An elderly woman reacts as she meets Pope Francis during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican in this March 22, 2017, file photo. The pope has chosen the theme “I am with you always,” for the first World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, to be celebrated July 25. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Writing to his peers, Catholics who have reached a venerable age like he has, Pope Francis told older Catholics that God is close to them and still has plans for their lives.

“I was called to become the bishop of Rome when I had reached, so to speak, retirement age, and thought I would not be doing anything new,” said the pope, who is 84 now and was elected when he was 76.

“The Lord is always – always – close to us. He is close to us with new possibilities, new ideas, new consolations, but always close to us. You know that the Lord is eternal; he never, ever goes into retirement,” the pope wrote in his message for the Catholic Church’s first celebration of the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly.

The message was released at the Vatican June 22 in anticipation of the celebration July 25, the Sunday closest to the feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne, Jesus’ grandparents.

The Vatican also announced that people who attend a Mass or other celebration for the day, “devote adequate time to actually or virtually visiting their elderly brothers and sisters in need or in difficulty” or join in prayers for the elderly July 25 can receive a plenary indulgence as long as they fulfill the usual requirements of also going to confession, receiving the Eucharist and praying for the intentions of the pope.

The indulgence also is available to “the elderly sick and all those who, unable to leave their homes for a serious reason, will unite themselves spiritually to the sacred functions of the world day, offering to the merciful God their prayers, pains or sufferings of their lives,” the Vatican said.

Pope Francis’ message, which was distributed in writing and on video, acknowledged how much many older people around the world suffered and continue to suffer physically, emotionally and spiritually because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But he also insisted that the Christian call to share the Gospel is as pertinent now for all of them as it ever was.

“Think about it: what is our vocation today, at our age? To preserve our roots, to pass on the faith to the young and to care for the little ones,” he wrote. “Never forget this.”

“It makes no difference how old you are, whether you still work or not, whether you are alone or have a family, whether you became a grandmother or grandfather at a young age or later, whether you are still independent or need assistance,” he said. “There is no retirement age from the work of proclaiming the Gospel and handing down traditions to your grandchildren. You just need to set out and undertake something new.”

Pope Francis said he knew many older people might wonder how they could be called to something new when their “energy is running out” or they cannot even leave the residence where they live. They may even ask, “Isn’t my solitude already a sufficiently heavy burden?”

“You are needed in order to help build, in fraternity and social friendship, the world of tomorrow: the world in which we, together with our children and grandchildren, will live once the storm has subsided,” the pope insisted.

A better future, he said, must be built on the pillars of “dreams, memory and prayer,” pillars that “even the frailest among us” can help erect with God’s help.

While it is true that the energy and enthusiasm of the young is needed to help set the global society on a new path, “our dreams of justice, of peace, of solidarity can make it possible for our young people to have new visions,” the pope wrote. “You need to show that it is possible to emerge renewed from an experience of hardship. I am sure that you have had more than one such experience: in your life you have faced any number of troubles and yet were able to pull through. Use those experiences to learn how to pull through now.”

While many people, young and old, act as if the reminiscences of the elderly are boring, Pope Francis said that “without memory, however, we will never be able to build; without a foundation, we can never build a house. Never. And the foundation of life is memory.”

As examples, the pope cited the experience many older people have had of war or of needing to emigrate.

Sharing “the painful memory of war,” he said, is important “for helping the young to learn the value of peace.”

“I also think of my own grandparents, and those among you who had to emigrate and know how hard it is to leave everything behind, as so many people continue to do today, in hope of a future,” he said. “Some of those people may even now be at our side, caring for us. These kinds of memory can help to build a more humane and welcoming world.”

Turning to the importance of prayer, Pope Francis cited “my predecessor, Pope Benedict, himself a saintly elderly person who continues to pray and work for the church” at the age of 94.

“The prayer of the elderly can protect the world, helping it perhaps more effectively than the frenetic activity of many others,” the pope quoted his predecessor as saying. “He spoke those words in 2012, toward the end of his pontificate. There is something beautiful here.”

“Your prayer is a very precious resource: a deep breath that the church and the world urgently need,” Pope Francis told the elderly. “Especially in these difficult times for our human family, as we continue to sail in the same boat across the stormy sea of the pandemic, your intercession for the world and for the church has great value: it inspires in everyone the serene trust that we will soon come to shore.”

The text of the pope’s message in English is at: https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/nonni/documents/20210531-messaggio-nonni-anziani.html

The text of the message in Spanish: https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/es/messages/nonni/documents/20210531-messaggio-nonni-anziani.html

 

 

Pope Francis leads an audience June 7, 2021 at the Vatican with priests staying at the St. Louis of France residence for priests in Rome. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis told a group of priests studying in Rome that if they do not want to be pastors, spending time with the faithful, they should request dismissal from the priesthood and concentrate on academics instead.

“Be pastors with the scent of your sheep, persons able to live, laugh and cry with your people — in other words, to communicate with them,” the pope told the priests June 7.

The priests, who are studying at pontifical universities in Rome, live at the city’s St. Louis of France residence.

The priesthood cannot be understood without its essential connection to “the holy people of God,” the pope told them. “The ministerial priesthood is a consequence of the baptismal priesthood of the holy faithful people of God.”

“If you think of a priesthood isolated from the people of God, that is not a Catholic priesthood,” he said. A Catholic priest puts God and God’s people at the center of his daily concerns, setting aside self-interest and “dreams of greatness.”

“To put God’s holy faithful people at the center, you must be a pastor,” he said.

A priest who would say, “No, I would like to be an intellectual only, not a pastor,” would be better off asking for “a reduction to the lay state,” the pope said. “But if you are a priest, be a pastor.”

Obviously, there are many ways to be a pastor, he said, but all those ways involve being “in the midst of God’s people.”

During the ongoing year dedicated to St. Joseph, Pope Francis asked the priests “to rediscover the face of this man of faith, this tender father, a model of fidelity and trusting abandonment to God’s plan.”

St. Joseph is a reminder that “having faith in God also includes believing that he can work even through our fears, our frailties, our weaknesses,” he said. “We must not leave frailty aside: it is a theological place.”

“My fragility, the fragility of each one of us, is a theological place of encounter with the Lord. The ‘superman’ priests end up badly, all of them,” Pope Francis said. “The fragile priest, who knows his weaknesses and talks about them with the Lord, he will be fine.”

To be the “apostles of joy” that the church and its people need, priests also must have a sense of humor, he said, and they must cultivate gratitude for being called to serve people and the church.

 

 

Seminarian Luke Daghir, left, enjoys a moment with Deacon Ben Daghir, his twin brother, who ordained a transitional deacon May 1, 2021, in the chapel at St. Mark Seminary in Erie, Pa. (CNS photo/Anne-Marie Welsh, Diocese of Erie)

 

WASHINGTON (CNS) – Not a day goes by that identical twins Luke and Ben Daghir don’t get confused for each other.

It’s probably even more confusing now since Luke and Ben, both graduate seminarians, wear black shirts with white clerical collars.

“We’ve gotten so used to it, it’s become a part of our life,” said Luke during a June 3 interview with Catholic News Service held jointly with his brother. “You just smile.”

Just to add another layer of confusion, the twins grew up and went to Catholic schools in St. Marys, Pennsylvania — without the apostrophe — and are studying for the priesthood in Baltimore at St. Mary’s Seminary and University — yep, with the apostrophe.

There may be one way to tell the Daghir twins apart: Ben is further ahead than Luke in his graduate seminary work. Ben was ordained a transitional deacon in May, and if all goes well, will be ordained to the priesthood for the twins’ native Diocese of Erie, Pennsylvania, over the Memorial Day weekend next year.

Luke isn’t that far behind. He’s on schedule to be ordained a transitional deacon in 2023, and a priest in 2024, also serving the Erie Diocese. That would mean four ordinations in four years in the Daghir household.

It was Luke who heard the first callings to priesthood — as early as third grade, he said, with continued nudgings in high school — but Ben got what for him was a definitive calling in his early 20s when the twins were enrolled at Benedictine-run St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

Both twins were studying education while simultaneously being exposed to the Benedictine charism of religious life at St. Vincent. After graduation, Luke returned to their high school alma mater, Elk County Catholic in St. Marys; he coached tennis and taught at the same school where he and his brother had played baseball and basketball.

It posed a different kind of dilemma in discernment. Which kind of priesthood appealed more to them: diocesan or religious? They could see the appeal in each. “It really is a choice between two very good goods. Either route is an exceptional route to serve Christ or the church,” Luke said.

In his own discernment process, Ben recalled hearing a priest talk on the topic: “He drew a distinction between the diocesan priest and religious life. In religious life, there is community already established, you enter into it and you thrive in that environment. The diocesan priest is sent out on mission to create community.”

“I just feel called deep down to evangelize, to foster community. To foster hope in areas that are struggling. That has the heart of the diocesan priest, to create community,” Ben said. “I saw Ben enter first the seminary for the diocese,” Luke said. “With Ben in, it turned me toward the diocese. Deep down as a priest, I want to be in a parish.”

A 2012 data brief from the National Center for Health Statistics sets the U.S. twin birthrate at 16.7 twin sets per 1,000 live births in 2009 — nearly double the 1980 rate of 9.4. But not all twins are identical. Any twin set with a boy and a girl is a fraternal twin set, and not even all twin sets of the same sex are identical.

That would make the decision for twin brothers to join the priesthood, er, doubly rare. But the Erie Diocese already has a set of twins in the priesthood.

Luke, speaking from Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, during its annual Institute for Priestly Formation summer program, told CNS he was alerted to the presence of a Franciscan monk on the program faculty who himself has a Franciscan twin brother — and was going to seek him out.

Twinhood has its perks when it comes to Ben giving Luke a heads-up about what to expect in seminary life

“We were both big baseball players growing up. (Ben) being ahead in the seminary is similar to facing a pitcher earlier in a game. You’re going to go the person who’s already batted: What do they throw, what’s coming up?” Luke said. “In the seminary: How can I best prepare myself for this year, for this class, how can I learn from this professor? It’s really a special gift to ask him questions, knowing I’m going to get a good answer.”

Ben added, “There’s the delicate balance of letting a person enter the seminary and thrive.”

Parents can be ambivalent about a child going into a seminary or convent. “For me, they were extremely excited,” Ben said. “Our parents are extremely good at that. Not getting in the way between us and listening to the Lord, which is the most important thing.”

Ben added that when he told his folks of his plans, “Dad and me went for a walk that night. We just sat on the steps of our home parish we talked for an hour and a half … things he had seen in me long before. He had seen a priest but he didn’t want to push.”

“Ben and I have grown in sympathy with our parents. Seminary — it’s designed for the seminarian, it’s not designed for the parents,” Luke said. “There’s no program for the parents of 150 seminarians to be together” similar to the Creighton institute, he noted.

“There are beautiful images of Peter and John dropping their nets,” Ben added. “Not many talk about the parents having to drop their nets — their dreams, their hopes for having grandchildren. They have to drop them.”

Luke said, “Overall, I think they’ve been very supportive to us. We stay in contact. It’s fair to acknowledge it’s been challenging in ways, too. Our parents are reaching the age where all of their peers are having grandchildren.”

The twins have enjoyed seminary life, with the occasional odd challenge.

“There’s joy in seminary, I think that’s a message that needs to continue to be stated,” Luke said. “It’s a wonderful place of academic study, brotherhood — not just twin brothers, but brotherhood among men which is missing in our culture. The biggest thing is that if someone is thinking about seminary, it’s worth talking to the vocations director, take the big step, the big journey in front of you.”

After growing up with his twin and four years of dorm life in college, “the first time I ever had a room to myself was my first night of seminary,” Ben said. “Finally I had a room to myself, and I thought that was interesting. You do get your own room, and it took me, I’ll admit, several weeks to get used to having a room to myself. There were quiet moments that I was not expecting.”

“Jesus loves to call brothers,” Ben said, citing the apostles. Peter and Andrew and James and John. Another apostle was Thomas, whose name means “twin.” “It’s obvious 2,000 years later,” he added.

“Yes, we’re identical twins,” Luke said, “but on a deeper level, we’re genuinely being best friends, and that has grown and grown and grown in time.”

 

 

Archbishop Filippo Iannone, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, attends a press conference to discuss revisions to the Code of Canon Law, at the Vatican June 1, 2021. Pope Francis has promulgated a revised section of the Code of Canon Law dealing with crimes and punishments. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The new series of laws and provisions set out in the revised section on crimes and penalties in the Code of Canon Law will help the Catholic Church in its efforts at safeguarding, said two canon lawyers.

And yet, like with every new norm and measure, its success will depend on following through on enforcement, being mindful in interpreting still unclear aspects and working on remaining gaps, they said.

Pope Francis promulgated the new changes in “Book VI: Penal Sanctions in the Church,” and they will go into effect Dec. 8 — the feast of the Immaculate Conception. The revisions reflect almost two decades of work in updating, adding, clarifying and strengthening what the church considers to be crimes and what provisions for sanctioning are available.

Much damage has come from not understanding how applying sanctions is part of exercising charity and establishing justice, the pope said, as “charity and mercy require a father to commit himself also to straightening what at times becomes crooked.”

Claudia Giampietro, a canon lawyer and project officer at the office for care and safeguarding for the International Union of Superiors General, told Catholic News Service that this mindset of respect and protection is a significant change.

The ultimate principle of safeguarding “is recognizing that a wounded humanity needs respect, and this must inform every single act performed within and outside of the Catholic Church,” she told CNS in an email response to questions June 3.

It shows how the revisions have been informed by and reflect “the voice of victims and survivors of abuse, which is making the church aware and, therefore, responsible” in turning their requests “into canonical provisions which can support the healing process involving the entire ecclesial community,” she added.

Also, she said, by putting abuse, indecent exposure, pornography and grooming in a new chapter that adds the term “dignity,” — under the heading “Offences Against Human Life, Dignity and Liberty” — this shows an understanding that such crimes “harm the inalienable dignity of human beings acknowledged in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” and are not just a violation of the Sixth Commandment.

“I believe that this choice of language expresses at its best the mind of a legislator (the pope) who has been always defending the inestimable value of every human life in his pontificate and in his entire life,” Giampietro said.

Msgr. Robert Oliver of the Archdiocese of Boston and formerly of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors told CNS that “the one thing that stands out for safeguarding is that the Holy Father has introduced legal requirements that suspected offenses be reported and that bishops respond to these reports by making use of the church’s penal procedures” for the restoration of justice, the reform of the offender and the repair of scandal.

In other words, where previous canons suggested what “can” be done when an offense has been committed, now the rules are what “must” be done and making sure the law is applied.

Giampietro said all the changes and new provisions created over the years “needed to be codified in the universal law to give clear normative directions to the whole church.”

It also includes changes “that had to be included in the code more permanently,” she said, such as those found in “Vos Estis Lux Mundi,” which was promulgated “ad experimentum,” for greater accountability of church leaders.

Another significant change is expanding the application of canons dealing with abuse to religious and laypeople who have a role, office or function in the church — not just to clergy, she said.

“It was a very much needed change as religious always felt that there was a gap in the legislation concerning them in relation to abuse cases,” she said, underlining how the women’s UISG has a safeguarding office and organizes online formation together with the men’s Union of Superiors General and the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

Here, “canon law is being studied and discussed as one of the instruments which can help to establish safe environments,” she said, and “it is encouraging, as a laywoman, to see how much superiors general work together for the care and protection of minors and vulnerable persons.”

One critical element still needing attention, Msgr. Oliver said in an email response to questions June 4, is “clarifying the definition of ‘vulnerable persons,’ a process that will include deciding individual cases of people, who were ‘limited in their ability to understand or to want or otherwise resist the offense.'”

Other issues needing work to further help the church in its response to abuse, he added, would be publishing how cases are decided and explaining the reasoning behind those decisions.

“Now the task is to implement these principles and norms effectively and to work out areas that still need to be better related to one another,” he said, saying “the size of this task can easily be underestimated.”

“It will require that dioceses, eparchies and conferences of bishops and of religious build the necessary organizational structures, especially by investing in the training of experts to carry out the investigations and penal processes,” he said.

Giampietro said she was “very hopeful that more positive changes concerning (laypeople) will be implemented in canon law” in the future. For example, “we would need a greater balance with the inclusion of more ecclesiastical lay judges. This would help to tackle clericalism in the church, which Pope Francis has always discouraged.”

Every document and decree drafted over the years, she said, are pieces compiling a larger picture of what it looks like to “care for humanity.”

It shows “the will to learn from mistakes of the past and make sure that they are not repeated. Once we see these changes within this picture, we acquire the right disposition necessary to follow a path of universal healing,” she said.

The Code of Canon Law, first published in 1917 and revised in 1983, is still subject to alterations between revisions, according to Benedictine Sister Nancy Bauer, an associate professor of canon law at The Catholic University of America in Washington.

Unlike legislatures in many nations, “the legislator is the Roman pontiff. It is the pontiff who can revise a canon or abrogate it,” Sister Bauer said. “It’s not like the Synod of Bishops can get together and do this.”

She added, “Individual bishops can legislate certain things for their diocese and the conference of bishops can legislate certain things for their territory, but they have very limited ability.”

Last November, she noted, one canon was revised that governed the norms for who can establish an institute of consecrated life.

Between the 1917 and 1983 codes, “the code revision started in the late 1960s, went through the ’70s, and was pretty much done by 1980. It was pretty much done by the time (St.) John Paul II promulgated it in 1983,” Sister Bauer told CNS in a June 4 phone interview.

Has the pace of canon law revision picked up? “I think Pope Francis has revised more than I expected he would,” she replied. “He has a very pastoral heart, and I didn’t expect that he would be as involved in the law, the legal part. But I think it’s his pastoral heart that has prompted him to do this in many ways — the concern for the faithful, certainly the protection of minors and vulnerable adults.”

However, Sister Bauer said, “not all of the laws in the church are in the Code of Canon Law. The work of the church is to know where they are … so if a case comes up, they can really know what is the current law, whether it’s been revised or changed.”

 

U.S. Catholic bishops attend a Nov. 11, 2019, session during the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. The bishops’ 2021 spring assembly June 16-18 will take place virtually due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

WASHINGTON (CNS) – When they gather virtually for their annual spring assembly June 16-18, the U.S. bishops will be asked to approve the drafting of a formal statement on the meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the Catholic Church.

They also will be asked to approve three translations by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy for use in U.S. dioceses of the United States, to endorse the sainthood causes of two military chaplains revered for their heroism in World War II and the Korean War, and approve drafting of a national pastoral framework for youth and young adults.

Also on the agenda will be an update from the Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis on the Eucharistic Revival initiative; an update from the Subcommittee for Pastoral Care for Immigrants, Refugees and Travelers on a study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate; and an update on the work of the Subcommittee on the Catechism.

Earlier this year, the bishops voted to approve convening this June meeting in a virtual format given the challenges of meeting in person with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The “Action Item” asking the bishops to approve the drafting of a teaching document on the reception of Communion is likely to draw the most debate — and media attention — starting with a vote to formally approve the meeting agenda shortly after the assembly is called to order.

In early May, Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez, president of the USCCB, received an unprecedented letter from 67 bishops appealing for a delay in a discussion during the bishops’ upcoming spring general assembly on whether to prepare a teaching document about the Eucharist.

The signers wrote that “we respectfully urge that all conference-wide discussion and committee work on the topic of eucharistic worthiness and other issues raised by the Holy See be postponed until the full body of bishops is able to meet in person.”

Among those signing the letter were Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago, Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory of Washington, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston and Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey.

In a May 22 memo to fellow bishops, Archbishop Gomez explained that USCCB rules require that the body of bishops first be asked whether to issue a document on a particular topic.

The bishops’ letter and Archbishop Gomez’s memo follow an increasingly public debate among the bishops about Catholic politicians who support keeping abortion legal and whether they should be denied access to the Eucharist.

Archbishop Gomez in his memo said the USCCB Administrative Committee approved a request from Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, that time be included on the spring assembly agenda for discussion on drafting a teaching document on Communion.

The process, the archbishop said, involves the creation of an “Action Item” for the bishops to consider. “Importantly, the Action Item does not ask the body to approve a final statement, but only whether drafting of a text may begin,” he said.

The bishops’ meeting agenda also includes a report from the National Review Board, which advises the USCCB and the Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People about matters of child and youth protection, specifically on policies and practices.

There also will be a vote to approve a “National Pastoral Framework for Marriage and Family Life Ministry in the United States: Called to the Joy of Love” and a vote to authorize the development of a new formal statement and comprehensive vision for Native American/Alaska Native Ministry.

The assembly will begin with an address by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, papal nuncio to the United States, followed by an address by Archbishop Gomez as USCCB president.

The sainthood candidates whose causes the bishops will be asked to approve are Father Joseph Verbis Lafleur and Capt. Leonard LaRue, who became Benedictine Brother Marinus of St. Paul’s Abbey in Newton, New Jersey. Both have the title “Servant of God.”

Father Lafleur, a priest of the Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana, was a World War II chaplain who gave his life while saving others on a Japanese prison ship.

Survivors recall the priest’s heroic efforts helping his fellow POWs escape the hull of the ship under Japanese gunfire by pushing them up to the deck at the cost of his own life. He died Sept. 7, 1944.

In October 2017, Father LaFleur was honored posthumously with the Distinguished Service Cross and Purple Heart.

LaRue and the crew of the S.S. Meredith Victory piloted 14,005 refugees to safety during the Korean War from the port of Hungnam, now part of North Korea. The mission has been called a “Christmas Miracle.”

In early December 1950, the S.S. Meredith Victory’s duties involved delivering supplies to anti-communist forces in Korea, which included a stop in Hungnam. In the midst of the heavy fighting on land, LaRue, who also was a World War II veteran, volunteered the Merchant Marine cargo ship to participate in the rescue operation — the refugees’ last hope of escape. The captain entered religious life after the Korean War.

The public sessions of the bishops’ spring assembly are scheduled for: June 16 from 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. (EDT); June 17 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. (EDT); and June 18 from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. (EDT). They will be livestreamed on the USCCB website — www.usccb.org/meetings.

The vote tallies on the action items, news updates, texts of addresses and presentations and other materials will be available on the USCCB website.

Those wishing to follow the meeting on social media should use the hashtag #USCCB21 and follow on Twitter (@USCCB) as well as on Facebook (www.facebook.com/usccb) and Instagram (https://instagram.com/usccb).

 

 

Archbishop Filippo Iannone, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, attends a press conference to discuss revisions to the Code of Canon Law, at the Vatican June 1, 2021. Pope Francis has promulgated a revised section of the Code of Canon Law dealing with crimes and punishments. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – A series of laws and procedures promulgated by now-retired Pope Benedict XVI and, especially, by Pope Francis to protect children, promote the investigation of allegations of clerical sexual abuse and punish offenders are included in a heavily revised section of the Code of Canon Law.

The revision of “Book VI: Penal Sanctions in the Church,” one of seven books that make up the code for the Latin rite of the Catholic Church, was promulgated June 1 and will go into effect Dec. 8, Pope Francis wrote.

Rewriting 63 of the book’s 89 canons, the revision addresses a host of issues that have come up in the life of the church since St. John Paul II promulgated the code in 1983. The descriptions of crimes of sexual abuse, including child pornography, are more explicit, and the required actions of a bishop or superior of a religious order in handling allegations are more stringent.

The revised canons also include new references to the attempted ordination of a woman and to a variety of financial crimes; like with the new canons dealing with sexual abuse, they rely on language from laws promulgated separately over the past 20 years.

“In the past, much damage has been caused by a failure to perceive the intimate relationship existing in the church between the exercise of charity and recourse — when circumstances and justice require it — to the discipline of sanctions. This way of thinking, as experience has taught us, risks leading to a life of behavior contrary to the discipline of morals, for the remedy of which exhortations or suggestions alone are not sufficient,” Pope Francis wrote in “Pascite Gregem Dei” (Shepherd God’s Flock), the apostolic constitution promulgating the changes.

While church law applies to all Catholics, the pope said, for bishops, the observance of canon law “can in no way be separated from the pastoral ‘munus’ (service) entrusted to them, and which must be carried out as a concrete and inalienable requirement of charity not only toward the church, the Christian community and possible victims, but also toward those who have committed a crime, who need both mercy and correction on the part of the church.”

Over the years, he said, it became clear that the code’s description of crimes and penalties needed to be “modified in such a way as to allow pastors to use it as a more agile salvific and corrective instrument, to be employed promptly and with pastoral charity to avoid more serious evils and to soothe the wounds caused by human weakness.”

The revised book was presented to the press June 1 by Archbishop Filippo Iannone and Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta, respectively president and secretary of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts. In 2009, Pope Benedict had asked the council to begin the revision project.

The revision moves the canons about the sexual abuse of children — on the part of a priest, religious or layperson working for the church — out of the section on violations of the obligation of celibacy and into a newly titled section of “Offenses Against Human Life, Dignity and Liberty.”

It adds to canon law the crime of “grooming,” calling for penalties, including dismissal from the priesthood for a cleric who “grooms or induces a minor or a person who habitually has an imperfect use of reason or one to whom the law recognizes equal protection to expose himself or herself pornographically or to take part in pornographic exhibitions, whether real or simulated.”

However, the revised language still refers to rape and other forms of sexual abuse as “an offence against the Sixth Commandment” — You shall not commit adultery.

The continued use of the Sixth Commandment to refer to any improper, immoral or even criminal sexual activity “is traditional” in church law, Bishop Arrieta said, and for Catholics its meaning “is clear,” which is necessary when drafting a law that will be valid on every continent and in every culture.

In incorporating recent church law regarding abuse, the new code does not refer to abuse of “vulnerable” adults or “vulnerable persons” as Pope Francis did in his May 2019 motu proprio, “Vos estis lux mundi.”

Bishop Arrieta said the term “vulnerable person,” while understood and recognized in the law of many countries, is not universally accepted as a legal category of persons deserving special protection. Instead, the new law refers to people whom the law recognizes as deserving of the same protection extended to minors and those with “an imperfect use of reason.”

The revised law also foresees penalties for “a person who neglects to report an offence, when required to do so by a canonical law.”

Bishop Arrieta said that provision refers to the obligation to report serious crimes, such as sexual abuse, to church authorities, not civil authorities. If criminal reporting to the state is obligatory, the state will enforce that, he said.

The revised code also says, “Both a person who attempts to confer a sacred order on a woman, and the woman who attempts to receive the sacred order, incur a ‘latae sententiae’ (automatic) excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See; a cleric, moreover, may be punished by dismissal from the clerical state.”

Given that Pope Francis in April 2020 formed a second “Study Commission on the Female Diaconate,” Bishop Arrieta was asked why the revised canon did not specify priestly ordination, leaving open the possibility of ordaining women to the diaconate.

Canon law, he said, relies on the current state of the teaching of the church. “If we come to a different theological conclusion, we will modify the norm,” he said, just as was done in January when Pope Francis ordered a change in the wording of canon law so that women, as well as men, could be formally installed as lectors and acolytes.

 

Newlyweds Diego Fernandes and Deni Salgado kiss through protective face masks during their wedding ceremony with only witnesses and no guests in Naples, Italy, March 20, 2020. Public gatherings are banned as part of Italy’s lockdown measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (CNS photo/Ciro De Luca, Reuters)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – While uncertainty in the world may deter young couples from taking the next big step in their relationships, the vocational call to marriage is a risk worth taking, Pope Francis said.

Marriage “is a challenging journey, at times difficult, sometimes even confrontational, but it is worth the risk,” the pope said. “And in this lifelong journey, the husband and wife are not alone: Jesus accompanies them.”

In a video message released by the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network June 1, the pope offered his prayer intention for the month of June, which he dedicated to “the beauty of marriage.”

Acknowledging the belief that young people “do not want to get married, especially in these difficult times,” the pope said that marriage and sharing one’s life “is a beautiful thing.”

“Marriage is not just a ‘social’ act,” he said. “It is a vocation that is born from the heart, it is a conscious lifelong decision that requires a specific preparation.”

“Please, never forget! God has a dream for us — love — and he asks us to make it our own,” the pope said.

At the start of each month, the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network posts a short video of the pope offering his specific prayer intention.

Reciting his intention, the pope prayed for “young people preparing for marriage with the support of a Christian community, so that they may grow in love, generosity, faithfulness and patience.”

The Pope Video was first launched in 2016 to encourage people to join an estimated 50 million Catholics who already had a more formal relationship with the prayer network — better known by its former title, the Apostleship of Prayer.

The prayer network is more than 170 years old.

 

Pope Francis greets people during his general audience in the San Damaso Courtyard of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican June 2, 2021. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Christians can rest assured that in moments of trial, suffering or even sin, Jesus is interceding for them before God, Pope Francis said.

“Even if our prayers were only mutterings, if they were compromised by a wavering faith, we must never stop trusting in him,” the pope said June 2 during his weekly general audience.

“Don’t forget: ‘Jesus is praying for me,'” he said. “In the moment of trial, in the moment of sin, even in that moment, Jesus with so much love is praying for me.”

Arriving in the San Damaso Courtyard of the Apostolic Palace, the pope spent some time greeting pilgrims, blessing children and religious articles.

Continuing his series of talks on prayer, the pope reflected on how prayer was fundamental to Christ and his mission, especially when it came to choosing his disciples.

Recalling St. Luke’s account of Jesus praying the day before he chose his disciples, the pope said that “judging from how those men were to behave, it would seem that the choice was not the best because they all fled, they left him alone before the Passion.”

However, “it is precisely this — especially the presence of Judas, the future traitor — that demonstrates that those names were inscribed in God’s plan,” he said.

Jesus’ moments of prayer on behalf of his disciples, especially for Peter who would deny Christ, were an act of love that showed that even in times of failure, “the love of Jesus does not stop,” the pope continued.

“Jesus’ love and prayer for each of us does not stop, indeed it becomes more intense, and we are at the center of his prayer!” Pope Francis said. “We must always remember this: Jesus is praying for me; he is praying now before the Father and he is showing him the wounds he bore, so that the Father can see the price of our salvation; it is the love that he has for us.”

Reflecting on other moments in the Gospels, including Peter’s profession of faith and the Transfiguration, the pope noted that the “great turning points of Jesus’ mission are always preceded by prayer.”

Jesus, he added, “not only wants us to pray as he prays, but assures us that, even if our attempts at prayer are completely useless and ineffective, we can always count on his prayer.”

Departing from his prepared remarks, the pope recalled a bishop who told him that during a time of great trial, he looked up in St. Peter’s Basilica and saw Jesus’ words at the Last Supper: “I have prayed for you, Peter.”

“That gave him strength and comfort,” the pope said. “And this happens every time any of us knows that Jesus is praying for him or her. Jesus prays for us. Right now, in this moment.”

 

 

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston greets newly ordained Deacon Bruce Flagg during an ordination Mass for permanent deacons at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston Feb. 20, 2021. Deacon Flagg, who is deaf, assists with deaf ministry in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. (CNS photo/James Ramos, Texas Catholic Herald)

WASHINGTON (CNS) – Based on responses to a questionnaire sent to all U.S. dioceses, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate estimates there are about 19,000 deacons in the United States today.

The number, though, is dropping, mirroring trends seen in religious life and the priesthood for the past half-century.

“Responding offices reported that 410 deacons retired from active ministry and 378 died. Another 587 were ordained to the permanent diaconate during 2020,” said the report, “A Portrait of the Permanent Diaconate: A Study for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops,” issued June 1. The trend goes back to at least 2014.

Deacons are getting older, too. The CARA report said 35% are 70 or older, 40% are ages 60-69, 21% are ages 50-59, just 5% are ages 40-49, and only 1% are under 40.

“Latin rite arch/dioceses reported having 12,292 permanent deacons active in ministry. The single eparchy (participating in the questionnaire) reported 11 active permanent deacons. Extrapolating to include dioceses and eparchies that did not respond to the survey, it can be estimated that there are 14,722 deacons active in ministry in the United States today, or about 78% of all permanent deacons,” the report said, adding the estimated number of all deacons is 19,008.

CARA also figures that, if 78% of deacons are in active ministry, then 17% are retired, 2% are on a leave of absence, 2% have been suspended from active ministry, and 2% inactive for other reasons.

Retirement age differs from diocese to diocese. Forty-two percent of dioceses have no retirement age for deacons. Of the others, no diocese requires deacons to retire until they reach at least age 70, while 88% require retirement at ages 75-79, and 10% mandate retirement at ages 70-74. One percent does not require retirement until at least age 80.

The archdiocese with the most deacons is the Archdiocese of Chicago, with 852, exactly twice that of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ 426.

Other dioceses and archdioceses with at least 250 deacons are, in descending order, the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, 367; the Archdiocese of San Antonio, 364; the Archdiocese of New York, 305; the Archdiocese of Atlanta, 299; the Archdiocese of St. Louis, 297; the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York, 268; the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, 265; and the Archdiocese of Boston, 255.

But other dioceses have a much smaller ratio of Catholics to deacons. The Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky leads the way with a ratio of 508 Catholics per deacon.

Other dioceses with ratios under 900 Catholics per deacon, in ascending order, are the Diocese of Rapid City, South Dakota, 640; the Diocese of Jefferson City, Missouri, 703; the Diocese of Bismarck, North Dakota, 725; the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas, 747; the Diocese of Duluth, Minnesota, 779; the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska, 783; the Diocese of Savannah, Georgia, 871; and the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Florida, 893.

According to CARA, 93% of deacons are married, 4% are widowed, 2% have never married, 1% are divorced and have not remarried, and fewer than 1% remarried subsequent to diaconal ordination.

CARA said the racial and ethnic makeup of U.S. deacons is 72% white, 21% Hispanic, 4% Asian/Pacific Islander, 3% Black, and fewer than 1% Native American or other.

The report said 93% of deacons are incardinated in the diocese in which they serve, and 6% are incardinated in another Latin-rite diocese but serving with faculties in their diocese of residence. Fewer than 1% are incardinated in Eastern Catholic churches or as members of religious orders.

“One in nine active permanent deacons are financially compensated for ministry in 2020, a continuation of a downward trend from 27% in 2001, 26% in 2017, and 15% in 2019,” the report said.

Also, “87% of responding arch/dioceses and arch/eparchies require post-ordination formation for deacons,” CARA said. “Among those that do require post-ordination formation, the median number of hours required per year is 20.”

How dioceses deal with diaconal ministry also were questionnaire topics.

Eighty percent of responding dioceses say they have a plan for placement and ministry of deacons, and 93% have an active formation program for the diaconate. Of those that don’t, 78% said they were planning to establish one within the next two years.

Close to two-thirds of dioceses have an active deacon council or deacon assembly, and responding dioceses were about evenly split as to whether they had a formal policy for deacons who got divorced or separated after their ordination.

“As our world continues to grapple with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, permanent deacons provide an encouraging witness to the love and mercy of Christ,” said Bishop James F. Checchio of Metuchen, New Jersey, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations.

In a statement accompanying the release of the CARA report, he emphasized the importance of permanent deacons to the church, saying: “They bring the light and presence of Jesus into many different areas of society — preaching the Gospel in their jobs, within their families, to the poor and among their broader communities.”

 

Pope Francis gestures as he leads his general audience in in the San Damaso Courtyard of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican May 19, 2021. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Those who overcome distractions or obstacles when praying learn the value of perseverance in times of trial, Pope Francis said.

“True progress in spiritual life does not consist in multiplying ecstasies, but in being able to persevere in difficult times,” the pope said May 19 during his weekly general audience.

“Walk, walk, walk on and if you are tired, stop a little and then start walking again; but with perseverance,” he said.

Arriving by car to the San Damaso Courtyard of the Apostolic Palace, the pope was given a warm welcome by those in attendance, including a group of pilgrims from Mexico.

“Francisco, hermano, ya eres Mexicano” (“Francis, brother, you are already Mexican”), the pilgrims cried out as he made his way to his seat.

While the pope greeted the pilgrims from a safe distance, many ignored social distancing rules and crowded near the barricades in the hopes of seeing the pope up close.

In his main audience talk, the pope reflected on the difficulties that people may face when trying to pray, including “distractions, aridity and sloth” as well as the importance of recognizing and overcoming them.

Both in prayer and in everyday life, he said, the mind often “wanders all over the place” and some find it “hard to dwell for long on a single thought.”

“Distractions are not a fault, but they must be fought,” he said. “In the heritage of our faith, there is a virtue that is often forgotten, but which is very present in the Gospel. It is called ‘vigilance.'”

Citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the pope said aridity occurs when one’s heart “is separated from God” and leaves him or her “with no taste for thoughts, memories and feelings, even spiritual ones.”

While the reasons for that sense of aridity may range from physical ailments to inner turmoil, the pope said that often, “we do not really know the reason.”

“Spiritual teachers describe the experience of faith as a continuous alternation of times of consolation and desolation; there are times when everything is easy, while others are marked by great heaviness,” he explained.

While life is often filled with “gray days,” the pope said the danger lies in “having a grey heart; when this ‘feeling down’ reaches the heart and sickens it.”

“This is terrible: one cannot pray, one cannot feel consolation with a gray heart! Or one cannot emerge from spiritual aridity with a gray heart,” he said. “The heart must be open and luminous, so that the light of the Lord can enter. And if it does not enter, wait for it, with hope. But do not close it up in grayness.”

Lastly, the pope warned that sloth is not only one of the seven deadly sins, but also “a real temptation against prayer and, more generally, against Christian life” that can “lead to the death of the soul.”

Pope Francis said that at some point in their lives, “all the saints have passed through this ‘dark valley'” and would often recount “evenings of listless prayer, lived without enthusiasm.”

Nevertheless, believers, like the biblical figure Job, “never stop praying” even when their prayers may seem like protests to God.

“Very often, even protesting before God is a way of praying,” the pope said. “And we, who are far less holy and patient than Job, also know that in the end, at the end of this time of desolation, during which we have raised to heaven silent cries and asked, ‘Why?’ many times, God will answer us.”