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Christ: The center of history, and the source of our freedom

Good morning everybody,

Today is the 5th of July, and this is The Tuesday Pillar Post.

Today’s the feast of St. Zoe of Rome, a third-century noblewoman whose husband maintained the Roman jail in which was imprisoned St. Sebastian, a prophet who would become a martyr.

Zoe couldn’t speak; she apparently suffered an illness that left her unable to talk for more than six years — until Sebastian, the holy prisoner overseen by her husband, prayed over her.

After Sebastian’s blessing, Zoe began to speak — and soon found herself praising Sebastian’s God, the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Zoe and her husband were converted, baptized, and - for that - Zoe was soon martyred. She was apparently suffocated by smoke in 286, after she was suspended over a fire pit amid the Christian persecution of Diocletian.   

St. Zoe of Rome. Credit: Shutterstock.

May the Lord give us healing, may he open our lips, and may we praise God no matter the cost.

St. Zoe of Rome, pray for us.


Here’s what’s happening in the world:

The news

Pope Francis on Monday appointed Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Bishop of London, to become apostolic visitor for the Ukrainian Greek Catholics in Ireland.

Why? Well, because nearly 40,000 Ukrainian refugees have arrived in the Emerald Isle in recent months — war-weary and often in poverty — and the sole Ukrainian Catholic parish in Dublin faces a daunting task to provide pastoral care for them. 

Nowakowski told The Pillar yesterday that he’ll look into the prospect of establishing new Ukrainian Greek Catholic missions in Ireland, while he takes care of his growing flock at home — more than 65,000 Ukrainian refugees have already arrived in the U.K., where the bishop already exercises pastoral care.

“I think the Church always has to be seen as a lighthouse, where those beacons of hope are there, and that it’s not just an electronically manned lighthouse, but there’s actually a human being there able to provide a compassionate ear, prayers, and the ability for people to know that God loves them,” the bishop told The Pillar.

“The big thing - and I emphasize that time and again - is to keep us in prayer, to remember Ukraine, don’t let it slip off the horizon because it’s become, perhaps, old news. It’s very important,” he said.

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Albany’s Bishop Edward Scharfenberger on Friday proposed a plan to settle outside the courtroom more than 400 claims of sexual abuse in his New York diocese.

The bishop told The Pillar that mediated settlements would ensure more fair compensations for abuse victims, and help the diocese avoid filing for bankruptcy.

Albany is the not only diocese to propose mediation with victims; some dioceses have established large victims’ compensation funds administered by third parties. 

But Scharfenberger talked openly last week about the real challenge of providing monetary compensation to victims in a diocese with a declining population and limited cash:

“The thing, I think, that's not been understood is that there is a limited amount of money,” the bishop told The Pillar.

“I don’t want any hidden corners whereby we say we've got this pot over there saving for a rainy day…I’ll throw everything out there, but the thing is, the pot is limited.” 

Scharfenberger said he believes mediation would provide settlements for a higher number of victims than would litigation. He said he thinks that’s just. But the bishop said he knows victims will find it difficult to trust him:

“I understand that my efforts are naturally difficult to trust. It will be hard for many to believe that I am acting or speaking from my heart, or that what I do or say is credible,” he told The Pillar.

It’s not yet clear that the attorney leading lawsuits against the Albany diocese has actually brought the offer to his clients - or whether he intends to.

But Scharfenberger spoke strongly for serious ecclesial accountability during the 2018 McCarrick scandals — he was a leader among bishops pushing for serious reforms - and transparency. And as the Church continues to address a just resolution to clerical sexual abuse, one victims’ advocate told The Pillar that Scharfenberger’s views are worth discussion.

Read all about it.

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The Catholic Church in Liechtenstein is going through a moment of serious upheaval — the tiny country’s archbishop has declined to participate in the “synod on synodality,” and is under fire for his handling of a priest accused of sexual assault. And Liechtenstein’s Church leaders have had some tangles with both prince and parliament in the small country.

With all that going on, it’s possible that the archdiocese in Liechtenstein might well be eventually folded back into the Swiss diocese from which it was carved. It’s an unusual situation — but one from which the entire Church can draw some lessons.

Luke Coppen reports on “Big Trouble in Little Liechtenstein.”

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And while he’s spending time on small European countries, Luke brings you this profile of Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, one of Europe’s most influential Churchmen.

You might remember Hollerich from some controversial comments he made a few months ago, which called into question the Church’s doctrine on homosexuality. But you might not know that the cardinal plays a very big role in the universal “synod on synodality” and in the confederation of European bishops’ conferences.

Hollerich has a lot of influence over the direction of the Church in much of Europe. So if you want to understand how the business of the Church gets done in Europe — and who will be influential in guiding the shape of a future conclave — the cardinal is worth reading about.

Check it out.

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Here’s some more news that might be of interest:

Cardinal Blase Cupich said yesterday that “gun violence is a life issue,” after 6 people were killed in an Illinois suburb, and nearly two dozen more were treated in hospitals, most for gunshot wounds. They were shot during a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, just north of Chicago.

“Whatever one makes of the right to bear arms, there is plenty of room for prudential judgment in interpreting the Second Amendment so as to enact serious, broadly popular gun-safety measures. The Senate finally passed a significant, yet modest, gun-safety bill last month. But clearly more must be done,” the cardinal said in a statement.

“The right to bear arms does not eclipse the right to life, or the right of all Americans to go about their lives free of the fear that they might be shredded by bullets at any moment.”

“May the Lord of mercy embrace in love those who have died, bring healing to the wounded, comfort to their loved ones, and courage to all of us, so that we may respond to this tragedy united as God’s children to build a path to safety and peace.”

Pope Francis sent a telegram Tuesday morning to Cardinal Cupich, conveying prayers “that Almighty God will grant eternal rest to the dead and healing and consolation to the injured and bereaved with unwavering faith that the grace of God is able to convert even the hardest of hearts, making it possible to ‘depart from evil and do good.’”

For more on what the Church has to say about guns, read my May interview with Bishop Dan Flores, who talked with The Pillar after the Uvalda school shooting about guns, public discourse, and a crisis of hope.

Brazilian Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, who encouraged the pope to take the name Francis, has died at the age of 87.

Police in Nigeria have rescued a kidnapped Italian priest, while two other priests were abducted in Nigeria on Saturday.

Myanmar’s military is reportedly continuing to target churches.

Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes has expressed “deep regret” after Nicaragua’s government ordered the closure of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity apostolates in the country. (Spanish report).

Chinese Bishop Paul Lei Shiyin has celebrated the birth of China’s Communist Party in Leshan cathedral.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx has said that “the time is ripe” for women deacons (German report). 


‘The libertarian concept of freedom’

Much will be made in the news this week about a long interview Pope Francis gave this month to Reuters’ Vatican correspondent.

The interview covers a lot of ground, but doesn’t offer much new: The pontiff told Reuters that he has no plans to resign, denied rumors he has cancer, and said he hopes the Vatican’s deal with China will be renewed in October

The pope was asked about the prospect of denying pro-abortion Catholic politicians the Eucharist. 

“When the Church loses its pastoral nature, when a bishop loses his pastoral nature, it causes a political problem,” Francis said. “That's all I can say.”

That comment will be taken in the press mostly as a rebuke of Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s decision to deny Rep. Nancy Pelosi the Eucharist in the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Perhaps it was intended that way — although the pontiff, in Francis fashion, could be understood differently, since last year he talked about the importance of pastoral ministry before, during, and after a denial of Holy Communion, while affirming that there are times when the Eucharist should be denied.

In short, the pope was cryptic on the question, and much ink will be wasted by pundits aiming to show that Francis meant exactly what they’d like him to have meant.

I suspect most readers of The Pillar know that such exercises are rarely illuminating. 

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So while everyone talks about that interview, I’d like to draw your attention to another one — a fascinating - and precisely formulated - set of reflections on the German “synodal path,” the nature of heresy, and the life of the Church, from Fr. Karl-Heinz Menke, a German dogmatic theologian who won the prestigious Ratzinger Prize in 2017, and whom Pope Francis appointed to the International Theological Commission back in 2014.

The interview includes this important discussion of freedom:

“The teaching of the Church presupposes that God has given man real freedom; for in contrast to the animal he can voluntarily be what he should be. When a person is what his Creator intended him to be, he realizes and develops his freedom. And vice versa: if a person is not what God made him to be, he misses being himself - and becomes unfree - a slave to sin. 

Seen in this way, freedom is not freedom of choice, but self-commitment to the good. And what is good is not determined by each individual. Ultimately, the content of freedom is love; and what love is, we recognize in creation, with a look at Jesus Christ and the scriptures and traditions that interpret him.

The libertarian concept of freedom…is quite different. Freedom understood in a libertarian way determines its content itself … [According to this view], whoever wants to be free contradicts himself if he does not in turn grant every other person the recognition he expects from every fellow human being. But what exactly this recognition means is not determined by any external authority such as nature, Scripture or the Magisterium.

A Catholic who thinks as a libertarian will not let bishops dictate whether or not he may receive the Eucharist as a divorced person who has remarried or as a Christian of different denominations. He decides that himself. And he also decides himself whether his sexual relationships - in or outside of marriage, heterosexual or homosexual - correspond to love and thus to the recognition of the freedom of the other person or not.

A libertarian-minded church knows no decreed unity from above, but only unity based on conviction. A church that thinks in a modern way does not sacrifice diversity for unity, but understands unity as a service to diversity. There are - so the libertarians conclude - many interpretations of the recognition of freedom (of love), different interpretations of gender identity; multi-denominational interpretations of the Christ event; dogmas and norms are historically conditioned and can therefore be revised.”

Here’s the warning

“The vast majority of Catholics in Germany have not alienated themselves from the Church because they have adapted too little, but because they have adapted too much. She no longer has anything to say to the people because she fits her caritas into the structures prescribed by the state.”

And here’s Menke’s sense of the solution:

“The future does not lie in the implementation of libertarian freedom thinking, but - for example – in the small communities or movements that exemplify their Christian faith in an unabridged and inviting way. From them one can see that attachment to the truth proclaimed by the Church does not bind, but liberates.”

Read the whole thing. Use Google Translate if you need to —It’s not perfect, but it’ll give you a sense of the text.

This interview lays out the foundation of challenges the Church is experiencing around the globe — and the pernicious challenge of a libertarian, non-Christian vision of what it means to be free. It draws from the documents of the Second Vatican Council, aiming to interpret culture through their lens.

Yesterday, many of us toasted our freedom, and watched fireworks memorialize it in the sky.

Today, let’s commit to a vision of freedom that sees Christ at the center of history, and knows that he is the object of our liberty.

Have a good week.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

JD Flynn
The Pillar

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