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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 saints:  St. Polycarp (optional memorial).

📜 Today’s readings:  Dt 30:15-20 ▪  Ps 1:1-2, 3, 4 & 6  ▪ Lk 9:22-25.

🗞  Starting seven

1:  Pope Francis said that ashes recall the “essential truth of our lives” as he celebrated Ash Wednesday Mass at Rome’s Basilica of Santa Sabina (full text, photos, video).

2:  The papal rescript on the motu proprio Traditionis custodes could cause “serious pastoral harm,” the Latin Mass Society (LMS) and the International Una Voce Federation (FIUV) have said (Ed Condon, Andrea Grillo, Felix Miller, Sebastian Morello, Felix Neumann, Abbé Benoît Paul-Joseph, Bishop Thomas Tobin).

3:  Vatican “foreign minister” Archbishop Paul Gallagher has said that Russia’s suspension of the New START treaty with the U.S. is “a move in the wrong direction.”

4:  Cardinal Gerhard Müller says in his new book-length interview that Pope Francis could revise the Catechism’s entry on the death penalty because it was “a matter of social doctrine,” rather than divine revelation.

5:  Canon lawyer Marc Balestrieri describes “the many remaining unknowns” in the Fr. Marko Rupnik case as “troubling.”

6; Mary McNamara says that the slain Bishop David O’Connell “restored my faith in faith” (Bishop O’Connell’s last recorded homily, Bishop Joseph V. Brennan,  J.D. Long-García, National Catholic Register).

7:  And archaeologists in England have identified the remains of a medieval anchoress.

🇻🇦 Today’s Bollettino

🧐  Look closer

The final countdown  In two weeks’ time, a plenary meeting of Germany’s synodal way will begin in Frankfurt. The synodal assembly — the initiative’s supreme decision-making body — will be the fifth and final in a series of gatherings that began in January 2020.

The meeting, which will follow a gathering of Germany’s bishops in Dresden, will take place under a cloud after a recent Vatican intervention ruling out the creation of a permanent “synodal council” of bishops and lay people to govern the Church in Germany. The proposal was endorsed by participants at the last synodal assembly in September 2022.

As the countdown to the final assembly begins, the synodal way has suffered a further blow. Four prominent synodal way delegates announced Wednesday that they were withdrawing from the process in a joint article published by Germany’s Welt newspaper.

Theology professor Katharina Westerhorstmann, philosopher Hanna-Barbara Gerl-Falkovitz, journalist Dorothea Schmidt, and theology professor Marianne Schlosser said that they could no longer share “in a course that is manifestly driving the Church in Germany into isolation from the universal Church.”

The four delegates, associated with the initiative’s conservative minority, said they would not attend next month’s synodal assembly.

Crunch time in Frankfurt The organizers of March’s crunch meeting face an additional dilemma: it is probably impossible to consider all the remaining synodal way texts in just three days.

The bottleneck was created at the fourth synodal assembly, which veered off schedule when bishops unexpectedly failed to endorse a text calling for a change in the Church’s approach to sexual ethics.

Controversial documents up for discussion next month include one on same-sex blessings and another on “gender diversity.”

Texts that aren’t endorsed at the final plenary assembly are likely to be taken up by the “synodal committee,” a body initially envisaged as a step toward the creation of a permanent synodal council.

The synodal committee — consisting of 27 diocesan bishops, 27 members elected by the lay Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), and 20 others — appears to be unaffected by the latest Vatican intervention. The ZdK has already selected its 27 participants, while 62 candidates have put themselves forward for the remaining 20 places.

After the last synodal assembly ends on March 11, the synodal committee is due to begin its deliberations, but its precise powers remain unclear and could be another source of tension with the Vatican.

What’s next  New Beginning, a German group critical of the synodal way, has outlined three possible scenarios for the German Church.

The first — which it deems the least likely — is “reconciliation,” in which Rome strongly asserts its authority and the German bishops “overrule all decisions of the synodal way that are contrary to common doctrine and universal Church law.”

In the second, there is a “dirty schism,” with Rome failing to “enforce current doctrine and law with the necessary strength,” while individual German bishops introduce synodal way resolutions in their dioceses in the form of “voluntary commitments.” In this scenario — “the most probable and the worst conceivable option” — the “common teaching of the universal Church is replaced by plural opinions of laity and bishops on religious matters.”

The third possibility is a “formally established schism,” in which the pope declares the German Church to be in schism, leading to a “separation of the orthodox part of the local Church, linked to Rome, from the ‘schismatics,’ who are in fact a separate group, no longer Catholic, and free to reorganize.” New Beginning describes this as “the bitterest solution, but at least the clearest.”

The second scenario already appears to be unfolding as several German bishops have indicated that they will implement synodal way resolutions on the election of bishops, sexual ethics, and synodal councils within their dioceses, without waiting for a nod from Rome.

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

🇺🇸  Bishop David J. Malloy has urged U.S. Catholics to “join with the Synod of Bishops of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, in setting aside Feb. 24 as a solemn day of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving” (UGCC).

🇬🇺  A court in Guam has reportedly dismissed the Vatican from a sexual abuse lawsuit under the terms of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.

🇦🇺  Sydney’s Seminary of the Good Shepherd has recorded the largest annual intake of seminarians in its history.

🇫🇷  A teenage student stabbed a teacher to death Wednesday at a Catholic school in France (Bishop Marc Aillet statement, French bishops’ conference statement).

🇻🇦  Vatican “foreign minister” Archbishop Paul Gallagher has said that the Holy See is “always keeping a certain openness towards the stakeholders” in the Ukraine conflict “for a future negotiation that should put an end to this terrible war” (Archbishop Gabriele Caccia).

🇪🇸  Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the apostolic nuncio to Spain, has criticized the country’s authorities for giving “18 months in prison for killing a rat while making it easier to perform an abortion” (Spanish report).

🇮🇪  Parents in Ireland will have the right to withdraw children from new sex education classes.

📅  Coming soon

Feb. 24  First anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine; Ireland’s Day of Prayer for Survivors and Victims of Abuse; Study of abuse in the Catholic Church in Mecklenburg, Germany, due to be published.

Feb. 25  Nigeria’s general election.

Feb. 26  Start of the Roman Curia’s Lenten spiritual exercises.

Feb. 27  German bishops’ spring plenary assembly begins in Dresden; Continental phase regional assembly for the Bolivarian region begins in Quito, Ecuador.

Feb. 28  George Weigel gives the 21st Annual William E. Simon Lecture on “What Ukraine Means.”

March 1  Africa synodal continental assembly begins in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

March 3  Portugal’s bishops hold extraordinary plenary assembly to reflect on independent abuse report; Diocese of Mainz abuse report released.

March 4 Flame Congress takes place in London, England, featuring Cardinal Tagle.

March 6  Continental phase regional assembly for the Southern Cone region begins in Brazil.

March 9 Fifth and final synodal assembly of Germany’s synodal way begins; Cardinal Michael Czerny speaks at Gonzaga University.

March 10  Members of the Council of Bishops’ Conferences of Europe (CCEE) celebrate Masses for peace in Ukraine.

March 13 10th anniversary of Pope Francis’ election.

Have a happy feast of St. Polycarp.
-- Luke

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