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The word momentous is over-used, but we can apply it with justice to the pronouncement coming out of the Vatican on Thursday from Pope Francis about poverty, the environment and climate change.
The Pope’s forthcoming encyclical, or teaching letter, entitled Laudato Si, is addressed to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics and is expected to be a dramatic intervention in the international political process, insisting that the fight against global warming, no less than the fight against misery and destitution, is a moral issue which must be addressed by the whole world.
The timing is remarkable. In essence, the 78-year-old Argentinian Pontiff is throwing the entire moral force of the Church into the negotiations for a new climate treaty to be concluded – it is hoped – at the UN climate conference in Paris in December. There has never in modern times been such a decisive involvement of the spiritual with the political – and certainly not with regard to the environment.
For even though Francis’s predecessor, Benedict XVI, the German Joseph Ratzinger, acquired the nickname of the Green Pope for his enthusiasm for matters environmental – he sought to make the Vatican carbon-neutral and installed solar panels – it is Francis, the former Jorge Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, who may come to be the true long-term bearer of that title.
He took Francis as his papal name after Saint Francis of Assisi, the 13th century Italian saint who was devoted not only to the poor, but – almost uniquely for a Catholic prelate in the past – to the natural world. The encyclical’s title, meaning Be Praised, is not in the normal Latin, but is actually medieval Italian, and comes from “The Canticle of The Sun”, St Francis’s famous poem in which he refers to Mother Earth who feeds us.
In aligning himself with St Francis, the Pope addresses what has always been a gaping hole in the formidable Judaeo-Christian moral tradition – the absence of reverence for the earth itself (in contrast to some other religions, such as Buddhism).
For centuries, the Church’s view of the earth was that of The Bible in Genesis 1:28 – “Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over… every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” In recent decades, however, Catholic theologians have sought to move away from ideas of domination and subjugation towards an ethic of stewardship, the stewardship of God’s creation – and Pope Francis’s encyclical is the culmination of this shift, likely to move the church decisively into line with environmental thinking.
But it is the direct effect it will have in the outside world, the real world of international politics, which is likely to be the explosive aspect of Laudato Si.
The encyclical will throw the Church’s enormous moral endorsement behind the longstanding position of climate scientists that global warming is a real, urgent and terrible problem for the world. It will thus be a colossal slap in the face for those most inveterate opponents of action on climate change, those determined pretenders that the whole thing is a huge left-wing hoax, America’s Republicans. Their discomfiture will be increased substantially by the fact that they are overwhelmingly Christian (and not a few are Catholics) and attacking the Pope aggressively over his views will be very difficult.
If the encyclical is as trailed, it may prove a tipping point in international opinion about climate change, and be a powerful force for the successful conclusion of a climate treaty in December. It can certainly be described as momentous. “Pope Francis is saying the environment is a moral issue, because if we don’t rethink our relationship with God’s creation, the consequences will disastrous,” says Catherine Pepinster, editor of Britain’s Catholic weekly, The Tablet. “It’s an unprecedented intervention in a political debate.”
Date: Monday, June 15, 2015
From Most Rev. Bernard A. Hebda, Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I am humbled by Pope Francis’ decision to appoint me to serve as Apostolic Administrator for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. I am grateful for his confidence and I look forward to working with Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens and the leadership of the Archdiocese. I pray that I will be able to be of some service to you, the priests and faithful of the Archdiocese, as you prepare for the appointment of a new Archbishop.
Fondly recalling my years as a Bishop in Northern Michigan, where I first came to know the vibrancy of the faith shared by Catholics of the upper Midwest, I am hopeful that there will be opportunities to meet many of you in the weeks ahead. Mindful of Pope Francis’ challenge to bishops to be true shepherds who walk in the midst of the flock to the point of developing “ears open to listening to the voice of the sheep entrusted to their care”, it is my intention to be as available as possible, while still fulfilling my responsibilities as the Coadjutor Archbishop of Newark. As the Universal Church prepares to embark on a Year of Mercy, I look forward to getting to know this local Church and experiencing in a new context the marvelous ways in which the Lord works through His people to make His grace and healing presence known and felt, even in the most challenging of times.
Our loving God frequently finds ways to remind us that even those who exercise leadership in the Church do so as laborers and not as the Master Builder: the Church is not ours but Christ’s. While it is always true that we are merely stewards for a time in a vineyard that is not our own, the role of an Apostolic Administrator is particularly temporary. The law of the Church reminds us that an Administrator is not to introduce change, but rather to facilitate the smooth continuation of the ordinary and essential activities of the Church, while advancing those positive initiatives to which the Archdiocese is already committed. It is my hope that I might be able to be faithful to that vision so that whenever a new Archbishop is appointed, he will find in this local Church a vibrant community of missionary disciples that is growing in its knowledge of the love of Jesus and in its shared commitment to the Gospel.
For this to happen, I realize that I will need the prayers and support of you, the priests, deacons, religious, and laity of the Archdiocese. In this time of transition, please join me in asking for the intercession of Our Lady of Mercy. May she not only seek God’s blessings for those who have given themselves to the service of this local Church in the past, but also draw us ever closer to the Heart of her Son so that we might more perfectly radiate His healing love in the days to come.
Sincerely in Christ,
Most Rev. Bernard A. Hebda
Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis
From Archbishop John C. Nienstedt, Archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis
In order to give the Archdiocese a new beginning amidst the many challenges we face, I have submitted my resignation as Archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis to our Holy Father, Pope Francis, and I have just received word that he has accepted it. The Catholic Church is not our Church, but Christ’s Church, and we are merely stewards for a time. My leadership has unfortunately drawn attention away from the good works of His Church and those who perform them. Thus, my decision to step down.
It has been my privilege the last seven years to serve this local Church. I have come to appreciate deeply the vitality of the 187 parishes that make up the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. I am grateful for the support I have received from priests, deacons, religious men and women and lay leaders, especially those who have collaborated with me in the oversight of this local Church.
I leave with a clear conscience knowing that my team and I have put in place solid protocols to ensure the protection of minors and vulnerable adults.
I ask for continued prayers for the well-being of this Archdiocese and its future leaders. I also ask for your continued prayers for me.
Above is from: http://www.archspm.org/archspm_news/statement-june-15-2015/
From Bishop Lee A. Piché, Auxiliary Bishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis
The people of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis need healing and hope. I was getting in the way of that, and so I had to resign.
I submitted my resignation willingly, after consultation with others in and outside the Archdiocese.
It has been a privilege to serve this local Church and I will continue to hold everyone in the Archdiocese in my prayers.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Pope Francis has made his most significant move yet to deal with the sexual abuse scandals that have plagued the Catholic Church for more than three decades.
Yesterday, the Vatican announced an unprecedented step that victims have long sought: a tribunal to judge and discipline bishops accused of covering up or failing to act on reports of child sexual abuse.
Hari Sreenivasan has the story.
HARI SREENIVASAN: More than 800 priests have been defrocked over the years, and 2,500 have been penalized. But, until now, no pope has publicly confronted or punished a bishop himself for such offenses.
Several bishops here and aboard are under investigation after being accused of covering up such crimes. A number of victims’ groups supported the move, but some also said it didn’t go far enough.
John Allen closely covers the Vatican. He is an associate editor of The Boston Globe and the Crux, The Globe’s Web site covering the Catholic Church.
So, John, I remember how momentous it was when Pope John Paul II apologized for sexual abuse. How big of a deal is this tribunal that will go after bishops?
JOHN ALLEN, Associate Editor, The Boston Globe: Well, Hari, I think it’s an enormously big deal, if it works as it’s been described.
The central bone of contention among survivors of abuse and their advocacy groups over the years has been that the Catholic Church has adopted very stern policies for abuse. They have officially embraced zero tolerance. Today, if a priest is accused of abusing a minor, he’s going to be yanked out of ministry and probably ultimately kicked out of the priesthood relatively quickly.
Their complaint has been that there hasn’t been a similar system of accountability for bishops who covered up these crimes. And that’s, obviously, the hole that Pope Francis is trying to fill.
We should say, Hari, that Vatican officials have been at pains to insist that this new system is not intended to replace criminal liability in terms of secular law enforcement. That is, if a bishop’s failure to act on a complaint of child abuse constitutes a crime in the place where he lives, the Vatican is saying he still has to face the music for that.
This is intended to ensure that, in addition to that criminal exposure, there is also internal ecclesiastical liability, which typically in practice means that the bishop would lose his job.
HARI SREENIVASAN: OK. So those bishops that could lose their job includes some bishops in the United States that have been caught up in this and accused of covering things up, right?
JOHN ALLEN: Yes, that’s right.
I mean, up until very recently, many people would have argued that the first logical case for this tribunal to take up would have been the case of Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph in Missouri, who became the first American bishop to be criminally convicted on a misdemeanor charge of delaying to report a charge of child abuse, and yet for another 2.5 years continued to sit, with no apparent church consequences, as the leader of that dioceses.
Now, in February, Pope Francis accepted his resignation, so Finn has now already lost his position. But another situation that a lot of people would have their eyes would be in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul-Minneapolis in Minnesota, where the archbishop there, Archbishop John Nienstedt, has been accused of knowingly allowing at least two priests, one of whom has been accused of child abuse, the other actually convicted of it, to continue to serve as recently as 2013-2014, which, if true, would be a clear violation of the church’s zero-tolerance policy.
Many people believe that that might be one of the first cases this new tribunal takes up.
HARI SREENIVASAN: OK. So, since this announcement came out, you have had a chance to talk to survivors groups. What do they say?
JOHN ALLEN: I think the reaction is mixed, Hari.
On the one hand, I think there are many survivors who would say that to them this comes off as church officials judging other church officials, and they, frankly have, relatively little confidence in the integrity of those procedures.
Others think there is something new about the commitment of Pope Francis to get this right. Pope Francis has vowed that, on his watch — and this is his language — he has said there will be no be daddy’s boys, that is, church officials who get special treatment because they’re higher up the food chain. And they want to believe that that’s going to be translated into action.
I spoke recently with a survivor by the name of Peter Saunders in Great Britain, who actually sits on a papal commission advising the pontiff on sex abuse matters, who described this as a very positive step that indicates the pope is listening to survivors.