In the Vineyard: February 8, 2021

In the Vineyard :: February 8, 2021 :: Volume 21, Issue 3

International News

Germany’s Catholic Church Faces Tough Conversations

German bishops are set to resume their conversations this week as they work to plan the Synodal Path that began in 2019 and was put on hold in September of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The goal of the conference is to discuss controversial questions, including power structures in the church, the role of women, sexual morality, LGBT acceptance, and priestly life.

These discussions are also taking place in the context of the 2018 Mannheim, Heidelberg, and Gießen study, also known as MHG, where researchers analyzed the responses to clergy sexual abuse cases that occurred between 1946 and 2014. Their findings indicated that more than 4% of the clergy allegedly abused 3,677 minors. It suggested that the systemic issues behind the sexual abuse crisis included too much power awarded to priests and a problem with priestly education.

More than 200,000 people left the Catholic Church from 2018 to 2019, and one news agency reported that their primary motivation was the ongoing sexual abuse scandals and their coverup. More recently, on Christmas Eve of 2020, Cardinal Ranier Maria Woelki issued a poorly worded apology for refusing to share a report on his diocese’s record with handling sexual abuse cases. His statement claimed that his refusal to share was to protect the identity of the victims, as he believed the report failed to act independently.

After commissioning the investigation (known as the Munich report), Woelki eventually cancelled it after several law professors declared that it contained “methodological deficiencies.” He commissioned a new report in collaboration with Björn Gercke, a criminal lawyer in Cologne, and those findings are set to be released in March.

One of the largest impacts of this situation was the broken trust in the country’s largest diocese, Cologne. Two members of the victims’ advisory board resigned, and German bishops raised the amount of reparations available for victims from $5,000 to $60,000 per case. The lack of transparency is one of the issues likely to be addressed during the Synodal Path at the next online gathering.

More generally, German bishops are discussing lay involvement in the church as a way to mitigate the issue of strict clerical control as the root of clergy sexual abuse. Due to the pandemic’s restrictions on religious gatherings, lay men and women have been adapting to new roles and organizing services.

German bishops have long been at the forefront of theological discussions regarding female ordination. The president of the German Bishops’ Conference, Limburg Bishop Georg Bätzing, who is also leading the Synodal Path, explains that arguments against the ordination of women, especially in a nation with 15 years of experience living under Chancellor Angela Merkel, are becoming less convincing to parishioners, who may leave the church.

Claudia Lücking-Michel, theologian and former member of Germany’s parliament, also discussed the option of blessing those who are unable to be married in the church, including LGBT individuals.

The Vatican, while promoting the synodal approach, also cautions against quick decisions with immediate consequences. Pope Francis, concerned with maintaining unity, cautions against the temptation to move more quickly.

These discussions are likely to have an impact worldwide, as the Church is poised to take decisive action in a world struggling with the economic and social impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Catholic Church has the opportunity to be the source of valuable contributions and solutions to crises including healthcare, the environment, and many wider societal problems.

For more information, please see here and here.

To read more about VOTF’s position on child protection, please see here.

For survivor support resources, please see here.

For VOTF’s statement on women’s roles, please see here.

Hope: An Excerpt from Fratelli tutti

Taken from the first chapter of the encyclical, these passages have the simple title “Hope.” They seem especially appropriate in a world awaiting vaccination. [Note that the passage itself uses ellipses–they are not in this case indicating any omitted words.]

54. Despite these dark clouds, which may not be ignored, I would like in the following pages to take up and discuss many new paths of hope. For God continues to sow abundant seeds of goodness in our human family. The recent pandemic enabled us to recognize and appreciate once more all those around us who, in the midst of fear, responded by putting their lives on the line. We began to realize that our lives are interwoven with and sustained by ordinary people valiantly shaping the decisive events of our shared history: doctors, nurses, pharmacists, storekeepers and supermarket workers, cleaning personnel, caretakers, transport workers, men and women working to provide essential services and public safety, volunteers, priests and religious… They understood that no one is saved alone.

55. I invite everyone to renewed hope, for hope “speaks to us of something deeply rooted in every human heart, independently of our circumstances and historical conditioning. Hope speaks to us of a thirst, an aspiration, a longing for a life of fulfillment, a desire to achieve great things, things that fill our heart and lift our spirit to lofty realities like truth, goodness and beauty, justice and love… Hope is bold; it can look beyond personal convenience, the petty securities and compensations which limit our horizon, and it can open us up to grand ideals that make life more beautiful and worthwhile”. Let us continue, then, to advance along the paths of hope.

Pope Francis Establishes World Dayof Grandparents and the Elderly

Beginning this July, World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly will be celebrated on the fourth Sunday of July to honor their contributions and wisdom, coinciding with the feasts of Sts. Joachim and Anne, grandparents of Jesus. Reminding the world that “old age is a gift and that grandparents are the link between generations, passing on the experience of life and faith to the young,” Pope Francis emphasized the importance of pastoral care of the elderly.

According to the Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life, Pope Francis will celebrate the first World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly with an evening Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, “subject to sanitary regulations in place at the time.” Parishes and diocese worldwide are invited to celebrate at the local level, and all are welcomed to “treasure the spiritual and human wealth that has been handed down from generation to generation,” explains Cardinal J. Farrell, prefect of the Dicastery.

Pope Francis has repeatedly called on Catholics and society writ large to cherish the contributions and existence of the elderly, decrying a “throwaway culture” that writes off the elderly, the disabled, and young children for not being productive. His announcement earlier this week added grandparents and the elderly to other special groups and needs to which the Catholic Church would like to draw attention, including World Day of Peace (instituted by Pope Paul in 1967), World Day of Youth (Pope John Paul II in 1984), and World Day of the Poor (Pope Francis, 2017).

For more information, please see here, here, and here.

Highlighting issues we face working together to Keep the Faith, Change the Church


Francis: ‘No concession’ to those who deny Vatican II teachings
“Pope Francis on Jan. 30 urged those charged with passing on the principles of the Catholic faith to consider the teachings of the Second Vatican Council as sacrosanct, saying that to be Catholic one must adhere to the reforms brought about by the landmark event. ‘You can be with the church and therefore follow the council, or you can not follow the council or interpret it in your own way, as you want, and you are not with the church,’ the pontiff said in a meeting with a group of catechists connected to the Italian bishops’ conference.” By Joshua J. McElwee, National Catholic Reporter

In came Latin, incense and burned books, out went half the parishioners
“Religion scholar Maria Lichtmann felt a strangeness overcome St. Elizabeth of the Hill Country Parish in Boone, North Carolina, four years ago. Fr. Matthew Codd, the then-pastor at St. Elizabeth’s, was joined by a group of seminarians who went through the church’s theology library and removed books deemed heretical, including those of spiritual writers Henri Nouwen and Thomas Merton. The books were later burned, she was told by a parish staff member. Lichtmann, a retired religious studies professor at Appalachian State University, left the region in part, she told NCR, because of the changes in the parish. She now lives in Georgia.” By Perter Feuerherd, National Catholic Reporter

Joy, frustration and humor: reactions to Vatican law change on lectors, altar servers
“”Am I the only one who is like: wait, women aren’t explicitly allowed to be lectors and altar servers before this?” Flora Tang wrote on Twitter Jan. 11. She was not, in fact, the only one. (For starters, more than 30 people liked her tweet). In the wake of Pope Francis’ announcement Jan. 11 that officially opened altar serving, lectoring and eucharistic ministries to all ‘lay persons,’ rather than just men, Catholic organizations and individuals expressed a mix of emotions, including joy, disappointment and a bit of wry humor — or just plain surprise. Some saw the move as a positive step that more fully recognizes women’s roles in the church.” By Madeleine Davison, National Catholic Reporter

Lots of Politics, Little Legitimacy: The USCCB needs an ecclesial and theological vision
“The second Catholic president of the United States is the first to hold office in the midst of an American intra-Church crisis. John Kennedy never had to deal with the kind of conflict currently roiling the USCCB or the opposition of so many bishops to the papacy. But Joe Biden takes office just as the situation inside the U.S. Catholic Church becomes reminiscent of the Americanist controversy of the late nineteenth century. What divided the bishops then were the warnings put forth by Leo XIII in Longinqua oceani (1895) and Testem benevolentiae (1899)—namely, admonitions against embracing the ‘American’ models of religious liberty and separation of church and state. New York Archbishop John Corrigan sided with the pope, against St. Paul Archbishop John Ireland and his allies, whom Leo ultimately disavowed for their ‘Americanist’ views. The split had long-term effects on the Church.” By Massimo Faggioli, Commonweal

Women’s Work: The pope makes it harder to keep women out of liturgy
“It must be difficult for a mainstream journalist covering the Vatican beat on days like January 11, when Pope Francis’s motu proprio, Spiritus Domini, was announced. How to convey the significance of a tweak to canon law that clarifies women’s eligibility to be lectors and acolytes at Mass? Aren’t they…already doing those things? Pity the reporter who must quickly explain the existence of ‘stable ministries’ in the Church, and the now-obscure practice of formally instituting lay men into those roles … It’s no wonder so many outlets framed the news in terms of what hadn’t happened: ‘Pope says women can read at Mass, but still can’t be priests’ ran a typical headline.” By Mollie Wilson O’Reilly, Commonweal

Click here to read the rest of this issue of Focus …

Book Review

The Deacon: Icon of Christ the Servant, Minister of the Threshold; Author: Tim O’Donnell; published by Paulist Press, 2019

By Svea Fraser, VOTF member from Massachusetts

Deacon Tim O’Donnell’s recently published book, The Deacon: Icon of Christ the Servant, Minister of the Threshold, comes at an opportune time as the roles of ministry previously closed to women are being seriously considered. The possibility that the restoration of the permanent diaconate following Vatican II can rightly be an option for women has been the subject of scholarly investigation and discourse into this century. Beyond determining the Scriptural, historical and theological warrants for women deacons, O’Donnell proposes a theology of the permanent diaconate that opens the office to all the baptized.

In his opening chapter, O’Donnell acknowledges confusion about the diaconate. This is a problem not only for the faithful, but for the deacons themselves. He believes that the Spirit seems to be speaking here, and that the diaconate has some gift to offer the Church of the present and the future. He envisions two interdependent models that, taken together, articulate a uniquely distinct vocation well-suited to meet the pastoral needs of the Church today.

A deacon is called to the ministry of service in three areas: word, liturgy, and charity. What makes their service different from a priest’s and a layperson’s? In ministering the Word, the deacon can proclaim the Gospel and preach a homily from the perspective of a layperson’s experience.

Liturgically, the deacon assists at the altar and is also ordained to baptize, to witness marriages, and to lead funeral services.

The central core of diaconal ministry is charity. Living a lay lifestyle, a deacon is close to the people at home and in the workplace. A deacon generally is more readily accessible than a priest to others and is present to those who are left out and most in need of charitable service.

All the baptized are called to service, but the deacon’s role goes beyond lay ministry. The deacon is called to be Christ to others in each of the three areas of ministry. The three ministries combined expand the reach of the faithful, up to but not including the priesthood. Together with the faithful in the Body of Christ, deacons are models of Christ the Servant.

But the diaconate serves a purpose much more than this. Deacons are outward looking. They are neither priests nor social workers. Theirs is a vocational calling to meet the people where they are, to gather them in and to welcome them home.

Thus, deacons stand at the threshold, at the door of the church. They are mediators between the Church and everyday life. They are bridges between the sanctuary and the public square. The deacon blesses and gathers and leads by serving.

A deacon brings something more structured and intense to the universal call of Christian discipleship. Defining the diaconate in these terms makes the office more recognizable, focused and effective.

It is noteworthy that O’Donnell states that the diaconal identity he proposes is NOT dependent on gender. He writes, “When considering whether possible future developments would require any change in this book’s models of diaconal identity, we conclude that they could be applied to women deacons, should the Church decide to ordain them. In fact, the diaconal identity that the models define provides no explicit support for either side of this currently debated issue.” (p. 8)

The permanent diaconate is a distinctly unique office in the Church, and it is suited to responding to the signs of the times and meeting the multitude of unmet pastoral needs. The Church needs it and the women are ready.


Women Erased: The Forgotten Women Who Shaped Vatican II

February 16, 2021, 8 p.m. (Eastern time), with Sr. Maureen Sullivan, OP

FutureChurch is hosting a webinar on women who served as auditors at Vatican II. The Second Vatican Council is regarded by most theologians to be the most significant ecclesial event in modern church history. Many Catholics are not aware that women were invited as auditors at the Council. Even though they did not have a “formal” presence at Vatican II, many books and articles written in the years since the Council demonstrate that these women left their mark on the Council’s documents. The presentation will examine their impact at Vatican II and also discuss the struggles and achievements of women in the church in the years following the Council.

Maureen Sullivan, O.P. is a Dominican Sister of Hope from New York. She received her M.A. in Religious Studies from Manhattan College in the Bronx and her Ph.D. in Theology, also in the Bronx. She is Professor Emerita of Theology at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire. Prior to her ministry at St. Anselm College, she served for two years as Academic Dean for Freshmen at Fordham College, followed by two years as the Associate Dean of the College. Sr. Maureen is a member of the Board of Trustees at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, NY. The study of the Church is at the center of her theological research, with a special focus on the Second Vatican Council. Sr. Maureen has written two books on the Council: 101 Questions and Answers on Vatican II, 2002, and The Road to Vatican II: Key Changes in Theology, 2007, both published by Paulist Press.

Virtual Lenten Book Discussion with Sr. Edna Michel, osf, Director of St. Francis Spirituality Center in Tiffin, OH, begins Monday, Feb. 15 and continues on Mondays through April 5. Focus is on the encyclical letter Fratelli tutti by Pope Francis. You must pre-register; email Also request the Franciscan study guide when you register. It’s too late to purchase a copy of Fratelli tutti from the St. Francis Center but you can purchase an e-version or print version from Amazon.


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