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: St. Francis de Sales (apostolic letter).
📜 Today’s readings: Heb 10:1-10 ▪ Ps 40:2 and 4ab, 7-8a, 10, 11 ▪ Mk 3:31-35.
🗞 Starting seven
1: Former Dominican master general Fr. Timothy Radcliffe will lead a three-day retreat for the world’s bishops ahead of the synod on synodality in October (Christopher Lamb).
2: The Vatican donated more than $10 million in charity in 2022, including $2.2 million for Ukraine.
3: Cardinal Gerhard Müller has said that Pope Francis has read his new book-length interview with “great interest” (German report).
4: Pope Francis has described long, abstract homilies as a “disaster” (full text).
5: Fr. Neil Xavier O’Donoghue says there is renewed debate over the best Bible translation for Catholic liturgies in the English-speaking world.
6: The Nineteen Sixty-four blog compares Mass attendance from the Netherlands to Nigeria.
7: And a 30-second time-lapse video captures the crowds at this year’s March for Life in Washington, D.C.
🇻🇦 Today’s Bollettino
Papal message for the 57th World Communications Day.
Papal message for the Jan. 24-28 international conference “For the Balance of the World” in Havana, Cuba (Spanish text).
Communiqué from the Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue on the Jan. 25-27 international conference “Women Building a Culture of Encounter Interreligiously.”
Statistics for the papal visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan.
🧐 Look closer
Canceling the council? The Vatican has made another major intervention in the German Catholic Church’s controversial “synodal way.”
In a four-page letter dated Jan. 16, three senior Vatican officials declared that the initiative had no authority to approve the creation of a permanent “synodal council” composed of lay people and bishops to oversee the local Church.
The trio underlined that Pope Francis had approved the letter “in forma specifica.”
How are German Catholics responding to the latest in a long line of Vatican interventions?
Roman headwinds German bishops’ conference chairman Bishop Georg Bätzing issued a combative statement lamenting the absence of discussions with Rome about “the content and objective of synodal deliberation at all levels in the Church in our country.”
“The Holy See sees the danger of a weakening of the episcopal office — I experience synodal consultation precisely as a strengthening of this office,” he wrote.
Thomas Söding, vice-president of the powerful lay Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) and one of the synodal way’s four principal organizers, disputed the Vatican’s assessment of the synodal council.
He wrote on Twitter that “what is criticized as the ‘synodal council’ is not what was decided in the synodal way. The DBK [German bishops’ conference] does not become a subordinate authority of that council, the bishop does not become a managing director of the diocesan council.”
He also said: “Nervousness is rising in the Vatican; because there is a strong model in Germany. The worldwide process has just begun. Dropping out is not an option. The statement of the DBK chairman speaks volumes.”
The ZdK’s president Irme Stetter-Karp expressed full support for Bishop Bätzing’s statement.
“The office of bishop will be strengthened, not weakened, by the planned committee. I’m glad to see that the overwhelming majority of German bishops are committed to the synodal way,” she said.
Katholisch.de, the official website of Germany’s Catholic Church, published an analysis of the letter headlined “German bishops continue on reform course — despite headwind from Rome.”
Editor Felix Neumann said that Bishop Bätzing’s response showed “how serious the majority of the German bishops are about the synodal council.”
“So far,” he wrote, “there are no signs that the bishops are backing away from their commitment to the synodal way. The headwind from Rome has apparently only strengthened them further. Despite all the determination, however, the question remains after this letter as to how long the strategy will continue to work: Up to now, it has been possible to simply move on with every warning in the hope of solidifying the synodal path along the way, consolidating it and making it more and more binding. Now the way is heading for a wall.”
On its Facebook page, an alternative German reform group called New Beginning said the pope was “putting a well-deserved end to the idea of installing a synodal council for the Catholic Church.”
“No one has the right to install such a body,” it commented. “There couldn’t be a clearer rebuff to the synodal way, Bishop Bätzing, and the ZdK.”
A comment piece by Guido Horst of Die Tagespost, a newspaper critical of the synodal way, was headlined simply “The synodal council is dead.”
“As it was conceived by the protagonists of the synodal way, the synodal council is now dead,” he wrote. “And in the Vatican one will probably not be inclined to continue talking about a corpse.”
He continued: “Of course, the majority of the German bishops can ignore the veto from Rome and continue as if nothing had happened. That was already the case after the ‘ad limina’ visit. See the ecclesiastical labor law. And Bätzing’s diocese of Limburg has already taken the next step with the guidelines for the new sexual morality, which proves that they no longer care about the Roman requirements. With this, however, the majority of the German bishops put themselves in a position of disobedience. They continue on the road to schism.”
What’s next The three Vatican cardinals underlined in their letter that they remained open to dialogue. In response, Bishop Bätzing said that the German bishops would “promptly” take up the “invitation to talk.”
The synodal way’s fifth and final plenary assembly is scheduled for March 9-11 in Frankfurt. It’s unlikely that Rome and Bonn (where the German bishops’ conference is based) will be able to resolve their differences over the synodal council in the next 44 days. The dispute is therefore likely weigh heavily on the gathering.
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
🇺🇸 Montse Alvarado is the new president and chief operating officer of EWTN News.
🇳🇮 Nicaraguan prosecutors have been accused of “fabricating” witnesses for the trial of Bishop Rolando Álvarez.
🇵🇱 Monthly adoration of the Blessed Sacrament for the intentions of people harmed by abuse will no longer take place in the upper church in Kraków’s Sanctuary of St. John Paul II, which is decorated with mosaics by Jesuit artist Fr. Marko Rupnik (Polish report).
🇺🇦 Ukraine has imposed sanctions on 22 Russian Orthodox Church figures (TASS report).
🇫🇷 Organizers have said that 20,000 people took part in this year’s March for Life in Paris (French report).
🇵🇰 The National Assembly of Pakistan has unanimously passed a bill tightening the country’s blasphemy laws.
🇯🇴 A new convent has been consecrated in Batnaya, an Iraqi village formerly occupied by ISIS forces.
📅 Coming soon
Jan. 25 Pope Francis presides at Vespers at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls at 5:30 p.m. local time; Start of the Order of Malta’s extraordinary chapter general.
Jan. 31 Pope Francis starts visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan; Portuguese-speaking bishops’ meeting begins in Nampula, Mozambique.
Feb. 2 Requiem Mass and burial of Cardinal George Pell at St. Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, Australia.
Feb. 3 Cardinal Domenico Calcagno turns 80.
Feb. 5 Europe’s continental synodal assembly begins in Prague; Mass at Argentina’s Basilica of Our Lady of Luján marking 25 years since Cardinal Eduardo Pironio’s death.
Have a happy feast of St. Francis de Sales.
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