POPE FRANCIS MEETS U.S. BISHOPS IN ROME FOR THEIR AD LIMINA – POPE FRANCIS AND CELIBACY

An interesting note on the press office’s weekly calendar of notable events in the Vatican, Rome, Italy and throughout the world:

Rome, January 17-26: On the occasion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and the first Sunday of the Word of God, which this year falls on the day on of the liturgical memory of Saints Timothy and Titus (January 26, 2020), there will be a pilgrimage of the body of Saint Timothy to the basilicas of Saint Paul and Saint Peter from the cathedral basilica of Termoli. A stone document, found on May 11, 1945 in the crypt of the cathedral, certifies that the body is that of Saint Timothy, hidden by Bishop Stefano in 1239 whose provenance was Constantinople.

Will have to get more info!

POPE FRANCIS MEETS U.S. BISHOPS IN ROME FOR THEIR AD LIMINA

The American bishops of Regions VIII and IX are in Rome, continuing the ad limina visits that U.S. prelates began last fall. The bishops from Region VIII , which includes Minnesota and North and South Dakota, were received in audience this morning by Pope Francis.

All bishops, when they are in Rome for their mandatory ad limina visit, celebrate daily Masses at each of the four papal basilicas: St. Peter’s, St. Mary Major, St. John Lateran and St. Paul’s Outside the Walls. The Latin phrase ad limina apostolorum means “to the threshold of the Apostles,” and refers specifically to Saints Peter and Paul.

The week the bishops spend in Rome is dedicated to visiting offices of the Roman Curia, for which they have prepared extensive reports on their respective dioceses. Reports must be handed in to Rome six months prior to the actual ad limina visit.

Pope Francis instituted a new way of meeting with bishops while in Rome for an ad limina, deciding to meet them all as a group (by region, etc) and to have an off the cuff, “all holds barred” talk session with them instead of delivering a prepared speech. He introduces each session by telling them all topics are in the table, they are free to ask any questions they wish and he also points out where coffee, water are bathrooms are to be found!

POPE FRANCIS AND CELIBACY

Two stories out today on Pope Francis and celibacy. The first is a statement from Holy See Press Office director Matteo Bruni as he answers questions from several journalists:

The position of the Holy Father on celibacy is known. In the course of his conversation with journalists on his return from Panama, Pope Francis said: “A phrase from Saint Paul VI comes to mind: ‘I prefer to give my life before changing the law of celibacy'”. And he added: “Personally I think celibacy is a gift for the Church. I don’t agree to allow optional celibacy, no. Only a few possibilities would remain in the most remote locations – I think of the Pacific Islands … […] when there is a pastoral need, there, the pastor must think of the faithful “.

Regarding the way in which this topic fits into the more general work of the recent Synod on the Pan-Amazon region and its evangelization, during the final session the Holy Father said: “I was very pleased that we did not fall prisoners of these selective groups who, of the Synod, want to see only what has been decided on this or that other intra-ecclesiastical point, and deny the body of the Synod which are the diagnoses we have made in the four dimensions of pastoral, cultural, social and ecological) .The second is an editorial today in vaticannews.va

A CONTRIBUTION ON PRIESTLY CELIBACY IN FILIAL OBEDIENCE TO THE POPE

A book by the Pope emeritus and the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship** addresses a theme on which Pope Francis has expressed himself several times.
Andrea Tornielli

A book on the priesthood that bears the signatures of Pope emeritus Joseph Ratzinger and of Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, will be released in France on 15 January. The pre-publication material provided by Le Figaro shows that with their contribution, the authors are entering into the debate on celibacy and the possibility of ordaining married men as priests. Ratzinger and Sarah — who describe themselves as two Bishops “in filial obedience to Pope Francis” who “are seeking the truth” in “a spirit of love for the unity of the Church” — defend the discipline of celibacy and put forth the reasons that they feel counsel against changing it. The question of celibacy occupies 175 pages of the volume, with two texts — one from the Pope emeritus and the other from the Cardinal — together with an introduction and a conclusion signed by both.

In his text, Cardinal Sarah recalls that “there is an ontological-sacramental link between priesthood and celibacy. Any weakening of this link would put into question the Magisterium of the [Second Vatican] Council and Popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. I implore Pope Francis to protect us definitively from such a possibility by vetoing any weakening of the law of priestly celibacy, even if limited to one region another”. Further, Sarah goes so far as to describe the possibility of ordaining married men as “a pastoral catastrophe, an ecclesiological confusion and an obscuring of the understanding of the priesthood”.

In his brief contribution, Benedict XVI, reflecting on the subject, goes back to the Jewish roots of Christianity, affirming that from the beginning of God’s “new covenant” with humanity, which was established by Jesus, priesthood and celibacy are united. He recalls that already “in the ancient Church”, that is, in the first millennium, “married men could receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders only if they committed themselves to sexual abstinence”.

Priestly celibacy is not, and has never been, a dogma. It is an ecclesiastical discipline of the Latin Church that represents a precious gift, as all the recent Pontiffs have affirmed. The Catholic Eastern-Rite Churches allow the possibility of ordaining married men as priests. Exceptions have also been admitted in the Latin Church by Benedict XVI himself in the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, dedicated to Anglican priests who seek communion with the Catholic Church, which provides for “the admission of married men to the order of presbyter on a case by case basis, according to objective criteria approved by the Holy See”.

It is also worth remembering that Pope Francis has also expressed himself several times on the subject. While yet a Cardinal, in the book conversation with Rabbi Abraham Skorka, he explained that he was in favor of maintaining celibacy: “with all the pros and cons entailed, in ten centuries there have been more positive experiences than there have been errors. Tradition has a weight and validity”.

In dialogue with journalists on the flight back from Panama last January, the Pope recalled that in the Eastern Catholic Churches the option of either celibacy or marriage before the diaconate is possible; but he added, regarding the Latin Church: “I am reminded of that phrase of Saint Paul VI: ‘I would rather give my life than change the law on celibacy. It came to mind and I want to say it, because it is a courageous phrase, in a more difficult moment than this, 1968 / 1970… Personally, I think that celibacy is a gift for the Church. Second, I don’t agree with allowing optional celibacy, no.” In his reply, he also spoke about the discussion among theologians about the possibility of granting exemptions for some remote regions, such as the Pacific islands. He specified, however, “there’s no decision on my part. My decision is: optional celibacy before the diaconate, no. That’s something for me, something personal, I won’t do it, this remains clear. Am I ‘closed’? Maybe. But I don’t want to appear before God with this decision”.

The Synod on the Amazon was held in October 2019, and the topic was debated there. As can be seen from the final document, there were bishops who asked for the possibility of ordaining married permanent deacons as priests. It is striking, however, that on 26 October, in his concluding speech, the Pope, after having followed all the stages of the speeches and discussion in the hall, did not mention in any way the subject of the ordination of married men, not even in passing. Instead, he recalled the four dimensions of the Synod: that of inculturation; the ecological dimension; the social dimension; and finally the pastoral dimension, which “includes them all”. In that same speech, the Pontiff spoke about creativity in new ministries, and the role of women; and referring to the scarcity of clergy in certain mission areas, he recalled that there are many priests from a certain country who have gone to the first world, for example, the United States and Europe, and “there are not enough of them to send them out to the Amazon region of that same country”.

Finally, it is significant that Pope Francis, while thanking the media, also asked a favour of them at the same time: “that in their dissemination of the Final Document, they would focus above all on the diagnosis which is the more significant part, the part in which the Synod truly expressed itself best: cultural diagnosis, social diagnosis, pastoral diagnosis and ecological diagnosis”. The Pope then invited them not to fall into the danger of focusing on “which party won and which one lost” when looking at what was decided concerning disciplinary issues.

** The book referred to is entitled “From the Depths of Our Hearts” and is co-authored by Benedict XVI and Cardinal Sarah who write on priesthood, celibacy, and crisis, It will be released January 15 and available in English on February 20.