on Saturday, Jan. 28. A procession of the relics followed the Mass.

The opening of the reliquary took place in the Dominican convent’s sacristy in the presence of Monsignor Jean-Louis Bruguès, OP; the chancellor of the Toulouse Diocese, Father J.-François Galinier-Pallerola; and prior of the Toulouse convent, Father Philippe Jaillot, OP.

Sculptor and painter Frison-Roche posted a photo of the new reliquary on his Instagram account, where he wrote: “Happy New Year to all. For me it begins in the light of St. Thomas Aquinas.”

The Dominican order also shared photos of the rare event.

“The opportunity to witness the opening of a reliquary is rare, as it is sealed to guarantee the authenticity of its contents,” the order wrote in their Instagram post. “The opening is only done for major reasons that require the renewal of the container.”

You can also watch a video of the reliquary journey shared by the Dominicans: 

The reliquary will now embark on a journey across France and abroad. 

Aquinas was a Dominican friar and priest and is considered one of the Church’s greatest teachers, philosophers, and theologians. 

Some of his greatest accomplishments are his works of theology. These include the Summa Contra Gentiles, the Compendium Theologiae, and Summa Theologica.

Nearing death, he made a final confession and asked for the Eucharist to be brought to him. In its presence, he declared: “I adore you, my God and my Redeemer … for whose honor I have studied, labored, preached, and taught.”

Aquinas died on March 7, 1274. He was canonized in 1323 and made a doctor of the Church in 1567.

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