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Vatican responds to to Cardinal Duka’s dubia on divorced and remarried Catholics

Czech Cardinal Dominik Duka speaks at the International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest, Hungary, Sept. 10, 2021. / Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA

Rome Newsroom, Oct 2, 2023 / 19:48 pm (CNA).

On a day dominated by news of five cardinals publishing a set of “dubia” to Pope Francis and the Vatican in turn releasing the pope’s responses, another significant set of “responda” (“responses”) to a leading prelate’s request for clarification on a controversial moral doctrine was also published by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The Vatican on Monday publicly released responses to 10 dubia submitted by Czech Cardinal Dominik Duka regarding “the administration of the Eucharist to divorced couples living in a new union.” 

Originally submitted by the archbishop emeritus of Prague on July 13 on behalf of the Czech Bishops’ Conference, the DDF’s response — signed both by Pope Francis and new prefect Cardinal Victor Fernández — had been issued to the Czech cardinal on Sept. 25.

At the heart of Duka’s dubia and the Vatican’s response was the practical application of Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”), Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation issued after the 2015 Synod on the Family, and in particular, its pastoral guidance for the reception of Communion by those sacramentally married but “divorced and remarried” to another person other than their spouse.

The presumptive ghostwriter of the pope’s 2015 exhortation and now head of Francis’ doctrine office, Fernández did not hesitate from weighing in authoritatively on the questions posed to him by the Czech prelate — a noticeable shift from the DDF’s previous engagement with questions on Amoris Laetitia, which included not answering previously submitted dubia.

On the question of admittance to the Eucharist for a Catholic divorced from his/her sacramentally married spouse but civilly remarried to another, Fernández wrote that while priests should provide pastoral accompaniment to the individual, “it is each person, individually, who is called to put himself before God and expose his conscience to him, with both its possibilities and its limits,” and evaluate their disposition to receive.

“This conscience, accompanied by a priest and enlightened by the guidelines of the Church, is called to be formed to evaluate and give a sufficient judgment to discern the possibility of accessing the sacraments.”

Amoris Laetitia’s guidance on this subject caused controversy upon its promulgation. Five dubia submitted in 2016 by four cardinals — including two of the five cardinals who sent the pope dubia earlier this summer, the American Cardinal Raymond Burke and the German Cardinal Walter Brandmüller — asked the pope to clarify if St. John Paul II’s teaching in Veritatis Splendor (“The Splendor of Truth”) “on the existence of absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts and that are binding without exceptions” was still valid in the wake of Amoris Laetitia, and other related questions on conscience and circumstances. Pope Francis never responded.

Now in the present, Fernández wrote that, as the pope’s response to back-to-back synods on the family in 2014 and 2015, Amoris Laetitia “was the result of the work and prayer of the whole Church.” 

Its guidance on Communion for the divorced and remarried was also based on the magisterium of Pope Francis’ two predecessors, the DDF prefect wrote, though whereas those two popes recognized that divorced-and-remarried Catholics could partake in the Eucharist if they were “committed … to abstain from the acts proper to spouses” (St. John Paul II) or if they were “to commit [themselves] to living their relationship … as friends” (Benedict XVI), Francis “admits that there may be difficulties in practicing [continence] and therefore allows in certain cases, after adequate discernment, the administration of the sacrament of reconciliation even when it is not possible in being faithful to the continence proposed by the Church.” 

Amoris Laetitia also “opens the possibility of accessing the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist when, in a particular case, there are limitations that attenuate responsibility and culpability (guilt)” — though Fernández notes that “this process of accompaniment does not necessarily end with the sacraments” but could point to other, nonsacramental forms of communion and inclusion. 

Drawing directly from Amoris Laetitia, the DDF’s response states that in the necessary process of discernment, “remarried divorcees should ask themselves how they behaved towards their children when the marital union entered into crisis; whether there have been attempts at reconciliation; how the partner’s situation is abandoned; what consequences the new relationship has on the rest of the family and the community of the faithful; what example it offers to young people who must prepare for marriage. A sincere reflection can strengthen trust in the mercy of God, which is not denied to anyone."

“A sincere reflection can strengthen trust in the mercy of God, which is not denied anyone,” reads that Vatican response, quoting Amoris Laetitia.

The responda also affirmed that bishops should develop Amoris Laetitia-based criteria in their dioceses that “can help priests in the accompaniment and discernment of divorced people living in a new union,” and that bishops of the Buenos Aires’ pastoral region’s application of Amoris, which Francis called “the only interpretation,” should be taken as “authentic magisterium” and that no other comprehensive explanation would be forthcoming.

The responses avoided responding directly to whether acts committed in the sexual life of the couple consisting of at least one divorced and remarried Catholic should “be mentioned in the sacrament of reconciliation,” but the DDF prefect wrote that the couple’s sexual life should be “subject to an examination of conscience to confirm that it is a true expression of love and that it helps growth in love.”

“All aspects of life must be placed before God,” it stated.

Finally, in response to Duka’s question of how the Czech bishops could “proceed to establish internal unity” on the issue of pastoral guidance for the divorced and remarried, “but also to avoid disturbing the ordinary magisterium of the Church,” Fernández wrote that the bishops’ conference should “agree on some minimum criteria to implement the proposals of Amoris Laetitia” to help priests “in the process of accompaniment and discernment regarding the possible access to the sacraments of divorces in a new union, without prejudice to the legitimate authority that each bishop has in his own diocese.”

Pope Francis sends telegram to Iraqi Christian community after tragic wedding fire

The Christian community in Qaraqosh, in Iraq’s Nineveh Plains, was devastated last week after a fire broke out at a Syriac Catholic wedding celebration. / Credit: Rody Sher/ ACI MENA

CNA Staff, Oct 2, 2023 / 18:50 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis sent his condolences on Saturday to an Iraqi Christian community in Qaraqosh, northern Iraq, that was devastated by a massive fire at a crowded wedding reception that killed over 100 and injured 150.

“His Holiness Pope Francis was deeply saddened to learn of the devastating effects of the fire in Qaraqosh, and he sends the assurance of his spiritual closeness to everyone affected by this tragedy,” said the letter, written by the Holy See’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin. 

Francis visited the majority-Catholic city of Qaraqosh in 2021. It is one of the few surviving Christian communities in Iraq, following years of persecution and occupation at the hands of ISIS. 

Following the deadly fire, the Holy Father sent his prayers to the deeply shaken community. 

“Entrusting the souls of the deceased to the loving mercy of almighty God, he sends heartfelt condolences to those who mourn their loss,” Parolin wrote. 

Parolin also said the pope “offers prayers for the injured and for the relief efforts of the emergency personnel” and “upon all he invokes the divine blessings of consolation, healing, and strength.” 

What happened?

The Christian community in Qaraqosh, in Iraq’s Nineveh Plains, was devastated last week after a fire broke out at a Syriac Catholic wedding celebration. The wedding venue caught fire Tuesday night, quickly burning the building down and trapping many of the guests inside.

The Nineveh Province Deputy Gov. Hassan al-Allaf told Reuters on Sunday that 113 people were killed and 150 injured.

Women, children, and elderly were among the victims killed and injured during the blaze.  

The injured have filled hospitals in the surrounding region while some have been flown out of the country for treatment. As of Monday, there are still many victims in critical condition.

Iraqi authorities are investigating the disaster. The country’s interior minister said the wedding hall lacked the required “safety and security specifications” and that those responsible would “get their fair punishment,” the BBC reported. 

Video available on social media shows the moment that it appears indoor pyrotechnics used during the bride and groom’s dance caused the ceiling to catch fire. The fire spread rapidly, sending burning debris and heavy smoke down on the wedding guests within moments. 

In a video statement to the U.K.’s SkyNews, the bride and groom, Revan Isho, 27, and Haneen, 18, addressed the disaster that took place on their wedding day.

“We are dead inside. We are numb,” Isho said. “I grabbed my wife and began to drag her. I kept dragging and trying to get her out of the kitchen entrance. As people were fleeing, people were trampling on her. Her legs are injured.”

“She’s lost 10 relatives,” Isho said of his wife. “Her loved ones, her mom, her brother, she can’t speak.”

Church responds

Hundreds from the community gathered to hold mass funerals the day after the wedding and on Friday.

Archbishop Benedict Younan Hanno, the Syriac Catholic archbishop of Mosul and its dependencies, told EWTN News on Wednesday that “the situation today is very tragic.” 

“These people who died were from my parish,” Hanno said, explaining that more than 80 of the Christian families in the town lost loved ones.

“I hope that efforts will be intensified in helping the injured,” Hanno added. “The next stage requires intensified efforts between all parties to assist and relieve the injured. I hope that assistance will be provided in transferring the injured to hospitals that are more qualified to ensure their recovery as quickly as possible.”

The patriarch of the Chaldean Church, Cardinal Louis Raphaël Sako, also expressed his support for the devastated Christian community, describing the wedding fire as a catastrophe that had never occurred in the history of Christians in Iraq.

Sako, who has been a longtime voice for the rights of Christians in Iraq, indicated that “corruption” may be to blame for the fire killing so many of the guests.

“Even this wedding hall was not devoid of corruption,” Sako said. “This catastrophe will remain alive in the conscience of the Iraqis through their solidarity and standing as one team in the face of tragedies.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani and Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government Masrour Barzani also announced a general mourning in Iraq and the Kurdistan region.

Sunni and Shia Muslims in the region and Iraq offered their condolences to the Christian community, canceling celebrations for the birth of Muhammad and announcing days of mourning. 

Syriac Catholics are Eastern rite Christians in full communion with Rome.

Jesuit Father James Martin says there are many chaste gay priests in the Church

Father James Martin, SJ. / Credit: Shawn's Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

ACI Prensa Staff, Oct 2, 2023 / 18:30 pm (CNA).

Jesuit Father James Martin, who will attend the first session of the Synod on Synodality as a participant appointed by Pope Francis, said that “without a doubt, there are many chaste and celibate gay priests in the Church. It’s important that that be said.”

In an Oct. 1 interview with the Spanish newspaper El Periódico, Martin stressed that “it is crucial to point out that these priests lead a chaste and celibate life, like their heterosexual colleagues, and dedicate their lives to service in the Church. It’s probably always been this way.”

In his opinion, “it is impossible” to know their number “due to the stigma that still exists” for which “many have suffered in silence due to ridicule.”

The priest, known for his pro-LGBTQ activism within the Catholic Church, said that those who prepared the Instrumentum Laboris for the Synod on Synodality have told him that “half of the dioceses around the world have mentioned the need for greater welcoming and inclusion” of these persons.

“This is not limited to the West,” Martin added, “but is spread throughout the world. However, it’s not surprising either. As more people identify as LGBTQ, more families, parishes, and dioceses are affected. Therefore, there is a natural and growing interest in understanding how to provide pastoral care to the LGBTQ community.”

Asked if his goal is “mission impossible” because of the presence at the synod of very conservative Catholics, some of them high-ranking, Martin commented: “My goal is to listen to the Holy Spirit, and I think that should be everyone’s goal.”

‘I don’t know what to expect’

Regarding the possibility of tensions within the first session of the Synod on Synodality, Martin said “it’s probably inevitable, but we should not fear tensions” because, for example, “the first synod in the history of the Church was the Council of Jerusalem, which took place around the year 50 A.D. There was a lot of tension at that time, but the Holy Spirit was still able to act.”

Regarding the possibility that some of his postulates will be accepted in this first session of the Synod of Synodality, Martin said: “To be honest, I really don’t know what to expect. I think that at this first meeting we will focus on how to dialogue with each other and listen to each other.”

As for why he thought that some of the more conservative voices in the Church are in the American clergy, Martin replied: “Perhaps it’s because many people admired Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI, as is also the case with me. However, now Pope Francis has taken a different approach. Fundamentally speaking, there has been no change, but some people may be confused.”

“What I find truly disconcerting,” Martin continued, “is that in the United States, some of the same people who argued that a pope should never be criticized during the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict, now do so every day under the pontificate of Francis.”

Asked how he views the criticism by some U.S. clergy of the German Synodal Way, the Jesuit priest replied: “I don’t see it as a fight. Both churches are responding to what they see as the needs of their people. It’s true that some German Church leaders may have a more progressive approach in some respects, but fundamentally there is no difference. After all, we all recite the same Creed on Sundays.”

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Kevin Birmingham, 51, passes away in sleep

Kevin Birmingham, an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Chicago, passed away in his sleep Oct. 2, 2023, at age 51. / Credit: Archdiocese of Chicago

CNA Staff, Oct 2, 2023 / 17:55 pm (CNA).

Kevin Birmingham, an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Chicago, passed away in his sleep last night, the archdiocese confirmed on Monday afternoon. He was 51. 

Father Manuel Dorantes, the pastor at St. Mary of the Lake Parish in Chicago, wrote on the social media website X on Monday afternoon that he was “shocked and saddened by the sudden death of Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago Kevin Birmingham during his sleep last night.” 

“Please join me in praying for his soul and for his dear mother during this very difficult moment for her,” Dornates said. “He was about to turn 52 this week.”

A spokeswoman at the archdiocese subsequently confirmed to CNA that the archbishop had passed away in his sleep overnight. 

The archdiocese on Monday afternoon published an obituary on its website in which Chicago archbishop Cardinal Blase J. Cupich called Birmingham “a wonderful priest and bishop” and “a dear friend and valued colleague.”

Birmingham’s fellow auxiliary bishop Jeffrey Grob, meanwhile, described the late prelate as “genuine, personable, funny, and pastoral. He had a pastor’s heart.”

Funeral arrangements are forthcoming, the obituary said.

Birmingham was 25 when he was ordained as a priest, according to a 2020 article in the archdiocesan newspaper the Chicago Catholic. He grew up in Chicago Ridge “the seventh of 10 children in his family.” 

He attended Niles College Seminary and the University of St. Mary of the Lake, according to the archdiocesan website. 

He was ordained as a priest in May 1997 and again in his final role as auxiliary bishop on Nov. 13, 2020. He also held the title of Titular Bishop of Dolia.

Annual Requiem Latin Mass canceled at Westminster Cathedral in London after 50 years

null / Mazur/cbcew.org.uk.

CNA Staff, Oct 2, 2023 / 17:35 pm (CNA).

An annual Requiem Mass that has been held at Westminster Cathedral in London, England, for more than 50 years has been relocated amid the continued restrictions on the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass issued by the Vatican.

The annual sung Mass had been hosted by The Latin Mass Society since 1971 for the repose of the souls of its deceased members and benefactors. Although the Mass was scheduled to be celebrated again on Saturday, Nov. 4, the diocese informed the Latin Mass Society that the celebration was canceled due to the restrictions in Pope Francis’ 2021 motu proprio Traditionis Custodes.

In the motu proprio, issued by Pope Francis on July 16, 2021, the pontiff directed bishops to designate specific locations for the Latin Mass but ordered that none of those locations can be parish churches. If the bishop wants to allow a parish church to continue its celebrations of the Traditional Latin Mass, he must acquire a dispensation from the Holy See, which is evaluated on a case-by-case basis. 

A spokesperson for The Latin Mass Society told CNA that Cardinal Vincent Nichols, who presides over the Diocese of Westminster, told the society that the annual Mass “is not part of the cathedral’s pastoral provision for the Traditional Mass” and that the cardinal did not ask Rome for a dispensation so they could continue the annual tradition.

The Latin Mass Society relocated the Requiem Mass to Corpus Christi Catholic Church on Maiden Lane, which is designated as a diocesan shrine. It will be held on Monday, Nov. 6, at 6:30 p.m. Although the Requiem Mass cannot be held at Westminster Cathedral, Nichols did request a dispensation for the cathedral to continue its low Mass on the first Saturday of each month at 4 p.m.

“The cathedral is a parish church, so each Mass there needs explicit permission under the terms of Traditionis Custodes,” the Latin Mass Society spokesperson said. “He has asked for permission for the monthly Masses, and these continue while this is being considered.”

A spokesperson for the Diocese of Westminster told CNA that Traditionis Custodes “established new norms to govern the use of the missal” used for the Traditional Latin Mass, prior to “the reform of 1970.”

Despite Pope Paul VI granting the “English Indult” in 1971 to allow bishops in England and Wales to permit celebrations of The Latin Mass, the diocesan spokesperson said “appealing to indults and customs that predated Traditionis Custodes cannot have any force” because of the changes decreed by Pope Francis. 

“Some permissions have been granted for the continued use of the missal antecedent to the reform of 1970 by groups of the faithful in the Diocese of Westminster,” the diocesan spokesperson added. “These permissions are now under review by the Holy See. No permission was sought or granted for the particular Mass in question.”

The news has caused frustration among some of the faithful who often attend the Traditional Latin Mass and have worshipped at the annual Requiem Mass previously held at Westminster Cathedral.

Roger Wemyss Brooks, a 77-year-old Catholic who has regularly attended the Traditional Latin Mass since the early 1970s, including the annual Requiem Mass on many occasions, told CNA he is “distressed by the decision by our pastors to withdraw this precious Requiem treasured by supporters of the Latin Mass Society.” 

“Elderly Catholics like me depend upon the comfort of this annual Mass to compensate for the arbitrary withdrawal of individual traditional Requiem Masses,” Brooks said. “Twice this year I have known of lifelong adherents of the traditional rite to have been deprived of their Requiem at the time of their deaths. What we ask for is at least the kindness of what was liberally provided to our forefathers.”

Edward Windsor, who has served at the annual Requiem Mass for the last five years, told CNA that “one of the most important roles of being Catholic is to pray for the faithful departed.”

“In what way does the [cardinal] feel then, as if he is fulfilling his duty as our shepherd to lead us to Christ, to encourage us in our faith, by cancelling a Mass for the dead?” Windsor asked. “It shows rather that modernism has become more important than the actual sacrifice of the Mass.”

Since the issuance of Traditionis Custodes, the Traditional Latin Mass has faced restrictions globally. In some dioceses, bishops have been able to secure temporary dispensations for some Masses to continue in parish churches, but these dispensations are only temporary. In some cases, bishops have neglected to seek dispensations and have instead moved the Masses into locations outside of parish churches.

Rebuild and elevate: New Catholic center at Kansas State aims to bring students to God

The exterior of the new St. Isidore's Catholic Student Center at Kansas State University. / Credit: Jacob Bentzinger

CNA Staff, Oct 2, 2023 / 17:15 pm (CNA).

There’s a quote from Jerome Tang, head coach of the Kansas State University (KSU) basketball team, that Father Gale Hammerschmidt likes. 

“I didn’t come to rebuild. I came to elevate,” Tang said after taking the team’s helm last year. (His team bowed out of the NCAA Tournament last spring after making it to the Elite Eight.)

Hammerschmidt, chaplain at St. Isidore’s Catholic Student Center at Kansas State, said he thinks “elevation” is an appropriate word for what the Catholic community he leads is doing right now. On Jan. 28, the local bishop dedicated the Catholic center’s brand-new, $20 million church — a project more than two decades in the making.

But now that the new church is open, the real work of bringing the Catholic faith to students on campus can continue. The grand new church presents an opportunity to “elevate everything we do here at St. Isidore’s,” Hammerschmidt told CNA. 

“We know that the work is just now beginning. And if we’re going to create a beautiful space, we want to be able to do beautiful things in the space. And nothing is more beautiful than a soul encountering the living God,” the priest told CNA.

Hammerschmidt, a Kansas native and 1995 Kansas State alum, was ordained to the priesthood in 2012 and was assigned to St. Isidore’s in 2017. The Catholic center sits just across the street from the Kansas State campus, which is itself the lifeblood of the small city of Manhattan. There had been discussions about the need for a new church building for several years before he arrived. 

“I already knew that there was a need to build a new church. This is something that had been talked about for probably 20 years, honestly, even since right around the time that I was graduating from college,” Hammerschmidt told CNA. 

Father Gale Hammerschmidt. Credit: Jacob Bentzinger
Father Gale Hammerschmidt. Credit: Jacob Bentzinger

Part of the reason was that the population served by St. Isidore’s had outgrown the old space, which sat about 400 and was regularly filled to bursting on Sundays with overflow seating in the student center library. 

Grace Gorges, a K-State student studying graphic design, got involved with the Catholic community at the college as soon as she arrived at KSU. From the get-go, “the Masses were always crowded, always overflowing,” she said, adding that the fallout from COVID made things even worse when parts of the sanctuary had to be roped off for distancing purposes. 

The campaign to raise money for a new church was dubbed “Home Away from Home.” About $5 million had already been raised before Hammerschmidt’s arrival, and the campaign ultimately raised nearly $20 million for the project, he said. Some 1,500 individual donors contributed to the campaign. 

Nebraska-based lead architect Kevin Clark came to Manhattan in 2017 and began asking the community what they wanted their new church to look like. Countless students requested a beautiful interior, “traditional-looking in nature,” the priest said.

“We want this to look like a church that has been standing forever and will stand forever,” he recalled students telling him.

“We wanted to make sure that it was an epic-looking building” with an interior that would raise hearts and minds “to the beauties of heaven,” he said.

The congregation kneels during the dedication Mass for the new St. Isidore's Catholic Student Center at Kansas State University. Credit: Jacob Bentzinger
The congregation kneels during the dedication Mass for the new St. Isidore's Catholic Student Center at Kansas State University. Credit: Jacob Bentzinger

Given her involvement in the community and her interest in beauty and design, Hammerschmidt asked Gorges to serve on the building committee, which meant she would have a say in the church’s aesthetic. Gorges said she was invited to help design the church’s tile flooring. She researched churches online for inspiration and also drew from her personal experience of visiting numerous beautiful sacred spaces on a trip to Italy. 

Ridge Pinkston, a fifth-year senior when CNA spoke with him, studying medieval history, was also chosen to be on the building committee. He told CNA that the committee — which included Hammerschmidt, diocesan board member Doug Hinkin, and others — was given almost complete control over the look of the new church.

He said the committee had numerous meetings with the architect to figure out the look of everything in the new church — they spent an entire two-hour meeting designing the look of the altar, for example. He said the building committee “represented the body of owners” to the architect and designers, similar to how when a family builds a house, the architects and contractors consult them on how they want it to look. He said it was a “huge privilege” and a great learning process to be a part of the committee as a student. 

Despite his interest in medieval architecture, the churches that Pinkston primarily drew inspiration from were mainly stateside; most are located in the Archdiocese of Denver. They included the medieval revival-style chapel at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary and the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception and Holy Ghost Catholic Church, both in downtown Denver. 

Ultimately, the architects and designers of St. Isidore’s produced a neo-Gothic interior with pointed arches that dropped many a jaw when it was unveiled. The interior also features numerous instances of vine imagery — an image of Jesus himself, but also a subtle nod to the college’s agricultural heritage. Evergreene Architectural Arts, a renowned design studio in New York, provided the decoration, Hammerschmidt said. 

Not everything in the interior is entirely new, however. Hammerschmidt said at the request of students, stained-glass windows depicting the seven patron saints of the seven original colleges at Kansas State (the university was originally Methodist-founded) were saved and incorporated into the new church. Among those saints are the church’s namesake, St. Isidore — an 11th-century Spaniard and patron saint of agricultural workers — as well as the namesake of the student center, St. Robert Bellarmine. A much-loved crucifix that hung over the tabernacle in the old church was also used again in the new church. 

The crucifix in the new St. Isidore's Catholic Student Center. Credit: Jacob Bentzinger
The crucifix in the new St. Isidore's Catholic Student Center. Credit: Jacob Bentzinger

Gorges said she loves the triumphal arch over the altar in the finished church, which draws one’s eyes toward the focal point of the crucifix, and onward to heaven. A beautiful church, she said, is “not the end-all-be-all by any means. But if it’s at all possible, beauty matters. And we should be trying to live that in our daily lives.”

Pinkston said his favorite design element in the new church, apart from the ceiling of the apse, is the new altar itself, which he said really strikes him as being designed in a way that calls to mind a place where sacrifices are made.

“Rightfully, that should be one of the most beautiful features,” he said of the altar.

The designers also took care to design the exterior of the church to match the native limestone buildings of Kansas State, in an effort to make the church an integral part of the campus it serves.

Bishop Gerald Vincke of Salina, Kansas, dedicated the diocese’s newest church on Jan. 28. The 14,000-square-foot structure can accommodate about 700 for Sunday Masses.

Bishop Gerald Vincke of Salina, Kansas, sprinkles holy water during the dedication of the new St. Isidore's Catholic Student Center on Jan. 28, 2023. Credit: Jacob Bentzinger
Bishop Gerald Vincke of Salina, Kansas, sprinkles holy water during the dedication of the new St. Isidore's Catholic Student Center on Jan. 28, 2023. Credit: Jacob Bentzinger

Hammerschmidt said daily Masses at St. Isidore’s were already attracting nearly 200 students on a regular basis. A key part of the Catholic center’s success, he said, is the presence of missionaries from the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). FOCUS maintains a presence on college campuses with the goal of winning people to the Catholic faith through authentic friendships and forming others to go out and do the same through Bible studies, small groups, and retreats.

“We also work closely with the high schools in the state of Kansas, especially the Catholic high schools. And we have many strong Catholic high schools in our area. And so we just have students who, the first day they show up in Manhattan, they already know about us,” Hammerschmidt said.

In addition, he said, the Catholic center is in cooperation with the local Diocese of Salina and the nearby Diocese of Wichita, whereby Wichita — which has been blessed in recent years with large vocation numbers — sends a priest to serve as Hammerschmidt’s associate. Large numbers of students come to KSU from Wichita — Gorges among them — who get involved with the Catholic center thanks to strong word of mouth.

“It’s good for them to have one of their own priests looking after them … I think it’s working phenomenally well.”

Stained-glass windows in the new St. Isidore's Catholic Student Center. Credit: Jacob Bentzinger
Stained-glass windows in the new St. Isidore's Catholic Student Center. Credit: Jacob Bentzinger

Working at St. Isidore’s, Pinkston said he has gotten to know “the regulars” that came to the church before the rebuild, but now with the new church, he said he sees many more people coming in to pray whom he has never seen before. He also said it was inspirational for him to see a friend — a man who is joining the Catholic Church this Easter — weeping openly when he first saw the new church’s interior.

“That was really the first time I’d ever seen him express emotion … That’s definitely a huge blessing to be able to see that happening,” he said.

Hammerschmidt was almost overwhelmed by the support of the many students, alumni, and others who made the new church possible. Months on from the chapel’s opening, the 9:09 p.m. daily Mass is always well attended, with about 300 students attending regularly. As of September, St. Isidore’s has 40 student-led Bible studies with around 400 Bible study participants.

“The outpouring of joy and gratitude has been incredible. The number of people who we will just see walking through the church from out of town is unbelievable,” Hammerschmidt said.

“And then beyond that, we had so many more hundreds of people praying for the project, and we just have been supported unbelievably well.”

Hammerschmidt said he wants the students and community of Kansas State to take ownership of the magnificent new church and to use it for their spiritual benefit. 

“We want to let everybody in Manhattan and on K-State’s campus know that we built this church for them,” he said. 

“If they just need a place of encounter with God to just come in to be seated, to be immersed in the beauty and the silence and to just let God speak. That’s our hope. For the Catholics, for the non-Catholics, for the students, for nonstudents, just for anyone who needs a place to encounter the living God, this would be the place for them.”

Light from the stained glass in the new St. Isidore's Catholic Student Center. Jacob Bentzinger
Light from the stained glass in the new St. Isidore's Catholic Student Center. Jacob Bentzinger

Roof of church collapses in Mexico, killing at least 10

Tampico Bishop José Armando Alvarez said in a statement on social media Oct. 1, 2023, that “the roof of the parish of Holy Cross” collapsed while parishioners were “celebrating the baptism of their children.” / Credit: Facebook de la Parroquia de la Santa Cruz

CNA Staff, Oct 2, 2023 / 16:55 pm (CNA).

The roof of a Catholic church in the Mexican city of Madero collapsed on Sunday, killing at least 10 people while they were attending Mass, authorities said following the disaster. 

Tampico Bishop José Armando Alvarez said in a statement on social media on Sunday that “the roof of the parish of Holy Cross” collapsed while parishioners were “celebrating the baptism of their children.”

“We continue to pray for the speedy recovery of the people who have been rescued,” Alvarez said, “and we maintain firm hope that the people who are still trapped under the debris will be rescued alive.”

The Conference of the Mexican Episcopate likewise confirmed the collapse in a statement, with the bishops writing that they were “united in prayer in the face of the tragic loss of life and injuries suffered by several faithful” in the collapse. 

Video circulating on social media appeared to depict the moment of the roof’s collapse on Sunday.

By Monday morning, at least 10 people were reported dead in the tragedy. In a subsequent video message, Alvarez said rescue workers were “doing the necessary work to get the people out who are still under the rubble.”

“Today we are living a very difficult moment,” the bishop said in the address. Several dozen more parishioners were reported injured. 

Authorities said approximately 100 people were in the parish at the time of its collapse. ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, reported that members of the Red Cross were reportedly on the scene as well as local rescue workers and military. 

“May the Lord help us all and may this painful experience that we are living be our strength,” Alvarez said in his address, according to ACI Prensa. 

Ciudad Madero is located in the state of Tamaulipas on the eastern coast of Mexico, about 250 miles from the Texas border. 

The Diocese of Tampico lies just outside of Madero proper.

The 5 cardinals behind the latest dubia issued to Pope Francis

Left to right: German Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah, Mexican Cardinal Juan Sandoval Íñiguez, American Cardinal Raymond Burke, and Chinese Cardinal Zen Ze-Kiun. / Credit: Bohumil Petrik/CNA; Intermirifica.net; Daniel Ibáñez/CNA

CNA Staff, Oct 2, 2023 / 16:35 pm (CNA).

Five cardinals have sent a set of questions to Pope Francis to express their concerns before this week’s Synod on Synodality opening at the Vatican. 

The prelates, who also issued a “Notification to Christ’s Faithful,” hail from the diverse ecclesiastical landscapes of Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

Cardinal Walter Brandmüller

The 94-year-old German-born cardinal, president of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, has engaged with Pope Francis in the past on the topic of Church doctrine; he was among the four cardinals who in 2016 issued a set of five dubia to Pope Francis regarding the Holy Father’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. Those dubia sought to address several controversial passages in that document regarding divorced and remarried Catholics, with the prelates arguing that the document could be interpreted as “teach[ing] a change in the discipline of the Church” regarding marriage and the sacraments.

In August 2022, Brandmüller criticized Francis’ formation of an extraordinary consistory that month, arguing that the event had been organized in order to prevent full and open discussion among the cardinals participating in it.

Cardinal Raymond Burke

The 75-year-old Burke was born in Wisconsin and served as bishop of La Crosse from 1995–2004 and as archbishop of St. Louis from 2004–2008. From 2008 to 2014, he was prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura. He joined Brandmüller in writing the 2016 dubia; the two cardinals are the only remaining prelates of that group who are still alive. Burke in 2019 was critical of that year’s Synod on the Pan-Amazon Region, claiming that the meeting’s Instrumentum Laboris seemed “not only in dissonance with respect to the authentic teaching of the Church, but even contrary to it.”

Burke has further challenged Francis’ authority to eliminate the Latin rite in the Catholic Church. Earlier this year, he joined German Cardinal Gerhard Müller in rebuking the German Synodal Way, which has voted in favor of blessing same-sex unions and unions between divorced and “remarried” Catholics.

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, SDB

The 91-year-old Zen, who previously served as the sixth bishop of Hong Kong from 2002–2009, has tangled with the Vatican by claiming that its secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, “manipulates the pope” on Church policy in communist China. 

Zen had unsuccessfully sought a meeting with Pope Francis in Rome in late 2020, asking the Holy Father to appoint a new bishop to Hong Kong where the seat had been vacant since January 2019. In May 2021, Francis appointed Bishop Stephen Chow, who was elevated to a cardinal on Sept. 30, to serve in that role.

Pope Francis and Zen would finally meet in January of this year while the latter was in Rome for the funeral of Pope Benedict XVI. “It was wonderful. He was so very warm!” Zen told America magazine at the time. 

Cardinal Juan Sandoval Íñiguez

The 90-year-old Mexican prelate served previously as archbishop of Guadalajara from 1994–2011. He participated in the papal conclaves that elected Pope Benedict XVI in 2005 and then Pope Francis in 2013. He has been known for controversial statements regarding homosexuality and Protestants.

Sandoval Íñiguez was also among the two Mexican cardinals found guilty of “proselytism” for allegedly encouraging Catholics to vote for particular candidates, which is forbidden under Mexican law.

The Mexican Episcopal Conference responded that the prelates had merely “made personal pronouncements on the social reality of the country” rather than advocate for a particular candidate.

Cardinal Robert Sarah

Well-known globally for his seven-year stint as the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Sarah, 78, has also served as the archbishop of Conakry from 1979–2001, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum under Pope Benedict XVI, and the secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples under Pope John Paul II.

The Guinea-born prelate had stressed his fidelity to Francis upon retiring from his prefect post in 2021, stating that he has “tried to be a loyal, obedient, and humble servant of the truth of the Gospel” and that he has “never opposed the pope.”

Earlier this summer, in an apparent reference to concerns over this month’s synod and its rumored consideration of female ordination, Sarah spoke at a conference in Mexico City.

“No council, no synod, no ecclesiastical authority has the power to invent a female priesthood,” Sarah said, “without seriously damaging the perennial physiognomy of the priest, his sacramental identity, within the renewed ecclesiological vision of the Church, mystery, communion, and mission.” 

The cardinal in June urged Catholics to utilize Scripture, prayer, and other spiritual endeavors to serve as “witnesses to the truth in a world in crisis.”

Vatican releases Pope Francis’ responses to pre-synod dubia, criticizes cardinals

Cardinal-elect Víctor Manuel Fernández was appointed by Pope Francis on July 1, 2023, to become the next prefect for the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. / Credit: Courtesy of Archdiocese of La Plata

Vatican City, Oct 2, 2023 / 16:15 pm (CNA).

The Vatican has released Pope Francis’ original responses to a set of dubia on highly-charged doctrinal questions submitted by five cardinals earlier this summer — and criticized the cardinals for going public with the matter just days before the start of the Synod on Synodality. 

The pope’s responses, originally issued July 11, responded to requests for doctrinal clarification on the nature of the development of doctrine, the Church’s inability to bless same-sex unions, the authority of the upcoming synod, the impossibility of sacramentally ordaining women, and the necessity of repentance to be sacramentally absolved. They were made available on the Vatican’s website earlier today, only hours after the cardinals publicly announced that the pope had not answered a revised set of questions meant to elicit more clear answers.

“While it doesn’t always seem to me to be prudent to respond to questions directed specifically to me, and it would be impossible to address them all, in this case, it seemed appropriate to do so due to the proximity of the synod,” the pope wrote in response to the cardinals’ July 10 dubia, addressing them as “dear brothers.” 

The five cardinals — German Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, American Cardinal Raymond Burke, Chinese Cardinal Zen Ze-Kiun, Mexican Cardinal Juan Sandoval Íñiguez, and Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah — submitted a revised set of dubia to the pope on Aug. 21 because, as they said in a statement to the National Catholic Register earlier today, his original responses were not in the customary “yes” or “no” format, and “have not resolved the doubts we had raised, but have, if anything deepened them.” The cardinals went public with their dubia earlier today after the pope did not respond to their revised set of questions.

However, a high-ranking Vatican official sharply criticized the five cardinals for not simultaneously releasing the pope’s original responses, which he provided to them “despite his many occupations.”  

“Instead of publishing those answers, they now make public new questions, as if the pope were their slaves for errands,” Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernandez, the new head of the Vatican’s doctrine office, told the Spanish news agency ABC. 

The five cardinals said they did not publish the pope’s responses because they were addressed specifically to them, and therefore itwould not be appropriate to share publicly. 

The pope’s response 

In his newly released July 11 responses, the pope provided lengthy, multi-part responses to each submitted question.

In response to the cardinals’ dubium regarding the blessings of same-sex sexual unions, the pope underscored that the Church “avoids any rite or sacramental that may contradict” its conviction in marriage as “an exclusive, stable, and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to procreation.”

“However,” the pope wrote, “in dealing with people, we must not lose pastoral charity,” going on to state that “pastoral prudence must discern properly if there are forms of blessing, requested by one or more persons, that do not convey a mistaken conception of marriage” and, citing his 2015 apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, “do not necessarily have to become a norm.” 

In addressing the cardinals’ question related to the development of doctrine and the possibility of contradiction, Pope Francis wrote that while “cultural changes and new challenges in history do not modify revelation,” the Church must always strive to interpret texts in a way that “allows us to distinguish their perennial substances from cultural conditioning,” with special attention to the interpreting texts in light of “the perennial truth of the inalienable dignity of the human person.” 

Because there can be no change to “what has been revealed ‘for the salvation’ of all,” the Church must constantly discern what is essential for salvation and what is secondary or less directly connected to this goal,” which can inevitably “lead to a better expression of some past affirmations of the magisterium.”

On the topic of the upcoming synod’s authority, the pope reaffirmed his teaching that the Church is inherently synodal, implying “real participation” by all its members in ways that “must make their voice heard and feel part of the Church’s journey,” but he did not appear to directly address the cardinals’ question regarding the extent of the synod’s authority.

Regarding the Church’s ordination of only men to the priesthood, Pope Francis wrote that the Church’s established teaching on the matter “must be accepted by all,” despite the fact that a “dogmatic definition” on the issue has not been provided. However, while no one can publicly contradict this teaching, it can still be “the subject of study, as is the case with the validity of ordinations in the Anglican Communion.” 

The pope also added that failing to recognize that the priesthood is “wholly ordered to the holiness of the members of Christ” would make it “difficult to accept that the priesthood is reserved only for men.” 

Finally, the pope affirmed the necessity of repentance for the validity of sacramental absolution but noted that “there are no mathematics here” and that ordained ministers must “make room in pastoral care for the unconditional love of God,” especially in cases where a penitent’s psychological state or “deeply wounded self-esteem” may inhibit their ability to follow typical practices in the confessional. 

Synod prelude 

The public back-and-forth over the cardinals’ dubia and the pope’s response comes just two days before the start of the Synod on Synodality’s universal assembly, which runs from Oct. 4–29.

The cardinals expressly stated that they decided to submit their concerns “in view of various declarations of highly placed prelates” made in relation to the upcoming synod that have been “openly contrary to the constant doctrine and discipline of the Church.”

Vatican organizers have insisted that the synod — which includes an additional assembly in October 2024 — is not focused on doctrinal questions but on how the Church can enhance the participation of all its members in its communion and mission.

Synod on Synodality retreat looks to ‘transcend all our disagreements’

Father Timothy Radcliffe addresses the bishops of the Catholic Church in England and Wales. / Credit: Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk

Vatican City, Oct 2, 2023 / 15:55 pm (CNA).

During a retreat for participants in the Synod on Synodality assembly this week, delegates were urged to listen to one another and to come together despite “different understandings of the Church.”

“We may be divided by different hopes,” Father Timothy Radcliffe said in a retreat meditation on Oct. 1. “But if we listen to the Lord and to each other, seeking to understand his will for the Church and the world, we shall be united in a hope that transcends all our disagreements.”

Hundreds of synod delegates are meeting in a retreat center in Sacrofano, 20 miles north of Rome, for the three-day retreat ahead of the opening of the Synod on Synodality at the Vatican on Oct. 4.

In the livestreamed retreat meditations, delegates have been urged to embrace their differences, express their doubts, and cast away their fears — whether it is the fear that the synod will dramatically change the Church or the “fear that nothing will change.”

Radcliffe began the first meditation of the retreat on Oct. 1 by saying: “I’m deeply aware of my personal limitations. I’m old, white, western, and a man. And I don’t know which is worse. … All these aspects of my identity limit my understanding, so I ask your forgiveness for the inadequacy of my words.”

He urged the delegates to “journey towards a Church” where people who “do not yet feel at home in the Church” are placed at the center.

“Our lives are nourished by beloved traditions and devotions. If they are lost, we grieve. But also we remember those who do not yet feel at home in the Church: women who feel that they are unrecognized in a patriarchy of old white men like me! People who feel that the Church is too Western, too Latin, too colonial. We must journey towards a Church in which they are no longer at the margin but at the center,” Radcliffe said.

The retreat master spent the first two meditations looking at two “sources of division” in the Catholic Church, which he described as “conflicting hopes and different visions of the Church as home.”

“Different understandings of the Church as home tear us apart today. For some it is defined by its ancient traditions and devotions, its inherited structures and language, the Church we have grown up with and love. It gives us a clear Christian identity. For others, the present Church does not seem to be a safe home. It is experienced as exclusive, marginalizing many people, women: the divorced and remarried. For some it is too Western, too Eurocentric,” he said.

The retreat master, whose statements on homosexuality have previously sparked controversy, highlighted how the document guiding synod discussions, the Instrumentum Laboris, “mentions also gay people and people in polygamous marriages.” He said: “They long for a renewed Church in which they will feel fully at home, recognized, affirmed, and safe. For some the idea of a universal welcome, in which everyone is accepted regardless of who they are, is felt as destructive of the Church’s identity. … They believe that identity demands boundaries. But for others, it is the very heart of the Church’s identity to be open. Pope Francis said, ‘The Church is called on to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open.’”

Radcliffe described how the 365 voting members have “different hopes” and fears for the three-week assembly on synodality. 

“Some hope that the Church will change dramatically, that we shall take radical decisions, for example about the role of women in the Church. Others are afraid of exactly these same changes and fear that they will only lead to division, even schism,” he said.

“So let us begin by praying that the Lord will free our hearts from fear. For some this is the fear of change and for others the fear that nothing will change. But ‘the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,’” he added.

Each day of the synod retreat at the Fraterna Domus retreat center Oct. 1–3 begins with morning prayer and concludes with Mass. Benedictine Mother Ignazia Angelini offers two daily meditations, as does Radcliffe, with the afternoons set aside for “group meetings for conversation in the Spirit.” 

Australian Bishop Anthony Randazzo of Broken Bay gave the homily for the Mass on Oct. 2 and Canadian Bishop Raymond Poisson of Saint-Jérôme–Mont-Laurier preached at the Oct. 1 Mass.

“The world is in need to see a Church thriving to be faithful to unity. Therefore, the search for unity must be put into practice on a daily basis,” Poisson said in his homily.

“The synod we are undertaking is like a school in which we learn to listen to one another … Let us be a Church with open arms like those of her Lord on the cross and let us become true witnesses of God’s love for the world.”

Radcliffe also underlined the need for unity in his meditations on the second day of the retreat, urging participants to “leap across the boundaries, not just of left and right, or cultural boundaries, but generational boundaries, too.”

The 78-year-old British priest reflected: “Many religious and priests of my generation grew up in strongly Catholic families. The faith deeply penetrated our everyday lives. The adventure of the Second Vatican Council was in reaching out to the secular world. French priests went to work in factories. We took off the habit and immersed ourselves in the world. One angry sister, seeing me wearing my habit, exploded: ‘Why are you still wearing that old thing?’”

“Today many young people — especially in the West but increasingly everywhere — grow up in a secular world, agnostic or even atheistic. Their adventure is the discovery of the Gospel, the Church, and the tradition. They joyfully put on the habit. Our journeys are contrary, but not contradictory. Like Jesus I must walk with them, and learn what excites their hearts,” he added.

He encouraged synod delegates to befriend one another and to openly “share their worries and doubts.”

“The foundation of all that we shall do in this synod should be the friendships we create. It does not look [like] much. It will not make headlines in the media. ‘They came all the way to Rome to make friendships! What a waste!’ But it is by friendship that we shall make the transition from ‘I’ to ‘we.’ Without it, we shall achieve nothing,” he said.

Radcliffe commented a few times on how he expects the media will interpret the synod. He said: “During our synodal journey, we may worry whether we are achieving anything. The media will probably decide that it was all a waste of time, just words. They will look for whether bold decisions are made on about four or five hot-button topics. But the disciples on that first synod, walking to Jerusalem, did not appear to achieve anything.”

The priest described the synod retreat as an experience like the Gospel experience of the Transfiguration, which he called “the retreat Jesus gives to his closest disciples before they embark on the first synod in the life of the Church when they walk together (syn-hodos) to Jerusalem.”

He said that the hope that the disciples glimpsed on the mountain in the transfigured Lord “makes the conflict between our hopes seem minor, almost absurd.”

“If we are truly on the way to the kingdom, does it really matter whether you align yourselves with so-called traditionalists or progressives?” he added.

“Let us ask the Lord to give us hope, too: the hope that this synod will lead to a renewal of the Church and not division; the hope that we shall draw closer to each as brothers and sisters,” he said.