1. Retired Pope Benedict Defends Celibacy as Pope Francis Considers Ordaining Married Men as Priests: Former pontiff’s move stirred questions about the coexistence of two popes in the Vatican, and their differing theological views.

By Francis X. Rocca, The Wall Street Journal, January 13, 2020, 7:57 AM

Retired Pope Benedict XVI is publicly defending the Catholic Church’s traditional rule of priestly celibacy, the former pontiff’s most explicit effort so far to influence a decision by his successor Pope Francis, who is considering a proposal to routinely ordain married men as Roman Catholic priests for the first time in almost a millennium.

The move poses the latest test of a historically unique arrangement: the coexistence of two popes in the Vatican, made especially complex by the theological differences between the two men, whom many observers see as representing conservative and progressive wings of a polarized church.

Pope Benedict, who retired in 2013 and holds the title Pope Emeritus, is publishing a book in support of clerical celibacy just as Pope Francis is expected to decide early this year whether to allow the ordination of married men in South America’s Amazon region to alleviate a priest shortage there.


2. In book excerpt, Benedict XVI urges Pope Francis to uphold clerical celibacy.

By Chico Harlan, The Washington Post, January 13, 2020, Pg. A11

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has issued an ardent defense of clerical celibacy, breaking his pledged silence on major church affairs just as Pope Francis is considering an exception that would allow some married men to serve as priests.

Benedict’s remarks, revealed in a new book excerpt published Sunday by the French newspaper Le Figaro, cast light on a once-unthinkable dynamic inside the Roman Catholic Church: A former pope trying to influence his successor in whether the church heeds or breaks with its traditions.

“The ability to renounce marriage in order to place oneself fully at the disposal of the Lord has become a criterion for priestly ministry,” Benedict XVI writes in the book he has co-authored.

In the excerpts, Benedict invokes his own ordination and calls celibacy a sometimes “painful” but necessary step. Though Francis has also defended celibacy — calling it a “gift” to the church and saying it should not be optional — some of the Argentine pontiff’s allies have pushed for exceptions, saying the priesthood needs to modernize and find ways to make up for a severe shortage of vocations.


3. Kansas GOP to stymie ban in reversing abortion-rights ruling.

By John Hanna, Associated Press, January 13, 2020, 12:00 AM

Top Kansas Republicans want to head off any push for an abortion ban in the state even as they make overturning a Kansas Supreme Court ruling that protects abortion rights a top priority.

The GOP-controlled Legislature expects to consider a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution during the annual 90-day lawmaking session set to convene Monday. It’s a response to the state high court’s ruling in April that the state’s Bill of Rights makes access to abortion a fundamental right.

“Our No. 1 focus is the constitutional amendment,” said Kansas House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, a conservative Wichita Republican. “This is not going to be about banning abortions. It’s going to be about putting it back where it’s supposed to be, and that is with the Legislature.”


4. Benedict is defending celibacy from the media, not from Francis.

By Charles Collins, Crux, January 13, 2020

On Sunday, it was revealed that Benedict had co-authored a short book with Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah strongly supporting celibacy in the Church. Sarah heads the Vatican’s office on liturgy and is recognized as one of the most conservative of Francis’s department chiefs.

The short book, called Des Profoundeurs De Nos Couers [“From the Depths of Our Hearts”], consists of a chapter by each of the co-authors, as well as a jointly written introduction and conclusion.

The book was written in the wake of a suggestion from last October’s Amazon synod that in certain limited cases married men be allowed to be ordained to the priesthood.

In the book, the two men not only defend the Western Church’s long tradition of a celibate priesthood, but also complain about media manipulation of the synodal process.

After the news broke, Twitter exploded, with the general take that Benedict was trying to force Francis’s hand on priestly celibacy.

Is this a fair take? Probably not.

First and foremost, Benedict and Sarah are agreeing with Francis’s own stated position that “optional celibacy” for the priesthood is not on the table.

Francis – and most of the synod fathers – have been clear that celibacy as a rule is not being questioned; but rather, they are looking at possible exceptions to the rule for pastoral necessity.

Then why did Benedict and Sarah feel the need to write their new book?

According to excerpts in America magazine, the authors expressed concern that “the strange mediatic synod had prevailed over the real synod,” and called on the Church “not to be impressed” by “the bad advocacies, the diabolical lies, the erroneous ways by which they wished to devalue priestly celibacy” in the media reporting of the Amazon synod.


5. Retired pope lauds celibacy as Francis mulls married priests.

By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, January 12, 2020, 10:56 PM

Retired Pope Benedict XVI has reignited debate about the wisdom of having a reigning and retired pope living side-by-side, reaffirming the “necessity” of priestly celibacy at the precise moment that Pope Francis is weighing whether to ordain married men to address the Catholic priest shortage.

Benedict co-authored a bombshell book, “From the Depths of Our Hearts: Priesthood, Celibacy and the Crisis of the Catholic Church,” along with his fellow conservative, Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah, who heads the Vatican’s liturgy office and has been a quiet critic of Francis.

His reaffirmation of priestly celibacy, however, gets to the heart of a fraught policy issue that Francis is expected to weigh in on in the coming weeks, and could well be considered a public attempt by the former pope to sway the thinking of the current one.

Catholic social media was abuzz Monday after Benedict’s bombshell, with Francis’ supporters saying it showed the problems of having an “emeritus pope” seemingly undermining the current pope, and suggesting that Benedict — at age 92 and increasingly feeble — was being manipulated by his conservative entourage.

Mark Brumley, the president of Ignatius Press, however, denounced such conspiracies and said Benedict isn’t being used.

“Why some folks choose to interpret the new book by Pope Emeritus Benedict and Cardinal Sarah in anti-Pope Francis ways speaks volumes,” he tweeted. “Let’s pray for healing for the critics that they can rejoice in a new work from two great churchmen of our time, including a major theologian.”


6. Pope baptizes 32 babies in Sistine Chapel, marvels at quiet.

By Associated Press, January 12, 2020, 5:00 AM

ope Francis has baptized 32 babies, including two sets of twins, in the splendor of the Sistine Chapel.

Francis marveled that the babies were very quiet, with barely a peep as they waited their turn to be baptized Sunday morning under the Michelangelo-frescoed ceiling.

The papal baptisms take place once a year in the chapel where popes are elected, and past such occasions have been noisy.


7. French bishops’ council OKs removing gender IDs on baptism certificates.

By Jonathan Luxmoore, Catholic News Service, January 12, 2020

The French bishops’ permanent council has approved a recommendation to remove gender references for parents on baptismal certificates.

Bishop Joseph de Metz-Noblat of Langres, president of the French bishops’ Council for Canonical Questions, said the changes were made to bring baptismal practices into line with new gender-equality laws.

In a letter to bishops dated Dec. 13, 2018, and published at the end of 2019, Metz-Noblat said the “ever-more-complex situation of families in France” had made compiling Catholic documents “sometimes difficult,” especially with baptisms.

The reformulation was designed to avoid any moral judgment and help dioceses confronted with problems of vocabulary, the bishop said. He added that the reformulation had now been approved by the bishops’ permanent council.


8. Legatus members are ‘ambassadors’ who bring their faith to the marketplace.

By Natalie Hoefer, Catholic News Service, January 12, 2020

When the Indianapolis chapter of Legatus marked its 30th anniversary, Tom Monaghan, founder of Domino’s Pizza and Ave Maria University in Florida, was on hand to help members celebrate.

Monaghan, now 82, established Legatus for Catholic business executives and owners over 30 years ago. The organization describes its members as “ambassadors for Christ in the marketplace,” and the Indianapolis chapter – founded Dec. 8, 1989 – is the fourth oldest Legatus chapter.

The goal of Legatus is “to bring your Catholic faith into your business by your actions and the way you behave and operate your business,” said current chapter president Gary Hoefle, founder of Maxim Services LLC.


9. Nigerian case shows that in fighting religious hatred, little things count.

By John L. Allen Jr., Crux, January 12, 2020

Perhaps because Westerners tend not to take religion terribly seriously, seeing it as a private affair on par with other hobbies such as quilting or canasta, religious persecution tends to register in the Western mind only in its most spectacular form.

That perspective brings us to Kano State in Nigeria, the most populous state in Africa’s most populous country, made up largely of members of the Hausa ethnic group, which is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim.

On Dec. 25 – Christmas Day, which tends along with Easter to be a day of special risk for vulnerable Christians around the world – a member of the small Christian minority in Kano State named Richard Solomon Musa Tarfa was arrested by local authorities. Tarfa is the cofounder of a Christian home for children called the Du Merci Centre, dedicated to the care of permanently displaced children and orphans with the goal of preparing them to live independent adult lives.

Du Merci also accommodates young Nigerian women who are pregnant out of wedlock, until they give birth, reconciling them whenever possible with parents who had rejected them due to social stigma.

Initially, Tarfa was held on charges of operating an unlicensed facility for children. When his wife, who was also briefly detained, produced the paperwork to demonstrate that the center was duly accredited, the charges were adjusted (and elevated) to “criminal abduction of minors.”

Bail for Tarfa was set on Jan. 3 at roughly $14,000, plus the requirement that someone acting as a surety must be employed as a permanent undersecretary in a federal ministry. Because he wasn’t able to meet those conditions, he remained in jail. In the meantime, 27 children residing in the Du Merci Centre were seized in two separate raids and taken to another children’s home.

Lord David Alton of the UK, a Catholic and veteran human rights campaigner who’s been vocally supportive of the Hong Kong protests, recently wrote to the Nigerian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom to object to the treatment of Tarfa. Among other things, Alton pointed out that after a similar raid eighteen years ago, a High Court in Nigeria ruled that the Du Merci Centre was legally registered and conducting sanctioned activities.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide, an independent human rights advocacy group focused on religious freedom, issued a statement saying, “The excessive charges against Professor Tarfa are completely unfounded and we urge the Kano state authorities to facilitate his release without pre-condition.”

To be honest, the Christmas Day raids on the Du Merci Centre caused barely a ripple in public opinion worldwide, and not much more even in Nigeria. No one died or was injured, only two people were arrested, and one of them was released shortly thereafter. For many people, it probably seems a minor bureaucratic skirmish with relatively minor consequences one way or the other.

The reality is, however, that Nigeria is already one of the world’s premier danger zones for Christians. The day after Christmas elsewhere in the country brought one of those spectacular eruptions of violence, with the decapitations of ten members of a Catholic bridal party and the shooting death of another in retaliation for the death of ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi by U.S. forces in Syria in October.

It’s entirely possible that, the Boko Haram militants who participated in those killings had been encouraged to do so by the fact that other, lower-level acts of harassment and persecution had either been quietly tolerated by local authorities, or, in the case of Tarfa and the Du Merci Centre, actually carried out by them.

In other words, in fighting religious persecution as in any other walk of life, the trick is paying attention to the little things, so the big things will take care of themselves.


10. Baptizing babies, Pope Francis defends practice of infant baptism.

By Elise Harris, Crux, January 12, 2020

Pope Francis baptized more than 30 babies inside the Vatican Sunday and issued a clear defense of infant baptism, saying it gives children the grace and assistance to grow in the faith as they get older.

During a Jan. 12 Mass for the Catholic feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which commemorates Jesus’ own baptism in the Jordan River, Francis administered the sacrament on 32 infants, 15 of whom were girls and 17 were boys.

In his homily, he told parents that “to baptize a child is an act of justice,” because through baptism “we give them a treasure, in baptism we give them a pledge: The Holy Spirit. The child leaves with the strength of the Holy Spirit inside, the Spirit which will defend them, help them, throughout their whole lives.”

“This is why it is so important to baptize them as children,” he said, “because they will grow with the strength of the oly Spirit.”

However, there has been some resistance to the practice since the Protestant Reformation, with a number of denominations opting for adult baptism or “believer’s baptism” instead, including Baptists, Pentecostalists, Seventh-day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Church of Latter-day Saints.


11. Marriage Redefinition Marked a Cultural Turning Point: Decade in Review: Life Issues, Religious Liberty, Immigration also prominent in 2010s.

By Lauretta Brown, National Catholic Register, January 11, 2020

The political and cultural landscape has shifted for U.S. Catholics in the past decade on significant issues like marriage, religious liberty and abortion.

As 2020 begins, a look back at these issues reveals some key turning points where the Church took a stand for a true understanding of the human person and the common good, even where it was unpopular and led to legal battles.

Ashley McGuire, a senior fellow for The Catholic Association, told the Register that over the past few years “the biggest tension in America” on the life issue “is between the people at a local level and their institutions and the courts.”

McGuire pointed to the “tidal wave” of pro-life legislation that’s been passed at the state level that is subsequently overturned at the courts, as well as consistent public polling that shows a large majority of Americans oppose abortion past the first trimester of pregnancy.

She said one significant step by the Trump administration and the Senate to aid the will of the people on the pro-life issue is the appointment of “a record number of constitutional judges who will maybe change that pattern of the will of the people on the issue of abortion being overturned at the courts.”

“The issue of religious liberty and health care has been one of the biggest issues of the last 10 years,” McGuire also noted. “The Trump administration has done a truly excellent job of working to protect the religious liberty and conscience rights of health-care workers, but right now it’s fragile because there’s just a very strong push to force people in the health-care industry to violate their beliefs.”

With the increasing popularity of the practice in the U.S. and abroad, religious leaders from Catholicism, Judaism and Islam presented a declaration to Pope Francis in October declaring their joint opposition to it. The statement said that the Abrahamic religions “oppose any form of euthanasia — that is the direct, deliberate and intentional act of taking life — as well as physician-assisted suicide — that is the direct, deliberate and intentional support of committing suicide — because they fundamentally contradict the inalienable value of human life, and therefore are inherently and consequentially morally and religiously wrong, and should be forbidden without exceptions.” McGuire attributed part of the success of the assisted-suicide movement in the U.S. to its “effective job of making the issue about dignity.” She said the Church’s challenge “is to help the culture understand not just the idea of the sanctity of human life from conception till natural death, but the idea of suffering. We’re a culture that doesn’t appreciate suffering in any way.”

“Pope Francis has been a very effective voice” on the issue, McGuire said. “He linked the issue of abortion to assisted suicide and talked about a culture that ignores or discards people who are on the margins, who aren’t ‘useful’ to society anymore.”


12. The Lessons We Can Learn From Justice Thomas’ Life.

By Andrea Picciotti-Bayer, The Daily Signal, January 10, 2020

The fruit of more than 30 hours of interviews granted by the normally (if only publicly) taciturn Thomas, the film widens the lens to faithfully capture the exceptional life of this giant of our judiciary.

The beautifully filmed documentary includes period photographs of rural and urban Georgia from Thomas’ early childhood and compliments Thomas’ 2007 autobiography “My Grandfather’s Son.” Audio of Thomas reading excerpts from this memoir is interspersed throughout the film.

For me, three facets of Thomas’ life were especially compelling: his grandfather’s influence in his life, his Catholic faith, and the strength he draws from his marriage to wife Ginni. 

“Created Equal” will be in movie theaters for a special one-day showing on Jan. 31 and will air on PBS in May. The film’s producers at Manifold Productions insisted during their Q&A after the screening that it is a film that will inspire American teens and young adults—regardless of race, economic status, or political persuasion.

I agree. And I think their parents, guardians, or educators will enjoy watching this treasure of a film with them as I did with my son.

Andrea Picciotti-Bayer is legal advisor for the Catholic Association Foundation and co-host of the podcast Conversations with Consequences.


13. Montana high court reverses sex abuse judgement against Jehovah’s Witnesses.

By Kevin J. Jones, Catholic News Agency, January 10, 2020, 5:01 PM

The Montana Supreme Court has unanimously reversed a $35 million judgement against the Jehovah’s Witnesses, on the grounds that the lower court wrongly ruled that the elders involved in hearing allegations of abuse did not enjoy the religious confidentiality protections guaranteed by state law.

A Montana district court wrongly ruled that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were mandatory reporters under state law, said the 7-0 decision written by Supreme Court Justice Beth Baker and announced Jan. 8.

Under the law, the court said, “clergy are not required to report known or suspected child abuse if the knowledge results from a congregation member’s confidential communication or confession and if the person making the statement does not consent to disclosure.”


TCA Media Monitoring provides a snapshot from national newspapers and major Catholic press outlets of coverage regarding significant Catholic Church news and current issues with which the Catholic Church is traditionally or prominently engaged. The opinions and views expressed in the articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Catholic Association.
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