TCA Podcast – “Conversations with Consequences”

Episode 27: What’s really going on in Syria, with Father Benedict Kiely

Father Benedict Kiely, a champion of Christians in the Middle East, has been trying to get into Syria for several years. The situation for Christians and minorities in the Holy Land is “even more complicated than you realize,” he tells our hosts Dr. Grazie Christie and Andrea Picciotti-Bayer. Father Kiely reminds us that Christianity in the West came from the Holy Land in the East, and gives us his insight into the lives of Christians in war-torn Syria.

1. Bishops to Consider Exception To Priestly Celibacy.

By Francis X. Rocca, The Wall Street Journal, October 25, 2019, Pg. A10

Catholic Church members who want to relax the thousand-year-old requirement of priestly celibacy are watching to see what happens on Saturday in Rome, where bishops are discussing a proposal to allow married men in the Amazon region to be ordained.

A bishops’ assembly at the Vatican on issues facing the Amazon this month is debating the idea to overcome a recruitment problem that has left many Catholic believers in the region with only infrequent visits from priests.

The bishops will vote on their recommendations to Pope Francis on Saturday. A call for permission to ordain married men in the Amazon would encourage those who have been making similar proposals on other continents, prompting arguments that “if it’s going to be proposed in one region, then we should have the right to look at it elsewhere,” said Adam DeVille, a professor of theology at Indiana’s University of Saint Francis and editor of a forthcoming study on married Catholic priests.

Pope Francis has said he needs to reflect and pray on the idea of ordaining married men, but that he is open to it in limited cases such as the Amazon and remote Pacific islands.

2. Pope Francis to visit Asia as it faces ‘unholy trinity’ of Christian persecution.

By Charles Collins, Crux, October 25, 2019

Although often happening under the radar of the world media, a new report says persecution against Christians is getting worse in many parts of Asia, calling it a “regional hot spot.”

The 2019 Persecuted and Forgotten? report from Aid to the Church in Need is warning that an “unholy trinity” of threats is facing Christians on the world’s most populous continent: Authoritarian regimes, Islamic extremism, and popularist nationalism.

Pope Francis has said that Asia would be a priority in his pontificate, and he will be visiting the region again next month, when he visits Japan and Thailand in November. The pontiff has spoken about a desire in his youth to serve as a missionary in Asia, but he never got the opportunity with the Jesuits.

His visit will highlight two countries in Asia where miniscule Catholic populations live in peace with non-Christian majorities. The Catholic Church makes up less than 1 percent of the population in both Japan and Thailand – each country has about the same number of non-Christians – yet the Church is known for its outsized influence in areas of social welfare and education both in the G7 member Japan and still developing Thailand.

3. New film beckons thoughts of John Paul II, synods, and global perspective.

By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, Crux, October 25, 2019

Last night I attended the Rome pre-premier of a brilliant new documentary of St. John Paul II directed by a friend of mine, Paulina Guzik, titled “I Like to See the Sun Rise.” More than any other film about John Paul I’ve ever seen, it captures the emotional register of the man, the way in which his passion and fascination with people drove every other aspect of his life and teaching.

Guzik’s byline from Poland occasionally graces the Crux site, although I suspect that’ll become less frequent as her budding success as a filmmaker carries her to new horizons.

While there are many striking aspects of the film, one in particular hit home given the context in which the pre-premier unfolded, which is shaped by the Oct. 6-27 Synod of Bishops on the Amazon. It came when a Polish Dominican interviewed by Guzik named Father Jarosław Kupczak was reflecting on the impact of the Second Vatican Council, which Wojtyla participated in as a young bishop, on the man who eventually became pope.

Though I didn’t take down the exact quote, the gist of Kupczak’s comment was that Vatican II was when Wojtyla learned to think in global, not just Polish, terms about the Catholic Church.

That resonated with me, because over the years I’ve often had the experience of talking with bishops who, at one point in their careers, were asked to take part in a Synod of Bishops in Rome. In my experience, they often come away with very different evaluations of the significance of the event itself – some believe it produced meaningful results, while others describe it as an expensive talk shop that accomplished virtually nothing other than mind-numbing boredom for three interminable weeks.

For all we know right now, that could well be the take-away on the current Amazon synod for many prelates.

4. South and East Asia now the hotbed of Christian persecution, report finds.

By Matt Hadro, Catholic News Agency, October 25, 2019, 3:01 AM

While Christians in Iraq and Syria suffer in the aftermath of Islamic State genocide, a new “hot spot” of persecution has emerged in South and East Asia, a recent report finds.

“The situation for Christians has deteriorated most in South and East Asia: this is now the regional hot spot for persecution, taking over that dubious honour from the Middle East,” stated a report on global Christian persecution by the group Aid to the Church in Need, a pontifical foundation that provides relief to Christians in 140 countries.

ACN released its biennial study of the global persecution of Christians Oct. 23. The 2019 report “Persecuted and Forgotten?” compiled information on acts of harassment, violence, and discrimination committed against Christians over the span of 25 months from July 2017 through July 2019; details on the persecution were gathered by ACN on fact-finding trips.

One of the report’s chief conclusions was that of all persecuted Christians, “Christian women suffer the most, with reports of abductions, forced conversions and sex attacks.”

The report focused on 12 countries where Christian persecution was most severe: Iraq, Egypt, Nigeria, Central African Republic, Sudan, India, Pakistan, Burma, Sri Lanka, China, the Philippines, and North Korea.

5. Elijah Cummings and the Little Sisters, Beto O’Rourke’s punitive position on tax exemptions contrasts with a poignant Capitol Hill memorial.

By Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal Online, October 24, 2019, 6:27 PM, Declarations

I was writing a rather stern column about the mess in Washington, but I got kind of swept Thursday by the beautiful bipartisan tribute to Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings, in Congress’s Statuary Hall, a ceremony held just before his burial back in Baltimore.

There was something not sentimental but poignant and half-grasped in the tribute to him. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke movingly about how Cummings came to Washington not to be a big man but to do big things.

What was poignant was how much the speakers enjoyed being their best selves. Congress knows how hapless it looks, how riven by partisanship and skins-vs.-shirts dumbness. For many of them it takes the tang out of things. They know it lowers their standing in America. They grieve it. It embarrasses them. They’d like to be part of something that works, something respected.

A deep impediment is the air of political maximalism that careless people who never know the implications of things encourage.

 Here is the first example that springs to mind. It reflects my cultural views and indignations, but I ask you to take it on its own terms.

In early October CNN had a town hall on LGBTQ issues for the Democratic presidential candidates.

 Don Lemon asked Beto O’Rourke: “Do you think religious institutions like colleges, churches, charities, should they lose their tax exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage?”

“Yes,” said Mr. O’Rourke, not missing a beat. “There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break for anyone or any institution, any organization in America that denies the full human rights and the full civil rights of every single one of us. So as president we’re going to make that a priority and we are going to stop those who are infringing upon the human rights of our fellow Americans.”

 Can we agree his is a radical, maximalist stand? Under his standard the Catholic Church would be ruined, and with it a whole world of charities, schools, hospitals, orphanages, other agencies, all of which help those with limited resources. Let’s just posit without bothering to defend the proposition that an America without the Catholic church would be a poorer, sicker, colder place, and one less likely to continue.

At almost the same time as the CNN town hall, the Little Sisters of the Poor, who serve the elderly and impoverished, were again in court asking for protection from the ObamaCare mandate that tells them they must include contraceptive coverage in their employee health plans.

The Sisters are forced to appeal to the high court again, which will, please God, affirm, with clarity and force, the constitutional rights without which they cannot exist.

Oh, progressives, if you only had the wisdom to back off, to see your demands as maximalist, extreme, damaging to the fabric, the opposite of live and let live. When you push in this way to control the culture of the country, do you ever ask, “When I win, will there be a country left?”

6. Political Maneuvering at Pan-Amazon Synod? Vatican Official Says No.

By Edward Pentin, National Catholic Register, October 24, 2019

Vatican officials have denied the Amazon synod is being politicized, despite news that the organization running the monthlong meeting of bishops had invited and received six Brazilian politicians from the political left last week and introduced them to a group of synod fathers.

The Pan Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM), set up in 2014 to prepare and run the synod, which ends on Sunday, introduced the six politicians last Monday to a half-dozen members of the synod (see video footage of the Oct. 14 meeting).

Responding to a question from the Register about why the six politicians were invited, despite Pope Francis’ express wish that serving politicians not be involved in the synod, the Holy See Press Office’s deputy director, Cristiane Murray, said: “This was never part of the synod, and this was not a synodal event.” She added that “the meeting with the six politicians was a parallel event, and it had nothing to do with the synod.” 

Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communication and head of the synod’s Commission for Information, also weighed in, saying that “different side events” have been organized around the synod where “other types of participants” can attend. This is “part of the freedom of initiative that everybody has,” he added.

“On the topic of politicization, nothing in the synod can be interpreted in a political manner,” he insisted. “We’re speaking about a synod; we’re speaking about the Church.”

7. Fine words won’t be enough to solve the Vatican’s financial crisis.

By Christopher Altieri, The Catholic Herald (UK), October 24, 2019

A fuller picture of the financial scandal rocking the Vatican and making headlines around the world began to emerge at the end of last week and through the weekend, with a major exposé in the October 20 edition of La Repubblica’s weekly news magazine, L’Espresso.

The scandal involves monies from the Peter’s Pence collection for the Pope’s charitable initiatives around the world. Now, there’s nothing wrong with investing some of that money – in fact, it’s good policy to have nest eggs, rainy day funds, etc – rather than to keep it in a bank account. L’Espresso’s report, however, claims that nearly 80 per cent of the Peter’s Pence collection goes into investment funds chiefly managed by Credit Suisse, and quotes the Vatican’s own auditor general as saying operations connected with those investments are characterised by “gross irregularity”.

Emiliano Fittipaldi, the investigative journalist who faced criminal prosecution in the Vatican for his part in the “VatiLeaks” scandal, wrote the piece in L’Espresso, which basically shows how the Holy See got fleeced over more than six years, starting with a roughly €200 million (£172 million, $224 million) investment opportunity in an oil drilling platform off the coast of Angola that turned into a blue-chip London real estate development partnership. 

The story hasn’t ended, with leaked details of the Vatican investigation into the affair, which included complicated machinations connected with the Vatican’s attempt to buy itself out of the partnership when promised returns on the London property did not materialise. 

In the final analysis, Pope Francis will not be remembered principally for his words. His governance will determine his legacy. If he does not overcome his apparent reticence to cut through the Gordian knot of financial mismanagement and remove bad actors in the hierarchy – and to let himself be seen to do so – history will know him at best as a would-be reformer, whose half-measures and false starts effectively preserved an untenable status quo.

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