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Catholic News Service

Catholic News Service

Catholic News Service has a rich history of journalistic professionalism and is a leader in the world of Catholic and religious media. With headquarters in Washington, offices in New York and Rome, and correspondents around the world, CNS provides the most comprehensive coverage of the church today. Website URL: http://www.catholicnews.com/

Renewed hope in role of laity in Church

The Catholic Church needs laypeople who look to the future, take risks and aren't afraid to get their hands dirty, Pope Francis said.

While laypeople must be "well-formed, animated by a straightforward and clear faith" and have lives truly touched by Christ's merciful love, they also need to be able to go out and play a major role in the life and mission of the Church, he said.

The pope met recently with members, consultors and employees and their family members of the Pontifical Council for the Laity

Established by Blessed Paul VI after the Second Vatican Council, the office was meant to encourage and support laypeople's involvement in the life and mission of the church, Pope Francis said, underlining the Italian word "incitare," meaning to spur, urge or encourage.

"The mandate you received from the council was exactly that of 'pushing' the lay faithful to get ever more and better involved in the evangelizing mission of the church," he said.

Lay involvement was in no way meant to be a "proxy" of the hierarchy, he said, but to participate in the saving mission of the church as baptized members.

People enter into the church and its mission, through the "door" of baptism, he said, not through priestly or episcopal ordination. "You come in through baptism and we have all come in through the same door," he added.

Through baptism, every Christian becomes "a missionary disciple of the Lord, salt of the earth, light of the world, leaven that transforms reality from within."

Thanking the pontifical council for all that it accomplished over the decades, Pope Francis said it was time to look to the future with hope and "to plan a renewed presence at the service of the laity," which is always "in ferment" and marked by new problems.

The council for the laity will be merged with two other dicasteries – creating a new Vatican office for laity, family and life, which will begin functioning Sept. 1.

Much more needs to be done, he said, to open up new horizons and tackle new challenges.

"From this stems the project of reform of the Curia," he said. The creation of a new office for laity, family and life, he said, is a sign of how much their work is valued and esteemed and of renewed faith in the role of laypeople in the life of the Church.

The pope asked the outgoing council members and staff to keep as their point of reference the image of a Church and a laity "on the move" and reaching for the peripheries.

"Lift up your gaze and look 'outside,' look toward the many people who are 'far' from our world, to the many families in difficulty and needing mercy," he said.

Many laypeople, the pope said, would generously and gladly dedicate their effort, talents and time to serving the Gospel "if they were included, valued and accompanied with affection and dedication" by priests and church institutions.

After underlining the importance of well-formed laypeople, the pope spoke off-the-cuff, saying, "We need laypeople who take risks, who get their hands dirty, who are not afraid of making mistakes, who go forward. We need laypeople with a vision of the future, not closed up in the trivial things in life."

Young people need lay adults, especially the elderly, who can offer them their experience, wisdom and dreams, he said. The young "need the dreams of the elderly," who – instead of being disposed of – should be "pushed" and encouraged to revitalize their dreams and "give us the power of new apostolic points of view," he said. (CNS)

  • Published in Vatican

Review needed to set up diocesan religious order

Diocesan bishops must consult with the Vatican before establishing a diocesan religious order, Pope Francis ruled.

The consultation "is to be understood as necessary for the validity of the erection of a diocesan institute of consecrated life," said the rescript or ruling approved by Pope Francis April 4 and published by the Vatican May 20.

The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life said in a statement that the consultation is necessary because "every new institute of consecrated life, even if it comes into the light and develops within a particular church, is a gift given to the entire Church."

The congregation said it is necessary "to avoid new institutes being erected on the diocesan level without sufficient discernment of the originality of the charism," which determines the way the members will live out the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience.

Sister Sharon Holland, a member of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and a canon lawyer who worked at the congregation, said there had been "much discussion" for years over whether consultation with the Vatican was necessary.

The U.S.-based Sisters of Life, founded by the late Cardinal John J. O'Connor of New York in 1991, "is a good example of a group that went through the proper channels in the right way" before being officially approved as a religious institute of diocesan right in 2004, Sister Holland said. (CNS)

  • Published in Vatican

Pope tells women religious Vatican will study women deacons

Pope Francis told the heads of women's religious orders from around the world that he would set up a commission to study the New Testament deaconesses and he also insisted more can and should be done to involve lay and consecrated women in Church decision-making at every level.

Asked if he would establish "an official commission to study the question" of whether women could be admitted to the diaconate, Pope Francis responded: "I accept. It would be useful for the Church to clarify this question. I agree."

The pope spent more than an hour May 12 responding to questions posed by members of the International Union of Superiors General, repeatedly asking if they wanted further clarification.

"I like hearing your questions because they make me think," the pope told close to 900 superiors general, representing almost 500,000 sisters around the world. "I feel like a goalie, who is standing there waiting for the ball and not knowing where it's going to come from."

Asked about deaconesses in the New Testament and the possibility of the modern Church admitting women to the permanent diaconate, Pope Francis had said his understanding was that the women described as deaconesses in the Bible were not ordained like permanent deacons are. Mainly, he said, it appeared that they assisted with the baptism by immersion of other women and with the anointing of women.

However, he said, "I will ask the (Congregation for the) Doctrine of the Faith to tell me if there are studies on this."

Pope Francis also promised to have the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments send the UISG a full explanation of why women cannot give a homily at Mass. While women can preach at a Liturgy of the Word when there is not a celebration of the Eucharist, he said, at Mass the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist are parts of a whole and only one who is ordained can preside and preach.

The main part of the question was about the lack of influence women religious are given in Church decision-making processes. Pope Francis said the obligation to listen to women in the parish, diocese and at the Vatican "is not a matter of feminism, but of right."

All the baptized–women and men, lay or consecrated–have been given gifts by the Holy Spirit for the good of the entire Church, he insisted. The entire Church suffers when some voices are excluded from the conversation, he said. (CNS)

  • Published in Vatican

U.S. Supreme Court sends Zubik case back to lower courts

The U.S. Supreme Court May 16 sent the Zubik v. Burwell case, which challenges the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive requirement for employers, back to the lower courts.

The justices' unanimous decision, explained in a nine-page unsigned opinion, was based on the information that both sides submitted a week after oral arguments were heard in the case about how and if contraceptive insurance coverage could be obtained by employees through their insurance companies without directly involving religious employers who object to this coverage.

The court made clear that it is not expressing an opinion on the merits of the cases that are challenging aspects of the federal government's health legislation and it also was not ruling on the issue of a potential violation of religious freedom.

The court stressed that this approach is "more suitable" than addressing the refined positions submitted by both sides and added that "although there may still be areas of disagreement between the parties on issues of implementation, the importance of those areas of potential concern is uncertain, as is the necessity of this court's involvement at this point to resolve them."

Five appeals courts had ruled in favor of the contraceptive mandate and one had ruled against it. But now, equipped with the new information both sides submitted to the Supreme Court, the lower courts have been ordered to review these cases once more.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote separately to stress that the court had not decided any of the legal questions in the cases and cautioned the lower courts not to read anything into the new opinion.

"This is a game-changer," said Mark Rienzi, lead attorney for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the Little Sisters of the Poor, one of the group's challenging the federal contraceptive mandate.

He said the opinion reflects that the court has "accepted the government's concession" that it can provide contraceptives to women "without using the Little Sisters."

He also was pleased the court was forbidding the government "from fining the Little Sisters even though they are refusing to bow to the government's will. It is only a matter of time before the lower courts make this victory permanent," he said in a May 16 statement.

Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl had a more nuanced look at the court's opinion, saying he was pleased that it offered a path forward, but he also acknowledged that "this struggle will continue."

The Washington Archdiocese is one of several plaintiffs in this case.

The cardinal said the archdiocese will continue its work to "serve others in education, health care, social services, and outreach to the poor and those most in need. We will continue to do that because we are resolute that it is precisely by being true to our Catholic identity in what we proclaim and in what we do that we can continue to help realize a truly good and just society." (CNS)

  • Published in Nation
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