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Polish Catholics commemorate fifth of diocesan priests killed in World War II

Catholic priests and civilians are seized by the Nazis in Bydgoszcz, Poland, in September 1939. / Public domain.

CNA Staff, Apr 29, 2021 / 04:00 am (CNA).

Catholics in Poland are commemorating the fifth of the country’s diocesan priests who were murdered in World War II as they mark the Day of Martyrdom of the Polish Clergy.

Around 2,000 of Poland’s 10,000 diocesan priests perished during the Nazi German occupation. They are among those remembered on April 29, the day of commemoration of martyred clergy, instituted by the Polish bishops.

Bishop Grzegorz Suchodolski of Siedlce was due to preside at a live-streamed Mass marking the day at the National Shrine of St. Joseph in Kalisz, central Poland, at noon local time.

April 29 is the day on which the U.S. Army liberated the Dachau concentration camp in 1945.

The Nazis killed 868 Polish Catholic clergy at Dachau, once described as “the largest priest cemetery in the world.”

In total, 3,000 Catholic clergy were held at the camp in southern Germany, which operated from 1933 to 1945. Almost two thirds of the priests and bishops came from Poland.

National pilgrimage of the Polish clergy to Dachau on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the camp in 2015.  /  EpiskopatNews
National pilgrimage of the Polish clergy to Dachau on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the camp in 2015. / EpiskopatNews

Jan Żaryn, director of the Institute for the Heritage of National Thought, said: “In Dachau, the number of Polish priests murdered there exceeded all other victims from the clergy of other European countries.”

He noted that several influential Polish priests were killed at the camp.

“Blessed Fr. Stefan Frelichowski, a priest who today is the patron of scouts, was among them. He was this symbol of Polish patriotism, of young priests following in the footsteps of such figures like Fr. Ignacy Skorupka,” he said, referring to the chaplain of the Polish Army who died in the Battle of Warsaw in 1920.

“Among the priests murdered in Dachau there was also Blessed Fr. Edward Detkens who was connected with the academic ministry in Warsaw.”

The Polish bishops chose the National Shrine of St. Joseph as the principal location for the commemoration of the Day of Martyrdom of the Polish Clergy because it has a special connection with Dachau.

A week before the camp’s liberation, the priests and monks at Dachau consecrated themselves to St. Joseph, fearing that the guards were planning to murder them before fleeing the advancing Allies. If they were spared, they promised they would make an annual pilgrimage to the shrine in Kalisz.

Just two hours before they were due to be killed on April 29, 1945, a small U.S. Army patrol unit arrived and saved them.

Several years later, the surviving priests made a pilgrimage to Kalisz, thanking God for saving them. In 1970, they founded the Chapel of Martyrdom and Gratitude in the shrine’s crypt.

The Chapel of Martyrdom and Gratitude in the crypt of the National Shrine of St. Joseph in Kalisz, Poland. / EWTN Polska
The Chapel of Martyrdom and Gratitude in the crypt of the National Shrine of St. Joseph in Kalisz, Poland. / EWTN Polska

Żaryn also highlighted the heroic actions of consecrated Polish men and women during the war. More than 600 male and female Polish religious died in the conflict.

“An important role in rescuing Jews was also played by men and women religious, especially after 1942, when Jews aware of the ongoing Holocaust began escaping from the ghettos to the so-called ‘Aryan side,’” the historian said.

The Day of Martyrdom of the Polish Clergy also commemorates priests killed under communism following the Second World War. They include Blessed Jerzy Popiełuszko, who was murdered by security service agents in 1984.

Prof. Jan Żaryn said that during the Stalinist period approximately 1,000 priests -- around 10% of the Polish clergy at that time -- passed through communist prisons.

“These are people who were chaplains of the Home Army, and later active Catholic social workers. I have in mind Fr. Tomasz Rostworowski or Fr. Zygmunt Kaczynski (...) murdered most probably in prison in May 1953,” he said.

He noted that prominent Church leaders such as Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, who will be beatified in September, were among those detained.

In 1953, Wyszyński was placed under house arrest by communist authorities for three years for refusing to punish priests active in the resistance against the communist regime.

Żaryn said that the regime continued to persecute clergy until the collapse of communism in Poland in 1989.

He recalled that the deaths of three priests that year -- Fr. Stefan Niedzielak, Fr. Stanisław Suchowolec, and Fr. Sylwester Zych -- remain unexplained.

Scottish bishops' leader laments ‘disturbing’ public worship ban in Ireland

The flag of the Republic of Ireland. / Michael Care Anderson (CC BY-NC 2.0).

CNA Staff, Apr 28, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

The president of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland on Wednesday deplored the Irish government’s “disturbing” public worship ban.

In an April 28 statement on behalf of the Scottish bishops, Bishop Hugh Gilbert criticized new regulations on public worship, approved April 12, which effectively criminalize Mass with a congregation in Ireland.

The statement marked a rare intervention by a bishops’ conference on matters in a neighboring country.

Gilbert, the bishop of Aberdeen, said: “Recent developments that penalize the celebration of Holy Mass have been disturbing not only to the Irish bishops’ conference but also to the bishops of Scotland.”

“We all recognize the need for restrictions to protect the common good of all people in a pandemic but to enact legislation that criminalizes those who gather to celebrate Holy Mass is indeed extreme and unjust.”

Bishop Hugh Gilbert, president of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland.  /  Scottish Catholic Media Office.
Bishop Hugh Gilbert, president of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland. / Scottish Catholic Media Office.

The new regulations, contained in a document known as statutory instrument 171 of 2021, forbid most large gatherings, with a narrow list of exceptions, including for priests celebrating Mass via live stream, as well as wedding receptions and funerals.

A statutory instrument is a form of secondary legislation allowing government ministers to legislate on day-to-day matters.

After the Church became aware of the regulations, days after they were approved, Archbishop Eamon Martin requested an urgent meeting with Ireland’s health minister.

Martin, the archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, expressed his objections to the statutory instrument when he met with Stephen Donnelly on April 19.

A statement from the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference said: “Archbishop Eamon Martin explained the deep concerns already expressed with regard to the criminalizing of leading, and gathering for, public worship at this time in Ireland despite the consistent support from the Churches for public health messaging since the beginning of the pandemic.”

The bishops’ conference added that the Church would continue to seek “clarification and legal advice regarding the extent and implications of the statutory instrument.”

Public Masses have remained suspended in Ireland since the end of 2020, despite restrictions being lifted in neighboring countries.

A landmark legal ruling led to the resumption of public Masses in Scotland in March. Public worship resumed in Northern Ireland on Good Friday, April 2. Public Masses have continued in England throughout a stringent lockdown that began on Jan. 4.

In his message of support to Irish Catholics, Gilbert noted that this year the Church in Scotland is celebrating the 1,500th anniversary of the birth of St. Columba, “who brought the faith from Ireland to Scotland in the sixth century.”

He said: “May the strong bonds between the Catholic Church in Ireland and Scotland established by St. Patrick, St. Columba, the Celtic saints and the faith of our forebears reassure our brothers and sisters in Ireland that they are not alone and are always in our prayers.”

‘Roma locuta’: Young Catholics hang banner in response to rainbow flag on Vienna’s oldest church

The banner hung by the group Christus Vincit from St. Rupert’s Church in Vienna, Austria. / YouTube screenshot.

CNA Staff, Apr 28, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).

Young Catholics have hung a banner declaring “Roma locuta, causa finita” (Rome has spoken, the case is closed) beneath a rainbow flag on Vienna’s oldest church.

A video posted to YouTube April 26 showed young people climbing up the side of St. Rupert’s Church at night and draping a banner reading in full: “God cannot bless sin. Roma locuta, causa finita.”

The video explained that they took the step after a rainbow flag, also known as the LGBT pride flag, was hung from the church’s tower in protest over the Vatican doctrinal congregation’s “no” to same-sex blessings.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued a “Responsum ad dubium” March 15 replying to the question, “does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?” The CDF answered, “Negative,” outlining its reasoning in an explanatory note and accompanying commentary.

The explanatory note, signed by CDF prefect Cardinal Luis Ladaria, S.J., and secretary Archbishop Giacomo Morandi, stressed that God never ceases to bless all “His pilgrim children.”

“But he does not and cannot bless sin,” it said.

Campaigners in Austria and Germany have announced that they will hold a day for blessings for same-sex partners on May 10 in defiance of the Vatican’s statement, which was issued with the approval of Pope Francis.

Representatives of the group that attached the banner to St. Rupert’s Church told CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, that they regarded the rainbow flag as a “provocation.”

“On the one hand, we wanted to show that such a provocation is not simply tolerated in Vienna and, on the other hand, we hope that this might trigger a rethink among certain officials,” said the representatives of group, known as Christus Vincit, who wished to remain anonymous.

“We also think that such an action can give other Catholics courage and hope. We actually hope that no further actions will be necessary, but should there be another one, it would arise from the same intention, namely to defend the Catholic faith.”

Cardinal Pell: ‘The duty of the German bishops is to uphold the teachings of Scripture’

Cardinal George Pell gives an interview to EWTN News in Rome in December 2020. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

Rome Newsroom, Apr 28, 2021 / 05:05 am (CNA).

Cardinal George Pell has said in an interview that the situation of the Church in Germany appears “ominous,” underlining that the German bishops must fulfill their duty to uphold the teachings of Scripture.

“I think that there is a percentage of the German Church that seems to be resolutely heading in the wrong direction,” Pell said in an interview with Colm Flynn that aired on EWTN April 27.

“By that, I mean it is quite clear that a liberalized Christianity, whether it is a liberalized Catholicism or Protestantism, in a generation or so merges into agnosticism. … If you adopt the policies of the world and just go along so that they approve, nobody is going to be interested in that.”

Pell’s comments come as members of the Church in Germany are planning on May 10 to hold a day of blessings for same-sex partners, despite the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s declaration that the Church does not have the power to bless same-sex unions.

Record numbers of Catholics have left the Church in Germany in recent years with 272,771 people formally leaving in 2019.

Pell said: “The duty of the German bishops is to uphold the teachings of Scripture, to uphold the teachings of the Church. We stand under those teachings. They’ve got no power to change them -- none of us do.”

“What is important is what is in the Word of God, what is in the apostolic tradition. And I don’t think that when push comes to shove they’ll -- and I cross my metaphors -- cross the Rubicon.”

The cardinal followed the situation of the Church in Germany through news articles during his imprisonment in Australia, something he notes in his latest book, “Prison Journal, Volume 2: The State Court Rejects the Appeal,” published by Ignatius Press.

During his 404 days in prison before he was ultimately acquitted, Pell said he kept the diary as a “historical record of a strange time.”

The cardinal was imprisoned in 2019, the year in which the German bishops launched their controversial “Synodal Way.”

The “Synodal Way” is a process bringing together German lay people and bishops to discuss four major topics: the way power is exercised in the Church; sexual morality; the priesthood; and the role of women.

When the bishops launched the initiative, they initially said that the deliberations would be “binding” on the German Church, prompting a Vatican intervention.

Pell said: “The really important issue for the Church is: Do we teach publicly what Christ taught? Now some of those teachings are quite unpopular: forgiveness, people with no rights like the unborn, people at the bottom of the pile, like prisoners, and then you can move to more controversial areas of family and marriage.”

The cardinal added that all leaders in the Church must decide whether or not to speak up about Church teachings at times when that message may be unpopular.

“You have all sorts of voices who are trying to crowd us out of the public square and saying we shouldn’t be doing this and that. Well, one of the things I am saying now and to all my successors is: We just have to keep talking,” he said.

“And our society will be deeply diminished to the extent it moves radically away from the Christian teachings on love and service and forgiveness.”

“And we can already see that in society in the changes that are taking place. We are often concentrating on the losses to the Church of a decline of practice and the departure of believers. That is certainly true, but it has big consequences for society generally, especially when a majority of the people had been Christian."

Cardinal Pell will turn 80 on June 8, thus becoming ineligible to vote in a future conclave. Asked how he felt heading into his 80s, the cardinal said he was grateful for the many blessings in his life.

"My biggest consolation now is that whatever my imperfections and foolishness, I haven’t thrown my life away on some nonsense cause -- like just making money for yourself. I have devoted my life to Christ, to the Church, imperfectly and ineffectively, but I get some considerable consolation from that,” he said.

New nuncio to Benin, Togo consecrated a bishop

Antonio Gravante/Shutterstock

Gibraltar, Apr 27, 2021 / 17:19 pm (CNA).

The episcopal consecration of Archbishop Mark Miles, who was appointed apostolic nuncio to Benin and Togo earlier this year, was held in Gibraltar on Sunday.

The consecrator at the April 25 Mass was Pietro Cardinal Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, with Archbishop Arthur Roche and Bishop Carmel Zammit as co-consecrators.

Archbishop Miles, 53, was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Gibraltar in 1996. He has served in the Vatican’s diplomatic corps since 2003. He has been as an English language interpreter for Pope Francis, and has recently been the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the Organization of American States. He has served as papal representative in Ecuador and Hungary and in the General Affairs Section of the Secretariat of State.

He was appointed apostolic nuncio to Benin Feb. 5, and to Togo March 2.

In his homily, Cardinal Parolin encouraged the new bishop to fulfill his new role with a generous and compassionate heart. 

“You will not be like the hired hand, who flees before dangers because he is unconcerned for the flock,” he said, according to the Gibraltar Chronicle. “Nor will you turn into a mere functionary, who puts in his time and then feels free to pursue his own interests and activities.”

“Instead, you will be a shepherd in the image of the Good Shepherd, ready to lay down your life for the sheep.”

He encouraged Archbishop Miles impartially to conduct actions of reconciliation, dialogue, and mediation. This will permit all parties to view the Church as “a just judge who honestly seeks to defend and safeguard justice and peace only,” the cardinal added. 

“In this way, in your new mission as Apostolic Nuncio in Benin and Togo, you will more easily lead those you encounter to value the Holy See’s voice and to recognise that it acts exclusively on behalf of the dignity of every human being and for the building of a world in which sentiments of solidarity and fraternal cooperation prevail,” he said.

“By your impartiality and your steadfast commitment to justice and peace, you will also point beyond yourself to the one who inspires your every action and words, namely Jesus, the source of all our joy and the rock of our salvation.”

At the end of the Mass, Archbishop Miles alluded to Gibraltar’s upcoming referendum on abortion, saying he hopes “that the sentiments which underpin [Gibraltarians’] generosity, care and concern toward the vulnerable, will continue to be expressed to all stages of human life in our community.”

The archbishop will fly to Benin May 3 to take up his new post.

Cardinal Marx renounces honor from German president after abuse survivors’ criticism

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, pictured in Rome Feb. 24, 2019. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

CNA Staff, Apr 27, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Cardinal Reinhard Marx said Tuesday that he had asked German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier not to bestow the Federal Cross of Merit on him after an outcry among advocates for abuse survivors over the award.

The archbishop of Munich and Freising was scheduled to receive the Bundesverdienstkreuz, Germany’s only federal decoration, at the Bellevue Palace in Berlin April 30.

But Marx said April 27 that he wished to withdraw from the event.

In a letter, the 67-year-old cardinal thanked Steinmeier for the “high honor of the award,” which Deutsche Welle, Germany’s state-funded international broadcaster, described as equal to a knighthood.

“It is my great request to you not to carry out the award. I am convinced that this is the right step with consideration for those who are obviously offended by the award, and especially with consideration for the survivors [of sexual abuse],” Marx said, according to CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

Marx, the president of the German bishops’ conference from 2014 to 2020, added that he did not want to draw negative attention to other award recipients.

“Of course I do not want to harm the office of the Federal President either,” he said.

He continued: “The criticism that is now being expressed by people who are affected by sexual abuse in the area of ​​the Church, I take very seriously, regardless of the accuracy of the individual statements in open letters and in the media.”

Peter Bringmann-Henselder, a member of the Affected Persons Advisory Board of Cologne archdiocese, had urged Steinmeier to withhold the honor in an open letter, reported CNA Deutsch.

He cited Marx’s handling of cases when he was bishop of Trier in 2001–2007.

Bringmann-Henselder said that the honor would call “everything into question for which we fight and work.”

Marx was due to receive the Knight Commander’s Cross (Großes Verdienstkreuz mit Stern), which Bringmann-Henselder himself received for his work on behalf of abuse survivors.

Bringmann-Henselder said that he would return the decoration if the presentation to Marx went ahead and advised other recipients to do the same.

“Otherwise, everyone who has already been awarded the Federal Cross of Merit for their services to the victims of sexualized violence should return it, as it will lose its actual value, the honor of a meritorious activity, when it is awarded to Cardinal Marx,” he wrote.

The open letter, which Bringmann-Henselder said also had the support of other members of the advisory board, continued: “We do not understand how you can award Cardinal Marx the Federal Cross of Merit, a man who is still criticized for not having consistently investigated cases of sexualized violence in his former diocese of Trier and who is accused of covering up cases in that context.”

The letter also stated that as archbishop of Munich and Freising, Marx had so far failed to publish a 2010 report on cases of sexualized violence in the archdiocese.

It said that the report was “not available to the public to this day, in complete contrast to the report of the Archdiocese of Cologne” -- a reference to the 800-page Gercke Report issued by Cologne archdiocese in March.

Marx did not respond directly to the open letter’s claims about the 2010 report on Tuesday.

The Archdiocese of Munich and Freising is reportedly planning to publish a new study documenting cases of sexualized violence between 1945 and 2019.

Marx said he hoped that his decision not to receive the honor would show “that further processing and, if possible, healing in the area of ​​sexual abuse in Church and society remains an important concern for me.”

Postulator: St. John Paul II remains a ‘prophetic voice’ seven years after canonization

The canonizations of St. John Paul and St. John XXIII in St. Peter’s Square, April 27, 2014. / Jeffrey Bruno via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.0).

CNA Staff, Apr 27, 2021 / 08:05 am (CNA).

The postulator of St. John Paul II’s canonization cause said Tuesday that the Polish pope remains a “prophetic voice” seven years after he was recognized as a saint.

Msgr. Sławomir Oder said that when St. John Paul II was canonized on April 27, 2014, he felt he had completed the task entrusted to him by Benedict XVI, who permitted the cause to open in 2005 without the customary five-year waiting period after a candidate’s death.

“At the beginning of this process, Pope Benedict XVI gave me a clear instruction: work fast but work well. On that day, I was conscious that I had not disappointed the expectations expressed in those words of the Holy Father,” he said.

Referring to recent criticisms of St. John Paul II in Poland and elsewhere, Oder said that devotion to the pope who led the Church from 1978 to 2005 would prove stronger than the attacks on him and his legacy.

“The voice of John Paul II, which resounds through his teaching -- and the fact of the devotion with which he is surrounded by people manifesting their love for him -- this voice continues to be a voice that stimulates our conscience and a prophetic voice that will always be contested by those who do not share the idea of the Church and Christianity at all,” he commented.

Pope Francis canonized John Paul II alongside John XXIII, pope from 1958 to 1963, on Divine Mercy Sunday 2014. Thousands of pilgrims from around the world filled St. Peter’s Square for the ceremony.

Oder said that the Polish pope’s cult had burgeoned immediately after his death on April 2, 2005, and was visible at his funeral on April 8.

“The funeral itself was an extraordinary event, unique in the history of humanity. From that day on, pilgrimages were constantly flowing to the grave of John Paul II, asking for necessary graces through his intercession,” he recalled.

Oder is also postulator of the beatification cause of St. John Paul II’s parents, Karol and Emilia.

“This is a beautiful example of the sanctity of the family, which is, in a way, the soil on which the sanctity of the next generation is born and matures,” he said.

He suggested that the Polish pope’s older brother Edmund Wojtyła could also be a suitable candidate for beatification.

Edmund was a medical doctor who died in 1932 at the age of 26, after contracting scarlet fever from a patient.

“The message of his life and death fits, as it were, into the context of the time of the pandemic in which we are living,” Oder said.

He continued: “Without prejudging anything, but looking also at Edmund’s life, one might think that it is, in a way, an example of the kind of heroism that we need today.”

Rome’s Center for Child Protection to become Institute of Anthropology

The Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, which will offer a diploma course in minor protection in 2016. / Luigi Santoro via Wikimedia Commons.

Rome Newsroom, Apr 27, 2021 / 06:00 am (CNA).

The Center for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University will be transformed from a diploma program to an institute of anthropology, with its own faculty, and offering licentiates and doctorates.

Fr. Nuno da Silva Gonçalves S.J., the rector of the university, said in a statement that the statutes of the new Institute of Anthropology: Interdisciplinary Studies on Human Dignity and Care (IADC) were approved by the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education last month.

The Center for Child Protection (CCP) was started in 2012 to provide internet-based training to Catholics anywhere in the world on the protection of children from sexual abuse.

In spring 2016, the center began offering a one semester-long diploma course of 30 credits in the protection of minors through the Institute of Psychology at the Gregorian University in Rome.

With the change to an institute, starting in September 2021, the IADC will offer the degrees of a licentiate in safeguarding and a doctorate in anthropology.

“With this decision, our university reiterates and intensifies its commitment to the work of protecting minors and vulnerable people and supporting safe environments which promote respect for human dignity,” Gonçalves said.

“At the same time,” he added, “this conversion will deepen the interdisciplinary dimension of education and research, recognized by all as fundamental to addressing issues surrounding abuse and its prevention.”

CCP president Fr. Hans Zollner, S.J., described the step as an “academic upgrade” on his Twitter account.

According to a press release, “the academic discipline of Anthropology, with its variety of subdisciplines, will allow the IADC to broaden the breadth of its engagement in scientific dialogue and research. It will thus be able to expand the CCP’s endeavors by identifying and studying the anthropological, social, and systemic factors that jeopardize human dignity.”

Irish moves to ban LGBT ‘conversion therapy’ will help silence religion, critics warn

Irish High Cross at the Rock of Cashel in Co. Tipperary, Ireland. Credit: Marie-Lise Van Wassenhove via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).

CNA Staff, Apr 26, 2021 / 18:01 pm (CNA).

Legitimate religious practice could fall under a too-broad ban on “conversion therapy” backed by LGBT activists in Ireland and Northern Ireland, critics have said.


Fr. Phillip Bochanski, executive director of Courage International, told CNA April 23 that the Irish bill in effect it will “restrict the freedom, and often the willingness, of pastoral ministers and other people of faith and good will to speak, in public or one-on-one, about what the Word of God has to say on issues of sexual morality, attraction and identity.”


“They will not be the only ones intimidated, however,” added Bochanski, whose Catholic apostolate ministers to Catholics with same-sex attraction. “Ultimately, legislation like this, and the rhetoric that accompanies it, will make it less likely that people experiencing same-sex attractions or gender identity discordance will seek out the pastoral care that they need and deserve.  I hope that those who propose the legislation will come to realize that it may end up hurting some of the very people whom they say they are trying to protect.”


In the Republic of Ireland, a bill first introduced in 2018 is still in committee in the 60-seat Senate. The bill, proposed by Sinn Fein’s Sen. Fintan Warfield, has close to 20 senators as co-sponsors.


Bochanksi said the Senate alleged that Courage practiced conversion therapy in discussions over the bill.


Officials at Ireland’s Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth are also preparing a paper on a “conversion therapy” ban and are working with the Department of Health. The ban includes as “conversion therapy” any form of treatment to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.


Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman told the Irish newspaper The Journal that the government “must be proactive in banning practices that not only propagandize harmful and discriminatory messages, but ones that also have serious negative consequences on a young person’s mental health, with the potential to inflict long-lasting damage.”


“Legislating for a ban on conversion therapy will send a clear and unambiguous message to everyone, both younger and older, that a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression is not up for debate,” O’Gorman said.


Bochanski told CNA the Irish proposal resembles legislation in several U.S. states and other countries and defines ‘conversion therapy’ much too broadly.


“Rather than restricting itself to protecting people from harmful treatment that would clearly be considered professional malpractice or even assault, it defines ‘conversion therapy’ to encompass ‘any practice or treatment by any person’ that addresses a person’s experience of same-sex attraction or gender identity discordance, unless it affirms that person's identity as LGBTQ,” he said. 


“Whether by accident or intentionally, the plain language of the bill – ‘any practice’ -- could easily be construed to include conversations in pastoral settings, homilies, catechesis of children or adults, or even the advice given to a person in confession, if these present the Church’s teaching about sexual attraction, sexual identity, and chastity,” said Bochanski. “Surely there are other ways that the state can protect people from harm without so widely chilling honest conversation and compassionate pastoral care.”


Bochanski said backers of a ban often use several definitions of “conversion therapy.” In discussions for the general public, advocates of a ban “typically focus on stories of horrible treatment carried out by individuals and groups (some religious, some secular) with little or no psychological training or expertise.”


“Such stories, which have been featured in articles, books and blog posts, as well as news documentaries and feature films like ‘Boy Erased,’ are alleged to include ‘boot camps’ and other programs that use public confession, physical and mental punishments, exposure to pornography, shaming and other techniques to ‘make a person straight’,” said the priest. “Such harmful practices deserve the condemnation of the Church's pastors, and regulation by the State, which has a duty to protect its people from harm,” he said.


However, the bills are often presented to legislatures in terms of “regulating medical doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists, and others in the healing professions.”


“People seek the help of such professionals for various motives: to better understand and meet their emotional and relational needs; to find healing for wounds of trauma, abuse or neglect; and to overcome bad habits of anger, greed, lust or intemperance,” said Bochanski. “People who are troubled by their experience of same-sex attractions or gender identity discordance sometimes seek out therapy to understand this experience better and to achieve the integration of sexuality that is at the heart of the Church's definition of chastity.  But unless the counselor affirms that such experiences are natural, inborn and perfectly healthy, their discussions with their patients or clients are often considered ‘conversion therapy’.” 


Both political rhetoric and the legislative scope of the bill are likely to have broad influence, Bochanski said, and there is a risk of mischaracterizing Catholic approaches.


“Proponents of the legislation have been increasingly successful in convincing the general public that whenever a parish priest, a college chaplain, or an apostolate like Courage talks to someone about the importance of living virtuously and choosing chaste friendship instead of same-sex intimate relationships, what they're really doing is practicing ‘conversion therapy’,” he said. “This is a serious mischaracterization, and gives people the mistaken impression that the Church and its ministers are intentionally harming people and trying to ‘pray away the gay’.”  


There is some question over what practices even have existed in Ireland. The Irish government’s Department for Equality told The Irish Catholic that the prevalence of conversion therapy is not known.


Patricia Casey, a professor of psychiatry at University College Dublin, told The Irish Catholic she has “never seen conversion therapy for gay people in Ireland or Britain, in my whole career.” She objected that the bill is an “unacceptable intrusion” into psychology, suggesting that it appeared to be “a ruse to try and promote more gender ideology.”


“It’s doing far more than banning conversion therapy, it’s actually dictating how doctors and mental health professionals must interact with people who have gender questions and issues,” Casey said.


The evangelical Christian groups Affinity and the Fellowship of Evangelical Churches also criticized the Irish bill. The ban’s backers include the Anti-Conversion Therapy Coalition, which is active in both Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland.


On April 20 the Northern Ireland Assembly passed a non-binding resolution calling for a ban on conversion therapy “in all its forms.” The motion, which passed 59-24, said that “it is fundamentally wrong to view our LGBTQ community as requiring a fix or cure,” BBC News reports. It called on Communities Minister Deirdre Hargery to put forward legislation to ban the practice. The assembly rejected an amendment that said “legitimate religious activities” like preaching, prayer and pastoral support do not constitute conversion therapy.


Ulster Unionist Party assembly members proposed the original resolution, while Democratic Unionist Party members proposed the failed amendment.


The Anti-Conversion Therapy Coalition opposed the protection for religion in the Northern Ireland resolution, saying it would allow “for religious reasons to be used as an exemption to practice conversion therapy, on the grounds that it is religious practice.”


“We believe that this will create a loophole that will be utilized in a way that is contradictory to the ideals of (the coalition), and to the rights and wellbeing of LGBTQ+ in Northern Ireland,” it said in an April 17 statement.


While the Northern Ireland Assembly has significant local control, the U.K. Parliament could put forward legislation to govern other parts of the United Kingdom. Prime Minister Teresa May’s government backed a ban on “conversion therapy” in 2018, while Prime Minister Boris Johnson last summer said plans for a ban would be advanced, BBC News reports. Several LGBT activists have resigned from the government’s LGBT advisory panel, claiming the government is not proceeding fast enough.


The push for a “conversion therapy” ban could face complications with the success of a legal challenge to transgender medical practices on minors.


In December 2020 the U.K.’s high court ruled that children are unlikely to be mature enough to give informed consent to medical treatment involving drugs that delay puberty. The case was brought by claimants including Keira Bell, a woman who for a time identified as male. She received puberty blockers at age 16 after just three one-hour appointments, then received hormonal treatments at age 17. She had a double mastectomy at the age of 20.


She now questions the medical treatment and refers to the treatments she received as “a tortuous and unnecessary path that is permanent and life-changing.”

German bishop confronts theologian for claiming Catholics against 'gender equality' are racist

Bishop Stefan Oster of Passau. Credit: Diocese of Passau

Passau, Germany, Apr 26, 2021 / 16:01 pm (CNA).

A German professor of theology and advocate for the ordination of women to the priesthood has come under criticism for claiming it was “racist” to oppose “equality” in the Church.

In turn, a bishop speaking up against her accusations has drawn the public ire of a German politician and former ambassador to the Holy See, who attacked the bishop for suggesting an open, considered debate.

Addressing a digital "women's forum" organized by the Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart April 17, Johanna Rahner said that anyone who did not advocate “equal rights for women” in the Church was a "racist”,  CNA Deutsch, the German partner agency of CNA reported.

Rahner, 58, is Professor of Dogmatics, Dogma History and Ecumenical Theology at the Faculty of Catholic Theology at Eberhard Karls University in Tübingen.

In her closing remarks of her address, Rahner said, “it is important to fly the flag outwardly and take an active political stand against discrimination against women. Anyone who does not do this and remains silent is a racist.” 

Bishop Stefan Oster of the Diocese of Passau took Rahner to task for her accusation, labelling it “shameless” in a text on his website April 19 and calling for considered dialogue instead of verbal confrontations. 

The bishop, a trained journalist, warned against escalation and hate speech in the media, criticizing the official German bishops' portal for its headline coverage of Rahner’s claims and calling for a debate on how to deal with provocations. To him, he wrote, this scandal was not just about a "shameless" accusation, but ultimately also an attempt to deny others being Catholic.

As CNA Deutsch reported, Bishop Oster was not the only one to react critically to Rahner's accusations of statement. 

Helmut Hoping, a professor of dogmatics in Freiburg, wrote in an opinion piece for the Catholic newspaper "Die Tagespost" that Rahner's statement no longer had anything to do with a theological debate.

"This is political agitation and denunciation," Hoping wrote, arguing Rahner not only raised an accusation of misogynistic racism, but also claimed that the Catholic Church, including its legal constitution, was not commensurate with the German constitutional law. 

Hoping also pointed out that Rahner is "a very influential and well-connected theologian. She not only advises the [German] bishops on matters of faith, but also sits on all kinds of academic committees.”

In his 1994 apostolic letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis, St. John Paul II declared that “the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”

Speaking to journalists during an in-flight press conference in 2016, Pope Francis said: “On the ordination of women in the Catholic Church, the final word is clear, it was said by St. John Paul II and this remains.”

Nonetheless, Rahner has repeatedly claimed that the decision is “not final”, including in 2017 with the official portal of the German bishops. 

Pope Francis has called on the German bishops to return academic theology in their country to the foundations of the Catholic faith. The bishops, Pope Francis told the bishops in writing on the occasion of their ad limina visit in 2015, should "accompany the theological faculties and help those who teach there to keep in mind the ecclesial scope of their mission. Fidelity to the Church and the Magisterium does not contradict academic freedom, but it does require an attitude of service to the gifts of God. The sentire cum ecclesia must especially distinguish those who form and shape the younger generations."

Meanwhile, following the public outfall over her pronouncements, the professor has offered a qualification of sorts to her accusation. Speaking to German public radio, Rahner said, "I have not called those who oppose women's ordination - for whatever reason - racists. I would explicitly take issue with that. But I would uphold an accusation: Anyone who ignores discrimination in the Catholic Church, even calls it non-existent, or even exaggerates it through a theological form of thought and then legitimizes it as such after all, can well earn the accusation of racism, and rightly so." 

Bishop Oster’s remarks came under criticism from Annette Schavan, a politician of the ruling Christian Democratic Union of Germany who is also a former vice-president of the Central Committee of German Catholics and former ambassador to the Holy See. The ZdK, which is co-organiser of the “Synodal Way” in Germany, has long called for the ordination of women to the priesthood. 

Speaking to German public radio, Schavan said Bishop Oster should not have publicly criticised Rahner’s remarks. 

“Johanna Rahner is a professor of theology and not a member of the diplomatic service. She is a theology professor, by the way, at one of the best faculties in the world, as has just been noted again. She must also be able to speak clearly. The quality of an institution is also determined by the way it formulates an argument. So when the bishop gets upset, he could have called Johanna Rahner and said, ‘I want to discuss this with you. I want to tell you what upsets me. I want to tell you where we have a common intersection or whatever.’"

Schavan is herself no stranger to public scandal. The former Minister for Education in the Merkel government had to resign from office after her PhD thesis was revealed to have been a work of plagiarism. Schavan was soon after appointed German Ambassador to the Holy See –– from 2014 to 2018 – despite protests from inside the Foreign Office. When asked by journalists at a press conference in 2018 what diplomatic services the embassy was providing to prominent prelates of German origin in the Vatican, such as Benedict XVI or Archbishop Georg Gänswein, Schavan admitted she did not know.