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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. Frances of Rome (optional memorial).

📜 Today’s readings:  Jer 17:5-10 ▪  Ps 1:1-2, 3, 4 and 6 ▪  Lk 16:19-31.

🗞  Starting seven

1:  Hong Kong Bishop Stephen Chow Sau-yan will make a five-day visit to the Archdiocese of Beijing next month (media release).

2:  The Nicaraguan government has ordered the closure of the local branch of Caritas (Spanish editorial, Italian editorial).

3:  Days after the airing of a documentary accusing St. John Paul II of covering up abuse, Kraków Archbishop Marek Jędraszewski has said there is “an operation to destroy” the Polish pope’s memory (Polish homily, Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, AP, Paulina Guzik).

4:  Authorities in Belarus have reportedly ended free rental agreements with at least four state-owned Catholic churches (Amanda Coakley).

5:  Three of the four scheduled witnesses did not turn up Wednesday for the 49th hearing in the Vatican finance trial (Italian report).

6:  Jacqueline Burkepile, Christophe Chaland, I.Media, Michael Kenny, Fr. Martin Ngo, Cardinal Seán O’Malley, Matthew Neugebauer, Jean-Baptiste Noé, Cardinal Carlos Osoro Sierra, Julian Paparella, Philip Pullella, Brian Roewe, Gudrun Sailer, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, and Christopher White reflect on 10 years of Pope Francis.

7:  And Philip Kosloski explains why St. Frances of Rome is the patron saint of car drivers.

🇻🇦 Today’s Bollettino

🧐  Look closer

How the synodal way ends  The final plenary meeting of Germany’s synodal way is due to begin this afternoon with a Service of the Word, immediately followed by a report from the initiative’s organizers.

Just two documents are expected to be discussed today: the foundational text “Priestly existence today” and the implementation text “Celibacy of priests – encouragement and opening.”

Both papers will have their second reading, meaning that they will be formally adopted as synodal way resolutions if they gain a two-thirds majority of votes among both bishops and other participants.

‘A yes is a yes’  But behind the seemingly orderly schedule for the next three days, there are deep divisions among participants.

German media reported Wednesday that a disagreement has emerged between organizers and bishops over whether requests for secret ballots should take precedence over votes in which participants are identified by name.

Organizers reportedly sent a letter to the German bishops’ conference on Tuesday insisting that named votes should take precedence over secret ballots.

This is a sensitive issue because organizers controversially switched from secret ballots to named votes during the last synodal assembly in September after a text on sexual ethics failed to win a two-thirds majority among bishops, prompting protests in the voting hall.

After the switch, all documents achieved the two-thirds majority, but critics argued that the change was intended to intimidate wavering bishops into supporting the texts and violated the synodal way’s own rules of procedure.

In rejecting the bishops’ request for precedence for secret ballots, organizers insisted that “a truly synodal atmosphere” required “that a yes is a yes and a no is a no, and that both members among themselves and the public know about the voting behavior of their representatives.”

‘A normal process’  The dispute is likely to have an impact on this week’s proceedings, but it is difficult to predict its effects.

It could drive some bishops to oppose the more controversial of the nine documents facing votes, such as the texts in favor of same-sex blessings, a positive appraisal of “gender diversity,” and the creation of synodal councils in dioceses and parishes (despite Vatican objections).

  • Bishops’ conference chairman Bishop Georg Bätzing said last week that he would not be surprised if some papers were rejected. “We also expect that texts will not be adopted, and that is a normal process,” he commented.

But the organizers’ insistence on named votes could have the opposite effect: persuading undecided bishops to vote with the majority to avoid being singled out by the synodal way’s boisterous supporters.

What’s next When the assembly ends on Saturday with a procession of synod members out of Frankfurt Cathedral, an intense, grueling three-year process will be over.  

There is likely to be a hangover period in which supporters lament what they perceive as the initiative’s meager results and critics deplore its outlandish innovations.

Indeed, the anguished assessments have already begun. In a March 8 article for the German Church’s official news website, Thomas Seiterich asked how the synodal way’s champions should respond to the psychological challenge of disappointments.

  • “Can the perspectives from psychotherapy be applied to the Church?” he asked. “Not directly. On the whole, probably not. But the question arises here as well: Maintain the bond and fidelity to the spiritual core of Christianity? Or leave? Or found extra muros free base communities?”

Regardless of how the synodal way ends, there is one harsh certainty: hundreds of thousands of Catholics in Germany will continue to leave the Church formally each year for the foreseeable future.

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 Jeffrey Monforton has ordered an immediate end to Traditional Latin Masses on the campus of the Franciscan University of Steubenville.

🇨🇳  Catholics in China’s Henan province must fill in an online form developed by local authorities before attending Masses, according to AsiaNews.

🇰🇷  Catholic leaders in South Korea will submit a new petition for the abolition of the death penalty to the country’s National Assembly (Korean statement).

🇩🇪  A record number of people formally left the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) in 2022 (German report).

🇻🇦  Archbishop Georg Gänswein has said that he is still awaiting a new assignment following a private audience with Pope Francis (German report, Bild interview report).

🇬🇪  A Catholic bishop has urged citizens of the country of Georgia not to “take the path of violence to resolve issues” amid protests against a “foreign agents” bill (Italian report).

🇨🇲  A priest kidnapped and killed in Cameroon did not belong to the Catholic Church, a bishop has clarified.

📅  Coming soon

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.

March 19  10th anniversary of Pope Francis’ inauguration.

March 31  Episcopal ordination of Bishop-elect Anthony C. Celino at St. Patrick Cathedral in El Paso, Texas.

Have a happy feast of St. Frances of Rome.
-- Luke

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