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The pope's new laws, Ukrainian Church and state, and very bad advice

Hey everybody,

Today is the feast of Blessed Michal Sopocko, and this is The Tuesday Pillar Post.

Fr. Sopocko was the spiritual director of St. Faustina Kowalska, whose spiritual journals and paintings inspired much of the Church’s devotion to Divine Mercy, including the Divine Mercy Chaplet.

The priest arranged for the first depiction of the Divine Mercy image to be painted by a Lithuanian artist, and he obtained the Church’s initial imprimatur for the Divine Mercy devotion.

Kazimirowski Eugeniusz, Divine Mercy, 1934.jpg
Divine Mercy. Eugeniusz Kazimirowski/wikimedia.

For his efforts, he was targeted by the Gestapo, and eventually spent years hiding in plain sight, working as a gardener and a carpenter under an assumed name, while bringing people the sacraments under cover of darkness. Immediately after the war, he faced the prospect of Soviet imprisonment. Instead he made his way to Poland, and spent decades teaching teaching in a seminary, serving as a spiritual director, and spreading devotion to Divine Mercy.

What’s the lesson? That near every great saint is a good confessor, helping to guide discernment and the interior life with the help of the sacraments and the wisdom of the Church. And that authentic devotions are those which come from the heart of the Church, and stay connected to the Church’s communion.

Blessed Michal Sopocko. public domain.

Blessed Michal Sopocko, pray for us!

The News

Still C.D.F.

Pope Francis on Monday announced a restructuring of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the Roman curia.

If you want to know what the restructuring means, read our report here. In short, the pope’s new policy creates a new level senior-level position at the CDF, more formally divides the doctrinal and disciplinary work done by the CDF, and makes easier some likely pending personnel appointments at the congregation.

Again, here’s that report.


Now, if you want to know what Monday’s CDF restructuring says about the pope’s broad project of Vatican curial reform, read Ed’s analysis here.

In brief:

The new law signals that a long-expected radical shift in the CDF’s purpose and power seems off the table — and with it the chances of any epochal reordering of the Vatican’s departmental landscape.

It is unlikely that Francis would issue a law effectively solidifying the status quo at the CDF if he were set on upending the congregation in a few months as part of a larger reform — indeed, the pope has repeatedly spoken of the piecemeal reforms of the curia he’s undertaken in recent years as an integral part of the larger constitutional project.

In that light, it seems increasingly sure the structure and status of the CDF at the Vatican is now on firmer ground than it has been in the nine years since Francis announced his reforming agenda.

Read the rest here.

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And if you want to know even more about the CDF — like, let’s say, the entire history of the congregation — which used to be called the Sacred Roman and Universal Inquisition — you can read that here.

Nobody expects the Roman Inquisition, after all.

(It’s a history, but it’s not boring. So give it a read.)

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Canadian truckers

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared a national public emergency on Monday, in response to coronavirus policy protests in Ottawa which have disrupted the city, and several U.S.-Canada border crossings, for two weeks.

We spoke on Friday with a spokesman from the Archdiocese of Ottawa-Cornwall, and with a few other Ottawa Catholics, who talked with us about how the Church is experiencing the protests:

“One of the downtown churches, St. Patrick Basilica, close to the main street of the protest, closed its doors last weekend and live-streamed the Mass for many reasons. It is located close to the main protest site,” the archdiocesan spokesman said.

A parishioner at the basilica told The Pillar that during the first weekend of protests, protestors loudly banged on the church doors during a Saturday afternoon Mass.

When a security guard opened the locked church door, several protestors rushed into the church alcove shouting, and police were called. One parishioner held closed doors to the church’s nave to prevent the protestors from entering the Mass.

Because police were overwhelmed with other protest calls, it took them the entire Mass to reach the parish, and parishioners had to leave after Mass through another door. Masses were held the next day, but cancelled for the following week, and are scheduled only tentatively for next weekend.

On the whole:

“Life downtown has been affected by the noise, traffic closures and the behavior of some individuals. The reporting has largely focused on the negative effects of this ongoing protest, and many local residents are frustrated at the lack of a resolution. Residents are accustomed to large demonstrations but not ones that continue for a prolonged period of time with a lot of noise and other disruptions,” the priest said.

Read here what the archdiocese says, as the province-wide protests are impacting Canadian Catholics.


Praying for Ukraine

Just a few days ago, U.S. intelligence officials were warning that a Russian invasion of Ukraine was imminent, and governments were pulling their embassy staffs from the country quickly.

For their part, the bishops of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church on Friday urged three days of prayer and fasting for peace in their country. The prayers might be working. But whatever peace looks like in Eastern Europe, Ukrainians are in for a very long and difficult road with their neighbor, Russia.

The situation is fluid, and constantly changing. As a new week begins, it’s starting to look like a shooting war in the countryside surrounding Kiev might not be as immediately in the cards as was predicted.

Putin spent Monday telling European countries he was eager to talk. And Russia pulled back some troops positioned at the border with Ukraine — even while leaving more than 120,000 military personnel in place, which is a lot.

But what does Putin want?

What Russia wants, or what Putin wants, at least, is to turn Ukraine away from the West and back toward the Russo-sphere, while shoring up the president’s reputation at home, locking down his hold on the Ukrainian territory already effectively seized by Russia in 2014, and reminding other European countries that Russia, which holds the natural gas supply, also hold the power.

This means that Putin wants Ukraine’s government to be replaced by a group of political allies (to be charitable) who will give up whatever they’re asked to, give up talk about joining NATO, and give Putin claim to being what he’s long proclaimed himself to be — a kind of regional unifier, building a new coalition in the East — even if he’s building it at gunpoint.

Putin will try to get those things either by his military invasion, or by the intimidating power of a 120,000 troop buildup surrounding the country, combined with crippling economic pressure, cyber-warfare, disinformation, and a Ukrainian realization that NATO troops aren’t coming to the rescue.

If there is a new military invasion, the fighting will be bloody and the casualties high. Ukrainians seem unlikely to give up their country without a lot of fighting. And it will be difficult to get clear information on what’s happening — as it has been for months.

It might also be difficult to keep perspective. It is worth noting that the United States has had its own fair share of interest in Ukraine’s electoral politics over the years, and our interest has not always been uncontroversial. It is also worth noting that the current war between Russia and Ukraine has been ongoing since 2014, and that the cultural and political issues don’t easily translate to the kind of preassembled narrative we often like to put on these things.

In short, to understand the current situation, we need to make sure we understand the history.

At The Pillar, we’re working to build information pipelines in Ukraine, to cover the way this situation will unfold for the Church, and her members, in the country.

We think the stories of Ukrainian Catholics need to be told, and we’re aiming to see them told well. (By the way, subscribers, you make things like that plausible. That’s why we’re always bugging people to subscribe.)

But the situation in Ukraine has implications at a macro level for the Church too, especially as pertains to the pope’s emphasis on forging new bonds of ecumenical unity with Orthodox hierarchs. Ukraine is at the center of deep factions and division within Orthodoxy, and, believe it or not, the looming Russian invasion is connected to that division.

Ed and I put together on Friday an analysis explaining the complicated ecclesiastical situation in Ukraine, and assessing the ecumenical shoals Pope Francis will need to navigate as tensions mount between Ukraine and Russia.

Pope Francis has done a lot to build bonds with the various influencers of Orthodoxy during his pontificate, including a historic 2016 meeting with patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. The pope and patriarch were actually expected to meet again this year — but with Russia surrounding Ukraine, that meeting is probably not going to happen.

Why not? Well:

Were the pope to engage fraternally with [Moscow] Patriarch Kirill while Ukrainian bishops accuse him of aiding a violent annexation of their country, it would be, obviously, no small statement to those Ukrainian bishops and their people — many of whom have already a set of long-lingering insecurities about the equality of their communion with Rome. 

And a Russian takeover of Ukraine is widely expected to include the suppression of the country’s independent Orthodox Church. Were Pope Francis to meet with Kirill as the Russian Church absorbs the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, his relationship with other Orthodox hierarchs, including the Patriarch of Constantinople, would become strained, to say the least.

In short, Ukraine is at the crossroads of a lot of ecclesiastical currents. To keep it all straight, and to understand how Ukraine’s faith fits into the affairs of both Church and state, read here.

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New laws just dropped

Pope Francis issued a motu proprio surprise this morning, dropping a kind of salad bar’s worth of changes to canon law, for both the Latin and Eastern codes of canon law.

The changes are varied, and, while the pope’s motu proprio says they’re all designed to support a kind of practical decentralization of governance, they don’t all fit neatly into the general direction of canonical thinking in the Francis pontificate.

We’ll dive into the changes this week — there are basically 11 concrete changes to canon law, and we’ll aim to explain them in full — but what’s immediately remarkable about them is the form and methodology of their promulgation.

Since 1917, the Church has had a preference for a singular, organized, systematic Code of Canon Law — before that time, law existed as a kind of disorganized corpus, a collection of policies on various issues that could be hard to keep together, hard to keep straight, and hard to keep track of.

The codifying approach, called a “civil law system” in legal parlance, is not without drawbacks. But one of its principal strengths of codified law is that it becomes relatively easy for interested parties to know what the law is, or at least where to find it.

Of course, law is not static, it changes, and canon law is no exception. The Church’s universal canon law changed dramatically in 1983, when a new code was promulgated to reflect the Second Vatican Council, and again in 1990, when canon law for the Eastern Catholic Churches was first codified. And during the John Paul II and Benedict XVI papacies, those codes were amended a couple of times, and a few supplemental policies existed outside of the Code as well.

But during the Francis papacy, things have been very different. The pope has made many, many more piecemeal changes to universal law than his predecessors, and in a very different form.

Some of those changes are, in substance, much welcomed by canon lawyers and legal scholars.

The challenge they find is that law is often now promulgated without the typical vacatio, or incorporation period which precedes its taking effect, and often in Italian, rather than Latin, which is the official legal language of the Church — and for good reason, namely that canonists in different countries can come to learn a common set of technical terms used in the law, without nearly as much uncertainty about the precise meaning of difficult phrases to render.

Furthermore, with so many changes released on an unpredictable schedule, rather than with a predictable annual updating, it can be hard to keep track of what law is actually in force at what time. The pope, in short, seems to be moving towards a kind of “corpus” approach to canon law, in which a variety of decrees need to be tracked and retained and synthesized in order for interested parties to know what the law is. That approach has its own set of strengths — it allows lawmakers to respond quickly to perceived problems — but it takes a lot of getting used to.

And it is one of the most distinctive, though rarely mentioned, aspects of the Francis papacy.

We’ll have details on the new laws themselves as soon as we can


Speaking of laws, Malaysia’s Siti Zailah Mohd Yusoff, the country’s deputy minister for women and family, recommended this week that if a wife refuses to accept her husband’s direction, he might try “striking her gently, to show his strictness and how much he wants her to change.”

In case you weren’t sure, this is terrible advice. Do not do this. That should go without saying, but I wanted to say it anyway. That’s all.

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Well, have a great week. Please be assured of our prayers, and please pray for us. We need it — Especially in the next few weeks, as we at The Pillar are working on some investigative projects related to the Holy See, the reform of the Church, financial ambiguities, and seminary formation here in the U.S. Thanks for supporting that kind of work — you’re conduits of God’s providence for The Pillar.

Yours in Christ,

JD Flynn
The Pillar

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