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Welcome to Starting Seven, The Pillar’s daily newsletter.

I’m Luke Coppen and I seek to guide you each weekday morning to the most interesting Catholic news and comment.

😇 Today’s feast:  Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

📜 Today’s readings:  Gn 3:9-15, 20  ▪  Ps 98:1, 2-3ab, 3cd-4  ▪  Eph 1:3-6, 11-12  ▪  Lk 1:26-38.

🗞  Starting seven

1:  Pope Francis is marking the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception with an Angelus address, as well as visits to the Basilica of St. Mary Major and Piazza di Spagna.

2:  U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman has discussed topics including “relations with the People’s Republic of China” with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

3:  Peru’s new President Dina Boluarte has met with Lima Archbishop Carlos Castillo following the arrest of her predecessor Pedro Castillo (Spanish report).

4:  Fr. Hans Zollner has said that the Jesuits’ statement on the Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik scandal “raised questions that, as far as I see, can only be answered by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith” (Mateo González Alonso).

5: New U.S. bishops’ conference president Archbishop Timothy Broglio says that Catholics should not ignore disagreement, but “handle it in an evangelical fashion.”

6:  Former Anglican bishop Msgr. Michael Nazir-Ali reflects on his first year as a Catholic priest.

7:  And Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa offers a meditation on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.

🇻🇦 Today’s Bollettino

🧐  Look closer

Baptismal vow  German Bishop Franz-Josef Bode has announced that lay people will be trained to administer baptisms in his Diocese of Osnabrück from Easter 2023.

Speaking at a community meeting in Ostercappeln last Sunday, the deputy chairman of the German bishops’ conference said that the training would be offered especially to women working full-time and in a voluntary capacity in parishes.

He explained that the extraordinary baptismal ministers would begin their service in 2025, not long before the controversial bishop reaches the typical episcopal retirement age of 75.

A rising trend  Bishop Bode’s announcement is part of a growing trend in Germany. A new decree came into force in the Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart on Nov. 1 permitting lay pastoral and parish workers to preside at baptisms. They are expected to be commissioned in fall 2023.

A report on the diocesan website describing the change was headlined “A step toward greater equality.” Auxiliary Bishop Matthäus Karrer explained why diocesan Bishop Gebhard Fürst had made the move.

  • “The bishop’s motivation was, for the sake of gender equality in the Church, to do everything in his power to promote that gender equality,” Bishop Karrer said.

The report also quoted parish worker Ursula Renner, who said the decision made the Church “a bit more authentic.”

  • “And at the same time, it’s just a first step combined with the hope that further steps will follow in the area of administering the sacraments,” she said, possibly alluding to a resolution adopted by Germany’s “synodal way” in September challenging “the exclusion of women from the sacramental ministry.”

The dioceses of Osnabrück and Rottenburg-Stuttgart are not the first to make the move. They are following a trail blazed by the Diocese of Essen, led by Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck, which commissioned lay people in March to administer baptisms for an experimental three-year period.

Announcing the appointment of 18 lay pastoral and parish workers — 17 women and one man — as extraordinary baptismal ministers, the Essen diocese said that the measure was a “nationwide first.”

  • “With this step, the diocese is responding to the shortage of priests and the high demand for baptismal celebrations that are as personal and individual as possible,” it noted.

The German diocese was not the first in Europe to permit lay people to administer baptisms on a long-term basis. It was following the path taken in November 2019 by Switzerland’s Diocese of Basel (as well as by other Swiss dioceses).

What does Church law say?  The Code of Canon Law says that when an “ordinary minister” — a bishop, priest, or deacon — is “absent or impeded,” a catechist or other person designated by the local bishop confers baptism licitly. Any person “with the right intention” can also do so “in a case of necessity.”

The provision was emphasized in a 2020 Instruction issued by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy.

What’s next  The recent moves are not without controversy in Germany. Writing at CNA Deutsch, Fr. Joachim Heimerl suggested that “it is not about securing the administration of the sacraments, but about Church politics and about the Church becoming more laical.”

  • “One after the other, the German dioceses say goodbye to the baptismal practice of the universal Church and thus to their communion: the schism that the ‘synodal way’ has conjured up is solidifying,” he argued.

It’s highly likely that more of Germany’s 20 dioceses and seven archdioceses will adopt the practice in the coming years.

What's Starting Seven? Here's what you're reading, and how to get must-read morning news in your inbox, each day.

🔍 Stories to watch

🇺🇸  A Catholic parish is suing the state of Michigan over its right to hire staff committed to Church teachings.

🇬🇧  A U.K. Supreme Court ruling has paved the way for abortion clinic buffer zones in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

🇮🇪  Ireland’s bishops have announced progress in the development of the new lay ministry of catechist.

🇪🇺 European bishops have welcomed the appointment of Frans van Daele as the EU’s religious freedom envoy, filling a vacancy left by the departure of Christos Stylianides in September 2021.

🇮🇹  A conference begins in Rome today addressing the Pontifical Academy for Life’s controversial “Theological Ethics of Life.”

🇻🇦  Vatican News is now available on YouTube Shorts (Spanish report).

🇬🇭 The funeral of Cardinal Richard Kuuia Baawobr will take place in Ghana on Jan. 11.

📅  Coming soon

Dec. 10  Our Lady of Loreto; Slovakia’s President Zuzana Čaputová due to meet Pope Francis.

Dec. 12  Our Lady of Guadalupe; Pope Francis celebrates Mass in St. Peter’s; 10th anniversary of first papal tweet; Austria’s bishops begin ad limina visit.

Dec. 14 Episcopal ordination of Bishop-elect Peter Collins of East Anglia.

Dec. 16  Anniversary of Naples’ preservation from the 1631 eruption of Mount Vesuvius, associated with the liquefaction of St. Januarius’ blood.

Dec. 17  Pope Francis’ 86th birthday.

Dec. 18  FIFA World Cup in Qatar ends.

Dec. 21  Cardinal Matteo Zuppi presides at prayer vigil for peace at the tomb of St. Nicholas in Bari, Italy.

Dec. 22  Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, prefect of the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, turns 75.

Dec. 24 Pope Francis celebrates the Mass of the Nativity of the Lord at 7:30 p.m. Rome time.

Dec. 25  Pope gives Christmas blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world) at noon.

Dec. 26  St. Stephen.

Dec. 28  Pope Francis expected to publish apostolic letter marking 400 years since St. Francis de Sales’ death.

Dec. 29  Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga turns 80.

Dec. 30  Feast of the Holy Family.

Dec. 31  Pope presides at Vespers in St. Peter’s Basilica for the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God.

Have a happy feast of the Immaculate Conception.

-- Luke

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