Category Archives: Holy See

Pope meets the Council of Cardinals, again

C 8The Pope and the Council of Cardinals begin their second meeting today, and running until Thursday. His Holiness established the agenda to study the need for substantial reform of the Roman Curia, to consider other proposals for change, and to advise the Pope on general matters of Church governance. Several changes have been already announced. Various Congregations will be visiting with the Council.

The next scheduled meeting of the Council will happen on 17-18 February, the eve of the Pope’s first consistory for the creation of new cardinals, set for 22 February. The Consistory will give the Pope the opportunity to meet with the College of Cardinals since his last meeting with him following his election to the See of Peter.

What is an Apostolic Exhortation?

There are several levels of papal teaching: sacred, ordinary and general. Not all teaching documents that come from “Rome” or from “the Pope” have the same weight or the same required degree of personal adherence of the faithful. The Church in her experience distinguishes types of teaching. So, what are the differences between a bull, an encyclical and an exhortation issued under the name of the pope?

The following –in the order of importance– gives a sense of what I am talking about:

  • Papal Bull is a generally a legal document covering any topic.
  • Apostolic Constitution (often given as Papal Bulls) are used typically to make a change in a church law or to define something as definitive with regard to faith and morals, or changes in ecclesiastical circumscriptions, and the like…
  • The Motu Proprio are legal acts not covered in the Code of Canon Law; the document is given to the Church by the Pope on his own initiative (without a special request of others) and is in conformity of Church Law but doesn’t change the Law unless expressly stated.
  • An Encyclical (originally circular letters by bishops) is an exposition on a topic that regards a pastoral concern and giving insight into the Faith and ministry of the Roman Pontiff shared by the bishops, but only the papal version (vs. a translation) published in the Acta can be authoritative to resolve a particular issue or to advance matter of faith. This in the category of being of the ordinary magisterium of the pope and bishops.
  • An Apostolic Letter is addressed to particular groups for a jubilee or a clear up a matter of concern under the notion of general teaching authority; the Letter does not have a solemn responsibility to make changes in doctrine but it may be used to communicate a matter of concern.
  • An Apostolic Exhortation is published to encourage the faithful to live in a particular manner (greater conversion to Christ) or to do something of virtue. An Exhortation does not have the ability to change Church teaching de fide. The dogmatic teachings of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption could not be communicated to the Church as de fide in this form. For example, a post-synodal document offered to the Church which is typically a summary of a previous synod and hoping the faithful will do something helpful for the life of the church (e.g., the new evangelization, go to confession, rely on St Joseph, the moral life, preparation for a special event in the Christian life). This level is of ordinary teaching authority.
  • Papal Addresses are given to groups like the Knights of Columbus, the plenary meeting of the Pontifical Academy of Science, the Congregation of Worship or some such significant gathering; papal addresses have a point to make.
  • Papal Rescript answers a question or a request for dispensation.
  • Apostolic Brief is a matter of minor importance but nonetheless there is a need among the faithful for a decision from authority.

Each document has a particular formula for addressing the recipient and authority of teaching.

Not every document listed above requires a complete agreement on our part. Some of what is given to us is the prudential judgement of the Holy Father (the Magisterial part of his office) while other documents are to be accepted de fide, that is, on faith and adhered to with one’s intellect and will: needed for salvation. The bulls and constitutions and the elements of faith and morals contained in the encyclicals are to be closely followed and accepted as needed for salvation. These documents, however, are not the same as defining dogma. For that we have the tool of papal infallibility and this tool is seldom exercised. Since the definition of infallibility was made at Vatican I, the Church has only defined two dogmas using the ex cathedra formulation. Both were Marian teachings in the Immaculate Conception and Mary’s Assumption.

With regard to the documents noted above from the Apostolic Letters down, we are not required to give our complete consent intellect and will; we are, however, asked to sincerely and significantly consider what is being offered to live the Christian life with greater openness, integrity and holiness.

Theologians will speak of the teachings of the Church as part of the consistent teaching of the Church, based on biblical revelation which Catholics must receive as the ordinary papal teaching with the “religious submission of intellect and will” (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 25). What does this mean? Essentially, it means that faith and reason are united so as to form and to inform the way we live as disciples of the Lord and faithful members of the Church. The posture we hold is to have an open mind to what is proposed for our salvation and to allow our views and lives to be shaped by the teaching (this is receptivity). It is not an easy task and we understand that the religious submission of intellect and will is always a journey, and gradual conforming ourselves to what Jesus Christ expects of us: to be a person fully alive in God’s glory.

Medjugorje visionaries not permitted to speak, Church advocates

Medjugorje Letter October 2013The Catholic faithful ought to avoid all connections with the alleged visionaries connected with Medjugorje. This is the current judgement of the Church due to a lack of final judgement of experts for the good of the faithful.

In March 2010, Pope Benedict XVI formed a commission to investigate the veracity of Our Lady’s apparitions in Medjugorje. The Holy See said, “An international investigative commission on Medjugorje has been constituted, under the presidency of Cardinal Camillo Ruini and dependent upon the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Said commission – made up of cardinals, bishops, specialists and experts – will work privately, submitting the results of its work to the authority of the dicastery.”

Cardinal Ruini’s report to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will be studied and the findings given to the Pope. You’ll recall that Ruini is the former vicar of Rome’s diocese.

Millions of pilgrims have visited this shrine every year and claim to have received many graces of conversion.

In question the truthfulness of the six people have witnessed the Virgins apparitions since 1981.Controversy has circled the alleged Marian apparitions in Medjugorje with local bishops, the Franciscans and the various visionaries who have greatly profited from the fame.

The legitimate investigation of the Holy See continues as you can see from this letter of October 21, 2013 of the US Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò to the General Secretary of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Monsignor Ronny Jenkins. Archbishop Viganò writes on behalf of Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The letter reiterates an April 10, 1991, directive not to adhere to unverified proposals.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is clear: “clerics and the faithful are not permitted to participate in meetings, conferences or public celebrations during which the credibility of such ‘apparitions’ would be taken for granted.”

Matters like these required a well researched assessment of what’s claimed for the good of all the faithful. Hence, the final judgement of the Holy Father is sought and we ought to follow.

New cardinals to be created in February 2014

US CardinalsVatican Radio and the French news agency I-Media broke the news today that the Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis, will create new cardinals in a Consistory to be held February 21 and 22, 2014. No names have been mentioned and there won’t be names likely until February.

At the same time, Pope Francis is holding a meeting with all cardinals in Rome to discuss possible reforms.

By February 2014, there will b 14 vacancies of 120 that are noted in Canon Law. By March, there would be 16. The 120 limit is an arbitrary number established by Pope Paul VI.

Possible cardinals to serve in the Roman Curia: Archbishop Pietro Parolin, the new Secretary of State, Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Archbishop Beniamino Stella, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy. There could be more if Pope Francis makes more changes in his curia.

Plus, there are residential archbishops around the world. I would not expect new cardinals in the USA.

Why the Bishop of Limburg is important for our conversion

Bishop BlingLots of attention has been given these past weeks to the spending habits of the bishop of Limburg, The Most Reverend Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, 52, known in the secular media as “Bishop Bling-Bling.”

Some people think that the case of “Tebartz-van Elst is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Christian Weisner, spokesman for the German branch of We Are Church, an organization advocating Catholic church reform. “There is a real clash of cultures between Germany’s current cardinals and bishops –nominated under John Paul II or Benedict XVI — and Pope Francis.”

I don’t follow the organization “We are Church” but I am guessing it is a public lobby that is loosely Catholic and focussed on the misdeeds of Catholic Clergy. I don’t subscribe to lobby groups; and, I don’t think these groups are but a very thin veil leading the faithful to dissent. But, it seems that Mr Weisner is correct; but I don’t think for the same reasons as Weisner thinks. The agenda of Weisner and We are Church is not too coherent with Church teaching and tradition. Weisner  speaks of the culture wars faithful Catholics have to face. But I have to wonder if this controversy is really born in the fact that there is a divide between orthodox and unorthodox Catholics and that some of the teachings of Tebartz-van Elst contradicted those of past bishops? It is entirely possible some members of the Church in the Limburg Diocese are pushing some of these things in way to be anti-Benedict XVI.

What can said of the Limburg bishop is possible for all of us. No one is exempt from mistakes. AND yet we ought not be self-righteous to think that this matter pertains to other people. I am not gloating over the imprudence of Bishop Tebartz-van Elst. Demonizing the bishop is unbecoming of Christians. Mercy is what is required here as we are taught today by Pope Francis. We always forgive our brother.

This begs us to ask what is the responsibility of a bishop of the Catholic Church. The responsibility of the bishop is the discernment of what we are saying about God, about our Christian life, about our sanctification, our conversion, about the encounter with the person of Jesus Christ. Christianity is not about social conformity, it is not about social acceptability. The bishop’s responsibility, hence, is to lead the faithful to perfect communion with the Holy Trinity through good witness.

As a friend once said, we go to a baker because we want an appetizing, something delicious. We know that baked goods are not to be poisonous, they are to be delicious, and they are to have a particular deliciousness. Applied to the vocation of a bishop, we would say the vocation of the “profession” determines the responsibility: a bishop’s responsibility is stir our awareness and desires for God. We want to be with God.

How we understand what happened is crucial. The other day Pope Francis exercised his pastoral authority in determining that the Church universal needs a clear judgement on the activities of the Limburg bishop. Pope Francis gave a temporary dispensation from the bishop’s obligation of residence (Cf. Canon Law, 395). Moreover, His Holiness appointed a new vicar general for the good the faithful who will act in the place of the bishop who will be living outside his diocese until Providence provides otherwise. The hope is that this decision will allow for time for the commission to collect and evaluate the data plus it will allow contention to diminish a bit.

Let it be said that the bishop is not suspended as the secular and some Catholic media outlets have reported. In cases like the Limburg case, the bishop is often asked to resign voluntarily or to take a leave. No actual decree of suspension was drawn up. By the Pope’s wisdom the bishop has a leave of absence. There is a difference.

Mercy also requires justice. The matter of the bishop’s conduct needs a principle of good governance that is expressed in the Code of Canon Law, canon 1389, §1, which states:

A person who abuses an ecclesiastical power or function is to be punished according to the gravity of the act or omission, not excluding privation of office, unless a law or precept has already established the penalty for this abuse.

What needs to be determined are the facts, the points of abuse of the bishop. So, the bishop of Rome as the supreme legislator and guarantor acted according to his office when he assisted the German bishops to do their job in fraternal correction and to aid the conversion of all, including the bishop. The Code of Canon Law states,

The bishop of the Roman Church, in whom continues the office given by the Lord uniquely to Peter, the first of the Apostles, and to be transmitted to his successors, is the head of the college of bishops, the Vicar of Christ, and pastor of the universal Church on earth. By virtue of his office he possesses supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary in the Church, which he is always able to exercise freely (canon 331).

Catholics know deeply that the Church founded by Christ is NOT a democracy, she is not a dictatorship, the Church does not work from a gesture of sentimental, nor is she the Inquisition. The Church is a sacrament given to us by the Lord. The Church is a guided companionship. She discloses a person, a Divine Person, that is, our Lord and Savior.

What’s at stake is the relational nature of all this? As Pope Francis said to Eugenio Scalfari, “Truth according to the Christian faith, is the love of God for us in Jesus Christ. Therefore, truth is relationship.” We know this to mean that “all this [talk of relationship with Christ] throws me wide open to expecting the Mystery will show Himself….”  Jesus entered history to educate us something new. That something new is ourselves as a new creation. Any lack herein of a true relationship with Truth will set us back. And, this may have happened in Limburg: the lack of memory of the Lord.

Having said this, what does Limburg indicate? A multi-million euro building project with a $20,000 bathtub and $482,000 walk-in closets is over-the-top. But Limburg’s bishop is not alone in mis-using money; we have a track record of bishops leaving a diocese in debt by millions of dollars. A good example in the USA is a former bishop of Bridgeport (now he’s administering another diocese) and several other bishops and priests who live in ways wholly inconsistent with their office and responsibility. Bishops now long dead were financially irresponsible with other people’s money leaving their successors to pay off the debt. One can think of good examples in the bishops of Boston and New York. In more recent years bishops like those of Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh to name a few, have all given up grand homes and luxury items favor of more modest living.

The Church, in her wisdom, has taught and asked priests to live simply, even frugally. This is not new news. Just read the Fathers of the Church and the Magisterium on priestly life. Mother Church in her good example has taught that beauty and well-made items reflect the truth of the Incarnation and the dignity of the craftsman; being cheap and stingy are not virtues nor ought they be made such. We are required to be generous to others but not to the point of excess. Beautiful art, vesture, music, words, buildings all communicate the Divine Majesty. Poor and wealth people need beauty. History tells us this fact. Beauty reveals truth.

We ought to recall and confront the argument given by secular priests that they don’t have a vow of poverty as the religious profess. While technically true, simplicity is an objective truth and manner of living that helps all people to conform themselves to Christ crucified and risen. Diocesan priests ought to remember this is clear and consistent teaching of the popes.

Lots of people interpret Pope Francis to say that the Church has to be poor but I think interpreting Francis strictly in terms of finances is superficial. Surely he does mean that we need to be mindful of how use money for ministerial purposes and not self promotion; a Church that is poor is one that is dependent spiritually and affectively (and even materially) on Jesus Christ who gives all things for the good.

Clergymen who live luxuriously are unseemly, even giving scandal, to those who are weak of faith, to Church benefactors who their resources for the Church’s good works of mercy, education and charity. This is not only a matter concerning the Church in Germany but the Church in every place and time. Germany is in the spotlight because too many of the prelates there drive high end cars like Archbishop Robert Zollitsch who has a BMW 740d. “To me that car is not a status symbol; it is the office I use when I am traveling,” Zollitsch said at a press conference. What Zollitsch is doing is defending the indefensible.

We need to learn from this case; we need to pray for our own conversion because this is not only a matter for Bishop Tebartz-van Elst or Archbishop Zollitsch but for all of us. Being self-righteous about this matter is unhelpful and not Christian. What and how they live ought to be a point for our own conformity to the cross. The entire Christian Church is called to live simply for the sake of the Kingdom.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]
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