Pope Benedict XVI has granted the Congregation for Clergy new powers to dismiss from the priesthood and release from the obligation of celibacy priests who are living with women, who have abandoned their ministry for more than five years or who have engaged in seriously scandalous behavior.
The new powers do not apply to cases involving the sexual abuse of minors by a priest; those cases continue to be subject to special rules and procedures overseen by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The new faculties were announced by Cardinal Claudio Hummes, prefect of the clergy congregation, in an April 18 letter to the world's bishops. Catholic News Service obtained a copy of the letter in early June.
Cardinal Hummes told CNS June 3 that the new, quicker administrative procedure for dismissing priests was prompted by "many situations where canon law did not seem adequate for meeting new problems."
As an example, the cardinal said the 1983 Code of Canon Law made no provision for a bishop to initiate a process to laicize a priest who had abandoned his ministry.
Usually when a priest leaves the ministry of his own accord, he informs his bishop and sooner or later will request a formal dispensation from the obligation of celibacy, the cardinal said.
But others "leave, they marry (in a civil ceremony), they have children. In these cases, the bishops did not have a way to proceed because it was up to the person who left," he said.
"But if the one who left is not interested (in regularizing his situation), the good of the church and the good of the priest who left is that he be dispensed so that he would be in a correct situation, especially if he has children," the cardinal said.
Cardinal Hummes said a priest's "children have the right to have a father who is in a correct situation in the eyes of God and with his own conscience. So helping these people is one of the reasons there are new procedures. In these cases, the initiative begins with the bishop."
The cardinal said he did not have statistics on how many priests have abandoned their ministry without seeking laicization, but it was a problem bishops have raised with the congregation.
Cardinal Hummes' letter to the world's bishops said that while the church teaches that properly performed sacraments are valid whether or not the priest officiating is living in a situation of holiness, the discipline of the Latin-rite Catholic Church is to insist that priests strive for moral perfection and to imitate Christ, who was chaste.
"The church, being the spouse of Jesus Christ, wishes to be loved in the total and exclusive manner with which Jesus Christ loved her as her head and spouse. Priestly celibacy is, therefore, the gift of oneself in and with Christ to his church, and expresses the service of the priest to the church in and with the Lord," the cardinal wrote.
"The vast majority of priests live out their priestly identity daily with serenity and exercise faithfully their proper ministry," he wrote, but when situations of scandal arise a bishop must be able to act quickly and firmly.
The cardinal's letter dealt separately with the situation of priests who simply abandoned their ministry for "a period of more than five consecutive years." It also addressed the more serious cases of those priests who have attempted or contracted a civil marriage, are having a consensual sexual relationship with a woman or have violated another church or moral law in a way that caused serious scandal.
"Situations of grave lack of discipline on the part of some clergy have occurred in which the attempts to resolve the problems by the pastoral and canonical means foreseen in the Code of Canon Law are shown to be insufficient or unsuitable to repair scandal, to restore justice or to reform the offender," the letter said.
In every case, however, Cardinal Hummes' letter insisted that the local bishop carry out a careful investigation of the facts and, when the evidence confirms wrongdoing, "he should proceed formally to correct or admonish the accused."
"Yet when this does not suffice to repair the scandal, restore justice and bring about the rehabilitation of the person, the bishop should proceed with the imposition of penalties," the letter said, outlining the obligatory steps to be taken.
At every stage of the process, the cardinal told CNS: "The right of a priest to defend himself is sacred, including in these cases. The right to defend oneself is internationally recognized and always preserved."
Prior to Pope Benedict 's approval of the new norms Jan. 30, bishops seeking to dismiss a priest for abandoning the ministry or attempting marriage had to initiate a formal juridical trial against the person.
In the interview, Cardinal Hummes said that although the procedures have been streamlined, "each case will be reviewed individually, including with the aim of ensuring that the rights of the person interested were protected."
Vatican City, May 29, 2009 - "The Year for Priests, announced by our beloved Pope Benedict XVI to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the death of the saintly Curé of Ars, St. John Mary Vianney, is drawing near. It will be inaugurated by the Holy Father on the 19th June, the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests."
This is the opening of the letter written by the Prefect for the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Claudio Hummes, addressed to the priests of the world, asking for their common effort "so that it may be a year amply celebrated in the whole world – in the Dioceses, parishes and in every local community – with the warm participation of our Catholic people who undoubtedly love their priests and want to see them happy, holy and joyous in their daily apostolic labors.”
The Cardinal continues: “It must be a year that is both positive and forward looking in which the Church says to her priests above all, but also to all the Faithful and to wider society by means of the mass media, that she is proud of her priests, loves them, honours them, admires them and that she recognises with gratitude their pastoral work and the witness of the their life.” While the priests “are important not only for what they do but also for who they are,” the Cardinal mentions that “some priests have been shown to have been involved in gravely problematic and unfortunate situations,” and obviously, “it is necessary to investigate these matters, pursue judicial processes and impose penalties accordingly. However, it is also important to keep in mind that these pertain to a very small portion of the clergy. The overwhelming majority of priests are people of great personal integrity, dedicated to the sacred ministry; men of prayer and of pastoral charity.”
Among the objectives of this Year, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy mentions “intense appreciation of the priestly identity, of the theology of the Catholic priesthood, and of the extraordinary meaning of the vocation and mission of priests within the Church and in society.” He also expresses the hope that it will be a “year in which the concrete circumstances and the material sustenance of the clergy will be considered, since they live, at times, in situations of great poverty and hardship ,” and “a year as well of religious and of public celebration which will bring the people – the local Catholic community – to pray, to reflect, to celebrate, and justly to give honor to their priests.”
The Letter concludes with an invitation to all the Bishops' Conferences, dioceses, parishes, and local communities, to prepare a program for this special Year. “The local Churches are invited on the 19th June next, the same day on which the Holy Father will inaugurate the Year for Priests in Rome, to participate in the opening of the Year, ideally by some particular liturgical act and festivity. Let those who are able most surely come to Rome for the inauguration, to manifest their own participation in this happy initiative of the Pope.”
Pope Benedict XVI has called for the warring sides in Sri Lanka to ensure security for evacuating civilians and for aid groups to get them the food and medicine they urgently need.
In his weekly Sunday blessing, Benedict said he was spiritually close to all Sri Lankans and was praying for peace and reconciliation in the island nation.
Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels admitted defeat on Sunday in their 25-year civil war with the government, promising to lay down their arms.
Benedict said the aid groups should "leave no stone unturned" as they care for the thousands of civilians who fled the waning battles between the government and rebels.
He said he was adding his voice to that of the UN Security Council, which last week demanded that civilians be allowed to leave the war zone.
Amman, Jordon, May 11, 2009 - May Christ “give you his courage”: that was Benedict XVI’s wish and mandate to the 20 thousand Catholics who filled the International Stadium of Amman for mass this morning which gave the Pope the opportunity to underline “prophetic chrism” of women, particularly in this region.
It is the only public mass to be celebrated by the Pope in this nation. Jordan – which conceded a holiday to Christians today – is in a certain way a oasis for the regions Christians, who count a little over 100 thousand, 2% of the entire population, but who are free to profess their faith, build churches and schools and now even universities. All around the situation is completely different: from tight control in Syria to violence in Iraq. And there are 70 thousand Christians among the 700,000 Iraqi refugees in Jordan. They too were present at the mass, calling out loud in greeting to their Pope. Among the 200 children receiving their first Holy Communion today were 40 Iraqi boys and girls, some of whom received the sacrament from Benedict XVI.
I come, the Pope told them, “to encourage you to persevere in faith, hope and love, in fidelity to the ancient traditions and the distinguished history of Christian witness which you trace back to the age of the Apostles. The Catholic community here is deeply touched by the difficulties and uncertainties which affect all the people of the Middle East. May you never forget the great dignity which derives from your Christian heritage”. Already on the flight from Rome to Amman, Benedict XVI had told journalists that his visit aimed at encouraging Christians in the region to “find the courage, humility and patience to stay in these countries and offer their contribution for the future”.
“May the courage of Christ our shepherd – he added today - inspire and sustain you daily in your efforts to bear witness to the Christian faith and to maintain the Church’s presence in the changing social fabric of these ancient lands. Fidelity to your Christian roots, fidelity to the Church’s mission in the Holy Land, demands of each of you a particular kind of courage: the courage of conviction, born of personal faith, not mere social convention or family tradition; the courage to engage in dialogue and to work side by side with other Christians in the service of the Gospel and solidarity with the poor, the displaced, and the victims of profound human tragedies; the courage to build new bridges to enable a fruitful encounter of people of different religions and cultures, and thus to enrich the fabric of society. It also means bearing witness to the love which inspires us to “lay down” our lives in the service of others, and thus to counter ways of thinking which justify “taking” innocent lives.”. “Let us seek the intercession of Mother of Mercy and Queen of Peace – he added in the Regina Caeli - for all the families of these lands, that they may truly be schools of prayer and schools of love. Let us ask the Mother of the Church to look down in mercy upon all the Christians of these lands, and with the help of her prayers, may they be truly one in the faith they profess and the witness they bear”.
During the prayers of the faithful, a prayer for the “long desired peace” in the Middle East, Palestine and Lebanon. In one side of the stadium is a group of Lebanese invites the Pope to come visit them. Palestinian flags can be seen here and there.
There were songs and chants in Arabic and Aramaic, and the great alter was decorated with images of Jesus, Mary, and John Baptist, patron saint of Jordan. The crowd paid close attention and was particularly careful to the proceedings within the stadium, the same place where in 200 John Paul II celebrated mass. Prince Ghazi Bin Mohammad, the king’s chief advisor on religious affairs was also present: one of the chief signatories of the Letter by 138 Muslim scholars and it was he who accompanied Benedict XVI during his visit to the “al-Hussein bin-Talal” Mosque in Amman. The Pope thanked him for his presence. During his address the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouuad Twal, also praised the stability offered by prolonged wise governance of the country and added that the Church in this land is witnessing a growth in vocations.
For the Church in the Holy Land this is the Year of the Family. Benedict XVI recalled this and spoke of the “strong Christian families of these lands” stressing the role of women in God’s plans. “How much the Church in these lands owes to the patient, loving and faithful witness of countless Christian mothers, religious Sisters, teachers, doctors and nurses! How much your society owes to all those women who in different and at times courageous ways have devoted their lives to building peace and fostering love! From the very first pages of the Bible, we see how man and woman, created in the image of God, are meant to complement one another as stewards of God’s gifts and partners in communicating his gift of life, both physical and spiritual, to our world. Sadly, this God-given dignity and role of women has not always been sufficiently understood and esteemed. The Church, and society as a whole, has come to realize how urgently we need what the late Pope John Paul II called the “prophetic charism” of women (cf. Mulieris Dignitatem, 29) as bearers of love, teachers of mercy and artisans of peace, bringing warmth and humanity to a world that all too often judges the value of a person by the cold criteria of usefulness and profit. By its public witness of respect for women, and its defence of the innate dignity of every human person, the Church in the Holy Land can make an important contribution to the advancement of a culture of true humanity and the building of the civilization of love.”.
Benedict XVI also spoke of the “prophetic charism of women” in his Regina Caeli address. The supreme example of womanly virtue is the Blessed Virgin Mary: the Mother of Mercy and Queen of Peace. As we turn to her now, let us seek her maternal intercession for all the families of these lands, that they may truly be schools of prayer and schools of love”.
Vatican City, May 11, 2009 - As Pope Benedict XVI prepared to visit Israel in early May, Jewish leaders involved in dialogue appeared to be hopeful and not particularly wary about what the pope would say.
On the other hand, many members of the Jewish community and Catholics sensitive to their feelings appeared to be holding their breath, praying that the pope would not inadvertently offend his hosts.
Speaking in Rome in March, Rabbi Michael Schudrich, the U.S.-born chief rabbi of Poland, said the Holy Land trip can be "very enlightening and help Pope Benedict show in a very clear way" the sensitivity and respect that has been clear in his writings for decades.
In evaluating the pope's work, Jewish leaders appreciate several facts: Pope Benedict explicitly recognizes that God chose the Jewish people as his own and established a special bond with them; he recognizes that for centuries Christians used Jesus' death as an excuse to denigrate -- and even persecute -- the Jews; and he understands that the contempt some Christians had for the Jews created an atmosphere that the Nazis easily and progressively manipulated to the point of killing 6 million Jews.
But theological work does not grab the headlines the way gestures do and a Vatican explanation of a papal misstep may limit the damage, but it is hard to eliminate all suspicion.
Those who are worried can't seem to shake their puzzlement over the fact that in January the pope lifted the excommunication of a bishop who minimized the Holocaust.
The Vatican later made it clear that Bishop Richard Williamson, a member of the Society of St. Pius X, who had denied the extent of the Holocaust, must publicly recant his views if he wants to function as a bishop in the Catholic Church.
Writing to the world's bishops in March, Pope Benedict said he was saddened that people seemed to jump to the conclusion that he was stepping back from efforts to promote reconciliation between Catholics and Jews and was rejecting the teaching of the Second Vatican Council.
"Precisely for this reason I thank all the more our Jewish friends, who quickly helped to clear up the misunderstanding and to restore the atmosphere of friendship and trust," the pope wrote after emphasizing the horror of the Holocaust and the importance of remembering it.
The papal apology was effective with the church's Jewish dialogue partners because they were able to put the issue into the perspective of what they knew about the German-born pope's thinking, especially from what he had published as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen, chief rabbi of Haifa, told the pope, "We thank the Holy See for making this renewal (of dialogue) possible by the clear and unequivocal statements deploring the Holocaust denial and making it very clear that the Catholic Church leaders are committed" to continue working for improved relations with the Jews.
In his remarks to the rabbis, the pope reaffirmed in summary form his understanding of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council that make respect, dialogue and reconciliation between Catholics and Jews possible.
"The church recognizes that the beginnings of her faith are found in the historical divine intervention in the life of the Jewish people and that here our unique relationship has its foundation," he said.
"The Jewish people, who were chosen as the elected people, communicate to the whole human family knowledge of and fidelity to the one, unique and true God," the pope said.
The teachings are the same as those meticulously spelled out by then-Cardinal Ratzinger during a speech to a major international Catholic-Jewish conference in Jerusalem in 1994.
The speech -- widely republished and included in Cardinal Ratzinger's book, "Many Religions, One Covenant" -- is such a clear synthesis of his thinking about Jews and Judaism that Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, included the full text in background materials for Vatican Radio reporters covering the trip.
The future pope began with an acknowledgment: "The history of the relationship between Israel and Christendom is drenched with blood and tears. It is a history of mistrust and hostility, but also -- praise be to God -- a history marked again and again by attempts at forgiveness, understanding and mutual acceptance."
The Holocaust, he said, was not simply a horror to be remembered, but it is a demand on humanity -- especially on believers in the one God -- to engage in a mission of reconciliation and mutual acceptance.
But respect for the Jewish people and their ongoing special relationship with God does not and cannot mean that the pope will not speak about the gift of salvation in Jesus Christ as he visits the land of the savior's birth, life, death and resurrection.
The pope is well aware, however, that for centuries Christians blamed the Jews, rather than human sinfulness, for Jesus' death and that attitude was at the root of the so-called "teaching of contempt."
It was a central topic in Cardinal Ratzinger's 1994 speech.
Even as a child growing up in Germany, he told his audience, "I could not understand how some people wanted to derive a condemnation of Jews from the death of Jesus because the following thought had penetrated my soul as something profoundly consoling: Jesus' blood raises no calls for retaliation, but calls all to reconciliation."
In the Bible, he said, "there are not two effects of the cross -- a damning one and a saving one -- but only a single effect, which is saving and reconciling."