1. Whether Francis is a ‘Reform Pope’ depends on whom you ask.

By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, Crux, December 14, 2017, Opinion

“Reform” is one of those notoriously ambiguous words – in the same category with hope, change, progress, and improvement – which everyone professes to support, but which no one defines in quite the same way.

Thus, the question of whether or not Francis is a “Reform Pope” will depend largely on what you mean by the term.

For this group, “reform” usually functions as a placeholder for enacting what they perceive as the vision of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), meaning a Church heavier on mercy and lighter on judgment; a Church closer to the people than to elites; a Church less beholden to conservative political forces and alignments; and a decentralized Church, less dominated by Rome.

If that’s your definition of “reform,” then Francis is almost unquestionably a reformer, and a fairly successful one to boot. 

On the other hand, if your understanding of “reform” is more classical, seeing it as a reaffirmation of traditional doctrine and discipline after a period of lassitude – sort of like the Franciscan reform, based on a more exacting embrace of the original spirit of the order – then Francis may not profile as a “reformer” at all. Instead, you may see him as the kind of pope who’s actually creating the need for a future reform, by allowing things to go to seed.

Then there are single-issue Catholics, for whom the lone test of reform is how the pope stacks up on the thing that concerns them the most – with the consequence that whether Francis is a reformer in their eyes will depend on his track record on that issue.

To take the most obvious example, many people deeply concerned with the Church’s response to its child sexual abuse scandals, arguably the most serious crisis to face Roman Catholicism since the Protestant Reformation, aren’t yet ready to call Francis an historic reformer.

There’s also what many of the cardinals who voted for Francis in March 2013 (not to mention most of the Italians I know) mean by “reform,” which is a clean-up of the Vatican itself, especially its legendarily scandal-plagued methods of money management.

If that’s the test, then it’s difficult so far to make the case for Francis as a great reformer.

To be honest, we may be veering dangerously close to “Captain Obvious” territory in putting it like this, but here’s the bottom line anyway: Is Francis a reformer? Well, it depends on whom you ask.


2. Italy OKs living wills amid long-running euthanasia debate.

By Associated Press, December 14, 2017, 7:03 AM

Italy’s Senate has given final approval to a law allowing Italians to write living wills and refuse artificial nutrition and hydration, the latest step in Roman Catholic Italy’s long-running debate over euthanasia and when it’s morally appropriate to pull the plug.

The law’s passage Thursday comes as the Vatican itself has taken up the issue of end-of-life care anew, with a series of conferences emphasizing the need for palliative care and reinforcing Catholic doctrine that requires only “ordinary” care be provided to the dying, not “extraordinary” care that extends life at all costs.

In a recent speech taken by Italians as an endorsement of the pending legislation, Pope Francis repeated the church’s opposition to euthanasia but rejected the “therapeutic obstinacy” sometimes practiced by doctors, Catholic and otherwise.


3. The Pope’s Endorsement of Argentina’s Amoris Guidelines: What It Means: Senior Vatican canonist Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta unequivocally endorses the move, but Cardinal Gerhard Müller has some reservations.

By Edward Pentin, National Catholic Register, December 13, 2017

Pope Francis’ recent decision to formally declare the Buenos Aires bishops’ interpretation of Amoris Laetitia “authentic magisterium” is the “correct” and “balanced” way to deal with the issue, a senior Vatican canonist has said, but Cardinal Gerhard Müller is uneasy with some aspects of the move.

Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, the Vatican’s department for interpreting Church law, told the Register Dec. 7 that the Pope’s decision is a “polite way” to handle the contentious issue of admitting some civilly remarried divorcees to the sacraments and will give guidance to both bishops and the faithful.

On the Pope’s personal instruction, the 2016 Buenos Aires bishops’ guidelineson Chapter 8 of his post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, appeared last week in the Holy See’s journal of juridical record, the Acta Apostolicae Sedis (AAS). The interpretation permits the sacrament of reconciliation and Holy Communion in some cases for remarried divorcees who, for example, try to live lives of sexual abstinence but must continue to live together for the sake of raising their children.

Alongside the bishops’ guidelines in the same authoritative journal, which promulgates laws when it publishes them, the Holy See also published Pope Francis’ 2016 letter to the Buenos Aires bishops, in which he said the guidelines “fully express the meaning” of Chapter 8 and declared there are “no other interpretations” of this issue.

The Vatican made clear in Acta Apostolicae Sedis that this private papal letter congratulating the bishops on their guidelines would be raised to the magisterial status of an apostolic letter (less magisterial than an encyclical but more than an apostolic exhortation). It also included a special rescript — an official papal decision on doctrine — written June 5 by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, which declares that Pope Francis expressly intends that both his letter and the Buenos Aires guidelines are “authentic magisterium.”

The Pope’s declaration comes after months of debate over what should be the correct interpretation of the issue in Amoris Laetitia, with some reading Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on marriage and the family as giving those living in irregular unions broad access to the sacraments and others insisting it could and should be only read in an orthodox manner with no change in the Church’s teaching and practice. It also comes just over a year since the dubia, five questions drawn up by four cardinals aimed at clarifying the underlying principles in the document, were sent to the Pope but which the Holy Father has not answered.

Bishop Arrieta, the second-ranking official at the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, said the Buenos Aires guidelines take into account “norms but also the concrete situations” affecting the conscience of remarried divorcees “in order to deal with a complex pastoral matter.”

But Cardinal Müller, the prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has expressed some reservations, telling the Register Dec. 6 that he finds it “disturbing” the Holy Father would declare an interpretation of a group of bishops as “almost infallible” teaching.


4. Sunday has lost its sense as day of rest, renewal in Christ, pope says.

By Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service, December 13, 2017

Just like a plant needs sun and nourishment to survive, every Christian needs the light of Sunday and the sustenance of the Eucharist to truly live, Pope Francis said.

“How can we carry out the Gospel without drawing the energy needed to do it, one Sunday after another, from the limitless source of the Eucharist,” he said Dec. 13 during his weekly general audience.

“We don’t go to Mass to give something to God, but to receive from him that which we truly need,” the pope said. Sunday Mass is the time and place Christians receive the grace and strength to remain faithful to his word, follow his commandment to love others and be credible witnesses in the world.

“What kind of Sunday is it for a Christian if an encounter with the Lord is missing?” he asked in his main talk.

Unfortunately, in many secularized countries, the Christian meaning of the day has been lost and is no longer “illuminated by the Eucharist” or lived as a joyous feast in communion with other parishioners and in solidarity with others, he said.

Also often missing is the importance of Sunday as a day of rest, which is a sign of the dignity of living as children of God, not slaves, he said.


5. Bill Banning Down Syndrome Abortions Heads to Ohio Governor.

By Associated Press, December 13, 2017, 5:54 PM

In one of their last acts of the year, Ohio lawmakers moved Wednesday to ban abortions based on a diagnosis of Down syndrome and sent the measure to Republican Gov. John Kasich, who is likely to sign it.

Two states, Indiana and North Dakota, already have passed laws like the one that Ohio is advancing, touching off an emotional debate over women’s rights, parental love and the relationship between doctor and patient.

The Indiana measure, enacted in 2016, has been blocked by a federal judge, who ruled the state has no authority to limit a woman’s reasons for ending a pregnancy. An appeal by state officials is pending.