1. Conservative Bishops Push Back Against Pope Francis on Same-Sex Blessings, Church leaders in Africa and Central Asia prohibit the practice despite Vatican approval, By Francis X. Rocca, The Wall Street Journal, December 21, 2023, 6:19 AM Conservative Catholic bishops in various countries have objected to Pope Francis’ recent permission on blessings for gay couples, underscoring the divisiveness of the issue in the global church. The bishops of Zambia, Malawi and the principal archdiocese of Kazakhstan prohibited their priests from offering such blessings. The bishops of Ukraine lamented what they called the ambiguity of a recent Vatican declaration’s wording, which they warned could suggest approval of gay relationships.  Meanwhile, bishops in some European countries including Germany, Austria and Switzerland welcomed the new policy.  The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which largely opposes Francis’ liberalizing agenda, issued a terse response to Monday’s guidelines from the Vatican, stressing that the document didn’t change doctrine on marriage, which the church defines as the union of one man and one woman.  https://www.wsj.com/world/conservative-bishops-push-back-against-pope-francis-on-same-sex-blessings-0453ad85__________________________________________________________ 2. After approving blessings for same-sex couples, Pope asks Vatican staff to avoid ‘rigid ideologies’, By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, December 21, 2023, 5:11 AM Pope Francis urged Vatican bureaucrats Thursday to avoid “rigid ideological positions” that prevent them from understanding today’s reality, an appeal made days after he formally allowed priests to bless same-sex couples in a radical change of Vatican policy. Francis used his annual Christmas greeting to the Holy See hierarchy to encourage the cardinals, bishops and laypeople who run the Vatican to listen to one another and to others so they can evolve to truly offer service to the Catholic Church. Speaking in the Hall of Blessings, Francis told them it was important to keep advancing and growing in their understanding of the truth. Fearfully sticking to rules may give the appearance of avoiding problems but only ends up hurting the service that the Vatican Curia is called to give the church, he said.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2023/12/21/pope-gay-blessing-vatican/5f018d70-9fe9-11ee-9e0f-972979a6c22b_story.html __________________________________________________________ 3. Top Wisconsin Republican wants to put abortion laws on a future ballot, By Harm Venhuizen, Associated Press, December 21, 2023, 6:01 AM Wisconsin’s top Republican wants to let voters decide whether to shrink the window of time in which women can get abortions. Current state law bans abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy, but Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said Wednesday that he hopes to put a proposal on some future ballot that would lower the limit to somewhere between the 12th and 15th week. “It’s probably the only way for us to put this issue to rest,” he told The Associated Press. “It has the idea of saying we’re letting the people decide.” The state of abortion laws in Wisconsin was thrown into confusion in June 2022 after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion throughout the country. The 2022 ruling reactivated an 1849 state law that conservatives interpreted as banning abortion, and abortion providers halted their operations for fear of prosecution. Planned Parenthood clinics in Madison and Milwaukee only resumed offering abortions in September after Dane County Circuit Judge Diane Schlipper ruled that the 173-year-old abortion ban outlaws killing fetuses but does not ban abortions.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/2023/12/21/wisconsin-robin-vos-legislature-abortion-referendum/4a0a272c-9ff0-11ee-9e0f-972979a6c22b_story.html __________________________________________________________ 4. 12 states where the fate of abortion rights could be on 2024 ballots, By Amy B Wang and Leigh Ann Caldwell, The Washington Post, December 20, 2023, 3:40 AM Voters in about a dozen states in 2024 could decide the fate of abortion rights with constitutional amendments on the ballot in a pivotal election year — including in several battlegrounds that will be key to deciding the presidential race and which party controls Congress. Abortion rights advocates chose the path of constitutional amendments because if passed, they would supersede any law enacted by state legislatures. Those advocates have reason to be hopeful: Since the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last June, every ballot measure that has sought to preserve or expand abortion access has been successful, while those that have sought to restrict abortion access have failed — even in states that skew conservative. Weeks after the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, voters in deep-red Kansas defeated a ballot measure that would have removed abortion protections from the state’s constitution. Last November, voters in Michigan, California and Vermont approved ballot initiatives that enshrined the right to abortion in state constitutions, while voters in Kentucky and Montana defeated antiabortion ballot measures. Voters in Ohio approved a measure to enshrine the right to an abortion last month, despite efforts by Republican officials to hamstring the process by raising the threshold required for a ballot measure to pass.  Kelsey Pritchard, director of state public affairs at Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, said elected officials need to “sound the alarm” on potential ballot measures that would preserve or expand abortion access. She accused abortion rights groups of misleading voters about the severity of the impact of abortion restrictions, contending that states with restrictions still allow for “the timely medical care of pregnant women experiencing an emergency.”  Voters in Maryland and New York, two blue states, will decide next year whether to codify a right to abortion in their state’s constitution because of measures put on the ballot by their state legislatures. In nine other states where the state constitution can be amended through citizen-initiated ballot measures, organizers are working to gather signatures to put the question directly before voters. Voters in at least one state, Iowa, are seeking to add a measure that restricts access to abortion. The likelihood of successfully getting on the ballot differs from state to state, because of varied processes and the potential for lawsuits. Here is a look at the 12 states where voters could weigh in on abortion in 2024, ranked from the campaigns most likely to make it to the ballot to the ones that face the most obstacles.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2023/12/20/abortion-rights-2024-ballot-measures/__________________________________________________________ 5. Jimmy Lai’s Walk of Faith, The imprisoned media magnate’s story is one of bravery, hope and, above all else, faith., By Mark Simon, National Catholic Register, December 20, 2023, Opinion I could see my boss getting agitated. The executive he had just hired for our television business, a former political operative, was intently describing the hit he was about to apply to a couple of old political enemies. A newspaper editor and I exchanged glances, as we knew where this was going. After the lunch, my boss’ assistant called me back to Mr. Lai’s office. I never even sat down. “He’s mean,” Mr. Lai said. “Can you handle it?” Meet the Jimmy Lai I know. The Jimmy Lai the world has come to know is the Hong Kong media magnate, who, over the next three months, will be persecuted for what the Beijing-backed Hong Kong government says are violations of the Hong Kong 2020 National Security Law (NSL). Violations the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) alleges happened through his collusion with foreign forces (Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo and others), as well as subversive actions undertaken through his news interviews and writings. If this was the U.S., Mr. Lai would be accused of “politicking.” Oddly uncomfortable for the CCP is this was also called politics in Hong Kong, at least it was up until the passing of the NSL in June 2020. Also uncomfortable for all is that the vast majority of what Mr. Lai is being charged with happened before June of 2020, which makes the case against him retroactive. There’s not going to be much courtroom drama over the next few months; the trial will take at least 80 days, and the 100% conviction rate the Hong Kong government has for national security trials will, I assure all, remain intact. But there’s a better story in this inquisition. The story of Jimmy Lai. It’s one of bravery, hope and, above all else, faith. I tell the firing story (he was fired) not because Mr. Lai thought a guy was mean. The poor fellow didn’t know he broke two of the boss’ rules. The first was a version of “The Strong Protect the Weak.” We were the largest news media company in Hong Kong and Taiwan. We were the powerful. We didn’t “go after” people. The second sin was “no indulgences.” We don’t do personal vendettas. If you want to understand Jimmy Lai and his faith, then knowing this story will get you most of the way there. Since I have known him, he walks the walk. There is not a petty bone in the guy’s body — and charity in every action. But if you’re looking for the answer to why a man would stay in Hong Kong, knowingly facing certain prosecution and prison by the Chinese Communist Party, I think each reader will have to come to his or her own conclusion. Yet I would ask that one does the unusual and consider, just for a moment: An act of selflessness, an act of courage, is not just a reaction, but in rare cases can be an intellectual journey undertaken with as much logic and rational thought as emotion and love. It is the journey of the oppressed Christian who wakes each day knowing that his or her faith places one in harm’s way, yet who, with awareness and forethought, kneels and prays. It is the activist for democracy who knows his next protest may be his last. Jimmy Lai is both. It is this combination — devout Catholic and democracy advocate — that, when further combined with being the largest media owner in the community, makes his existence terribly inconvenient for Beijing. Catholics are aware of another inconvenient man who would not lie for a king. Jimmy Lai may well be the most inconvenient man in China at this time, and, like St. Thomas More, he may well pay the ultimate sacrifice for his steadfastness to his beliefs. That’s not a badge of honor I seek for my boss and friend. I want him out, and I think his release is in the best interest of China. But I am also the one he told, multiple times, to make certain there was no compromise, no payment, no deal where it looks like he admits wrongdoing to secure his freedom. I know Mr. Lai is willing to leave Hong Kong, but not at the price of refuting his beliefs.  It is in his walk of faith that I think we find the true Jimmy Lai. Cardinal Zen says Jimmy is so advanced in his religious studies that he, Cardinal Zen, must read up to answer Jimmy’s questions. His religious drawings from jail are simply incredible, when you consider they give him lined paper and cheap pencils to work with. They were good enough for the Hong Kong Police to ban them from being sent out, as they were seen as drawing attention to him. In his time of struggle Jimmy is growing in his faith, not questioning it. I often wonder how people going through tough times overcome their own questioning of their faith. It’s a fair thought to ask if God has forsaken you when you’re in a prison cell. Jimmy Lai has provided me a new quandary: How does one, as has Jimmy, not only find strength in our faith while being oppressed but grow in that faith, while the most powerfully oppressive totalitarian government on earth is trying to lock you away? Mark Simon is the managing director of Lai Trust, Lai’s holding company. Simon has worked for Jimmy Lai since May 2001. He is a former senior executive of Next Digital, Lai’s media company that published Apple Daily. https://www.ncregister.com/commentaries/jimmy-lai-s-walk-of-faith__________________________________________________________ 6. Müller – ‘Fiducia supplicans’ is ‘self-contradictory’, By Cardinal Gerhard Müller, The Pillar, December 21, 2023, 8:01 AM, Opinion With the Declaration Fiducia supplicans (FS) on the Pastoral Significance of Blessings, the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) has made an affirmation that has no precedent in the teaching of the Catholic Church. In fact, this document affirms that it is possible for a priest to bless (not liturgically, but privately) couples who live in a sexual relationship outside of marriage, including same-sex couples. The many questions raised by bishops, priests, and laity in response to these statements deserve a clear and unequivocal response. Does this statement not clearly contradict Catholic teaching? Are the faithful obliged to accept this new teaching? May the priest perform such new practices that have just been invented? And can the diocesan bishop forbid them if they were to take place in his diocese? To answer these questions, let us see what exactly the document teaches and what arguments it relies on. The document, which was neither discussed nor approved by the General Assembly of Cardinals and Bishops of this Dicastery, acknowledges that the hypothesis (or teaching?) it proposes is new and that it is based primarily on the pastoral magisterium of Pope Francis. According to the Catholic faith, the pope and the bishops can set certain pastoral accents and creatively relate the truth of Revelation to the new challenges of each age, as for example in the field of social doctrine or of bioethics, while respecting the fundamental principles of Christian anthropology. But these innovations cannot go beyond what was revealed to them once and for all by the apostles as the word of God (Dei verbum 8). In fact, there are no biblical texts or texts of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church or previous documents of the magisterium to support the conclusions of FS. Moreover, what we see is not a development but a doctrinal leap. For one can speak of a doctrinal development only if the new explanation is contained, at least implicitly, in Revelation and, above all, does not contradict the dogmatic definitions. And a doctrinal development that reaches a deeper meaning of the doctrine must have occurred gradually, through a long period of maturation. In point of fact, the last magisterial pronouncement on this matter was issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in a responsum published in March 2021, less than three years ago, and it categorically rejected the possibility of blessing these unions. This applies both to public blessings and to private blessings for people living in sinful conditions.  Is it even possible to give a non-liturgical blessing, a blessing, that is, which does not officially represent the teaching of Christ and of the Church? The key to answering this question is not whether the rites are officially approved or rather spontaneously improvised. The question is whether the one giving the blessing is a priest, a representative of Christ and the Church. FS affirms that there is no problem for the priest to join in the prayer of those who find themselves in a situation contrary to the Gospel (FS 30), but in this blessing the priest does not simply join in their prayer, but rather invokes the descent of God’s gifts upon the relationship itself. Insofar as the priest acts as a priest, he acts in the name of Christ and the Church. Now to claim that one can separate the meaning of this blessing from the teaching of Christ is to postulate a dualism between what the Church does and what the Church says. But as the Second Vatican Council teaches, revelation is given to us by deeds and words, which are inseparable (Dei Verbum 2), and the Church’s proclamation cannot separate deeds from words. It is precisely the simple people, whom the document wishes to favor by promoting popular piety, who are most susceptible to being deceived by a symbolic deed that contradicts doctrine, since they intuitively grasp the doctrinal content of the deed. In light of this, can a faithful Catholic accept the teaching of FS? Given the unity of deeds and words in the Christian faith, one can only accept that it is good to bless these unions, even in a pastoral way, if one believes that such unions are not objectively contrary to the law of God. It follows that as long as Pope Francis continues to affirm that homosexual unions are always contrary to God’s law, he is implicitly affirming that such blessings cannot be given. The teaching of FS is therefore self-contradictory and thus requires further clarification. The Church cannot celebrate one thing and teach another because, as St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote, Christ was the Teacher “who spoke and it was done” (Ephesians 15:1), and one cannot separate his flesh from his word. The other question we asked was whether a priest could agree to bless these unions, some of which coexist with a legitimate marriage or in which it is not uncommon for partners to change. According to FS, he could do so with a non-liturgical, non-official “pastoral” blessing. This would mean that the priest would have to give these blessings without acting in the name of Christ and the Church. But this would mean that he would not be acting as a priest. In fact, he would have to give these blessings not as a priest of Christ, but as one who has rejected Christ. In fact, by his actions, the priest who blesses these unions presents them as a path to the Creator. Therefore, he commits a sacrilegious and blasphemous act against the Creator’s plan and against Christ’s death for us, which meant to fulfill the Creator’s plan. The diocesan bishop is concerned as well. As pastor of his local church, he is obliged to prevent these sacrilegious acts, otherwise he would become an accomplice to them and would deny the mandate given to him by Christ to confirm his brethren in the faith. Priests should proclaim God’s love and goodness to all people and also help sinners and those who are weak and have difficulty in conversion with counsel and prayer. This is very different from pointing out to them with self-invented but misleading signs and words that God is not so demanding about sin, thus hiding the fact that sin in thought, word and deed distances us from God. There is no blessing, not only in public but also in private, for sinful living conditions that objectively contradict God’s holy will. And it is no evidence of a healthy hermeneutic that the courageous defenders of Christian doctrine are branded as rigorists, more interested in the legalistic fulfillment of their moral norms than in the salvation of concrete persons. For this is what Jesus says to ordinary people: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Mt 11:28-30). And the apostle explains it this way: “And his commandments are not burdensome, for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world. And the victory that conquers the world is our faith. Who [indeed] is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 Jn 5:3-5). At a time when a false anthropology is undermining the divine institution of marriage between a man and a woman, with the family and its children, the Church should remember the words of her Lord and Head: ““Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few” (Mt 7:13-14). https://www.pillarcatholic.com/p/muller-fiducia-supplicans-is-self__________________________________________________________ 7. ‘Fiducia Supplicans’: A Pastor’s View, The pastoral concessions the Vatican’s latest document gives for the blessing of people in same-sex relationships and other irregular marriages is imprudent and does not reflect reality ‘on the ground.’, By Father Jeffrey Kirby, National Catholic Register, December 21, 2023, Opinion The great joy of a parish priest is to be with the people of God, elbow deep in the midst of their joys, sorrows and sufferings. The fatherly vocation of the parish priest is to teach, govern and sanctify his parishioners in Christ’s name. This is done by teaching and shepherding, exhorting and consoling, absolving and admonishing, guiding his parishioners to greater conviction in their discipleship, encouraging them, accompanying them, crying and laughing with them, and — in all things Christian — to love them as a reflection of Christ’s own love for the Church. The corridors of the Vatican dicasteries are very different from the trenches of parish life. Magisterial declarations can be promulgated (perhaps even with good intentions) and explained within a series of theological gymnastics to the satisfaction of high Churchmen, but parish priests and the people under their pastoral care are left scratching their heads trying to figure out what was just declared, what it all means, and how we’re supposed to make sense of it. In a healthy Church, the various structures — including Vatican dicasteries — would support and champion the grassroots reality of parish life, since that is where the vast majority of believers hear the Gospel, sacramentally encounter the Lord, and experience the life of the Church. The recent declaration Fiducia Supplicans, however, is not a reflection of a healthy Church. The pastoral concessions it gives for the blessing of people in same-sex relationships and other irregular marriages is imprudent and does not reflect reality “on the ground.” In fact, this declaration — however well-intentioned it might be — causes unnecessary confusion, moral ambiguity, anger, pastoral hurt, and a regrettable, needless tension between the baptized and their appointed shepherds.  The list of conditions and provisions for the blessing of couples in irregular marriages are excessive and will all be ignored by the more progressive clergy among us. Such dismissiveness of the conditions will be overlooked by leadership. There will be no accountability. As such, tensions will increase among the clergy and further divisions will be introduced over those who will bless according to the current mind of the Church, those who will bless however they prefer, and those who will refuse to give blessings in this way. Rather than serving the lifeline of the Church on the parish level, the declaration Fiducia Supplicans has only made the Christian way of life and the process of conversion a thousand times harder to preach, teach, apply, enforce and live. https://www.ncregister.com/commentaries/fiducia-supplicans-a-pastor-s-view__________________________________________________________

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