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August 13, 2015

New study resource on Catholic-Muslim relations -
Caring for the church's divorced-remarried members and their children -
Current anti-immigrant rhetoric

In this edition:
1. Annulment fees eliminated.
2. Caring for the divorced-remarried.
3. Quote: Benedict on divorced-remarried.
4. Current anti-immigrant rhetoric.
5. What "just wage" means.
6. Resource on Islam and on dialogue.
7. Bishop steps into Twitter world.
8. Explosives detonated at churches.

1. Archdiocese Eliminates Annulment Fees

All church fees associated with annulment cases in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis were eliminated July 1. In announcing this move, Archbishop Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis hoped it would clear up misconceptions about church decisions in marriage cases.

"The balance of their fees" also is forgiven for those who already have introduced an annulment petition, said the archbishop. He added that the waiver of fees applies as well "to the so-called 'privilege of the faith' cases that must be sent to Rome for consideration."

Previously, "the tribunal requested a fee of $675 for a formal marriage case, known popularly as an 'annulment,'" Archbishop Tobin wrote in a July 24 letter to the archdiocese. That fee, he said, represented "only a fraction of the actual expenses of the process; the remainder was assumed by the archdiocese."

Moreover, he said it always was possible "to request a reduction, deferment or, in some cases, a waiver of the fee." The archdiocese's long-standing policy was that "a person's ability to present a petition did not depend on his or her ability to pay a fee," he explained.

Misconceptions related to the annulment process were a concern. "There has been a stubborn misconception that a person could 'buy' a decree of nullity," he wrote. Other "equally erroneous ideas" included the notion "that paying more than the requested fee or paying it all 'up front' would result in a quicker process or a better chance for a successful outcome."

But "none of these suspicions are true," Archbishop Tobin stressed. Annulment petitions "are examined and decided according to the date of their presentation. Furthermore, each case is considered on its own merits and according to the common norms of the Catholic community."

He expressed confidence that the archdiocese's new policy "will eliminate some of these misunderstandings." He asked Catholics to renew their "efforts to reach out compassionately to the faithful whose marriages have failed."

The archbishop asked "all Catholics to pray for married couples, whom God has called to reflect in their own love the unconditionally faithful and self-sacrificing love that Christ has for the church."

In matters involving marriage, he said that "the archdiocese and its ministers are committed to be both 'prophetic' (to teach what Jesus taught) and to be 'pastoral' (to minister to those whose marriages, unfortunately, have ended in a civil divorce)."

In an interview with The Criterion, the archdiocesan newspaper, Archbishop Tobin said his "heart goes out to the many good people who have suffered the tragic breakup of their marriage."

He hopes, he said, that the decision to waive fees related to the annulment process will encourage those "who have a doubt regarding the sacramentality of their previous marriage to submit a petition" to the archdiocesan tribunal.

2. Pope on Caring for the Divorced-Remarried

How the Catholic community should "take care of those who, after an irreversible failure of their matrimonial bond, have entered into a new union" was the issue Pope Francis addressed during his general audience in Rome Aug. 5. It is a question virtually certain to be vigorously debated this fall during the Oct. 4-25 general assembly of the world Synod of Bishops in Rome.

The pope strongly cautioned against holding divorced-remarried people at arm's length and treating them as if they are excommunicated, when in fact they are not.

Pope Francis said "the church is fully aware" that the situation of those who enter a second marriage without an annulment of a first marriage "is contrary to the Christian sacrament." But the church's "gaze as a teacher always draws from a mother's heart -- a heart which, enlivened by the Holy Spirit, always seeks the good and the salvation of the people." He added:

That is why the church "feels obliged 'for the sake of truth' to 'exercise careful discernment of situations,'" which is "how St. John Paul II expressed it in the apostolic exhortation 'Familiaris Consortio' (84) as an example of the difference between one subjected to separation compared to one who has caused it," Pope Francis said. He added, "This discernment has to be made."

In its relationships with divorced-remarried couples and their families, "it is important that the style of the community, its language, its attitudes always be attentive to people, starting with the little ones," the pope said. He added that children "are the ones who suffer the most in these situations."

He asked, "How can we encourage these parents to do everything possible to raise their children in the Christian life, to give them an example of committed and exercised faith, if we keep them at arm's length from the life of the community, as if they are excommunicated?"

He cautioned that the church "must act in a way so as not to add even more to the burdens which the children in these situations already feel they have to bear!" Pointing out that "the number of these children and youth is really large," he said "it is important for them to feel the church as loving mother to all, always ready to listen and to meet."

Over the course of recent decades "the church neither has been insensitive nor lazy" in regard to marriage issues, Pope Francis suggested. "The awareness truly has grown," he commented, "that it is necessary to have a fraternal and attentive welcome, in love and in truth, of the baptized who have established a new relationship of cohabitation after the failure of the marital sacrament."

These people "are by no means excommunicated," the pope exclaimed, "and they should absolutely not be treated as such: They are still a part of the church."

Every Christian is "called to imitate the Good Shepherd," Pope Francis told those attending his audience. He highlighted the role Christian families have of cooperating with the Good Shepherd "by taking care of wounded families, accompanying them in the life of faith of the community."

He said, "Each one must do his part in taking on the attitude of the Good Shepherd, who knows each one of his sheep and excludes no one from his infinite love!"

3. Quote: Benedict on the Divorced-Remarried

"Indeed the problem of divorced and remarried persons is one of the great sufferings of today's church. And we do not have simple solutions. Their suffering is great, and yet we can only help parishes and individuals to assist these people to bear the pain of divorce.

"I would say, obviously, that prevention is very important, so that those who fall in love are helped from the very beginning to make a deep and mature commitment. Then accompaniment during married life is needed so that families are never left on their own but are truly accompanied on their journey.

"As regards these people -- as you have said -- the church loves them, but it is important they should see and feel this love. I see here a great task for a parish, a Catholic community, to do whatever is possible to help them to feel loved and accepted, to feel that they are not 'excluded' even though they cannot receive absolution or the Eucharist; they should see that, in this state too, they are fully a part of the church.

"Perhaps, even if it is not possible to receive absolution in confession, they can nevertheless have ongoing contact with a priest, with a spiritual guide. This is very important so that they see that they are accompanied and guided.

"Then it is also very important that they truly realize they are participating in the Eucharist if they enter into a real communion with the body of Christ. Even without 'corporal' reception of the sacrament, they can be spiritually united to Christ in his body. Bringing them to understand this is important so that they find a way to live the life of faith based upon the word of God and the communion of the church, and that they come to see their suffering as a gift to the church because it helps others by defending the stability of love and marriage.

"They need to realize that this suffering is not just a physical or psychological pain, but something that is experienced within the church community for the sake of the great values of our faith. I am convinced that their suffering, if truly accepted from within, is a gift to the church.

"They need to know this, to realize that this is their way of serving the church, that they are in the heart of the church." (Quoted from remarks on divorce and remarriage June 2, 2012, by Pope Benedict XVI during the World Meeting of Families in Milan, Italy)

4. Cardinal on Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric

Anti-immigrant rhetoric in today's America was on Cardinal Timothy Dolan's mind when he contributed an op-ed piece July 29 to the New York Daily News. The New York cardinal addressed the nativism that "flourished in our country during the 1840s and 1850s" and became "a popular political party, the Know-Nothings."

Cardinal Dolan wrote that "nativists believed the immigrant to be dangerous and that America was better off without them." He explained that according to nativists, all that immigrants did "was to dilute the clean, virtuous, upright citizenry of God-fearing true Americans."

The cardinal recalled the time earlier in life when he "taught American religious history to university students." He said, "I spent a chunk of time in class on the ugly phenomenon called nativism."

He made the point to students, he said, "that nativism never really did disappear completely but was a continual virulent strain in the American psyche, which would probably sadly show up again."

But students had difficulty believing nativism would arise again. They would say, "Who could ever believe now that immigrants are dirty, drunken, irresponsible, dangerous threats" to a clean, white America?

Many interpreted Cardinal Dolan's column as a response to remarks on immigrants by Donald Trump, though the cardinal did not name the presidential candidate explicitly. He did say, however, that he wished he were "in the college classroom again so I could roll out my 'Trump card' to show the students that I was right. Nativism is alive, well - and apparently popular!"

Two approaches to immigrants are described by American historians, the cardinal said. "One is, sadly, the nativists, who see the unwashed, ignorant, bothersome brood as criminals and misfits who threaten 'pure America' and are toxic to everything decent in the United States."

The other approach "sees the immigrant as a gift to our nation, realizing that the only citizens whose ancestors were not immigrants are the Native Americans. All of us here are descendants of newcomers."

He continued, "Yes, this second group claims, we need to control our borders, fairly regulate immigration and be prudent in our policies and laws, but we are wise to consider the immigrant as good for our beloved nation."

Cardinal Dolan said he is "not in the business of telling people what candidates they should support or who deserves their vote." However, as a Catholic, he takes "seriously the Bible's teaching that we are to welcome the stranger." And as an American, he added, he takes "equally seriously the great invitation and promise of Lady Liberty."

He said he looks forward to sharing with Pope Francis "the wonderful work being done by our Catholic Charities to assist immigrants who come to New York and look to the church for assistance and a warm welcome."

5. What "Just Wage" Means

"Fair and just wages for all workers" are "critical to building a more equitable society," Bishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, Fla., chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president of Catholic Charities USA, said in a joint letter to the U.S. Congress July 28.

Specifically, they urged Congress to take action on the current federal minimum wage as a means of serving the common good and promoting "family formation and stability." The letter stated that "a full-year, full-time worker earning the federal minimum wage does not make enough to raise a child free from poverty."

The federal minimum wage currently is $7.25 per hour; many states also have minimum wage laws of their own. Bishop Wenski and Sister Markham commented that "because the federal minimum wage is a static number and does not change, each year it becomes more difficult for low-wage workers to make ends meet."

This situation "leads to increased demand for Charities' services and reliance on the social safety net to make ends meet," they added. "Recent research," they said, "suggests that about three-fourths (73 percent) of those who receive public benefits come from working families, meaning they or a family member is employed."

The letter cited "Centesimus Annus," the 1991 encyclical of St. John Paul II, which said that "society and the state must ensure wage levels adequate for the maintenance of the worker and his family, including a certain amount for savings."

This, the encyclical added, "requires a continuous effort to improve workers' training and capability so that their work will be more skilled and productive, as well as careful controls and adequate legislative measures to block shameful forms of exploitation, especially to the disadvantage of the most vulnerable workers."

6. New Study Resource on Islam and Dialogue

A resource that might well be used as a study guide on Islam itself and on Catholic-Muslim relations was published by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops in mid-July to coincide with the July 17 end of the Muslim month of Ramadan.

Titled "A Church in Dialogue - Catholics and Muslims in Canada: Believers and Citizens in Society," the resource was developed by the bishops' Episcopal Commission for Christian Unity, Religious Relations With the Jews and Interfaith Dialogue.

Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher of Gatineau, Quebec, president of the Canadian bishops' conference, wrote in an introductory letter that "Christianity and Islam are the two most populous religious groups in the world" and that "for our own good and the good of all humanity, we must learn to live in harmony with each other."

Parish adult and teen religious education groups, Catholic schools and others may find this resource beneficial. It easily can be located online simply by Googling "A Church in Dialogue: Catholics and Muslims in Canada."

At its outset, the resource cites a 2007 open letter to Christian leaders by 138 prominent Muslim leaders and scholars titled "A Common Word Between Us and You." It said:

"Muslims and Christians together make up over half the world's population. Without peace and justice between these two religious communities, there can be no meaningful peace in the world."

The 2007 open letter noted the common Christian and Muslim "elements of belief in God, love of God, love of neighbor and the importance of promoting peace in the world," the Canadian resource observes.

The resource highlights the origins and early history of Islam, and its basic religious concepts. A brief overview of Islam's major branches is informative and helpful.

In addition, the resource summarizes the shared beliefs of Muslims and Catholics, along with the religious differences between them. Finally, the purposes of Catholic-Muslim dialogue and the forms dialogue assumes are explored.

The resource calls attention to challenges to dialogue, such as the plight of Middle East Christians. "The lack of protection of fundamental human rights, such as freedom of religion and freedom from fear and want, continue to threaten the very existence of Christians" in the Middle East, it states.

It points out, however, "that in some instances Muslims have tried to protect their Christian neighbors from extremist elements of Islam."

Discussing the involvement of the Canadian Catholic bishops' conference in the National Muslim-Christian Liaison Committee, the resource tells of a project called "Families Meeting Families" that paired Muslim and Christian families, and invited them "to get to know each other and their faiths through social interaction."

In addition to dialogue efforts on the national level, "there are many local Catholic and Muslim dialogues happening throughout dioceses across Canada," according to the resource. "These local efforts at dialogue and collaboration," it says, "are proving especially fruitful."

7. Bishop Steps Into Twitter World

Reflecting on the "small steps" he is taking "into the world of Twitter," Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas, wrote Aug. 3 that "instant communication that shares a thought or a joy or a concern or a sadness is amazingly strange and strangely beautiful."

In his blog for the Brownsville diocesan website, the bishop noted that "in a few short weeks" he "heard from people I might never in my life have communicated with." He concluded that "surely this is a blessing," but one "that leaves a strange sadness." Why? "Because I know most of them I shall never meet face to face, this side of eternity."

Commenting on this, he said:
  • "The good things of this life are at their best when they remind us of what they cannot provide."

  • "The good things of this life are at their worst when they make us forget about what they cannot provide."
In this case, the reminder should be that simply connecting with someone "is not quite enough," the bishop suggested. He wrote, "Communion is the deepest longing of the human heart, and it is not fulfilled in connections; connections only can point to the possibility of communion."

Bishop Flores likes "the fact that to send a Tweet requires that you be brief." He explained:

"I have always thought I take too long and too many words to say something simple. The approach to simplicity is a move that mirrors the call of grace and, in the best scenarios, is actually informed by it."

Someone recently asked Bishop Flores what prayer is. "I have often gotten that question," he wrote. But this time he answered differently than in the past. He answered "in a simpler way," saying that "prayer is reading the Gospel and letting Jesus say something to you, then responding to him."

That response, he said, "is not different than what I have said before, just simpler. Not simple enough yet, but it is something."

Most of his Tweeting "has been just that," he added. "After reading the Scriptures of the liturgical day, I let the Lord say something to me so that I can say something to those who are perhaps seeking a word from him. Seems to me this is a bishop's principal job."

Thus, he explained of his Tweets, "after listening to the word a bit, I write something. Then I shorten it. Then I shorten it some more. Then I can send it out. This is wonderful. A boon to my spiritual life!"

8. Explosives Detonated at Churches

Someone detonated a small explosive Aug. 2 outside Holy Cross Catholic Church in Las Cruces, N.M. The same day an explosive device was placed in a mailbox near the church offices of Calvary Baptist Church in Las Cruces. The explosives resulted in minor damage, but there were no injuries.

Afterward, Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces urged Catholic "pastors, deacons and parish leaders to exercise increased vigilance in our parish surroundings and activities," doing so "with heightened awareness but without alarm."

At Holy Cross Church the explosion came during the Sunday 8 a.m. Mass and "precisely during Eucharistic Prayer, at the words of institution," said Bishop Cantu. He expressed the Catholic community's solidarity with and prayers for the Calvary Baptist community.

"Let us all be aware of any suspicious activity and report it to proper authorities," the bishop said to parish leaders. At the same time, he added, "it is important that as much as possible we all return to our routines of worship, formation, service and community activities - yet with prudent caution and awareness."

In a meeting with pastors, the "need for training in emergency preparedness in our parishes" was discussed, Bishop Cantu reported. "We will certainly do so," he said, "in order that our parish and Catholic school leaders can be prepared to respond to any emergencies that arise."