The news: CDF weighs in on pro-choice Communion debate, a catechesis on catechists, and hot chicken

The Tuesday Pillar Post

Hey everybody,

Greetings from Knoxville, Tennessee, where I am spending a couple of days interviewing Bishop Rick Stika, who was recently the subject of reports to the Holy See, from priests and others in the diocese who have criticized his leadership on several fronts. Bishop Stika has another view on those criticisms, and invited me to Tennessee to talk about that.

I’ll interview him and others in the diocese over the next few days.

For now, know that it’s true what they say about Nashville Hot Chicken: It’s amazing.

Nashville Hot Chicken is an extraordinary experience. This wasn’t my lunch, but it was like my lunch. Credit: Jimmy Emerson via flickr. CC BY SA 3.0

Here’s what you need to know:

A catechesis on catechists

Pope Francis this morning issued Antiquum ministerium, a motu proprio that establishes the “lay ministry of catechist,” and calls for the promulgation of a ritual commissioning of catechists.

Here’s what’s going on:

In the U.S. and most of the Anglophone West, we tend to think of “catechists” as instructors of religious education, perhaps parish DREs or high school religion teachers, and others who teach the faith in some similar institutional setting. But in many other parts of the world, especially those the Church deems missionary territory, the “catechist” is responsible for much more — teaching the faith, but also sometimes maintaining a village or community chapel, conducting marriage and baptism prep, actually witnesses marriages and baptizing people in the absence of a priest, making communion calls, sometimes burying the dead.

In those parts of the world, the catechist is a layperson who assists a missionary priest in a variety of significant ways. After the 2019 Amazon synod, Pope Francis talked about the importance of recognizing the work of catechists, developing ways to liturgically “commission” them, and to adapt them to local circumstances. The new motu proprio mostly calls episcopal conferences to develop ideas about how better to understand, form, and make use of catechists in local circumstances.

It is interesting to note that the Church identifies the work of catechists as a “ministry” - a term usually reserved in a formal way for liturgical functions, such as the ministries of lector and acolyte.

In any case, I predict the U.S. bishops’ conference committees on catechesis and laity will probably put together a working group on this, but I don’t imagine it will have a practical component in the U.S. with much immediacy, given that the American sense of being a catechist is not precisely what’s envisioned in other parts of the world.

Read an explainer here about what catechists are, and read a full report on this morning’s news here.

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Germany

Yesterday, as part of the “Love Wins” protest in Germany, more than 100 Catholics parishes offered liturgical blessings to same-sex couples, partly in a kind of public protest of a March statement from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith explaining the theological “impossibility” of conferring such blessings.

The blessings yesterday, to which the president of the German bishops’ conference objected before they took place, have not yet drawn any official rebuke from ecclesiastical leaders in Germany. But they represent clearly an acceleration of the kinds of dissenting practices called for by the country’s ongoing “synodal path,” through which German bishops and lay Catholics intend to pass resolutions calling for changes to Catholic doctrine. Doctrine, of course, is not decided by committee, and the ongoing activity of the “synodal path” has caused a lot of consternation in Rome.

Lately, a few Vatican Churchmen have even begun to say that if the situation doesn’t defuse soon, bishops in Germany could find themselves in schism — the formal refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff, the pope.

I’ve been wondering for a while what would actually happen if a German bishop were declared to be in schism — I’ve been especially curious whether Germany’s government would still recognize a schismatic bishop as head of the local Church, and the legitimate administrator of the vast sums collected by German dioceses through the kirchensteuer — the state collected Church tax, worth billions annually, which accounts for 70% of diocesan revenues in Germany.

I talked to an expert in German law on the subject. And the answer, it turns out, is found in the Reichskonkordat- the controversial 1933 treaty between the Holy See and the Nazi-led German government, which is still in force today. Honestly, guys, just when you thought the story in Germany couldn’t get any weirder, the Reichskonkordat makes an appearance.

Read it here.

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Eucharistic coherence and the CDF

Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, wrote to Archbishop Jose Gomez on Friday about the U.S. bishops’ plan to address the issue of "Eucharistic coherence” — Holy Communion for pro-choice politicians, especially — in an upcoming document.

The cardinal’s letter didn’t discourage the U.S. bishops’ from addressing the question, but it did make a number of suggestions which would seem to slow the process down — that the bishops consult broadly with other episcopal conferences, the bishops deliberate to reach unanimity, that they engage in “extensive and serene dialogue,” before proceeding.

The letter has been framed as a kind of absolute kibosh on the bishops’ plan — I’m not sure that’s the right reading.

A few months ago, I mentioned that the CDF’s prefect would not want this issue to land on his desk, and, for my part, I think this letter reflects that — Ladaria seems to be urging above all else that the bishops not do anything that might lead to increased division among the U.S. bishops, and thus become something the CDF has to mete out. That perspective represents an extremely Roman sensibility — work out amongst yourselves before you do anything.

The process Ladaria prescribes is a lengthy one, I suspect the Holy See would be glad for the U.S. bishops to take their time before publishing anything on the subject.

Of course, the U.S. bishops don’t agree with each other about “Eucharistic coherence,” so the effect of Ladaria’s letter will probably, in my estimation, mean they settle on a far less direct statement than some Catholics were expecting — there will likely be the expectation that the statement not be seen to push the envelope too much, even if that means articulating principles expressed in canon law and articulated expressly by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 2004.

Again, this is a matter in which authority rests at the level of the diocesan bishop — not the USCCB. If making a statement of some significance at the USCCB seems increasingly possible, it’s likely that an increasing number of bishops will just issue statements on their own, as Bishop Thomas Olmsted did this week.

You might not agree with my reading of Cardinal Ladaria’s letter. So don’t take my word for it. We’ve posted the cardinal’s entire letter here.

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One other point about the Ladaria letter. In the middle of the debate about the Eucharist and pro-choice politicians is a 2004 letter sent by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was prefect of the CDF at the time, to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, about the issue. McCarrick famously did not distribute the letter to the U.S. bishops, but only summarized it, and thus framed the debate the last time the bishops talked about this issue, in the summer of 2004.

There has always been debate and discussion about how much weight exactly to give Cardinal Ratzinger’s letter. Ladaria’s letter last week said it was observing Ratzinger’s “stipulation that ‘these principles were not intended for publication.’” It seemed to be quoting from the Ratzinger letter to say that — but Ratzinger’s letter, at least the publicly available version — doesn’t actually say that. So it’s not immediately clear when Cardinal Ratzinger stipulated that his letter should not be published, or what Ladaria was quoting from — but it is worth finding out, in my estimation.

Pandemic liturgical practices

It turns out I really like Mass outside, for whatever that’s worth. Judging by the number of people who attend the outdoor Masses my family attends, so do a lot of Catholics. Last week at The Pillar, we wondered whether outdoor Masses, and other pandemic-inspired liturgical practices, were here to stay, or would soon be put aside until the next pandemic. We spoke with some experts.

Read about that here.

Indianapolis canonical case continues

An Indiana court dismissed on Friday a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Indianapolis over the firing of a teacher who had entered a same-sex civil union. But as the lawsuit comes to a close, the complicated canonical case is just getting started. Ed broke down the canonical aspects of the case — and their implications — here.

The situation of Catholic school teachers in same-sex relationships isn’t going away, and it is not just limited to the U.S.

This week, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights will hold hearings in the case of Sandra Pavez, a religion teacher at a Catholic school in Chile who was let go after she began a public same-sex relationship with another woman, and, despite multiple interventions by the diocese, continued in the relationship.

Pavez says her human rights were violated. The Church says it has the right to determine the suitability of its own teachers of religions. While Chilean courts rejected her claim, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ruled in Pavez’ favor.

With the case now at an international court (whose jurisdiction is Mexico, Latin America, and most of South America) the implications for the religious liberty of the Church could be significant.

Obviously, the Holy See’s action in Indianapolis is significant for the Church around the world as well. So read all about it.

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If you haven’t yet, today’s the day I invite you to subscribe to The Pillar Podcast wherever you get your podcasts. Each week on the show, Ed and I break down the news in more detail, and along the way we banter about baseball and Ed’s stubborn Englishness. It’s a rollicking good time.

I’ll be reporting from Tennessee for the rest of this week. My aim is to tell a complicated story fairly. There seems no better use of The Pillar’s time. Thanks for the support which makes that kind of reporting possible.

If you would, pray for my wife, who is at home without me on a series of the kind of rainy days that lead kids to climb walls.

Please be assured of our prayers, and, as always, please pray for us.

Yours in Christ,

JD Flynn
editor-in-chief
The Pillar