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Beatification date announced for married couple with seven children martyred by Nazis

Wiktoria Ulma with six of her children. / The Ulma Family Museum of Poles Saving Jews in World War II.

Rome Newsroom, Feb 15, 2023 / 04:00 am (CNA).

The beatification date has been announced for Józef and Wiktoria Ulma and their seven children, who were killed by the Nazis for hiding a Jewish family in their home in Poland.

The Archdiocese of Przemyska announced Tuesday that the entire Ulma family — including one unborn child — will be beatified on Sept. 10.

Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, the prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, will preside over the beatification ceremony in Markowa, the village in southeast Poland where the Ulma family was executed in 1944.

Pope Francis recognized the martyrdom of the couple and their children in a decree signed in December. The World Holocaust Remembrance Center has honored the Ulmas as Righteous Among the Nations for the sacrifice of their lives.

Early on March 24, 1944, a Nazi patrol surrounded the home of Józef and Wiktoria Ulma on the outskirts of the village of Markowa in southeast Poland. They discovered eight Jewish people who had found refuge on the Ulma farm and executed them.

The Nazi police then killed Wiktoria, who was seven months pregnant, and Józef. As children began to scream at the sight of their murdered parents, the Nazis shot them too: Stanisława, age 8, Barbara, 7, Władysław, 6, Franciszek, 4, Antoni, 3, and Maria, 2.

Father Witold Burda, the postulator for the Ulma family, has said that a Bible was found inside the Ulma house in which the parable of the Good Samaritan had been underlined in a red pen.

The postulator added that Józef and Wiktoria were known in their community for being “willing to help anyone who knocked on their door.”

“They built their family on the foundation of faith with fidelity to the two essential commandments: the commandment to love God and the commandment to love one’s neighbor,” Burda said.

‘We need time,’ Synod on Synodality organizers tell German-language media

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, archbishop of Luxembourg (left) and Cardinal Mario Grech, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA

CNA Newsroom, Feb 14, 2023 / 07:40 am (CNA).

A key organizer of the Synod on Synodality says the issue of the ordination of women in the Catholic Church was not the main topic of the world synod on synodality. However, if “synodality comes through,” there may be “other decisions to be made in the future,” Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, SJ, told German diocesan media. 

Speaking Sunday after the European Continental Assembly meeting in Prague Feb. 5–12, Hollerich said that if “this synodality comes through,” we will have “a way” of “making decisions in the Church,” CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language partner agency, reported

The archbishop of Luxembourg — who serves as the general relator of the synod — stressed the world synod was about synodality and “not a synod on women’s ordination, nor a synod on homosexuality.” 

Another key organizer made similar remarks in a separate interview on Sunday, reported CNA Deutsch. 

Cardinal Mario Grech — who serves as secretary general of the world synod — told the German-language Swiss media outlet that synodality was “a gift of the Holy Spirit for the Church today” and that there were “no taboo subjects.” 

Grech added: “As a Church, we think about how we can become more synodical. Once we are more synodal, we can better address certain issues. And I’m convinced: A synodal Church gives better answers to existential questions.”

In the same vein, Cardinal Hollerich told German Domradio on Feb. 12: “We need time. The Holy Spirit can work very quickly, but we mostly need time to understand, comprehend, and perceive the action of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and in the world.”

With a view to the meeting in Prague, Hollerich said: “It was the first time in Europe that we could speak so freely and that everyone could present their view and be heard with respect by others.”

Referring to the German participation at the continental assembly, the cardinal said: “The German [delegation] naturally tried to present the Synodal Way. Some countries discovered common ground, others were quite shocked.”

Hollerich said: “It was good for the German delegation to see the diversity of opinions; that we are in this particular situation and have to go together.” He added that “one should calmly proceed. And if something comes from the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit will bring it to a breakthrough.”

Pope Francis in January contrasted Germany’s “Synodaler Weg,” sometimes translated as the Synodal Path or Synodal Way, which is not a synod, with the universal Church’s Synod on Synodality. 

The controversial German process is still expected to continue as planned by its organizers. The next, and what is anticipated to be the final, synodal assembly is scheduled to take place in Frankfurt in March.

Portugal report details decades of sexual abuse by priests and others within the Catholic Church

Portugal Catholic Church / / Humphrey Muleba on Unsplash

Lisbon, Portugal, Feb 14, 2023 / 06:40 am (CNA).

Thousands of children have been sexually abused by priests and others within the Catholic Church in Portugal since the 1950s, an independent commission announced Monday.

The commission’s final report, authorized by Portugal’s bishops’ conference, marks the first study of its kind in the overwhelmingly Catholic country and paints a grim picture of clerical abuse dating back decades.

The commission, which began its work in January last year, received a total of 564 testimonies, of which it validated 512. Many of the victims who testified said they knew of other children who also had been abused.

Taking these references into account, the commission arrived at “a more extensive network of victims, estimated at a minimum number of 4,815 children,” the group’s coordinator, psychologist Pedro Strecht, explained to journalists during a news conference Monday.

As for the total number of crimes, “it is not possible to quantify, because most of the children were abused more than once,” he said.

Only 25 complaints have been referred to authorities for prosecution either because the statute of limitations has expired or the victims were unable to identify their abusers.

Later in the day, Bishop José Ornelas, representing the bishops’ conference, called the abuses “an open wound that hurts and embarrasses us.”

“We ask forgiveness from all the victims: those who courageously gave their testimony, silent for so many years, and those who still live with their pain in the depths of their hearts, without sharing it with anyone,” the bishop of Leiria-FátimaIn said during a news conference.

“In your lives, perversity has crossed where it should not have been,” he said.

Among the findings of the 400-page final report:

  • Most children were abused when they were between 10 and 14 years old, and their current average age is 52 years old, which is “lower than in studies by other independent commissions in Europe,” the study states.

  • The vast majority of abusers identified by victims were priests (77%).

  • Most victims are male (52%), but there is “an equally important number of female victims,” the report states.

  • The highest number of sexual abuses happened between 1960 and 1990 (58.3%). Another 21.9% of the reported abuses have taken place since 1991.

  • The most common place where abuse took place was seminaries (23% of cases), followed by “church not otherwise specified” (18.8%), confessionals (14.3%), parish houses (12.9%), and religious schools (6.9%).

  • More than half of the victims (57.2%) reported that the abuse occurred more than once, and in 27.5% of cases it lasted for “more than a year.”

The commission based its findings on interviews, surveys, press reports, and a review of historical archives of the country’s 20 dioceses and other Catholic institutions.

“It was not easy to listen, record, or read each of these testimonies,” said filmmaker Catarina Vasconcelos, a member of the commission.

Bishop Ornelas said an extraordinary plenary assembly will be held March 3 specifically to discuss the steps the Church must take in response to the commission’s findings.

Spanish bishop proclaims the right to life doesn’t come from the ballot box or a court

Bishop José Ignacio Munilla of Orihuela-Alicante, Spain. / Credit: Archdiocese of Valladolid

ACI Prensa Staff, Feb 13, 2023 / 13:20 pm (CNA).

Bishop José Ignacio Munilla of Orihuela-Alicante, Spain, has analyzed in depth the recent decision of the country’s Constitutional Court to uphold abortion and described it as the right to dispose of human life up to the first 14 weeks of gestation.

For the prelate, the decision taken Feb. 9 by the Constitutional Court (TC) on the abortion law in force in Spain is summed up simply: “There are human beings who do not have human rights. It’s the obvious conclusion.”

According to Munilla, this means that the principle of nondiscrimination that is present in public discourse and that defends human dignity regardless of origin, race, sex, or other characteristics or circumstances now has an exception: “depending on age.”

The bishop stressed that following the decision of the Constitutional Court, a human being “if he is less than 14 weeks old, he does not have the right to life. And also, since he has Down syndrome, he does not have the human right to life if he has less than 22 weeks” of prenatal life.

Regarding the abortion of people with Down syndrome, the bishop stressed that “we are facing a true massacre, a holocaust, and we cannot remain silent.”

Munilla said on his “Sixth Continent” program on Radio María Spain on Feb. 10 that “yesterday was a very sad day, very hard,” which led him to share a viral video starring Ana, a girl with Down syndrome.

“Look at Ana and tell her that she had no right to be among us. Tell her that Begoña [her mother] had the right to say ‘I’ll get rid of her,’” Munilla challenged.

The bishop reminded the members of the TC who voted in favor of abortion “whom God has placed, whom providence has put in a place of such responsibility, that the right to life is pre-constitutional. It doesn’t come from the Constitution, it’s not granted by you. It is pre-democratic, inherent. It doesn’t come from the ballot box. It doesn’t come from a Constitutional Court.”

The bishop of Orihuela-Alicante proclaimed that the right to life “comes from the dignity of a person who is the image and likeness of God, you don’t grant it.”

Munilla told the justices of the Constitutional Court: “It will be good for you to remember today that legality is not above morality, that legality is not the foundation of morality. Rather, it is legality that should be sustained by morality."

The court’s decision was surrounded by controversy because at least four out of 11 of the justices possibly should have recused themselves because of previous positions they held in government. If these judges had done so, the court would have lacked the quorum to address the appeal.

In 2010 when the Law on Sexual and Reproductive Health and the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy was passed, more than 70 legislators of the People’s Party filed an appeal challenging the law’s constitutionality. The Constitutional Court admitted the appeal for consideration on a priority basis but never issued a ruling until now, almost 13 years later, on Feb. 9. 

In the interim there were six different presidents of the Constitutional Court. Meanwhile for almost 13 years the law permitting abortion up to 14 weeks has been in force pending the appeal.

In December 2022, Spain’s lower house passed a bill further liberalizing the 2010 law on abortion. The Senate also approved it but some amendments have been introduced so it now goes back to the Congress of Deputies (lower house).

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

60 years after his miraculous healing, he still returns to Lourdes

Vittorio Micheli, who was miraculously cured at Lourdes in 1963. / Matthew Kang

St. Louis, Mo., Feb 11, 2023 / 04:00 am (CNA).

In April 1962, a 23-year-old Italian soldier named Vittorio Micheli was diagnosed with a malignant tumor in his left hip.

“[The] tumor had already destroyed part of my pelvis and was attacking the femoral head. And so I had very little time left to live,” Micheli, now 82, told CNA.

After oncologists at a hospital in northern Italy threw up their hands, Micheli’s mother started to pressure Micheli’s brother, a priest, to take him to Lourdes. The magnificent shrine in southern France marks the site where a young St. Bernadette Soubirous witnessed apparitions of Mary beginning on Feb. 11, 1858. The spring of water at the shrine is said to have miraculous properties, attracting millions of people every year seeking physical and spiritual healing.

Against the advice of his doctors, Micheli obtained permission from the military to make the trip.

“I did all the services, processions, Stations of the Cross, [bathed in] the pools… it’s not like I noticed anything,” Micheli said.

“Only [after] going back I felt that something had changed. First of all, I no longer needed pain relievers. And then I started eating again. Before, I didn’t eat anymore. And there was this sense of well-being, of tranquility.”

“Back in the military hospital, no one paid any attention. I, however, started to get out of bed, started to walk, still with a cast and crutches. They finally decided to take X-rays and saw that the tumor was gone… they did more tests, doctors from outside also came… they sent me home. In short, [I was] cured.”

Ultimately, Micheli’s 1963 cancer cure would go down in history as the 63rd officially recognized miraculous healing at Lourdes, declared as such by Micheli’s archbishop in 1976 after more than a dozen years of medical investigation.

Célian de La Rochefoucauld via
Célian de La Rochefoucauld via

Now, 60 years on from his cure, Micheli still returns to the site where it happened. For years, the Italian would stay for 10-15 days a year to volunteer as a “brancardier,” or stretcher-bearer, for sick people seeking similar miraculous cures. During his work as a brancardier, Micheli met the woman who would become his wife.

Speaking to CNA in May 2022 during an annual military pilgrimage, Micheli said he does not know “why [he] was chosen” to be healed out of the thousands who come to Lourdes every year — likely not because of his own merit, he admitted, but “maybe the merit of my mother,” who had strongly encouraged him to seek healing at Lourdes.

The now octogenarian Micheli remains grateful for the miracle that saved his life six decades ago and said he considers himself to have a “usual” life, practicing his faith as a Catholic as best he can.

“I think life is like a ladder you do one step at a time. You never know if and how you’ll get there. I try to be a good Christian — however, I don’t know if I am,” Micheli said.

‘Deep study’

Throughout the years, at least 7,000 people have reported experiencing supernatural healings at Lourdes, but a mere 70 of those cures have been recognized by the Catholic Church as miraculous — the latest, which took place in 2008, was declared in 2018.

Alessandro de Franciscis, president of the Lourdes Office of Medical Observations, is charged with investigating each claim of a miraculous cure — a task he does not take lightly. The local bishop of the Diocese of Tarbes and Lourdes appointed de Franciscis to his role in 2009.

“We scrutinize and study an alleged cure with very deep engagement and with very strict criteria,” the Italian medical doctor told CNA.

“This is the only religious institution — not in the Catholic world, in all religions put together — in which there is such a precise and thorough, deep study of the alleged cure.”

Dr. Alessandro de Franciscis (right), president of the Lourdes Office of Medical Observations, with Vittorio Micheli, who was miraculously cured at Lourdes in 1963. Matthew Kang
Dr. Alessandro de Franciscis (right), president of the Lourdes Office of Medical Observations, with Vittorio Micheli, who was miraculously cured at Lourdes in 1963. Matthew Kang

The Office of Medical Observations was created in 1883 to study all the alleged cures that were being reported at Lourdes. The criteria for the investigation of an alleged miraculous cure are numerous, and involve the investigation of whether the ailment was medically diagnosed with a severe prognosis, and whether the cure was instantaneous, lasting, and unexplainable by normal scientific means.

The rigor of the scientific investigative process is borne out by the fact that out of the thousands of alleged cures de Franciscis and his team have personally investigated, just three have been declared miraculous during his tenure.

De Franciscis, a practicing Catholic, said the healings at Lourdes have a way of capturing the imaginations of people of all faith backgrounds, just as the healings that Jesus himself did in the Gospels drew people to him and demonstrated his power.

“The one thing I learned in these 13 years of residency in Lourdes is that sometimes you have to lift up your hands and say, ‘This I do not understand,’” de Franciscis said.

“In the world, in our experience of faith, you cannot explain everything rationally. And there are things we cannot explain that are part of the treasure of our faith. I think that in the pilgrimage, to Lourdes as in any other place of pilgrimage, and in the cures of Lourdes, there is a strong evangelizing meaning.”

De Franciscis first came to Lourdes as a teenager to volunteer in the same role that the now-healed Micheli performs to this day, as a brancardier, or stretcher-bearer. His experience serving the sick and the handicapped at Lourdes helped to inspire him to become a physician.

“As a young volunteer in Lourdes, I was part of those who found that there was an injustice, why a few were cured, and so many others not,” de Franciscis admitted.

“The cured persons of Lourdes that I have met, instead told me the opposite. They would say, ‘Why me and not someone else?’ So it is very clear that each of us lives [our] own Christian path in a different way … Everyone leaves from Lourdes, not necessarily physically cured, but certainly with new hope and new strength in their hearts,” the doctor said.

Ukrainian Catholic leader says focus is on providing help and hope, one year into the war

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, on Dec. 9, 2022 / Oleksandr Sawranskij / Major Archbishopric of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church

St. Louis, Mo., Feb 10, 2023 / 14:15 pm (CNA).

Marking nearly one full year of conflict in Russia’s war in Ukraine, the leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church said Wednesday that the prayers, solidarity, and material support that the international community has provided to Ukraine are helping to give his people hope.

“It’s a miracle we are still alive,” Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk told reporters at a Feb. 8 news conference organized by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). The livestreamed discussion was moderated by Maria Lozano, ACN International’s Head of Press.

“So many good people around the world are united with us in their prayers, in their thoughts, and also in their generosity,” Shevchuk continued. “Without your assistance, we would not survive.”

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began on Feb. 24, 2022. Since then, more than 100,000 troops on both sides, as well as tens of thousands of civilians, have been killed. Electrical blackouts remain a constant issue for much of the country. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been appealing in recent weeks for additional foreign aid amid the latest Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine.

Despite nearly a year of conflict, the situation in Ukraine is still “deteriorating, especially from the humanitarian point of view,” Shevchuk said. Some 15 million Ukrainians have left their homes, of which 7 million are refugees outside of Ukraine. Even if some Ukrainians are able to return to their homes, most lack the basic resources needed to survive, he said.

Shevchuk, who has been speaking to the press frequently since the start of the war, said a major focus of Ukraine’s Catholic leaders currently is recognizing that people need “not just food and clothes, but a word of hope.” He said he and other leaders are in the process of creating a training program for his priests to be able to provide basic psychological and counseling services for the many Ukrainians who are suffering from trauma as a result of the war. He also said he is working to establish a counseling center in each of Ukraine’s Catholic eparchies.

During the press conference, Shevchuk was asked about Father Ivan Levytskyi and Father Bohdan Heleta, two Redemptorist Catholic priests who have been captives of the Russians since late last year. The priests had chosen to stay in territory under Russian occupation to serve the local Greek Catholic and Latin-rite Catholic communities, and have reportedly suffered torture at the hands of the Russian invaders. Shevchuk replied that the priests are still imprisoned and that information about their plight has come from people who were in the same cell with the priests, and were later released.

Shevchuk urged prayers not only for the Ukrainian people but also for Christians in Russia who are suffering as a result of the war.

Also speaking during the press conference was Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, the apostolic nuncio to Ukraine. Kulbokas said there is currently a portion of Ukraine, with an area larger than Croatia, with no Catholic priests currently working because they have been arrested or hurt.

Despite this, Kulbokas said the prayers and support that is still coming into Ukraine is making a difference. He said he often hears from military leaders about miracles that have taken place during the war, such as missiles missing a car that was later found to have a rosary inside.

“We feel your presence, we feel your closeness … your prayers are producing miracles,” Kulbokas said. 

“The global community is still grappling with the profound implications of Russia’s ongoing conflict with Ukraine. This devastating war continues to inflict immense suffering on countless individuals, including men, women, and, most tragically, children,” ACN Chairman George Marlin said in a statement to CNA.

“The resurgence of scenes reminiscent of World War II in the heart of Europe is deeply disturbing and reinforces the urgency of our efforts to bring relief to those affected. On this sad anniversary, Aid to the Church in Need-USA recommits to providing support to the Ukrainian people, channeling our efforts through the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church to deliver both humanitarian aid and spiritual care.”

Church of England votes to bless same-sex couples

null / Africa Studio / Shutterstock

Denver, Colo., Feb 9, 2023 / 12:27 pm (CNA).

The Church of England’s governing body has voted to bless same-sex couples while leaving unchanged the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman in a move that could nonetheless have global consequences for Christian unity.

“For the first time, the Church of England will publicly, unreservedly, and joyfully welcome same-sex couples in church,” Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell said in a joint statement.

“The church continues to have deep differences on these questions which go to the heart of our human identity,” the archbishops continued. They said they are “committed to respecting the conscience of those for whom this goes too far and to ensure that they have all the reassurances they need in order to maintain the unity of the church as this conversation continues.”

Some Anglican leaders objected that the church cannot bless sinful sexual relationships and warned that the vote impairs full unity in the Anglican Communion, while backers of redefining marriage said they would revisit the question in future synods.

The General Synod of the Church of England on Thursday voted by 250 to 181 votes to approve the offering of blessings to same-sex couples in civil marriages.

It narrowly approved an amendment endorsing marriage as only between a man and a woman. By a margin of 52% to 45%, the synod defeated a proposed amendment demanding a vote on a proposal to recognize same-sex unions as marriages within two years, the U.K. newspaper The Guardian reported.

While the synod’s bishops, clergy, and laity all voted to pass the measure, the vote among Church of England bishops was especially lopsided. They voted in favor of the measure 36 to 4, with two abstentions.

The move drew criticism from the Church of England Evangelical Council, which characterized it as a “lose-lose” position that would demoralize orthodox believers while not appeasing advocates of the redefinition of marriage.

“We are deeply saddened and profoundly grieved that General Synod has given a ‘green light’ to the proposals put forward by the House of Bishops,” the council said. “The Church of England now appears set on a course of action that rejects our historic and biblical understanding of sex and marriage, by departing from the apostolic faith we are called to uphold.”

The Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches, representing more than 20 provinces of the Anglican Communion, said it “deeply regrets” the decision, charging that it “goes against the overwhelming mind of the Anglican Communion.” It was skeptical of the claim that doctrine had not changed, citing the principle that “Anglican liturgy expresses its doctrine.”

“The church cannot ‘bless’ in God’s name the union of same-sex partnered individuals, much less sexual relationships between same-sex persons which in God’s Word he declares to be sinful,” the global Anglican group said.

The fellowship said the actions of the archbishop of Canterbury in the vote caused it “to question his fitness to lead what is still a largely orthodox worldwide Communion.”

With great sadness, the group said “the Church of England has now joined those provinces with which communion is impaired.”

Anglican Bishop Steven Croft of Oxford, who supports redefining marriage to include same-sex unions, said the vote was a “significant and historic step.”

“Same-sex couples will become much more visible and their relationships will be celebrated publicly and that, I think, will continue to change attitudes within the life of the church,” he said. He characterized the amendment on the doctrine of marriage as “important to give some reassurance to those who are more conservative” but said the church would not stop revisiting the question.

Other backers of redefining marriage were less enthusiastic. Nigel Pietroni, the chair of the Campaign for Equal Marriage in the Church of England, said the vote fell short of their goal of “radical inclusion” but was a “small step forward.”

The Church of England synod also voted to welcome a review of a ban on clergy contracting same-sex civil marriages and a review of a celibacy requirement for clergy in same-sex relationships. It voted to “lament and repent” of failures to welcome those who identify as LGBTQ+ and for the harm they experienced and continue to experience in churches.

The Anglican Communion was significantly fractured in 2003 when the U.S.-based Episcopal Church voted to ordain as a bishop V. Gene Robinson, a gay man in a same-sex relationship.

Some Catholic leaders, especially in Western Europe, have pushed for the blessing of same-sex couples.

With the assent of Pope Francis, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on March 15, 2021, issued a response to a question on the blessings of same-sex unions. The Catholic Church does not have the power to bless same-sex unions, the Vatican body ruled. Though it recognized the “sincere desire to welcome and accompany homosexual persons,” it explained that God “does not and cannot bless sin.”

European Catholics debate final outcome of Synod on Synodality assembly in Prague

Synod delegates listen to presentations at the European Continental Assembly in Prague on Feb. 7, 2023. / CCEE

Prague, Czech Republic, Feb 9, 2023 / 09:45 am (CNA).

European Catholics debated Thursday morning the contents of a final document that will influence the discussions of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican in the fall.

On the final day of public speeches in Prague on Feb. 9, the 200 delegates at the European Continental Assembly were asked if the assembly’s final document — drafted by a six-member committee — was faithful to what was discussed in the previous three days of the assembly.

Ukrainian Bishop Oleksandr Yazlovetskiy, a Latin auxiliary bishop of Kyiv, was one of the first to take the floor, raising an objection to the repeated use of the term LGBTQ on “every other page” in the document, suggesting instead that it would be better to cover the topic within a single paragraph.

Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki objected to the framing of “conservative and liberal” when describing the Church, suggesting instead to clarify whether given statements agree or disagree with the Gospel.

The Polish prelate added that the document does not communicate the position of the Church in its references to “LGBT” persons.

Bishop Georg Bätzing, the president of the German bishops’ conference, said that the Church is not yet in a “new Pentecost” as the document claimed.

Archbishop Felix Gmür of Basel, Switzerland, noted that parts of the text seemed “too vague” and could be more clear, especially in underlining where tensions exist.

Synod delegates listen to presentations at the European Continental Assembly in Prague, Czech Republic. CCEE
Synod delegates listen to presentations at the European Continental Assembly in Prague, Czech Republic. CCEE

Speaking in French, German, Italian, Polish, and English, delegates made suggestions as to how the text could be improved.

Bishop Brian McGee said that the Scottish delegation was surprised to see how the document “presented the labeling or characterizing of various groups in a single sentence multiple times.”

“We are not opposed to the inclusion at all, but we feel that it could be dealt with more sensitively,” he said.

Archbishop Eamon Martin said “we were a little bit embarrassed” because “the voice of the poor” was not more prominent in the document, despite the contributions during the assembly from Caritas International and other Catholic charities.

“I would just like a little bit more prominence to the cry of the poor, the cry of the Earth, and the cry for peace,” he said.

Bishop Aliaksandr Yasheuskiy, auxiliary of Minsk, Belarus, recommended that the text should be clarified to note that the comments on the ordination of married men and the ordination of women did not reflect the common opinion of the assembly.

While the majority of the speakers who opted to give their opinions on the text were bishops, several women also addressed the assembly.

Anna Diouf, a young woman representing the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians in Europe, asked how the text could underline the important role women play in the Church without mentioning the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The final document

Due to time constraints, delegates were not able to read and reflect on the final document before entering into the debate. Instead, Father Jan Nowotnik read aloud the draft document summarizing and synthesizing the contributions offered by Catholics from across the continent over the past three days.

Secularization, clerical abuse, tensions around the liturgy, and ecumenical dialogue were among the many themes highlighted in the still unpublished draft document, which seeks to provide a European perspective on a synodal Church.

The text mentions that the ordination of women to the diaconate was mentioned as a possibility at the assembly and added: “On the other hand, there is a clear divide in Europe on the ordination of women to priesthood, not only between East and West, but also within the various Western countries.”

Synod delagates participate in the European Continental Assembly in Pragude, Czech Republic, Feb. 8, 2023. Credit: CCEE
Synod delagates participate in the European Continental Assembly in Pragude, Czech Republic, Feb. 8, 2023. Credit: CCEE

The document also mentioned how many European delegates had expressed fear that the Synod on Synodality could result in a “watering down” of Catholic doctrine.

“Some highlighted that in a process like this, there was a risk of submitting to the spirit of the world. These fears were also expressed during our meeting, concern for possible watering down of doctrine or for the use of sociological expressions in working groups was underlined,” it said.

There was no vote on a final text from the first half of the assembly. Instead the assembly organizers asked if anyone had any objections to the draft text being made public.

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich assured the delegates that their comments and suggestions in the morning’s debate will be taken into account in the formation of the final draft.

Beginning on Feb. 10, European bishops will meet privately for three days in Prague for the second half of the assembly to collectively review the document, listen to speeches by the president of each country’s bishops’ conference, and produce their own second final document for the synod’s continental process.

The Prague assembly is one of seven synod continental assemblies occurring across the globe in February and March.

Hollerich noted that he and Cardinal Mario Grech will be traveling to attend continental assemblies in Beirut, Bangkok, and Bogotá, Colombia, in the coming weeks.

Cardinal Grech at European assembly: ‘The synod is not there to destroy Catholic identity’

Four cardinals, 45 bishops, and 80 priests concelebrated Mass Feb. 8, 2023, under the high vaulted ceiling of Prague’s St. Vitus Cathedral with about 500 people in attendance. The Mass marked the midway point of the European Continental Assembly meeting in Prague Feb. 5-12, 2023. / Credit: Lucie Horníková, Člověk a Víra

Prague, Czech Republic, Feb 9, 2023 / 09:15 am (CNA).

The chief organizer of the Catholic Church’s Synod on Synodality said Wednesday night that the global synod process is meant to uphold what makes the Catholic Church distinctive, not “to destroy Catholic identity.”

In a homily in Prague’s St. Vitus Cathedral on Feb. 9, Cardinal Mario Grech noted that some have wrongly understood the synod as “a battle of the conservatives against the liberals.”

The secretary general for the Synod of Bishops added that others have misunderstood the synod as a process to change the Church and to “blur the distinction between what is within the Catholic tradition and what is outside.”

Cardinal Mario Grech gives the homily at a Mass Feb. 8, 2023, at the midway point of the European Continental Assembly meeting in Prague Feb. 5-12, 2023. Credit: Lucie Horníková, Člověk a Víra
Cardinal Mario Grech gives the homily at a Mass Feb. 8, 2023, at the midway point of the European Continental Assembly meeting in Prague Feb. 5-12, 2023. Credit: Lucie Horníková, Člověk a Víra

Addressing these two “equally problematic” ways of understanding the Synod on Synodality, Grech said that the synod is not a process to “raze distinctions.”

“The synod is not there to destroy distinctions. The synod is not there to destroy Catholic identity,” he said.

“Rather, it is there to uphold distinctions, to understand the Gospel and what makes the Catholic Church truly one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.”

Four cardinals, 45 bishops, and 80 priests concelebrated Mass Feb. 8, 2023, under the high vaulted ceiling of Prague’s St. Vitus Cathedral with about 500 people in attendance. The Mass marked the midway point of the European Continental Assembly meeting in Prague Feb. 5-12, 2023. Credit: Lucie Horníková, Člověk a Víra
Four cardinals, 45 bishops, and 80 priests concelebrated Mass Feb. 8, 2023, under the high vaulted ceiling of Prague’s St. Vitus Cathedral with about 500 people in attendance. The Mass marked the midway point of the European Continental Assembly meeting in Prague Feb. 5-12, 2023. Credit: Lucie Horníková, Člověk a Víra

Grech offered these reflections midway through the European Continental Assembly meeting in Prague Feb. 5-12, where some European delegations have asked for a clearer definition of “synodality.”

“We need to try and define our vision of the Church, which during this process means perhaps a clearer definition of ‘synodality’ in the broader ecclesiological and theological sphere,” a representative of one of the English-speaking discussion groups told the assembly on Feb. 7.

The European assembly is split into two parts. In the first part Feb. 5-9, laypeople and clerics — including 65 women and 46 bishops — together represented their countries in livestreamed discussions of what priorities and themes should be taken up in the Synod of Bishops meeting at the Vatican this fall.

On Wednesday night, four cardinals, 45 bishops, and 80 priests concelebrated the Mass under the high vaulted ceiling of the 14th-century Gothic cathedral with about 500 people in attendance.

Located within the Prague Castle complex, the Metropolitan Cathedral of Saints Vitus, Wenceslaus and Adalbert contains the tombs of Holy Roman emperors and Bohemian kings, in addition to the tomb of St. Wenceslaus, a 10th-century martyr who inspired the Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas.”

Four cardinals, 45 bishops, and 80 priests concelebrated Mass Feb. 8, 2023, under the high vaulted ceiling of Prague’s St. Vitus Cathedral with about 500 people in attendance. The Mass marked the midway point of the European Continental Assembly meeting in Prague Feb. 5-12, 2023. Credit: Lucie Horníková, Člověk a Víra
Four cardinals, 45 bishops, and 80 priests concelebrated Mass Feb. 8, 2023, under the high vaulted ceiling of Prague’s St. Vitus Cathedral with about 500 people in attendance. The Mass marked the midway point of the European Continental Assembly meeting in Prague Feb. 5-12, 2023. Credit: Lucie Horníková, Člověk a Víra

In his homily, Grech used the word “prepositions” 30 times to explain that “what is internal cannot be understood if not in relation to the external, and the external cannot be understood if not in relation to the internal.”

“I believe that our synod is and should be a synod of prepositions. A prepositional synod — not necessarily a propositional synod — but definitely a prepositional synod,” Grech said.

The cardinal underlined that “every day we have to ask what makes us distinct as a Catholic Church.”

“It is in this way that I understand and look, with hope, at the Synod on Synodality. May our endeavor not become an exercise in exclusive distinction, between those who are in and those who are out. In other words, a distinction without relation, which ultimately results in no distinction,” he said.

“May our God, who is totally different yet totally in communion, guide his Church to become distinct, yet in relation.”

Germany’s Synodal Way leaders push women’s ordination during European bishops’ synodal assembly

Irme Stetter-Karp, president of the Central Committee of German Catholics. /

Prague, Czech Republic, Feb 8, 2023 / 11:10 am (CNA).

A leader of the controversial German Synodal Way said in a speech at Europe’s synod meeting Wednesday that the exclusion of women from ordination drives women from the Church.

Irme Stetter-Karp, the president of the lay Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), addressed delegates in the meeting in Prague on Feb. 8.

“The stubborn adherence to the dual anthropology and the confinement of women to the space outside of the ordained ministry tends to drive women, especially young women, out of the Church in the 21st century,” Stetter-Karp said.

Posing a question “to those who do not want to allow change” on the “the women’s question,” she asked: “How do you explain the multiple gifts and vocations of women in the Catholic Church worldwide if the Holy Spirit did not want it? I would like an honest answer to that.”

Stetter-Karp is one of three leaders of Germany’s Synodal Path who are playing an active role in the continental stage of the Church’s ongoing Synod on Synodality as official national delegates sent by Germany.

Thomas Söding, the German lay central committee’s vice president, also spoke to the assembly on Wednesday about why he believes there is a crisis of vocations in Europe.

Söding said: “We are experiencing a crisis of priestly vocations throughout Europe. What does it tell us?”

“I know there are different answers in the room. My conviction: We think too narrowly of the priestly vocation. We think too narrowly of God’s grace. We tie it to sex. We tie it to ‘state of life.’ If you want an opening, you don’t make the ministerial priesthood small, you make it large,” he added.

Bishop Georg Bätzing, who has served as the president of the Synodal Path since 2020, told Europe’s synod delegates on Feb. 6 that Germany’s Synodal Way has heard that “new forms are being sought to organize the priesthood” and that “the Church should be open to people whose way of life does not conform to the norms of the catechism, including queer people.”

“We hear and understand these concerns. I share them personally. I see my task as chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference in bringing them into the global process that is intended to renew the Church,” Bätzing said.

A tale of two synods

The German Synodal Way is a distinct initiative from the global Synod on Synodality initiated by Pope Francis in October 2021.

In Pope Francis’ first interview in 2023, the pope decried the German Synodal Way as elitist, unhelpful, and running the risk of bringing ideological harm to Church processes.

From the outset, the German process, which is not a synod, has courted controversy.

Participants have voted in favor of draft documents calling for the priestly ordination of women, same-sex blessings, and changes to Church teaching on homosexual acts, prompting accusations of heresy and fears of schism.

Concerns have been publicly raised by Church leaders from Poland, the Nordic countries, and around the world.

Fears of a “dirty schism” from Germany have increased over the past few months as organizers of the Synodal Way in November refused a moratorium on the process suggested by the Vatican.

Pope Francis launched the global consultation process leading to the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican in October 2023 and 2024 with a call to “encounter, listen, and discern.”

Synod organizers recently clarified that the sole theme to be discussed in each stage of the process is the official theme assigned by the pope: “For a Synodal Church: communion, participation, mission.”

The four-year synod process is currently in its continental stage with seven continental assemblies meeting in Fiji, Czech Republic, Thailand, Ethiopia, the United States, Lebanon, and multiple locations across Latin America.

The contributions of the German delegation participating in the European Continental Assembly will be included in the final document that will be debated and approved by the 200 European delegates — including 65 women and 46 bishops — on Feb. 9.

Following these discussions, a second private meeting among 35 bishops, the presidents of each of Europe’s bishops’ conferences, will collectively review the document, listen to speeches by each of the bishops, and produce a second final document.

The final documents produced by the assembly in Europe will influence what priorities and themes should be taken up in the Synod of Bishops taking place at the Vatican this fall.