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Baton Rouge diocese to celebrate 60th anniversary by celebrating St Joseph

St. Joseph with the Infant Jesus, by Guido Reni. / Public Domain

Baton Rouge, La., May 6, 2021 / 22:01 pm (CNA).

The Diocese of Baton Rouge plans to celebrate the Year of St. Joseph in conjunction with its 60th anniversary. 

The diocese, which has St. Joseph as its patron, announced that it will celebrate “60 Years in the Year of St. Joseph” starting May 1, 2021 and going until March 19, 2022. 

“St. Joseph has played a prominent role in our diocese since its inception in 1961, and as we began planning for the 60th anniversary celebration this year, it seemed only natural to celebrate not only the rich history of our diocese but its beloved patron,” Bishop Michael Duca said May 4. 

Pope Francis in December 2020 announced a Year of St. Joseph, concluding Dec. 8, 2021, in honor of the 150th anniversary of the saint’s proclamation as patron of the universal Church.

Bishop Duca said a planning committee will be arranging various liturgical celebrations throughout the year for the faithful of the Baton Rouge diocese to take part in. The bishop says the goal is to support Pope Francis’ desire for “the faithful across the world to rediscover St. Joseph and imitate his life of heroic virtue.”

The diocesan committee is working to create prayer cards, coloring books, videos and a diocesan-wide pilgrimage guide, in the hopes of creating “opportunities for the lay faithful to learn more about the history of the local church while also celebrating its patron.”

The history of Catholicism in Baton Rouge goes back nearly 300 years. French missionaries brought Catholicism to the area, celebrating the first Mass in Baton Rouge in 1722 on the site of what would become the Louisiana capitol building. 

The Diocese of New Orleans was established in 1793, and in 1961, St. John XXIII established the Diocese of Baton Rouge, taking territory from the New Orleans diocese. The pope named St. Joseph Church as the diocese’s cathedral. 

Then-Bishop Alfred Hughes declared St. Joseph the patron of the Baton Rouge diocese in the 1990s.

Catholic bioethicist laments HHS removal of restrictions on fetal tissue research

Sign outside National Institute of Health, Department for Health and human Services, Washington DC. Via Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 6, 2021 / 21:01 pm (CNA).

A Catholic bioethicist has repeated his objection to the Biden administration’s decision that the National Institutes of Health no longer needs an ethics board’s approval before awarding funding to researchers who will use fetal tissue obtained from elective abortions.

“The current administration offers the pretense of acting ethically when they stress that the requirement for obtaining consent still stands, meaningless as it is, even as they adroitly eliminate any substantive ethical review by outside entities,” Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk, director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases announced May 5 the elimination of the requirement for approval by an ethics advisory board for research proposing use of human fetal tissue from abortion.

The announcement is an official notice to researchers who are looking for grants in the area of human fetal tissue projects.

“Even when the mother of an aborted child signs the dotted line granting permission to utilize fetal cells and organs, that consent is necessarily void,” Fr. Pacholczyk told CNA. “The mother has disqualified herself from being able to give valid informed consent because she has already renounced her child's best interests by arranging to end her baby's life through abortion.”

The announcement highlights an April 16 reversal of the Trump administration’s requirement that an ethics advisory board must review and approve all research grant applications and contract proposals that include the use of fetal tissue used from abortion in order to get funding from the NIH. 

“Effective immediately, HHS no longer requires review and approval by an ethics advisory board for research proposing use of human fetal tissue,” the announcement said. “Accordingly, HHS will no longer convene the NIH Human Fetal Tissue Research Ethics Advisory Board.”

Fr Pacholczyk told CNA: “This pro-abortion administration is operating in a very troubling moral vacuum, eager to bypass even the most basic ethical standards that should govern taxpayer-funded biomedical research. The foxes are seeking complete control of the henhouse.”

The priest, a former member of the fetal tissue advisory board, recently told the National Catholic Register that “The decision to reinstate NIH support for research involving fetal tissue from abortions reveals a kind of moral vacuum in the world of scientific research.”

Fr. Pacholczyk lauded the ethics board’s previous work in his interview with the Register: “The board acted with moral clarity and ethical resolve as it carried out its mandate.” 

“Very regrettably, the current administration is jettisoning serious ethical review to safeguard abortion and to assure the continued exploitation of vulnerable unborn Americans. Outside ethical review is essential,” he said.

The board had voted to withhold federal funding from 13 fetal tissue research proposals, and permitted funding for one.

In Dignitas personae, its 2008 instruction on certain bioethical questions, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said that researchers have a duty to refuse to use biological material of illicit origin, a duty which “springs from the necessity to remove oneself, within the area of one’s own research, from a gravely unjust legal situation and to affirm with clarity the value of human life.”

State Department allowing U.S. embassies to fly LGBT 'Pride' flags

U.S. embassy in Moscow displays LGBT "Pride" flag. Embassies will be allowed to fly the rainbow flag on the same flagpole as the U.S. flag. / hodim/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 6, 2021 / 20:00 pm (CNA).

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is allowing U.S. diplomatic posts around the world to fly the LGBT “Pride” flag on the same flagpole as the U.S. flag during “Pride season.”

In a cable first reported by Foreign Policy magazine on April 22, Blinken granted U.S. diplomatic outposts “blanket written authorization ... to display the Pride flag on the external-facing flagpole, for the duration of the 2021 Pride season.”

The authorization was given to fly the flag before May 17, which is observed as the international day against homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia, Foreign Policy reported. June, during which embassies can also fly the “Pride” flag on the external flagpole, is celebrated as “Pride” month by people identifying as LGBT.

In 2019, U.S. embassies were reportedly prohibited from flying the “Pride” flag on embassy flagpoles, and had to obtain permission to do so. They were allowed to display the flag inside buildings. In his confirmation hearing in January, Blinken had promised to change that policy.

Earlier this week, the White House said that President Joe Biden has used “the bully pulpit” to promote “transgender rights.”

At last week’s address to a joint session of Congress, President Biden had told “transgender Americans” that “your President has your back.” When on May 4 asked how Biden might act on that promise in the future, White House press secretary Jen Psaki responded that he has already acted on it.

“He's also used the power of the bully pulpit in his presidency to convey that transgender rights are human rights,” Psaki said, noting that Biden also “has signed executive orders.”

In January, Biden signed an executive order interpreting sex discrimination to include sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. He said his administration’s “policy” would be to extend federal civil rights protections to these two classes.

Legal experts said the order was far-reaching and would affect the privacy of single-sex spaces such as women’s locker rooms and shelters, and could result in legal action against religious Americans who oppose the redefinition of marriage and transgender ideology.

Psaki added that Biden “expects” this policy in his order to be put into practice by his administration, “ensuring that transgender youth have the opportunity to play sports, and to be treated equally in states across the country.”

Blinken’s cable on “Pride” flags also advised diplomatic posts in certain countries to avoid flying the rainbow flag if doing so would create a backlash.

“Posts should support efforts to repeal [criminalization] legislation, while ensuring that ‘do no harm’ remains our overarching principle so U.S. efforts do not inadvertently result in backlash or further marginalization of the LGBTQI+ community,” the cable read.

At his confirmation hearing in January, Blinken also said that appointing a top diplomatic official on LGBT issues, the LGBTI Special Envoy, is “a matter, I think, of some real urgency.” The position currently remains vacant.

On May 4, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden’s picks for ambassador roles should represent the whole country, including people identifying as LGBTQ.

She noted that “the President looks to ensuring that the people representing him -- not just in the United States, but around the world -- represent the diversity of the country, and that certainly includes people who are LGBTQ, members of the transgender community.” 

Legislators urge Biden to address global religious persecution


Washington D.C., May 6, 2021 / 19:00 pm (CNA).

A bipartisan group of members of Congress asked President Biden this week to prioritize responding to global religious persecution.

“Religious freedom, one of the most basic human rights for all people, has historically been an area of sincere bipartisan support and agreement in American foreign policy,” stated a May 4 letter by members of both the House and Senate to President Biden.

The May 4 letter was led by Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.). The members were joined by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), James Hill (R-Alaska), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), as well as Reps. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), and Henry Cuellar (D-Texas).

“The United States is a beacon of hope and freedom, and we must continue to be a leader in calling attention and responding to religious persecution wherever it occurs,” they stated.

Citing the Pew Research Center’s annual study of global religious restrictions and persecution, the legislators called the current state of international religious persecution a “crisis.” 

They noted persecution of “the Rohingya in Burma, mass imprisonment and exploitation of Uyghurs and other faith groups by the Chinese government, and the ISIS genocide against Yazidis and Christians in Syria and Iraq” to emphasize the urgency of promoting religious freedom abroad.

The members called on Biden to fill vacant positions in his administration that are charged with promoting international religious freedom. 

In particular, they urged Biden to appoint an “experienced, well-qualified Ambassador-at-Large leading the International Religious Freedom office within the State Department.” 

Such an appointment, they said, “is vital” to the agency’s “success” in promoting international religious freedom, countering religious persecution, and engaging with governments, religious leaders, NGOs, and civil society.

The coalition of legislators also asked Biden to appoint a Director of International Religious Freedom within the National Security Council. 

“Having a designated point person to coordinate among all components of the U.S. Government that work to advance religious freedom abroad is vital to the success of these initiatives,” they stated. 

In addition to filling the new positions, the legislators recommended the Biden administration pursue initiatives and actions to work with global allies on issues on religious freedom.

The members urged the administration to lead coalitions of actors in government, civil society, and foreign nations to create initiatives that protect religious freedom. 

The letter said that because of China’s hostility towards religious groups in particular, the U.S. has an obligation to respond. 

“China’s hostility toward religion and people of faith extends to Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong practitioners and Christians, some of whom are unjustly imprisoned for their faith, such as Pastor John Cao,” the letter said.

The members argued that U.S. engagement was integral to the release of Pastor Andrew Brunson, who was imprisoned in Turkey for more than two years. The legislators added that because of the prioritization of religious freedom, the U.S. has been able to “defend Coptic Christians in Egypt, denounce anti-conversion laws in India, and draw attention to the alarming rise in anti-Semitism in Europe.”

The coalition of legislators said they hope the administration “will work on a bipartisan basis with Congress to advance these policy items and prioritize the right of all people to have a faith, live their faith, change their faith or have no faith at all.”

Nigerian priest thought missing resurfaces after followers storm episcopal residence

Fr. Ejike Mbaka

Enugu, Nigeria, May 6, 2021 / 18:01 pm (CNA).

A priest of the Diocese of Enugu who founded Adoration Ministry resurfaced Wednesday, hours after his followers stormed the episcopal residence demanding to know the priest’s whereabouts.

The followers of Fr. Ejike Mbaka caused destruction of property at the local bishop’s residence May 5.

Fr. Benjamin Achi, communications director of the Enugu diocese, described the alleged disappearance of Fr. Mbaka as “misinformation” in an interview with ACI Africa.

“He has resurfaced at 2:40 p.m. after a mob attacked the bishop's house this morning destroying lots and lots of things,” Fr. Achi said in reference to Fr. Mbaka.

The protesters claimed that Bishop Callistus Onaga of Enugu had invited Fr. Mbaka for a meeting on May 2 and since then, Fr. Mbaka had not been seen. 

Last week, Fr. Mbaka had reportedly called on Nigeria’s Members of Parliament to impeach President Muhammadu Buhari should he fail to resign over increasing insecurity in Nigeria. 

According to the News Agency of Nigeria, Fr. Mbaka arrived at the residence of the Bishop of Enugu May 5 “in a motorcade amidst jubilation from his Adoration faithful.”

“He, however, stopped in front of the Bishop’s court and addressed his supporters urging them to remain calm and return to the Adoration ground for further information,” NAN reported.

In the May 5 interview with ACI Africa, Fr. Achi said that Fr. Mbaka was “not missing.”

“It's a misinformation by the members of his Adoration Ministry,” Fr. Achi said, adding that while it cannot be confirmed that Bishop Onaga had actually invited Fr. Mbaka for a meeting, “if the Bishop invited him, it must (have been) something private and was not supposed to be made public.”

Fr. Mbaka has since sought to defend his ministry, saying he is an instrument of God engaged in charity.

"I have no problem with the Church, I don't have any problem with the Catholic Church nor with any Church. Am just a servant of God. Am just an instrument of God. Nobody will stop me from doing the charity am doing," Fr. Mbaka said in a video recording published on Facebook May 5.

Last year, the priest was faulted for engaging in partisan politics after he was found expressing explicit support for one candidate in the gubernatorial elections of Imo State.

Anthony Fauci, Deepak Chopra speak at first day of Vatican health conference

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a White House press briefing, conducted by White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, at the White House Jan. 21. / Alex Wong / Getty Images

CNA Staff, May 6, 2021 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

At the first day of an online Vatican conference on “exploring the mind, body, and soul,” Dr. Anthony Fauci spoke about the evolution of the scientific community’s response to the novel coronavirus outbreak, and the difference between acting based on instinct and acting from data.

Fauci, an immunologist and chief medical adviser to U.S. President Joe Biden, responded to questions from CNN journalist Sanjay Gupta, who asked him how much doctors “have to rely on faith, not just religious faith, but your own system of belief,” when confronting something new, like COVID-19.

“I think you have to rely on it when you’re starting with nothing,” Fauci said. But he added that “as more solid scientific information becomes available, you pull away a bit from the kind of experience, instinct and get more into the reality of the evidence you have.”

He said there are some people “who don’t appreciate the evolution of understanding and the evolution of knowledge, that you’re going to change some of your viewpoints because the data itself will not necessarily change, but additional data changes the status of your knowledge.”

“Your knowledge may be minimal and you’re acting on quote ‘faith,’ as it were, versus the true, substantive evidence in data, which really gives you a much better foundation,” he said. “So that’s the way I look at it.”

Fauci spoke near the beginning of a three-day international conference on “Exploring the Mind, Body & Soul: How Innovation and Novel Delivery Systems Improve Human Health,” taking place virtually May 6-8.

It is the fifth conference of its kind organized by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Cura Foundation, which describes itself as “a nonsectarian, nonpartisan, public 501(c)(3) organization with a mission to improve human health globally.”

Cura Foundation president Robin Smith and Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi gave the opening remarks.

Ravasi said that “the body is a fundamental reality of human existence and of communication,” and pointed to Christianity’s central mystery, the Incarnation.

He said the conference would be organized around three themes, which he described as three stars that light up the sky: the body, the soul, and the mind.

The cardinal added that the conference would involve dialogue with different experts and people on these themes, and that people’s visions on the issues would differ.

Deepak Chopra, a leading figure in the New Age movement, was part of a discussion with Dr. Rudolf Tanzi about inflammation and the brain, moderated by surgeon and television personality Dr. Mehmet Oz.

Chopra and Tanzi are co-authors of the book “The Healing Self” about “how a positive attitude can trigger health,” according to Oz.

In the context of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and Parkinson’s disease, Chopra gave his lifestyle advice for decreasing stress-based inflammation, including good sleep, mind-body coordination, exercise, emotional resilience, food, mindfulness, and yoga.

Oz asked Chopra about “the mind’s role in healing the body.”

Chopra said: “One of the fundamental questions in science is called ‘the hard problem of consciousness’: How do we experience thoughts, feelings, emotions, insight, intuition, inspiration, creativity, vision, even reverence for God?”

The question, he continued, is “how does the brain do that? Is the mind doing the brain or the brain doing the mind? And right now, the conversation seems to be neither is doing each other.”

“Consciousness is more fundamental. We experience it subjectively as the mind and we experience it objectively as the body and the brain, but the brain is part of the body,” he said.

This “consciousness,” he suggested, is “what spiritual traditions call the soul and cognitive scientists call the conscious agent.”

Oz asked Chopra “what gives you this essence, that soul? Where does that come from in your cosmology?”

Chopra said that “right now cognitive scientists, those who believe in this framework, say that that soul, or that conscious agent, is an aspect of a universal consciousness which religions might call God.”

“It doesn’t matter what you call it... there’s an underlying field of awareness, of consciousness, which modulates itself and differentiates itself into conscious agents which we call souls.”

The Vatican health conference also features the CEOs of large pharmaceutical companies, including Moderna and Pfizer, along with celebrities active in medical philanthropy, global health advocates, policymakers, physicians, and religious leaders.

The conference’s website lists more than 100 speakers, including Kerry Kennedy, Cindy Crawford, John Sculley, Brandon Marshall, Joe Perry of the rock band Aerosmith, and Msgr. Dario Edoardo Viganò, prefect emeritus of the Vatican Secretariat for Communications.

Catholic University receives $20 million donation for nursing school 

Credit: Mehdi Kasumov/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 6, 2021 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

The Catholic University of America has received a $20 million donation to assist 160 nursing students at its nursing school over the next five years. 

According to the university, the $20 million donation was made by Bill and Joanne Conway, the two largest benefactors to the university in its history. The Conways had previously donated $60 million to the Conway School of Nursing, named after them in 2019 in recognition of their generosity. 

“Our Conway School of Nursing has long been a source of great pride to the University. We are so grateful to Bill and Joanne for all they have done to contribute to its success,” said Catholic University of America President John Garvey. “I am confident that the Conway School will become the gold standard for nursing education in this country.”

The Conways’ previous gifts of $20 million in 2019 and in 2020 were the largest single gifts in the school’s history. 

Currently, there are 48 “Conway Scholars” on campus who are receiving tuition assistance thanks to their previous gifts. The first group of Conway Scholars enrolled at the Catholic University of America in fall 2013, and are now working as nurses in 16 hospitals in a variety of specialties.

Patricia McMullen, dean of the Conway School said that the Conways have enabled students to achieve their dreams of entering the nursing field. 

“This imprimatur distinguishes them amongst their peers,” she said. “It motivates and guides them. Each will serve tens of thousands of patients throughout their careers, providing the superlative, compassionate care that is the hallmark of a Conway School graduate.”

“Thanks to the Conways and their Bedford Falls Fund, 82 student nurses have already received full or partial tuition scholarships,” the university stated in a press release. 

The Conway Scholarship provides more than just tuition assistance to aspiring nurses, the university said.  

“The generosity of the Conways has allowed Catholic to provide these students with housing and stipends to complete internships, as well as preparation and review courses for the National Council Licensure Examination, known as the NCLEX-RN, which graduates must pass to be certified as registered nurses,” said the press release. 

“To date, every Conway Scholar has passed the exam during their first sitting; the national average for the same data set is 80%.” 

The Conways have been supporting nursing programs in the D.C. area since 2008, and seek to address the coming nursing shortage in the United States. 

“The quality of the nursing students at Catholic University is outstanding,” said Bill Conway. “With the increasing need for nurses nationwide, we are thrilled with the impact graduates are having in health settings here in Washington, D.C., and all over the country.”

Bill, who is a trustee of the Catholic University of America, along with Joanne, were each awarded honorary degrees from the school in 2017. 

Charleston diocese dismayed at South Carolina legislature’s attempt to resume executions

Fer Gregory/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 6, 2021 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

The Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina, expressed its dismay Thursday after the state House passed a bill effectively allowing the state to resume executions.

The legislation, passed by the state House of Representatives on Wednesday, permits the state to execute death row inmates by electrocution if the drugs used for lethal injection are not available. The bill also allows inmates to choose death by firing squad as a method of execution. 

Previously, lethal injection was the default method of execution in South Carolina. The state has not executed anyone since 2011, when its supply of drugs used for lethal injection expired. Countries that produce the drugs used in executions have refused to sell them to states for executions.

The state was unable to move forward with executions where death row inmates had chosen to die by lethal injection, according to CNN. The bill passed on Wednesday only allows for death by lethal injection when the state is able to procure the necessary drugs.

“We are extremely disappointed that a bill reinstating access to the death penalty passed the S.C. House of Representatives today and will advance to the governor's desk for signature,” said Maria Aselage, a spokeswoman for the diocese, in a statement on May 5. 

"Every person is created in the likeness of God; their lives should be protected from the time of conception until natural death,” she said. “It is time for our state to abolish the death penalty, not to find new ways to execute our brothers and sisters, including by firing squad."

Under the proposed bill, lethal injection remains an option for execution, but only if the state were able to procure the drugs needed.

An earlier version of the bill passed in the Senate back in March. The South Carolina House of Representatives voted 66-43 to pass the legislation, sending it to Gov. Henry McMaster (R) who has said he will sign it. 

There are currently 37 people on death row awaiting execution in the state, including three inmates who have exhausted all appeals. 

Three other states - Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Utah - also permit the use of the firing squad in executions. 

The last person in the United States to be executed by firing squad was convicted murderer Ronnie Lee Gardner, in 2010.vGardner, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, said that the firing squad was consistent with his “Mormon heritage” under the religion’s controversial doctrine of “blood atonement.”  

Utah is the only state to have executed individuals with the firing squad since the death penalty was re-established in 1977. 

Jesuits in Chile to compensate four victims of sexual abuse by former priest


Santiago, Chile, May 6, 2021 / 14:01 pm (CNA).

Four victims sexually abused by former priest Jaime Guzmán Astaburuaga will be compensated with 15 million pesos each (about $21,000).

The agreement signed in the presence of a notary April 27 came following a lawsuit for compensation for damages filed Aug. 10, 2020 by four former students of Saint Ignatius School, located in the El Bosque area of metro Santiago, against the Society of Jesus and the Saint Ignatius Foundation.

The plaintiffs had requested 120 million pesos ($171,000) for each victim. However, the Chilean newspaper La Tercera reported the victims apparently withdrew that demand in a letter.

The victims, Sebastian Milos Montes, 44, a businessman; Daniel Palacios Muñoz, 44, a sociologist; Allan Pineda García-Reyes, 45, a commercial engineer; and Juan Pablo Barros Castelblanco, 45, a journalist, detailed in the lawsuit the sexual harassment they suffered from Guzmán Astaburuaga, who was then a priest and teacher from 1986 to 1992, when the victims were in grade school.

The victims were represented by Juan Pablo Hermosilla, who was also the lawyer for the three victims of Fernando Karadima, a priest convicted and dismissed from the clerical state by the Vatican in January 2011. Hermosilla was also the attorney for Marcela Aranda, a theologian and the principal accuser of the late priest and former chaplain of Hogar de Cristo, Renato Poblete Barth.

Milos stated that although the victims are satisfied that Guzmán's responsibility in the incidents has been recognized and the form of reparation has been determined, there has been a “lack of transparency and information” regarding the investigation, which he said is "a fundamental part of the closing of this stage” of the process of reparations and so “we were willing for the financial compensation to be significantly less than that contemplated in the lawsuit." 

“In the next few days we should have everything well defined and when that happens a press conference will be held by the Society of Jesus, which we hope will be an act of historical recognition, which will serve as a form of reparation to all those harmed for years,” Milos explained.

Guzmán Astaburuaga was expelled from the priesthood and the Society of Jesus after the completion of the penal administrative process for the abuse of minors carried out by the Superior General of the Jesuits, Fr. Arturo Sosa, at the behest of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The congregation said the process began Nov. 7 and there were 81 complainants against Guzmán.

German Catholic bishops’ leader: We are not ‘schismatics’

Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg. / Bistum Limburg.

CNA Staff, May 6, 2021 / 13:50 pm (CNA).

The chairman of the German Catholic bishops’ conference has insisted that the country’s Catholics are not “schismatics” seeking to “detach ourselves as the German national Church from Rome.”

Bishop Georg Bätzing told ACI Stampa, CNA’s Italian-language news partner, that the Church in Germany remains close to Rome, despite tensions over same-sex blessings, Communion for Protestants, and the country’s “Synodal Way.”

He said: “It is absolutely clear that there are matters that we can only discuss at the level of the Universal Church. We will contribute from Germany with our reflections.”

“However, I would like to reject the accusation repeatedly used of us being schismatics or of wanting to detach ourselves as the German national Church from Rome. Our bond with Rome and the Holy Father is very tight.”

In the interview published May 6, the 60-year-old bishop of Limburg explained that the German hierarchy launched the “Synodal Way” in response to the clerical abuse crisis.

The multi-year process brings together bishops and lay people to discuss four main topics: the way power is exercised in the Church; sexual morality; the priesthood; and the role of women.

The German bishops initially said that the process would end with a series of “binding” votes -- raising concerns at the Vatican that the resolutions might challenge the Church’s teaching and discipline.

Bätzing pointed out that, in terms of church law, the “Synodal Way” is not technically a synod but rather “a sui generis format.”

He said: “The central question is: how can we talk about God today and come to a deeper faith? Faith can grow and deepen if we free ourselves from fears and mental closures, if we ask the questions and look for ways in which the Church today can be present for people.”

He suggested that Pope Francis encouraged German Catholics to address this question in his 2019 letter to the local Church.

In the letter, the pope warned German Catholics not to succumb to a particular “temptation.”

He said: “At the basis of this temptation, there is the belief that the best response to the many problems and shortcomings that exist is to reorganize things, change them and ‘put them back together’ to bring order and make ecclesial life easier by adapting it to the current logic or that of a particular group.”

In the interview, Bätzing explained that there is a “synodal forum” for each of the four major discussion topics.

“The work of the forums is still in progress, so I cannot predict today what suggestions and results they will lead to,” he said, adding that the forums are the setting for theological debates that will lead to resolutions to be voted on by the full Synodal Assembly, consisting of the bishops and members of the lay Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK).

The bishop was speaking ahead of a day of protest on May 10 against the Vatican’s recent “no” to blessings for same-sex couples.

The event, organized by Catholic pastoral workers, is known as “Segnungsgottesdiensten für Liebende,” or “blessing services for lovers.” Organizers hope that same-sex couples across Germany will take part in the event.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) published a “Responsum ad dubium” March 15 replying to the question, “does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?” The CDF answered, “Negative,” outlining its reasoning in an explanatory note and accompanying commentary.

Bätzing said last week that the day of protest was not a “helpful sign.”

The bishop told ACI Stampa that the issue of blessing same-sex couples was one of many topics to be addressed by the Synodal Way’s forum on sexual morality.

He said: “Homosexual couples, and couples who cannot and do not want to marry in the church, but who nevertheless desire the blessing of the Church, are part of our society and the Church.”

“In Germany and in other parts of the Universal Church there has long been a discussion about how to further develop the Magisterium with sound arguments -- on the basis of the fundamental truths of faith and morals, the progress of theological reflection, and in a spirit of openness to the latest results of the human sciences and the life situations of people today.”

He continued: “There are no easy answers to such questions. For this reason, the Synodal Way is striving, particularly with respect to the topic of effective relationships, to discuss in a broad context that also considers the need, possibility, and limits of developing the Church’s magisterium. The perspectives presented by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will find space in these debates.”

Asked whether he believed that the time was ripe for women deacons or priests, Bätzing said that the “Synodal Way” would address women’s role in the Church.

He expressed satisfaction at the growing number of women in leadership positions within German dioceses.

He said: “It is important to me to honestly mention the Church’s arguments as to why only men can enter sacramental ministry. I also realize that these arguments are becoming less and less convincing and that arguments have been developed in theology in favor of opening the sacramental ministry to women as well. This is why I often mention the female diaconate, because I see possibilities there.”

“Regarding the priestly ministry, popes from John Paul II onwards have said in unison that this question has already been answered.”

The bishop also commented on the debate in Germany over whether Protestants should be invited to receive Holy Communion in Catholic churches.

The CDF wrote to Bätzing in September 2020 criticizing an appeal by German theologians for intercommunion between Catholics and Protestants.

The Limburg bishop said that the current debate was not about a general invitation to Protestants to receive Communion, but rather about the Church’s approach to individual non-Catholic Christians who wish to receive the Eucharist.

He said: “I personally respect such a decision and do not deny Communion when someone presents themselves who believes what we Catholics believe and desires to receive the Lord.”

“It is not a question of generically extending the invitation to Communion to all non-Catholic Christians.”

He noted that canon law permits non-Catholics to receive Communion on certain occasions, as long as they fulfill a number of conditions.

“We must undoubtedly continue the theological dialogue on the importance of the Eucharist and Holy Communion. And fortunately, there are already clear convergences in recent years,” he said.

Asked what kind of decisions the Synodal Way would be able to make, the bishop said that all participants were responsible for its conclusions.

He commented: “The binding implementation will, depending on the topic, be up to the Holy See and/or the local bishop. I repeat again: the Church in Germany is an integral part of the universal Church. This is beyond dispute and is evident in a great many areas. And so it will continue to be.”

“That is why we will proceed on the basis of the principle of subsidiarity by evaluating, within the framework of the Synodal Way, which steps we as a local Church can freely regulate and decide. And we will make a distinction between these steps and what is possible only in unity with the Universal Church.”

He expressed confidence that the Synodal Way would not result in failure but “lead to decisions that will help ensure that faith can once again be an option for people, and the Good News of the Gospel acquire meaning and strength in people’s lives.”

He added: “We must not stop looking for credible ways to proclaim the Gospel today. I remain confident.”

Chad Pecknold, associate professor of systematic theology at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., told CNA that in his latest comments Bätzing was “proposing the impossible.”

“He holds an erroneous view of what ‘doctrinal development’ means, arguing that the Church must be brought ‘up to date’ with progressive social norms,” he said.

“The Church cannot bless sin, and it cannot change eternal truths which Christ delivered once for all. What Bishop Bätzing is hoping to ‘develop’ amounts to nothing less than a different ecclesiology. It is not a Catholic ecclesiology, and it is not a new ecclesiology he proposes, but one which resembles Liberal Protestantism.”

He continued: “That he stands in such open defiance of Pope Francis, and the Faith Itself, should be evidence enough that Bätzing’s ‘Synodal Way’ is really not a ‘way forward’ but a way out of communion with Rome.”

Asked in the interview if the Synodal Way could serve as a model for Catholics in other countries, Bätzing referred to Pope Francis’ “historic” 2015 speech, in which he said that God expects the Church of the third millennium to take the “path of synodality.”

Bätzing said: “Well before the Church in Germany, Australia took this path, followed by other bishops’ conferences, I'm thinking of Ireland, the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM) and even us. The Italian bishops’ conference is considering how to follow a similar path.”

“You see, this is not a ‘German’ phenomenon but an interesting and valuable development of the local Churches -- each with its own particular traits -- within the community of the Universal Church.”

“Whether the Synodal Way is only a phase or whether it can become a permanent form for the life of the Church, this will be indicated to us by the Spirit of God, to whom we have entrusted ourselves by taking this path.”