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Pope Francis faces tests over abortion and gay rights


ROME — The bishops of the United States and Germany stand ready to challenge Pope Francis, right-wing and left-wing respectively, on abortion and gay rights, in tests that could shape this man’s legacy of 84 years old.

German Catholic bishops and lay leaders are expected to vote this week on a proposal to bless same-sex couples despite the Vatican ban on the practice. In November, U.S. bishops are expected to vote on whether Catholic politicians who support abortion rights, like President Biden, should be denied Communion, despite a Vatican warning that such a statement could be divisive .

Meanwhile, the Vatican trial of a once powerful cardinal will test the strength of the Pope’s longstanding financial overhaul, a major part of his agenda, and therefore the effectiveness of his tenure as leader. supreme of the Catholic Church.

The pope’s efforts to promote change in the church have strained its unity, while his encouragement for decentralized decision-making has met with periodic movements to assert his will.

The Pope, without contradicting traditional doctrine, encouraged Catholics to speak out on taboo subjects such as sexual morals, clerical celibacy and the place of women in the church. This encouraged bishops and laity to test the limits of Rome’s authority. Now the Pope is trying to get some of them under control.

“He let these energies come out as a strategy,” said Massimo Faggioli, professor of theology at the University of Villanova. But more recently, “he has become more concerned with the unity of the church. He is afraid that the church will not stay together, ”said Mr. Faggioli.

Critics say the pope’s Delphic statements on sensitive issues such as the ability for Protestants to commune in Catholic churches have made it easier for conservatives and progressives to flout his authority.

“One of the effects of Pope Francis’ ambiguity is that everyone in the church does what they want,” said Sandro Magister, a Vatican expert who writes for Italian magazine L’Espresso. “The Pope is weaker and weaker in his role as a guide because of his way of governing. “

Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, shown waving his hand, said the Vatican’s ban on blessing same-sex relationships caused “outrage and nods from many people.”


Sebastian Gollnow / Zuma Press

This week’s German synod vote on blessing same-sex relationships and more than a dozen other statements will show whether the assembly, which is slated to end in October 2022, intends to continue its broader agenda for change despite Vatican concerns.

Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, president of the German Bishops’ Conference, said on Monday that the Vatican’s ban on blessing same-sex relationships had caused “outrage and nodding among many,” said provoked the incomprehension of many theologians and illustrated “the interior discord of the Catholic Church.

Thomas Söding, Bible scholar at Ruhr-Universität Bochum and member of the synod, said: “Now we are at the point where it is clear, yes or no, in the direction of that direction or that direction. At synod meetings next year, he expects resolutions calling for the ordination of women deacons and a relaxation of the celibacy requirement for priests.

The German Synod is part of a Church-wide process that includes meetings of bishops and laity in Australia and Mexico in October and November, respectively. Although the Pope encouraged this process, it may have raised hopes for change that will prove to be unrealistic.

Since February 2020, when the Pope disappointed progressive supporters by not approving the ordination of married men as priests or women as deacons to alleviate a shortage of clergy in the Amazon region of Latin America, “we have seen that on some issues he does not think it is wise to move to a new territory, ”said Mr. Faggioli.

Pope Francis has seen another kind of tension with US bishops, who will vote in November on a document that should set out the criteria by which Catholic politicians who support the right to abortion, including Mr Biden, can being refused communion.

U.S. bishops are expected to vote on whether Catholic politicians who support abortion rights, like President Biden, should be denied communion.


Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated press

Pope Francis signaled a more conciliatory approach towards Mr. Biden. The pope’s most powerful allies among US bishops opposed the document at a meeting in June, but a large majority voted to continue drafting the document.

“We are not in opposition to the Pope,” said Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane, Washington, who supports the proposed document. “The Pope says to speak the truth in charity and to always keep the door open to conversion, but not to avoid the truth. “


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U.S. bishops are also considering how to implement a July decree from Pope Francis ordering bishops around the world to ban the traditional Latin Mass in parishes, where most Catholics worship, and encouraging them to restrict its celebration. elsewhere.

The Pope said the Latin Mass had become a rallying point for Catholics opposed to the modernization changes that followed the Second Vatican Council, which took place between 1962 and 1965, and therefore a source of division in the church . But many American bishops have said they are leaving the status quo in place while they study the papal document.

“When bishops leave existing liturgies in place, it should not be characterized as resistance to the request of the Holy Father, but rather as careful discernment where bishops determine how best to implement the Holy Father’s directive. Father, ”said Chieko Noguchi, spokesperson for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The coming months, starting in early October, will also see the unfolding of the Vatican trial of powerful Cardinal Giovanni Becciu for embezzlement and other alleged crimes. This is the first time that a cardinal has been tried by the Vatican City Criminal Court. Cardinal Becciu denies any wrongdoing.

Cardinal Giovanni Becciu, pictured in September 2020, faces trial in the Vatican for embezzlement and other alleged crimes.


Guglielmo Mangiapane / REUTERS

The prosecutors’ case centers on the Vatican’s investment in an expensive piece of London real estate that they say was a culpable and irresponsible use of church funds earmarked for charity. Pope Francis said their investigation proved he had carried out effective financial reviews, as requested by the cardinals who elected him in 2013. Cardinal Becciu and some of his co-defendants are expected to argue that the transactions have was carried out with the approval of senior Vatican officials who have not been charged, possibly including the Pope himself.

The trial could also shed light on the Vatican’s judicial system, prompting a comparison between the Pope’s absolute monarchy and neighboring European democracies on issues such as the rights of the accused.

Pope Francis removed Cardinal Becciu from his Vatican post and his rights as a cardinal without any public explanation, an extraordinary fall from grace, in September of last year. Last month, the Pope told Spanish radio COPE: “I hope with all my heart that he is innocent.

Pope Francis encouraged Catholics to speak out on taboo subjects.


tiziana fabi / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

Write to Francis X. Rocca at [email protected]

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