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Meet the new Nigerian secretary for the Vatican Dicastery for Evangelization

Archbishop Fortunatus Nwachukwu. / Credit: Christian Peschken/EWTN News

Rome Newsroom, Mar 21, 2023 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

From a childhood as a war refugee to a career as a Holy See diplomat, Archbishop Fortunatus Nwachukwu will now take on a new leadership role in one of the most important dicasteries in the Roman Curia.

The Nigerian archbishop was recently appointed by Pope Francis as a secretary for the Vatican’s Dicastery for Evangelization.

The dicastery is tasked with “the work of evangelization, so that Christ, the light of the nations, may be known and witnessed to by word and deed, and the Church, his mystical body, may be built up.”

In an interview with EWTN last week, Nwachukwu, 62, spoke about evangelization and interreligious dialogue, underlining what Jesus said in John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”

“We have to continue to insist and to say that Jesus is the sole way to the Father,” he said, adding that “even going from Scripture, we can also refer to non-Christians as our brothers and sisters if they are walking in the truth in search of God.”

Childhood as a war refugee

Nwachukwu also recalled his childhood as a refugee displaced by the violence of Nigeria’s Civil War, also known as the Biafran War (July 6, 1967 – Jan. 15, 1970), in a previous interview with EWTN.

“I was only 7 years old when I was caught up in the midst of a civil conflict, one of the most horrible, horrendous civil conflicts of the last century. This was in 1967, the outbreak of the Nigeria Biafra Civil War,” the archbishop said.

“I lost many of my peers. I lost two of my own sisters. So, I knew right from a very early age what it means to pass through a situation of war. I know what it means to experience hunger. I know what it means to be an internally displaced person. So, I know the experience of being a refugee.”

An estimated 1 million people died during the war that lasted less than three years, with the majority dying from starvation, according to Encyclopedia Britannica.

“I know the experience of living away from my home. I lost my father and mother for a long period. We were five and we were under my eldest brother, who was only 13. And we had to survive. So, I know what it means to go through suffering,” Nwachukwu said.

He continued: “I lost years of education, three years from 1967 to 1970. And therefore, when I’m coming to the United Nations, I know what it means to experience war, not at the warfront, but as a victim, a victim that is innocent.”

Nwachukwu noted that he has brought all of these experiences with him to his work as a diplomat, most recently representing the Holy See at the United Nations in Geneva.

“I know what it means to feel one has been abandoned by the rest of humanity. Or what it means to feel one has been discriminated against in one’s own nation,” he said.

“When a person is going to talk to me about discrimination, about violence, about injustice, I think I’ve experienced them all in my own skin.”

Diplomatic service

Nwachukwu began his career in the Holy See diplomatic service in 1994, 10 years after his ordination as a priest in the Diocese of Umuahia in southern Nigeria.

His diplomatic career has brought him to Vatican posts in Ghana, Paraguay, Algeria, Switzerland, and Rome before he became an apostolic nuncio, the Vatican’s equivalent to an ambassador.

In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Nwachukwu as the apostolic nuncio to Nicaragua and elevated him to the rank of archbishop.

Archbishop Fortunatus Nwachukwu. Credit: Christian Peschken/EWTN News
Archbishop Fortunatus Nwachukwu. Credit: Christian Peschken/EWTN News

He later served as the apostolic nuncio to Trinidad and Tobago in 2017 and nuncio to St. Lucia, Grenada, Bahamas, Suriname, and Belize in 2018.

Nwachukwu holds a doctorate in canon law from the Angelicum and a doctorate in theology from the Pontifical Urban University. He also studied at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, and the Sankt Georgen Graduate School of Philosophy and Theology in Frankfurt, Germany.

The archbishop served since 2021 as the permanent observer of the Holy See to the Office of the United Nations in Geneva. He knows English, Italian, Spanish, German, modern Hebrew, French, and Arabic.

Nwachukwu said in the interview with EWTN last week that “if people of religions were to really put into practice the authentic values taught by their religions, we would put the United Nations organization out of a job.”

“If we were to live, to practice the authentic values taught by our religions, we would so much live human fraternity that much of United Nations activities will be superfluous,” he said.

Dicastery for Evangelization

Nwachukwu’s appointment places him in a leadership role in one of the most important dicasteries in the Roman Curia, which has the pope as its head. The Dicastery for Evangelization is listed first in the apostolic constitution Praedicate Evangelium, which means “Preach the Gospel” in Latin.

In the Dicastery for Evangelization, Nwachukwu will work under Cardinal Antonio Louis Tagle, one of the pro-prefects of the dicastery.

The Dicastery for Evangelization is presided over by the pope with two sections, each governed in the pope’s name by a pro-prefect. One section focuses on the “fundamental questions of evangelization in the world” and the other on supporting the initial proclamation of the Gospel in mission territories, including the work of the Pontifical Mission Societies.

Tagle heads the second section “for the first evangelization and new particular churches,” for which Nwachukwu will also work as its secretary.

Archbishop Salvatore Rino Fisichella serves as the pro-prefect for the first section tasked with the “fundamental questions of evangelization in the world.”

Pope’s book pick

When Nwachukwu settles in Rome, many in the Roman Curia likely will already be familiar with his writing. Pope Francis gave each member of the Curia a copy of Nwachukwu’s book, “The Abused Word,” a reflection on gossip, as a Christmas gift in 2021.

Nwachukwu wrote the short booklet at the suggestion of Pope Francis, who proposed the idea to the archbishop during their private audience in January 2019.

“As we finished talking about many things, talking about the abuse of words, news mongering, calumnies, and such things, as I was going, he took my hand and said, ‘Fortunatus, you write things, why don’t you write something on news mongering, on gossip?’”

“I have always been fascinated by the power of words,” Nwachukwu said. “Think of God creating humanity, creating the world by his power, by his word.”

‘Christ is our future’: Vatican announces theme, schedule for Pope Francis’ Budapest trip

Pope Francis at the International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest, Hungary Sept. 12, 2021. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Rome Newsroom, Mar 21, 2023 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis will travel to Budapest, Hungary, in just over a month for an April 28–30 visit to the capital of the central European country.

The theme of the papal trip is “Christ is our future.” The logo is a stylized drawing of Budapest’s Chain Bridge, the oldest Hungarian bridge over the River Danube.

According to the Vatican, the bridge “was originally built to connect the cities of Buda and Pest” and “evokes the idea, often referred to by the Holy Father, of the importance of building bridges between people.”

A circle around the bridge symbolizes the Eucharist. In 2021, Budapest hosted the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress, for which Pope Francis celebrated the final Mass.

According to 2019 statistics from the Vatican, approximately 61% of Hungary’s 9.7 million people identify as Catholic. The country’s second-highest religious demographic is those with no religious faith.


Pope Francis’ first day in Budapest will be mostly dedicated to meetings with Hungary’s President Katalin Novák, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, and other governmental authorities and civil society members.

St. Stephen’s Co-Cathedral will be the location of the pope’s encounter with bishops, priests, seminarians, consecrated men and women, and pastoral workers.

The second day of the pope’s visit will include private meetings with Jesuits and with children from the Blessed László Batthyány-Strattmann Institute for the Blind.

The institute, which has a kindergarten, elementary school, and home for children in need, is named for a Catholic doctor who dedicated his life to giving free medical treatment to the poor. Blessed László Batthyány, who was married with 13 children, died from cancer in 1931.

Francis’ two public addresses on April 29 will take place during a meeting with poor and refugees at St. Elizabeth Hungary Church and another with young adults at the Budapest Sports Arena.

On the morning of Sunday, April 30, Pope Francis will celebrate Mass in Kossuth Lajos Square, located next to the Hungarian Parliament building.

Afterward, his final meeting in Budapest will be with people connected to the Faculty of Information Technology and Bionics at the Pázmány Péter Catholic University.

The private Catholic university was founded in the 17th century and is one of Hungary’s oldest educational institutions.

The Faculty of Information Technology and Bionics “is unique in Hungarian higher education” for training IT engineers in the human sciences, especially genetics, the nervous system, and the immune system, according to the university’s website.

“This multidisciplinary approach is important, since a new industry is emerging on the boundary of information technology and biotechnology,” the website says.

The faculty offers bachelor’s degrees in computer engineering and molecular bionics engineering as well as master’s degrees in computer engineering, info-bionics engineering, and medical biotechnology.

Welcoming migrants, refugees is first step toward peace, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Safe, organized, legal and sustainable migration is in the interest of all countries, Pope Francis wrote.

"If this is not recognized, there is a risk that fear will erase people's future and justify those barriers against which lives are shattered," he said in a written address to refugees and to the volunteers and organizations who helped welcome and integrate them in Europe.

Speaking to the refugees and those who have helped them, the pope said, "Thank you for promoting this work of welcoming which is a concrete commitment to peace. Welcoming is the first step toward peace."

The Vatican audience hall March 18 was filled with individuals and families from many countries at war or affected by severe humanitarian emergencies, such as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria, Congo, Libya and Ukraine.

The pope only read a few passages from his prepared text, but spent about 25 minutes making his way, seated in a wheelchair, through the hall greeting guests and exchanging many hugs with enthusiastic children. One small boy insisted the pope accept his gift of a stuffed Spider-Man doll.

The migrants and refugees came to Italy and other European countries thanks to an initiative started in 2016 to create "humanitarian corridors" in which volunteers and organizations on the ground in areas of conflict identify people who are especially vulnerable and arrange for their safe and legal passage to communities prepared to take them in. They also help with housing, education and other forms of assistance.

The Rome-based Community of Sant'Egidio established the project together with the Federation of Evangelical Churches, the Waldensian church of Italy, the Italian branch of Caritas and the Italian bishops' conference.

The project was started to help people avoid dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean Sea in unsafe vessels, to prevent exploitation by human traffickers and to give priority to those in especially precarious conditions. More than 6,000 people have been offered legal passage and integration through the project since 2016.

In his spoken remarks, the pope thanked the organizations for their generosity and creativity and the commitment shown by governments for welcoming newcomers.

In his written address, the pope mentioned the recent shipwreck near Cutro, Italy, in which nearly 90 migrants, including children, died. "That disaster should never have happened and everything possible needs to be done to ensure that it will not be repeated," he wrote.

"Humanitarian corridors build bridges that many children, women, men and older persons fleeing from unstable and gravely dangerous situations cross in order to arrive safely, legally and with dignity, in their host countries," he wrote.

"Still, much effort is needed to expand this work and to open even more legal migration routes," he wrote. "Where political will is lacking, effective models like yours offer new and viable avenues."

"Safe, orderly, regular and sustainable migration is in the interest of all countries," he added.

This approach, he wrote, "points a way forward for Europe, to avoid its remaining frozen, fearful and lacking vision for the future."

The pope praised the project's emphasis on properly integrating people in host communities, and he thanked those who generously offer their homes, resources and help, writing that "you represent a beautiful face of Europe, one that is open, not without some sacrifice, to the future."

Addressing those who left their homelands, he underlined his own history as a son of a family of immigrants and wrote, "Your good example and industriousness help to dispel fear and apprehension about foreigners."

Jesus showed the way when he said, "I was a stranger and you welcomed me," the pope wrote. It is a path everyone must take "together and with perseverance."

In his written text, the pope also told those who have fled Ukraine that "the pope does not give up seeking peace, hoping for peace and praying for peace. I do this for your gravely afflicted country and for other countries affected by war."

Pope: We must integrate refugees!

Pope: We must integrate refugees!

Pope Francis greeted refugees March 18 who found safety and stability in Europe through "humanitarian corridors."

Here’s Mud In Your Eye – A Sermon On John 9:1-41

I’m going to begin this sermon a little differently from how I usually do. I’m going to start with a visual aid and a little experiment that I hope will help open our eyes.  About ten or twelve years ago…

U.S. Bishops’ Doctrine Committee Issues Guidance to Catholic Health Care Institutions on Respecting the Fundamental Order of the Human Body

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Doctrine has issued a statement providing moral criteria to Catholic health care institutions for discerning which medical interventions promote the authentic good of the human person and which are in fact injurious. The USCCB’s Administrative Committee approved the issuance of the Committee on Doctrine’s statement on March 15.

In their statement, the doctrine committee acknowledges that modern technology offers chemical, surgical, and genetic interventions for the functioning of the human body, as well as for modifying its appearance. While these developments have led to the cure of many maladies and promises for more, modern technology also produces interventions that are injurious to the true flourishing of the human person. As an example of immediate concern, the committee cites the interventions advocated by many in society as treatments for what is termed “gender dysphoria” or “gender incongruence.” These interventions involve the use of surgical or chemical techniques that aim to exchange the sex characteristics of a patient’s body for those of the opposite sex or for simulations thereof. As such interventions “do not respect the fundamental order of the human person as an intrinsic unity of body and soul, with a body that is sexually differentiated,” the committee states that Catholic health care services must not perform them.

While affirming that Catholic health care services “must employ all appropriate resources to mitigate the suffering of those who struggle with gender incongruence,” the committee asserts that the means used “must respect the fundamental order of the human body” or else the human person will not be helped, but rather harmed. The committee’s statement, which was developed in consultation with numerous parties, including medical ethicists, physicians, psychologists, and moral theologians, emphasized that “Catholic health care services are called to provide a model of promoting the authentic good of the human person. To fulfill this duty, all who collaborate in Catholic health care ministry must make every effort, using all appropriate means at their disposal, to provide the best medical care, as well as Christ’s compassionate accompaniment, to all patients, no matter who they may be or from what condition they may be suffering,” the statement says.

The committee’s full statement may be read here.


Pope Francis: The differences of others are an occasion to love better

Pope Francis speaks during his Angelus address on March 19, 2023. / Vatican Media

Vatican City, Mar 19, 2023 / 07:51 am (CNA).

We should treat the physical and social differences of others as a chance to love, not as an inconvenience, Pope Francis said in his Angelus address on Sunday.

The pope’s weekly message focused on the day’s Gospel reading, which recounts Jesus’ miraculous healing of the blind man.

Francis pointed out the reactions of the different characters in the story and invited people to reflect on how they might respond in a similar situation.

“How do we welcome the difficulties and differences of others? How do we welcome the people who have many limitations in life, either physical like this blind man or social like the beggars we find on the street?” he asked. “And do we welcome these people as inconveniences or as occasions to draw near to them with love?”

The Vatican said around 25,000 people attended Pope Francis' Angelus address on March 19, 2023. Vatican Media
The Vatican said around 25,000 people attended Pope Francis' Angelus address on March 19, 2023. Vatican Media

Pope Francis addressed approximately 25,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s Square on March 19. He also led everyone in praying the Angelus, a traditional Marian prayer, in Latin.

He encouraged everyone to read chapter 9 of the Gospel of John.

“Read about this miracle” of the healing of the blind man, he said. “It’s beautiful the way John recounts it.”

“You can read it in two minutes. But it shows how Jesus proceeds and how the human heart proceeds. The good human heart, the lukewarm human heart, the fearful human heart, the courageous human heart,” he continued.

The pope said the Gospel passage shows how each of the different characters react to Jesus’ healing of the man born blind.

Some are skeptics and some find it unacceptable, he said.

“In all these reactions, for various reasons, there emerge hearts closed in front of the sign of Jesus,” he said, “because they seek a culprit, because they do not know how to be surprised, because they do not want to change, because they are blocked by fear.”

This is similar to many situations today, he added. “When faced with something that is really a message of a person’s testimony, a message from Jesus, we fall into this: we look for another explanation, we don’t want to change, we look for a more elegant way out than accepting the truth.”

The blind man, instead, is the only person who accepts Jesus’ gift well, the pope explained. “Happy to see, [he] testifies what happened to him in the simplest way: ‘I was blind, now I see.’”

People wave Ukrainian flags during Pope Francis' Angelus address in St. Peter's Square March 19, 2023. Vatican Media
People wave Ukrainian flags during Pope Francis' Angelus address in St. Peter's Square March 19, 2023. Vatican Media

Pope Francis said the Gospel is asking us to imagine ourselves in the same scene, so that we might ask what our own reaction would be.

“What would we have said then? And above all, what would we do today? Like the blind man, do we know how to see the good and to be grateful for the gifts we receive?” he said.

He added: “Do we bear witness to Jesus, or do we spread criticism and suspicion instead? Are we free when faced with prejudices or do we associate ourselves with those who spread negativity and gossip? Are we happy to say that Jesus loves us and saves us, or, like the parents of the man born blind, do we allow ourselves to be caged in by the fear of what others will think?”

Or are we, he continued, “the lukewarm of heart who do not accept reality, and do not have the courage to say: ‘No, this is how it is.’”

After praying the Angelus, Pope Francis expressed his closeness to the people of Ecuador, who were hit by a 6.4-magnitude earthquake on Saturday.

Hundreds of people were hurt and at least 15 people killed in the quake, which mainly affected southern Ecuador and northern Peru, BBC News reported.

“I am close to the Ecuadorian people and I assure of my prayers for the deceased and all those who are suffering,” the pope said.

He also wished a happy Father’s Day to all the fathers.

In countries such as Italy, Portugal, Spain, Bolivia, Honduras, and several others, Father’s Day is celebrated on March 19, the Catholic feast of St. Joseph.

“Today we wish all fathers well. May they find in St. Joseph the model, the support, the comfort to live their fatherhood well,” Pope Francis said, inviting everyone to pray the Our Father for fathers.

In 2023, due to March 19 falling on the Fourth Sunday of Lent, the liturgical feast of St. Joseph is moved to Monday, March 20.

A heart filled with scorn, vain presumption is a path to perdition, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The faithful must set aside their egos and sense of superiority over others to make room for God and his tender mercy, Pope Francis said at a Lenten penance service.

"Only those who are poor in spirit and who are conscious of their need of salvation and forgiveness come into the presence of God," he said March 17.

And those whose hearts are filled with haughty, self-righteous comparisons and judgment, "you will go to hell," he said in his homily.

The pope led the penance service in a Rome parish, rather than St. Peter's Basilica, to mark the start of the worldwide celebration of "24 Hours for the Lord," a period when at least one church in every diocese was invited to be open all night -- or at least for extended hours -- for confession and eucharistic adoration.

The Rome parish the pope visited was St. Mary of Graces at Trionfale, the titular church of U.S. Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey. It also was the first parish in Rome he has visited since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020.

After delivering his homily at the service, there was a moment of eucharistic adoration during which the congregation knelt and the pope stood, head bowed, leaning on his cane.

Customarily, the pope would have then gone to a confessional in St. Peter's Basilica and kneel in front of a priest to confess his sins. However, this year with increased difficulty with his knee, he went to a quiet corner of the Rome parish church where there were two chairs, put on a purple stole and waited for each penitent to approach. He heard confessions for almost one hour.

Other priests were stationed in confessionals or elsewhere in the small church to hear confessions.

In his homily, the pope talked about the danger of being proud of one's "religious accomplishments" and believing oneself better than others.

"They feel comfortable, but they have no room for God because they feel no need for him," he said. Their prayer is more a series of "monologues" rather than sincere dialogue and prayer.

Such people may do good works, join church groups or help the parish and then expect a kind of "payback," that is, a sense of righteousness or expectation of a "prize" that elevates them above those who don't meet the same standards, he said.

"Brothers, sisters, let us remember this: The Lord comes to us when we step back from our presumptuous ego," the pope said.

He asked everyone to look in their hearts and reflect: "Am I presumptuous? Do I think I am better than others?"

After listing self-righteous thoughts such as: "I go to church, I go to Mass, I am married, married in the church, and these people are divorced, sinners," he asked, "Is your heart like this? (If so,) you will go to hell."

"In order to get close to God," he said, each Catholic should tell the Lord they are the biggest sinner of all, and the only reason they have not fallen into worse sin is because God's mercy "took me by the hand."

"God can bridge the distance whenever, with honesty and sincerity, we bring our weaknesses before him. He holds out his hand and lifts us up whenever we realize we are 'hitting rock bottom' and we turn back to him with a sincere heart," the pope said.

God is not afraid to "descend to the depths" and "take the lowliest place so he can be the servant of all," he said.

"There God waits for us there," at the bottom, the pope said, pointing downward, "not there," pointing up. God always waits for his children, especially when they participate, with great humility, in the sacrament of penance.

Pope Francis asked that everyone reflect on their lives and choose to stop hiding behind false masks and "the hypocrisy of appearances."

The faithful must "entrust to the Lord's mercy our darkness, our mistakes, our wretchedness," he said, and "acknowledge the distance between God’s dream for our lives and the reality of who we are each day -- the wretched."

The sacrament of reconciliation is meant to be an encounter that "heals the heart and leaves us with inner peace. Not a human tribunal to approach with dread, but a divine embrace in which to find consolation," he said.

He asked his brother priests who hear confession, "please forgive everything, forgive always."

Pope Francis hears confessions at Roman parish: God lifts us up when we hit ‘rock bottom’

Pope Francis heard confessions at a parish in Rome on Friday, March 17, 2023, and encouraged people to remember that God “holds out his hand and lifts us up whenever we realize that we are ‘hitting rock bottom.’” / Credit: Daniel Ibañez/CNA

Rome Newsroom, Mar 17, 2023 / 12:30 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis heard confessions at a parish in Rome on Friday and encouraged people to remember that God “holds out his hand and lifts us up whenever we realize that we are ‘hitting rock bottom.’”

In the presence of eucharistic adoration, the pope presided over a Lenten penitential service on March 17 to open “24 Hours for the Lord,” an initiative in which certain Catholic churches around the world will remain open 24 consecutive hours with round-the-clock confession and adoration.

“Brothers, sisters, let us remember this: The Lord comes to us when we step back from our  presumptuous ego. … He can bridge the distance whenever, with honesty and sincerity, we bring our weaknesses before him,” Pope Francis said.

“He holds out his hand and lifts us up whenever we realize we are ‘hitting rock bottom’ and we turn back to him with a sincere heart. That is how God is. He is waiting for us, deep down, for in Jesus he chose to ‘descend to the depths.’”

Pope Francis encouraged people to remember that God “holds out his hand and lifts us up whenever we realize that we are ‘hitting rock bottom’” at the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie al Trionfale in Rome on Friday, March 17, 2023. Credit: Daniel Ibañez/CNA
Pope Francis encouraged people to remember that God “holds out his hand and lifts us up whenever we realize that we are ‘hitting rock bottom’” at the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie al Trionfale in Rome on Friday, March 17, 2023. Credit: Daniel Ibañez/CNA

The pope underlined that God waits for us, especially in the sacrament of penance, where he said the Lord touches our wounds, heals our hearts, and leaves us with inner peace.

Pope Francis visited the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie al Trionfale, a parish located about one mile from the pope’s residence inside Vatican City.

Upon his arrival at the parish, the pope kissed a small Marian icon from his wheelchair and gave a bouquet of flowers to Our Lady. He offered greetings and shook hands with many people inside the parish from his wheelchair.

The pope offered a homily on God’s mercy before leading the parish in the Confiteor prayer.

Many people made confessions to priests — and some to the pope himself — during the Holy Hour at the Roman parish just outside the walls of Vatican City.

Pope Francis hears confessions at the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie al Trionfale in Rome on Friday, March 17, 2023. Credit: Daniel Ibañez/CNA
Pope Francis hears confessions at the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie al Trionfale in Rome on Friday, March 17, 2023. Credit: Daniel Ibañez/CNA

Pope Francis began the “24 Hours for the Lord” initiative in 2014, one year before he announced the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.

The Vatican Dicastery for Evangelization has asked dioceses around the world to once again open churches for 24 hours from Friday, March 17, to Saturday, March 18, to offer the opportunity to make confessions and pray in the presence of eucharistic adoration.

In his homily, Pope Francis asked the parishioners to repeat together the prayer of a tax collector in chapter 18 of the Gospel of Luke: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

The pope prayed: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner! When I forget you or I neglect you, when I prefer my words and those of the world to your own word, when I presume to be righteous and look down on others, when I gossip about others … God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

“When I care nothing for those all around me, when I’m indifferent to the poor and the suffering, the weak and the outcast, God, be merciful to me, a sinner! For my sins against life, for my bad example that mars the lovely face of Mother Church, for my sins against creation, God, be  merciful to me, a sinner.”

“For my falsehoods, my duplicity, my lack of honesty and integrity, God, be merciful to me, a sinner. For my hidden sins, for the ways in which I have unconsciously wronged others, and for the good I could have done and yet failed to do, God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

No, Pope Francis didn’t really hint that the requirement for priestly celibacy will be lifted

null / Credit: P. Cristian Gutiérrez, LC / Cathopic

Washington D.C., Mar 17, 2023 / 09:45 am (CNA).

On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of his election to the See of Peter, Pope Francis sat down with Infobae — a news agency from Argentina — to reminisce about his pontificate and to discuss issues affecting the Church and the world. During the interview, he said: “There is no contradiction for a priest to marry.” He called priestly celibacy “a temporary prescription” and said that it’s a prescription that could be reviewed.

The Holy Father made clear what he meant by his words. He said that celibacy is a “temporary prescription” inasmuch as “it is not eternal like priestly ordination, which is forever.” Secular media outlets and even some Catholic news organizations immediately jumped to the conclusion that the pope is open to revising the discipline of celibacy and that he even might lift it. 

Of course, he said no such thing. When the requirement for celibacy was openly discussed at the 2020 Amazon Synod, Pope Francis chose not to even mention celibacy in his postsynodal exhortation.

The interview provides an opportunity to ponder the priesthood and celibacy. The Church’s teaching on celibacy is different from her teaching on the indelible character of ordination and holy orders being reserved to men alone. These are dogmas taught by the Church that need to be believed lest we fall into heresy or dissent.

That ordination to the priesthood forever marks a man was universally believed until the rise of Protestantism in the 16th century. The Church has always lived Hebrews 7:17 (“You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek”). Only after Protestants criticized the ordained ministry did the Council of Trent solemnly define that it is divinely revealed that every priest is a priest forever. Today, when priests are released from the obligations of the priesthood they do not become laymen again. They are simply given permission not to exercise the duties and obligations of the priesthood. They remain priests. No priest is ever “laicized,” despite the popularity of that unfortunate word.

In 1976, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith noted in its decree Inter Insignores that the Church had no authority to ordain women because Christ himself did not choose women to be among the Twelve and because the apostles, who were given authority to teach after Christ ascended, never chose women either. Rather than being explicit in Scripture, it’s a necessary logical conclusion from the revelation of Scripture and tradition.

Christ was not subject to cultural norms. The apostles, who taught more than Christ could in his earthly life, adopted many Greco-Roman customs instead of Mosaic norms. The Greeks had priestesses, but the apostles still did not ordain women. With the approval of Pope Paul VI, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declared that these facts were definitive: the Church cannot ordain women. 

In 1994, Pope John Paul II reaffirmed this conclusion in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. A year later, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith noted that the saintly pope’s letter was declaring that it’s always been taught that women can’t be ordained. There may come a day, as happened in the 16th century, when a pope or an ecumenical council must solemnly declare that this is a divinely revealed truth, but for now, it’s part of the ordinary and universal magisterium that we must believe women can’t be ordained lest we become dissenters to the Catholic faith.

Celibacy is in a different category. Although the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Luke tells us that St. Peter had a mother-in-law, the Lord’s counsel in favor of virginity for the sake of the kingdom (Mt 19:12) became normative. St. Paul noted that unmarried men are entirely devoted to the affairs of the Lord (1 Cor 7:32). Celibacy was the discipline very early on.

Although there were local councils as early as the fourth century, such as the Council of Elvira, which mandated the celibacy of priests, it was understood that even married priests were practicing sexual abstinence because they were to be single-minded in the worship of God. It was a carryover from Judaism, which understood that priests serving in the Temple ought to abstain from sexual relations with their wives to keep themselves focused on God.

When Christ replaced the Temple and the Eucharist became the primary mode of divine worship, even those priests who married in the first centuries of the Church tended to practice a “Josephite” marriage — a marriage without sexual relations — so they could be pure and undivided in worshipping God. Modern critics of celibacy haven’t done their research. Even married priests during the first centuries of the Church ceased to be husbands in the intimate sense because they and their wives understood the primacy of the worship of God and the single-mindedness worship required from those consecrated to offer the Mass. 

Although the Roman Catholic Church even today has exceptions to priestly celibacy — the Anglican Ordinariate, for instance — and although the Eastern Church has married priests, even married priests today recognize the importance, value, and superiority of celibacy. Celibate priests live as Christ lived in this world. His celibacy and his sacrifice gave life to the world.

It’s certainly possible that one day in the future the discipline of celibacy may go away, but it’s not likely. Protestant denominations with married clergy have fewer vocations than many Catholic dioceses and religious orders. A celibate clergy has been normative in the Catholic Church for several hundred years. Parishes and dioceses aren’t prepared to support clergy families. Most priests earn less than minimum wage every year, regardless of the additional benefits they may receive — benefits most parishes and dioceses cannot afford to extend to a family. 

More importantly, while priests may struggle at times with celibacy, and they may sometimes see it as a trial in their service for the Lord and his Church, there are very few, perhaps only a handful, of good priests who would give up celibacy in their priesthood. It’s only critics and outsiders who tell priests that we should be married. As great a good as marriage is, we priests know that God requires even more from us.

It requires a certain grace to live celibacy joyfully and wholly. The necessity of such a grace guarantees that priests are entirely devoted to God and because we are given the grace to be so devoted throughout our lives.

Commission focuses on ensuring synod will be prayerful experience

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- At the end of their first meeting, three members of the preparatory commission for the assembly of the Synod of Bishops said they know some Catholics have very high expectations for the process while others have intense anxiety.

The seven-member commission met at the Vatican March 13-16 and had an audience with Pope Francis on the last day of their gathering.

Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas, who has been coordinating the synod process for the bishops of the United States, was one of the members whose appointment was announced by the Vatican March 15.

He told Catholic News Service the meeting with the pope was "very encouraging" because "he speaks very beautifully about the church and about how close to his heart is the issue of participation and building up communion."

Pope Francis, he said, knows some people have exaggerated expectations for the synod while others have exaggerated anxiety because it is not completely clear where the process is leading, although the pope has spoken frequently about strengthening a "synodal church," one in which all the baptized members listen to one another and share responsibility for the church's life and mission.

"You know," Bishop Flores said, "sometimes the human condition is something of a messy affair -- that's my phrase, not his -- and if God was waiting for us to get our act completely together to help us get to a better place, he'd be waiting a long time."

In the local, national and continental phases of the synod process, he said, people made a "great investment of spiritual and personal energy and of time," reading, praying and listening to one another.

One thing Bishop Flores said became very clear to him is that he and other people in his diocese need to be much more intentional and creative in "reaching out to people who, because of their own personal circumstances, don't feel free or confident" about joining in the life of their parishes or dioceses.

"The church sometimes can become a little too comfortable and only the comfortable feel comfortable there," he said.

Bishop Flores said the March meeting at the Vatican was basically an "orientation" meeting, but members have been told they will read and review all the reports from the continental stage of the synod reflection, assist in preparing the synod working document and help during the synod itself. The commission members were not told if they would be full voting members of the synod, but he said it is likely.

That would mean that Mercedarian Sister Shizue "Filo" Hirota from Tokyo, the only woman on the commission, would be a voting member of the synod. Pope Francis had said in an interview earlier in March, that whoever participates in a synod as a member "has the right to vote. Whether male or female. Everyone, everyone. That word everyone for me is key."

The March meeting, Sister Hirota told CNS, included a presentation on the "episcopal mission" and special responsibility of bishops in the synodal discernment process.

"But a bishop is, of course, part of the people of God. And a bishop has a responsibility to listen to his people," she said. "So, although numerically in this synod, most members will be bishops, there will be a good number of laypeople, women and non-bishops who will be like a memory or a reminder of the ecclesial journey that we have made."

The pope and synod organizers are looking for something "quite different," she said. "It really should be a prayerful, spiritual reflection" for all the assembly participants, so the conversation is not an intellectual debate, but an experience of the Holy Spirit moving through the community gathered in the synod hall.

"Of course, there are certain controversial issues, and we have to look at them," Sister Hirota said. "But the synod is not just about LGBTQ Catholics or women, it is about the church."

Archbishop Timothy Costelloe of Perth, president of the Australian bishops' conference, also is a member of the commission and brings with him the experience of the four-year process of the Australian church's Plenary Council, which concluded in July 2022.

While the council's preparation included widespread listening, Australian Catholics held more listening sessions as part of the synod process.

The bishops, Archbishop Costelloe told CNS, noticed "some consultation fatigue," but also were impressed with how the prayerful listening done before the Plenary Council became almost second nature during the synod listening sessions.

Having an atmosphere of "prayer and deep reflection" at the plenary, he said, "seemed to me to create a deep sense of respect for each other," and he hopes that will be repeated at the synod assembly in Rome in October.

Another result from the plenary the archbishop said he hoped the synod also will experience is an acceptance that some of the more controversial issues facing the church may not be resolved at the synod.

"There's a wisdom and maturity about saying, 'Well, at the moment it's clear that we're not able to resolve this issue. Are we therefore going to allow it to tear us apart? Or are we going to just accept that for the moment?'" the archbishop said. "We live in this rather messy and non-satisfactory situation, but we're not going to allow it to destroy us."