TCA Podcast – “Conversations with Consequences”

Episode 31: The Amazon Synod and recent developments in the Church, with Matthew Bunson of EWTN

Your podcast hosts Dr. Grazie Christie and Andrea Picciotti-Bayer are joined by Dr. Matthew Bunson, a senior contributor to EWTN and widely respected scholar, teacher, and commentator. They discuss the recent Synod on the Amazon, as well as the recent fall meeting of the US Catholic Bishops and what happened at the meeting.

Dr. Bunson explains to our hosts what is a synod is; the reasons why the Synod on the Amazon was called in the first place; priestly celibacy and questions about the possibility of married priests in the Amazon, and the next steps after the Synod; evangelization and the importance of not turning the Church into an “NGO;” moving the modern ecological movement into a Catholic ethos; the election of Archbishop Jose Gomez as President of the US bishops; and more.

1. China pressuring priest at center of agreement with Vatican.

The Associated Press, November 22, 2019

A Chinese Catholic priest whose demotion was key to a now-stalled effort at reconciliation between China and the Vatican is being pressured to join the official Communist Party-controlled church organization, a fellow priest and Catholic news source said.

Monsignor Vincenzo Guo Xijin was one of two legitimate bishops who remain loyal to the pope who were asked last year by the Vatican to step aside. That was part of a controversial agreement that also called for the Holy See to recognize seven bishops who had been appointed by Beijing without papal consent.

Since the agreement was reached, China has given no public indication that it would offer greater freedoms for Catholics or yield more influence to the Vatican.

Meanwhile, the Communist Party has been tightening controls on all religions, especially Christianity and Islam, which are viewed as foreign imports and potential challengers to Communist authority.

Authorities have removed or demolished crosses from even officially sanctioned churches, shuttered churches, and in at least one township, replaced posters of Jesus Christ with portraits of President Xi in what is being called the harshest anti-religion campaign since the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.

2. Pope’s cousin takes star turn in Thailand as papal whisperer.

By Nicole Winfield, The Associated Press, November 22, 2019, 2:55 AM

Sister Ana Rosa Sivori has taken something of a star turn during her second cousin’s visit to Thailand, assuming an unprecedented role for a woman as papal whisperer and translator, who doesn’t seem fazed that her charge is Pope Francis.

Usually papal aides are men, and they stay in the shadows, showing wallflower-like deference to the leader of the 1.2-billion strong Catholic Church. Not so Sivori, who treats Francis with the respect owed a pope but nevertheless displays the confidence and chutzpah of a no-nonsense nun who has spent more than a half-century ministering to Thailand’s faithful.

3. Pope says tech, globalization endanger youth individuality.

By Philip Pullella, Reuters, November 22, 2019, 12:06 AM

Pope Francis warned on Friday that technology and globalization were homogenizing young people around the world to the point where their uniqueness and cultural individuality were becoming endangered species.

The 82-year-old pope made his appeal for young people to hold on to the cultures handed down by their ancestors and cherish their roots at a meeting of leaders of other religions as he wrapped up the last full day of his visit to Thailand.

He decried a “growing tendency to discredit local values and cultures by imposing a unitary model” for values on young people, referring apparently to Western influence from films, advertising and social media.

“This produces a cultural devastation that is just as serious as the disappearance of species of animals and plants,” he said.

4. Argentine prosecutors seek abuse-related arrest of Vatican-affiliated bishop.

Chico Harlan, The Washington Post, November 22, 2019, Pg. A13

Prosecutors in Argentina are calling for the international arrest of Catholic Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta — who has worked closely with Pope Francis — accusing him of sexual abuse and saying that he subsequently went dark inside Vatican City.

“The [request] was imposed after the accused did not respond to repeated phone calls or emails, to the phone number and email voluntarily shared by him” with authorities, according to a statement from an Argentine provincial prosecutors’ office.

The attempt to bring Zanchetta back to Argentina sets up a potential conflict with the Vatican. It raises pressure on the pope to comply with a criminal justice proceeding, after outside experts have called on the church to be more cooperative with civil authorities. And it puts Francis’s judgment under the spotlight.

5. Governor vetoes bill on abortion restriction.

By Associated Press, The Washington Post, November 22, 2019, Pg. A2

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) on Thursday vetoed a bill that would have prohibited abortions because of a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome, making good on his promise a day after it passed the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Pennsylvania law allows abortions up to 24 weeks of pregnancy for any reason except to select a gender. The bill would have added to that prohibition a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome, with exceptions for rape, incest and medical emergency.

6. Home in France Trips On Secularism Law.

By Aurelien Breeden, The New York Times, November 22, 2019, Pg. A4

A Catholic nun who was told she could stay in a retirement home in France only if she stopped wearing religious clothing was wronged, French officials say, in a case that they say misinterpreted the country’s laws prohibiting religious attire in some public spaces.

The nun, who is over 70 and has not been publicly identified, had been living in a convent in southeastern France when she decided to retire in Haute-Saône, her native region farther north.

Her application to live in a unit in a publicly funded retirement home in Vesoul, a town about 55 miles northeast of Dijon, was accepted in July. But the home, which is run by the local authorities, specified that she would have to accommodate the other residents by not wearing her religious habit or veil.

Officials now say that the retirement home wrongly applied France’s secularism laws, and Alain Chrétien, the mayor of Vesoul, apologized in a statement on Tuesday.

France has faced numerous heated debates over the place of religion in society in recent years, centered on the concept of laïcité, a policy of state secularism that first emerged during the French Revolution and took form in the 19th century, culminating in a landmark 1905 law on the separation of church and state.

7. U.S. official calls for end to blasphemy legislation, Weaponized to silence religious dissent.

By Christopher Vondracek, The Washington Times, November 22, 2019, Pg. A8

On Thursday on Capitol Hill, a lawmaker and international observers called for an end to blasphemy laws and other measures that direct religious thought.

More than 80 nations have blasphemy laws, which the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom defines as measures that penalize the act of insulting a deity or sacred things.

Punishments under these laws range from lashings and prison sentences to forced labor, as in Russia. In four countries, including Pakistan, blasphemy charges can lead to the death penalty.

8. In Thailand, Pope tells religions to work for peace; Catholic youth to hold firm to faith.

By Inés San Martín, Crux, November 22, 2019

Speaking to people from 18 different religions on Friday, Pope Francis said that the complex challenges of the world today – including globalization, the rapid advances of technology and the persistence of civil conflicts resulting in migration, refugees, famine and war – makes the need for cooperation between religions all the more pressing.

“These challenges remind us that no region or sector of the human family can look to itself or its future in isolation from or immune to others,” Francis said. “All these situations require us to be bold in devising new ways of shaping the history of our time without denigrating or insulting anyone.”

The days when an “insular mode of thought” seemed to offer a valid way of resolving conflicts are long gone, the pope said; now is the time to “be bold and envision the logic of encounter and mutual dialogue,” with cooperation becoming the code of conduct.

Francis words came during an encounter with Thai religious leaders at Bangkok Chulalongkorn University, named after the king who, in 1897, became the first non-Christian head of state to be welcomed by a pope – Leo XII – in the Vatican.

9. Children’s rights group says ‘third wave’ of abuse scandals hitting Latin America.

By Charles Collins, Crux, November 22, 2019

A children’s rights group is warning that a “Third Wave” of clerical sex abuse scandals is hitting Latin America, with revelations showing how the Catholic Church has continued to try and hide the extent of the crisis.

The London-based Child Rights International Network (CRIN) released The Third Wave: Justice for survivors of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in Latin America on Nov. 20. It looks at the scale of abuse and cover-up by the Church in every Latin American country, as well as reviewing whether national laws on child sex crimes adequately protect children.

CRIN says the first wave of abuse scandals took place in Ireland and North America, with the second taking place in Oceania and continental Europe.

“There is a growing global wave of demands for accountability of the Catholic Church for the sexual abuse of children, especially now in more Catholic majority countries,” said Leo Ratledge, CRIN’s legal and policy director.

The report says the Catholic Church in Latin America has systematically tried to suppress abuse complaints and scandals in a number of ways that will seem familiar to many U.S. Catholics who lived through the clerical abuse crisis of the past 20 years.

10. Religious Freedom Trackers Chafe at Congressional Proposal.

The Associated Press, November 21, 2019

The federal commission that tracks global religious freedom is facing a rift with Capitol Hill over a proposal that some members warn would hurt its effectiveness.

At issue is bipartisan legislation introduced two months ago to reauthorize the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom for four years. The bill also would ask the commission to review “the abuse of religion to justify human rights violations” — a responsibility not defined in more detail — and restrict commissioners from using their federal title when they speak as private citizens. Additionally, commissioners would have to report to Congress on international travel paid for by sources outside their families or the government.

In a capital often dominated by partisan polarization, those proposed changes created a rare division: senators in both parties seeking increased oversight, and commissioners in both parties balking.

11. Pro-government supporters attack Catholic church in Nicaragua as tensions flare.

Reuters, November 21, 2019, 7:53 PM

Supporters of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega tried to storm a church on Thursday, with a priest saying they hit churchgoers, as tension ratchets up between Roman Catholics and the government in the Central American country.

Footage posted on social media showed protesters pressing against the barricaded door of the San Juan Bautista parish church in the western city of Masaya. Parishioners had gathered for Mass, to be followed by a pilgrimage, in support of mothers in Masaya’s cathedral who are on a hunger strike.

The mothers are demanding the release of their children, detained by authorities for their part in anti-government protests.

Nicaragua’s churches have been transformed into political battlegrounds in recent weeks as protests continue to roil a country deeply divided over the leadership of Ortega, a former Marxist guerrilla who has waged a brutal crackdown on his opponents.

12. Republicans Now Support a Form of Paid Leave. So What’s the Holdup?

By Claire Cain Miller, New York Times Online, November 21, 2019

Paid leave has long been a Democratic cause, one that candidates rallied around at the debate Wednesday night. Now it’s also one for Republicans, who’ve recently embraced a version of it, with a flurry of new bills and a White House summit next month. The debate revealed minor divisions in the candidates’ approaches; the bigger differences, though, are between the two parties.

Policymakers are addressing the fact that the United States is the only rich country with no federal paid leave, even though most parents work. The country’s lack of family-friendly policies is a factor in women’s stalled advancement in the work force and the country’s declining fertility rate, research shows.

The 2016 presidential campaign was the first in which Republican candidates, including Donald J. Trump, called for paid leave.

Even a staunch conservative like Rick Santorum, a former senator, has become a vocal proponent — despite voting against the Family and Medical Leave Act in 1993, which gives certain workers 12 weeks of unpaid leave. At the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, he said the Republican Party’s base had changed from suburbanites to blue-collar workers, and the party needed to change with it.

“These are our people, and if you want to talk to them, if you want to take the Trump coalition and you want to continue that coalition, we better have answers,” he said.

Do any Republicans support the Family Act?

One: Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey, who last month became the first in his party to co-sponsor the bill. A spokesman for him, Jeff Sagnip, said it was consistent with a “long-term record and commitment to providing compassionate support and job security” for families. Mr. Smith, who is anti-abortion, was also the sole Republican co-sponsor on another bill to help working women, the Paycheck Fairness Act.

13. Federal judge blocks scheduled executions of federal death-row inmates.

By Carol Zimmermann, Catholic News Service, November 21, 2019, 2:42 PM

A federal judge Nov. 20 temporarily blocked the executions of four federal death-row inmates scheduled for December and January, saying the lethal injections they were to receive goes against the Federal Death Penalty Act.

When U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced in July that the government was reinstating the federal death penalty after a 16-year hiatus, he said the executions would use a single drug instead of a three-drug protocol used in recent federal executions and used by several states. Several of the inmates have challenged the use of the single lethal injection.

In her ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan of the District of Columbia said that since the inmates were likely to win their case, their executions should be blocked until their legal challenge is resolved. The 1994 Federal Death Penalty Act says federal executions should be carried out “in the manner prescribed by the law of the state in which the sentence is imposed.”

When Barr announced the end to the moratorium on executing federal inmates this summer, many Catholic leaders spoke out against it, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; the Catholic Mobilizing Network, a group that works for an end to the death penalty; the Mercy sisters; and Sister Helen Prejean, a Sister of St. Joseph of Medaille, who is a longtime opponent of capital punishment.

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