Pope Francis is allowing a married Lebanese-American man to become a priest.
Wissam Akiki, of Missouri, received a special exemption from the pope that hadn’t been issued for nearly a century.
Akiki was ordained in St. Raymond’s Maronite Cathedral in St. Louis Thursday night with his wife and 8-year-old daughter by his side.
The Vatican banned this exemption in the U.S. in the 1920s because bishops complained it was too confusing to parishioners. It remained a common practice in the Middle East and Europe.
"Almost half of our priests in Lebanon are married, so it's not an unusual event in the life of the Maronite church, though in the United States it is," said Deacon Louis Peters, chancellor at St. Raymond's.
"He'll be a wonderful priest," said parishioner Linda Hill, 54. "The fact that he's married will be exciting for the church. It's tradition in the old country. I guess we're finally catching up to the old country."
While the exception doesn’t open the door to non-celibacy for all priests, the move is just one in a string of unprecedented actions taken by Francis.
Last year the pope sparked controversy when he said, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?"
He has encouraged the Church to think outside the box and be more "open."
“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods...We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel,” he said in another 2013 interview.
"Instead of being just a church that welcomes and receives by keeping the doors open,” he added, “let us try also to be a church that finds new roads, that is able to step outside itself and go to those who do not attend Mass, to those who have quit or are indifferent. The ones who quit sometimes do it for reasons that, if properly understood and assessed, can lead to a return. But that takes audacity and courage."
Under the new leadership of Pope Francis, the Catholic Church has been making significant changes. The new pontiff is living in a standard apartment, and he has been spotted dressed in casual clothes, eating with ordinary citizens and homeless individuals on the streets of Rome. Francis also recently announced that he’d be removing the honorific title “monsignor” from distinguished priests, further dedication to return the religious institution to the “church from the poor” he had promised to create.
Francis’s stance is a stark contrast to former Vatican administrations, especially the opinion of former Pope John Paul II adviser and top Church official Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, who infamously claimed that “you can’t run the Church on Hail Marys.”
The New York Times recently profiled the case of Archbishop John J. Myers, a man whose attitude aligns more closely with that of Marcinkus than that of Francis. The publication indicated that Myers, archbishop of the Newark Archdiocese, is currently constructing a 3,000-square-foot addition to his 4,500-square-foot vacation home. The 72-year-old’s house already has a swimming pool and is located on an 8.5-acre plot of land in an expensive neighborhood.
According to the Star-Ledger of Newark, the Newark Diocese is paying for the construction of the new property. The archbishop is planning on moving into the property in two years, after he retires from the Church.
“There are not expected to be any expenses that cannot be met by other real estate transactions, and it will remain an asset of the archdiocese. It is not a personal asset,” said Jim Goodness, Myers’ spokesman.
Despite spending money on the archbishop’s relatively unnecessary addition to his home, the Archdiocese of Newark closed down one of its major schools, Mater Dei Academy, two years ago. The way in which the Church is spending its funds is raising questions about how parishioners’ money is being directed, as well as the overall new direction of the Catholic Church.
A vial of Pope John Paul II’s blood was stolen from a church in Italy’s Abruzzo region, authorities said Monday.
Italian investigators believe the theft was commissioned because thieves took only the relic and left many other church valuables.
John Paul II left behind three relics that contained his blood. While they are of great religious value, resale would be very difficult. Italian police say the thieves may want to use it in Satanic rituals.
The late pope will be canonized in April, making the vial even more valuable as the blood of a saint.
More than 50 police officers and sniffer dogs were deployed in Abruzzo. The area was a favorite skiing holiday location of Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005.
In his first few months occupying the highest seat in the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis has drastically altered the church rhetoric surrounding issues such as homophobia and abortion that have otherwise remained unchanged for the past several decades. His comments have boosted support from more liberal-leaning members within the Catholic Church, as well as from those outside the religion. The new pope even earned Time Magazine’s Person of the Year distinction for his new approaches.
In a new statement, Pope Francis has called for the Catholic Church to rethink the way it deals with children of gay couples and divorced parents, claiming that “administering a vaccine against faith” is not the best option.
The new statement actually occurred during a speech to the Catholic union of Superiors General in November, but surfaced more recently on Italian media websites, according to Yahoo News.
“On an educational level, gay unions raise challenges for us today which are sometimes difficult to understand. The number of children in schools whose parents have separated is very high. We must be careful not to administer a vaccine against faith to them,” Pope Francis said.
In his speech, Pope Francis seemed to emphasize the point that although society has changed, religion does not have to change as long as faith in God and Christ are the most important factors.
“How can we proclaim Christ to a generation that is changing?” Pope Francis asked the group to consider.
According to NBC News, Pope Francis even cited a story of a girl that had same sex parents.
“I remember a case in which a sad little girl confessed to her teacher: ‘my mother’s girlfriend doesn’t love me,’” Francis said, before explaining that educational leaders shouldn’t deny explaining Christ’s love to individuals such as this girl simply because her parents are homosexual.
Although Pope Francis has yet to outright express support for divorced couples or homosexual individuals, his increasingly common public comments suggest his true opinions.
Both Catholics and non-Catholics were angered after conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh called Pope Francis’ most recent document “pure Marxism.”
On his radio broadcast on Nov. 27, Limbaugh said the pope "doesn't know what he's talking about when it comes to capitalism and socialism," and that his apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” was either written by someone else or “gotten to him.” He added the document was "pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope."
Sarah Palin also landed in hot water a few weeks ago for saying she was shocked by some of his “liberal” statement, and doesn’t trust what the media is reporting about about him.
"Somebody did get to Pope Francis,” religious scholar Reza Aslan told The Washington Post. “It was Jesus."
On Palin, he said, “These two paragons of the far right – both of whom regularly invoke the teachings of Jesus to bolster their own political views – have suddenly turned their backs on the man whose actual job description is to speak for Jesus."
Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good began a petition entitled "Tell Rush Limbaugh: We Support Pope Francis!" in response to Limbaugh’s remarks, writing:
We are disturbed by Rush Limbaugh's incendiary comments last Wednesday, November 27th about Pope Francis and are joining together with Catholics and other allies throughout the nation to support the Holy Father. To call the Francis a proponent of "pure marxism" is both mean spirited and naive. Francis's critique of unrestrained capitalism is in line with the Church's social teaching. His particular criticism of "trickle down economics" strengthens what Church authorities have said for decades: any economic system which deprives the poor of their dignity has no place within a just society.
Contrary to what Mr. Limbaugh suggests, the Catholic Church isn't built on money, but on the firm foundation of Jesus Christ.
We call on Mr. Limbaugh to apologize and retract his remarks. We urge other Church organizations and leaders--both ordained and lay--to also condemn Mr. Limbaugh's comments.
We proudly stand with Pope Francis as he provides prophetic leadership for the Catholic Church and the entire world.
As of this writing, over 5,000 people have already signed the petition, going beyond their goal of 1,000 signatures.
A recent Catholic Church investigation found two Omaha, Nebraska priests guilty of sexual abuse. The priests were relieved of their pastoral duties as the Catholic Church continues their effort to restore public confidence in the church’s willingness to punish sexually abusive priests.
The two priests are Rev. Alfred J. Salanitro and Rev. Franklin A. Dvorak. Salanitro was kicked out of the priesthood entirely. Dvorak remains in the clergy, but has been sentenced to a life of prayer and penance. He will no longer be allowed to lead services or practice any public pastoral duties and has been told not to wear his clerical attire.
An investigative team consisting of church officials, childcare experts, attorneys, and law enforcement officials found the men guilty of sexual abuse.
Salantrino was deemed guilty of abusing a Carter Lake, Iowa man from the time he was 11 years old. Two other men came forward during the investigation and claimed they too were abused by Salantrino as children.
Dvorak, meanwhile, was determined to have repeatedly abused a young female parishioner from 1970-1972.
The investigation’s findings were reported to local law enforcement officials. The presiding police departments have not decided whether they will pursue formal legal charges against the men at this time.
The moves are in line with the staunch anti-abuse position the church has taken since Pope Francis’s arrival in March. The Associated Press reports that over 3,000 sexual abuse lawsuits have been filed against the Catholic Church in America alone. Since 1950, the Catholic Church in America has paid over $3 billion dollars in sexual abuse lawsuit settlements.
Reverend Donald Timone, a former priest who believes that homosexuals should change their ways with the help of prayer and 12-step principles, was scheduled to speak at Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx.
However, the Catholic school announced Monday that the controversial reverend’s talk would be postponed, and the school’s board of trustees would discuss the wisdom of having him speak at all.
Timone represents Courage and EnCourage, two “reparative therapy” groups that attempt to turn homosexuals straight via religion.
Spellman graduate Clinton Leupp, 48, was among the most vocal opponents of Timone’s philosophy. “It makes it look like it’s a support group, but once you really see what they are doing it’s disturbing,” said Leupp. “They are trying to shame these kids!”
Leupp is now a cabaret drag performer, and goes by the stage name Miss Coco Peru.
Another Spellman graduate, Carlos Solano, 38, was so incensed by the would-be-speaker that he sent a letter to other grads telling them to cease any donations to the institution. “We have reached a time where this discussion is no longer about religion but about respecting people’s individualities,” wrote Solano.
In an interview with the New York Times, Solano said, “As a gay kid there, I was bullied of course, but I always felt like I could go to a faculty member to vent or talk or whatever. I feel like since this situation is coming from up above, from administration, I feel like these teachers are being put in a position where they cannot help a student struggling with their sexuality, and this is where my anger stems from.”
As an example of Timone’s anti-gay bias, the website of the “support group” Courage claims that “by developing an interior life of chastity, which is the universal call to all Christians, one can move beyond the confines of the homosexual label to a more complete identity in Christ.”
YMCA Loses $60,000 Grant From Catholic Church After Refusing To Stop Working with LGBT Support Group
The YMCA at Illinois University at Urbana-Champaign is paying a hefty price for refusing to cut ties with a group that publicly supports gay marriage.
The Catholic Church gave the YMCA an ultimatum: stop working with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, or lose your $60,000 grant.
The YMCA’s director told WICD-15 that while they take no position on gay marriage, it is important for them to not allow anyone to influence who they work with.
The University Y board met several weeks ago and voted to remain in the coalition.
The University YMCA sponsors programs, organizations and organizations of all kinds. The Y’s director says their partnership with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights allows them to help “hundreds in the community each year.”
The University YMCA plans to launch a campaign to raise money to continue its work with the local immigrant community, according to the News-Gazette. The University Y has received money for immigration work from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development since 2010.
The initial grant was about $4,000 but increased this year to about $60,000. But the Church sent the Y a notice in September: in order to receive the funding, the University Y’s executive director, Mike Doyle, would have to testify that the organization was not involved with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
“It was devastating and threatened to undermine the work we were actually doing,” Doyle told the Gazette.
While the Catholic Church has not issued a statement as of yet, the Illini Secular Student Alliance at the University of Illinois issued a statement Sunday condemning the church’s decision to pull its funding:
“In the recent past, the YMCA has been a huge resource not only for ISSA but for the student body as a whole. Their sponsorship of dozens of blood drives, interfaith meetings, and guest lecturers has been an invaluable asset to our community. We are saddened that the Catholic Church would prioritize its antiquated sense of prejudice over a tangible benefit to the University of Illinois and the demands of social justice.”
The News-Gazette reports that several other organizations around the state received similar notices from the Catholic Church.
Now the YMCA is scrambling to cover the gaping $60,000 deficit its been left with for the fiscal year and is asking the community for donations.
“How long we’ll be able to continue to do that is one of the biggest challenges facing us,” Doyle said. “I hope the community really rallies around and helps replace the funds we lost so [we] can continue to do the work that we’re doing.”
Sources: WICD-15, The News-Gazette
Churchgoers in Minnesota may not have realized that their tithings would be used to help protect sex offenders, but the Minneapolis StarTribune reports that the Catholic church “spent heavily” to stop legal changes that would lengthen the time during which victims could file suits for childhood sex abuse.
According to the StarTribune, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis was the primary lobbyist opposing the Child Victims Act, spending more than $800,000 over a period of seven years.
The bill, which removed the statute of limitations for child sex crimes, ultimately passed; despite the church’s lobbying attempts, the state Senate granted unanimous approval. It was enacted in May, and at least 18 suits have arisen since then.
Bill proponent Joel Juers, who claims he was a victim of sexual abuse while attending Shattuck-St. Mary's boarding school more than 30 years ago, spoke with Minnesota Public Radio News after the Senate voted.
"From the beginning, there was one 'yes' vote, and zero 'nays,' and then two and then 15, and then 20, and then 30, and still zero 'nays,'" he said. "It was like the entire Senate was standing next to me saying, 'We understand your plight. We understand your story, and we stand behind you."
State Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, who authored the bill, explained his rationale, saying, "We need the courthouse to be open to them when they are able to come forward. Those legally responsible -- perpetrators and those that protect them -- can escape justice just because of the passage of time."
Latz also addressed the church’s lobbying efforts: “They want the public to believe they are very caring about something, but behind the scenes they are very actively opposing the kind of steps or remedies or legislation that would hold them accountable for their conduct.”
After some thought that the Catholic Church might make it easier for divorced and remarried people to receive Communion, the Vatican made it clear that no change to the policy is coming.
German Archbishop Gerhard Mueller, the Vatican's chief doctrine official, wrote that there is no way for Catholics who divorce and remarry to receive Communion unless they get an annulment, a church ruling that their first marriage never really existed, according to the Huffington Post.
"God's mercy does not dispense us from following his commandments or the rules of the church," Mueller wrote in the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano.
Catholic News Service reports that speculation about a change in practice had grown since Pope Francis told reporters this summer that the next Synod of Bishops would explore a "somewhat deeper pastoral care of marriage," including the question of the eligibility of divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion.
Earlier this month the Vatican blocked a move by a German diocese to allow some divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion, according to The Ottawa Sun. The Vatican said local dioceses could not enact reforms on their own.
The question of married divorcees is a major issue in Catholic Churches in a number of developed countries, particularly in Germany, where bishops have indicated it’s a growing problem.
Pope Francis has acknowledged the need to address the issue and has said the church's tribunal system needs to be fixed.