Did you feel the Vatican rockin’ over the weekend?  It did rock with two big announcements.

First, Francis announced that he wanted a full investigation of  the claims of clergy sex abuse against ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick.  It also seems that he is getting us ready for some disappointing findings by saying, “The Holy See is conscious that, from the examination of the facts and of the circumstances, it may emerge that choices were taken that would not be consonant with a contemporary approach to such issues.”  President of the USCCB, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo offered full support for Francis’ decision.

Second, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Prefect of Bishops, set fire to Archbishop Vigano’s 11-page dossier calling his tactics “extremely immoral.”

The immediate impact for Vigano is clear, but it also creates a deep line in the sand for bishops who publicly supported Vigano such as Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone who attested to Vigano’s virtue and confirmed that the statements he made were true.


Not the stuff of earthquakes, but on Saturday, Pope Francis threw a party for young Catholics.  During his remarks,  he made it clear he was listening to them.  He reiterated that he heard them when they say they want a Church that is consistent.  “. . . when you see an inconsistent Church, a Church that reads you the Beatitudes then falls into clericalism, more princely and scandalous, I understand, I understand. . .”, said the Pope.

Still, not everyone was satisfied with the party.  One young European Catholic suggested that it had very limited value saying many young people left quite early because most of the contributions were in Italian with no translation.  Further, the event seemed to be staged with selected young people submitting testimonies of faith, some accompanied by dramatic piano music.  Afterward, there was no opportunity for exchange.

It speaks volumes when our young Catholics desire the no frills approach to their faith.  They may enjoy a party, but they are repulsed by anything that smacks of a set up.

Silence and tears are the first response

Today, along with Greg Burke and prefect Paolo Ruffini, the press was briefed by Auxiliary Bishop Emmanual Gobilliard of Lyon (St. Irenaeus was the first bishop) serving under Cardinal Philippe Barbarin who is awaiting trial for allegedly covering up sexual abuses committed by a local priest; Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna of Malta, one of the heroes of the hierarchy who investigated the Chilean bishops’ cover up of clergy sex abuse and helped Pope Francis get the real story leading to the resignation of all 34 bishops; and Thomas Leoncini, auditor, writer, scholar in Italy, who stood out for his opening remarks about the synod, saying that young participants are looking for “radical answers.”

The prefect of Communications, Paolo Ruffini noted that week one of the synod was a week of listening.  Let’s hope he did not mean that the listening was over, but this week, the second part of the Instrumentum Laboris on vocations will be addressed.

Journalists eager to take advantage of the presence of Archbishop Scicluna, peppered him with so many questions about clergy sex abuse that Vatican conductor Greg Burke smilingly called for a new topic.

In the midst of it all, Scicluna’s humility was on full display — a witness that is rare among prelates. He said,  “It is my privilege to try and help the church understand the truth, and to give justice,”

Other words also revealed a heartwarming tenderness and vulnerability.

In response to the question of what he would say to young people who suffered abuse in the church, he responded, “I have little to say. I would prefer to cry with them, like has happened to me many times…silence and tears are the first response.”

You can read some of the good reporting about what was said today about clergy sex abuse accountability in:

Joshua McElwee’s NCR report

Christopher Lamb’s Tablet report

Ines San Martin’s Crux report

LGBTQI Catholics should be welcomed unconditionally

Bob Shine of New Ways Ministry asked Bishop Gobilliard what he would say to LGBTQI people who want to be part of the Church but who are excluded.

Gobilliard, who earlier stated that he had spoken openly about sexuality at the synod  said that while he doesn’t believe in categorizing people according to identity, “The model we have to adopt is the motto of unconditionally welcoming everybody.”

Why aren’t Catholic women voting?

After the questions about clergy sex abuse, I had the opportunity to ask the panel how they felt the Church is doing as far as incorporating women into governance, and why women could not vote at the synod even though two non-ordained male religious had earned the right to vote.

Brilliant as he is in other arenas, Archbishop Scicluna, more or less, offered the company response saying, “Francis is very vocal on this. He is on record that we need to listen more but also give important leadership roles to women.”

On women voting at synod, Scicluna added, “We need to respect the fact that the synod is the Synod of Bishops. But the new apostolic constitution gives great weight to the preparatory phase, where I think women should have a major role in preparation of the Instrumentum Laboris and in this listening phase, which is now an essential part of the synod experience…but it remains the Synod of Bishops. When it comes to auditors, to the people who are invited, that women are given an important presence. But also, I think the Holy Father has invited women to be in leadership roles in Roman Curia and I think you’ll see more of that in the future.”

Finally, he suggested, “When it comes to bringing more women into governance, we need to start at the local church level empowering women in formation. We need to form leadership among our women, our young people. This is something that we could bring to the synod.

He added, “It’s not in the headlines but it’s happening.”

Modern day Gospel sheds light on women’s attraction to Catholicism in Korea

On the opening day of the Synod, twenty-seven year old Briana Santiago from Texas, who is part of a community of consecrated women called the “Apostles of the Interior Life” spoke about the need for the Church to listen to young people and for their need for guidance and wisdom from older Catholics.

When I read her words, I was taken by her enthusiasm for the particular way her faith is playing out in her life and her desire to live with other women who are on the same path.

Later in the week, vice-president of the International Union of Superior Generals,  Sr. Sally Marie Hodgdon, CSJ urged bishops to open themselves to youth whose innocence has been stripped away “through non-acceptance, a lack of integrity and transparency, and a lack of authentic gospel living.”  She said,

  • We must create new spaces for youth, spaces for their voices to be heard and where they can experiment in how best to express their longings and what they are searching for.
  • We must encourage them and allow them to recreate the church of Jesus; to design what a welcoming and open church is and looks like today…
  • We must listen and be vulnerable before the youth of today.

Sr. Sally seems exceptional in her openness to the initiatives of young Catholics and, if she had a vote like her male counterparts who are non-ordained religious superiors, her vision would gain even more traction in the final document.  She believes in their leadership and vision and she wants older adults to let down their guard, be vulnerable, and walk alongside youth.

In another intervention, Congregation of Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres, Sr. Mina Kwon of South Korea, pointed out that the authoritarian impulses of clerics in Korea drive women religious away.  While pointing out this damaging dynamic, she juxtaposed it against the rich history of Catholicism in her region.  It reads like a modern day Gospel.

A Catholic community was established without the direct intervention of foreign missionaries.  About 200 years ago, when a very rigid status hierarchy of society dominated, some ‘young’ scholars were fascinated by Catholicism.  One of those Catholic ideas was ‘equality’ based on the principle ‘all human beings are children of God.’

Moreover, Catholicism brought new opportunities for women to become leaders and teachers.  In other words, women were given an almost equal place in the initial stage of the Korean Church.  I was a new and revolutionary thing in the feudal times, and it became a main cause of persecution.  The Korean Monarchy regarded these new ideas as a dangerous power which could threaten the Confucian-based social order.

Despite the massive anti-Catholic persecutions, Catholicism spread quickly, jumping fro the scholars to the women of their household, their slaves, and into the wider Korean community.  

Overtime, a growing number of female religious played a significant role.

Sr. Mina pointed to a reality that has weakened the faith saying, ‘It is ironic…that we, who inherited the evangelical value from our ancestors of the faith, seem to rebuild a new medieval hierarchy.”

“Young people are sensitive to the issue of inequality and exclusion,”  she concluded.  They would love to learn “to cultivate the power of solidarity-community through the collaboration of their priests and sisters.”

Sr. Mina’s words bring to mind and heart the accounts of early first century communities, and the reason so many women and slaves were drawn to Jesus, Mary of Magdala, Phoebe, Paul, and other early pioneers of our faith.  This community held dear God’s own dream of human freedom and dignity that was attractive and life-giving.

It is a lesson that I hope finds the hearing it deserves in the synod hall.  I, for one, wish she had an even greater role in the synod — a real vote.

More on the Who’s Who at the Synod

I have been looking for the listing of the small groups.  To date, it has not been published, but these groups are a critical aspect of the synodal process under Pope Francis since he moved it from a big floor event where everyone slept through the interventions to discussions in small language groups.  At the 2015 Family Synod, there were English, Spanish, Italian and German language groups and we knew who was in each group. Those dynamics play out in the particular contributions that are incorporated into the final document.  It will be particularly important this year, since it seems that in issuing Episcopalis Communio, Pope Francis wants the final synod document to stand as part of the ordinary magisterium.

So, my request tomorrow for the prefect will be to share those lists with us.