Saturday, December 03, 2016

Sulpicians celebrate 225 years of training priests

In October 1791, five men began studies for the priesthood at the first seminary in the United States, just a couple years after the Diocese of Baltimore was established as the first in the country in 1789.

At the time of that humble beginning – when Bishop John Carroll, Baltimore’s first bishop, welcomed four priests from the Society of St Sulpice and the five seminarians – the Diocese of Baltimore encompassed the whole fledgling nation.

Sulpician Fr Phillip J Brown, president rector of today’s St Mary’s Seminary and University, noted in his welcome to commemorate that occasion that the seminarians began their studies at St Mary’s downtown on Paca Street a month before Georgetown University in Washington opened, making the Baltimore seminary the oldest American institution of higher learning.

The remark brought a chuckle of pride from the congregation gathered November 15 in the seminary’s chapel to mark the 225th anniversary of the arrival of the Sulpician fathers in America and the founding of St Mary’s Seminary and University.

The prayer service included the conferral of an honorary doctorate of divinity degree on Cardinal Marc Ouellet, former archbishop of Quebec and now prefect of the Congregation for Bishops at the Vatican.

Fr Brown welcomed the faculty and students of St Mary’s and two other seminal Sulpician institutions – Theological College, the Sulpician national seminary at The Catholic University of America in Washington; and Mount St Mary’s Seminary and University in Emmitsburg, which was originally a Sulpician college seminary and eventually became an independent major seminary.

“St Mary’s has formed more priests for the mission in parishes than any other (seminary) in the United States,” Fr Brown said.

He prayed that the Holy Spirit would “give many more men the courage and confidence to follow the call to priesthood for the good of the whole church so that it will be renewed and strengthened during the time of our service and in our lifetime.”

Fr Brown noted that each of the seminarians and faculty members present that evening would receive a copy of a new biography of Father Francois Charles Nagot, the first Sulpician superior in the United States, who played a role in the founding of each of the three seminaries represented at the anniversary celebration.

Sulpician Fr John C Kemper, provincial superior of the U.S. province of the Society of St Sulpice, said: “The first decades or so were difficult for this initial band of Sulpicians, yet motivated by what their founder, Fr Jean-Jacques Olier, called ‘the apostolic zeal,’ the Sulpicians pressed on.”

He said the new seminary in Baltimore found itself to be “a launching pad for missionaries to the new land of the United States.”

Graduates of the seminary went off to establish parishes in uncharted and hostile areas of the country. 

Many Sulpicians were called to leadership in the new Catholic Church in the United States, including the third and fifth archbishops of Baltimore, Archbishops Ambrose Marechal and Samuel Eccleston.

Fr Kemper noted that the apostolic zeal that Fr Olier encouraged finds new expression in each age.

Cardinal Ouellet has connections to the Sulpicians as well, having studied for the priesthood in Montreal and learning Spanish along the way. 

In the early 1970s, he taught philosophy at the major seminary in Bogota, Colombia, which was directed by the Sulpicians. 

Ordained a priest for the Montreal Archdiocese, he joined the Society of St Sulpice soon after his arrival there.

In his talk, titled, “Toward the Renewal of the Priesthood in Our Time,” the cardinal said he chose the topic given the central role the priesthood plays in any reform of the church.

After the event, the cardinal told the Catholic Review, the news outlet of the Baltimore Archdiocese, that his seminary formation was decisive for his encounter with Jesus Christ. 

“I remember the seminary in Montreal was the place where I experienced really deeply my faith.” 

In the 1970s, the Sulpicians sent him for further studies in dogmatic theology.

In his talk, he quoted the conciliar document “Lumen Gentium” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church) on the topic: “Each of them in its own special way is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ.”

Reflecting after the prayer service, Cardinal Ouellet said that formation is as important for lay people – perhaps even more important – as it is for priests. 

“I spoke of the interrelatedness of both participations in a deep ecclesiology, which is missing normally when we hear the speeches on that,” he said, speaking of the common priesthood of the laity and the ministerial (ordained) priesthood.

He said that priests are so important because they are the heart of the church. “They are in the field. That’s why I wanted to deepen the question of the priesthood, because they are important.”

Churches should embrace poverty rather than rely on state handouts (Opinion)

A crucifix hangs in the cathedral of Frankfurt, Germany,  (AP Photo/Michael Probst)Church statistics are to be treated with great caution. 

This magazine recently reported that the Catholic Church in Norway has been growing by leaps and bounds. 

To a large extent this is broadly true. 

At the Reformation, Catholicism was totally extirpated in Norway, and it was very slow in coming back. 

As recently as 1971, there were fewer than 10,000 Catholics in the entire country. Now there are about ten times that number.

Just recently, the Church has opened a new Cathedral in Trondheim, dedicated to Saint Olav, at the consecration of which the Pope was represented by our very own Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor. 

A little trip around the Cathedral website gives you a snapshot of Catholic life in Norway. 

The Cathedral clergy are either Polish or Norwegian converts from Lutheranism

Mass is celebrated in Norwegian, Latin, Tagalog, Polish and Tamil, though there is no Mass in Spanish “for the time being”

The Church in Norway has recently run into trouble over the subventions it receives from the state, and has reportedly been found guilty of inflating the number of adherents in order to gain more money. 

The Trondheim website explains the background to the matter: 

“In Norway, the state pays all religious organisations a fixed sum for each registered member. This contribution is a type of church tax to help the organisation in their spiritual and social work for their members. Catholics arriving in Norway are therefore asked to officially register with their local Church to ensure that the Church receives this financial contribution. In recent years the number of immigrants from Catholic countries has been numerous, and Oslo Catholic Diocese has registered individuals they assumed were Catholics without asking them personally.”

The Guardian has a report on the matter here

It is pretty embarrassing for the Church to be accused of fraud and playing the system for its own advantage. 

Clearly the Church will have to proceed carefully in future if it is to avoid breaking the law again, and that will mean being careful to understand what exactly it is that the law requires. 

But the real question many will ask is why the Norwegian state pays this grant to religious bodies in the first place. 

After all, in most countries, the Church is purely self-financing, though it may get, as in Britain, certain advantages in the form of charitable status and grants for the maintenance of historic buildings. 

But why have a Church tax, either on the German model, or the Norwegian model? 

Why not rely on the faithful putting their hands in their pockets, and, if they haven’t got deep pockets, why not just be a poor Church?

To ask these questions is not to get in a dig at our Norwegian brethren, who probably need the money and understandably wanted to maximise the grant from the state, as we all would in similar circumstances. 

But it is to ask a question that applies to the Church in all countries, namely, what is the relationship between Church and State?

Too close a relationship between the Church and State can be disastrous, as the Church recognises. 

This is what underlies concerns about the current situation in China.  

As readers of this magazine will know, many have justified fears that the Chinese government, officially communist and atheist, may soon be granted a recognised role in the appointment of bishops. 

I for one would not want to have anything to do with a bishop appointed by the Chinese government; the concept of an atheist and communist government appointing bishops is simply absurd. 

Catholic monarchs appointed bishops in days gone by, but they were largely devout men and women. 

The Chinese cannot pretend to be so.

As for the situation in Norway, if this were to bring the current arrangement into disrepute and lead to its abolition, this might not be a disaster. 

The Church would then be free of such a tie to the state; and as Norway is still a missionary territory in so many ways, it could rely on contributions channeled through the Church’s missionary agencies.

Mexican priest charged with ‘political meddling’

Image result for mexico flagMexican prosecutors have for the first time brought charges against a Catholic priest for allegedly meddling in politics.

Prosecutors accuse the priest and two former mayoral candidates of participating in a Mass at a church in the town of Chiautla, in the state of Mexico. 

The priest allegedly blessed the candidates, and the Mass was allegedly touted as the opening of their campaigns.

Prosecutors said Tuesday that this is first time a priest has been charged with “vote pressuring,” an offence punishable by a fine.

Mexico walks a fine line in allowing Church figures to preach, but doesn’t allow it to endorse candidates. 

The country’s once-strict anti-clerical laws sparked a 1926-29 uprising by Roman Catholics known as the Cristero War that killed tens of thousands.

Ampleforth Abbey awarded £2.9 million lottery grant

Ampleforth Abbey in 2016Ampleforth Abbey, home to the largest Benedictine monastic community in Britain, has been awarded a grant of £2.9 million by Heritage Lottery Fund.

The grant will be released in its entirety once Ampleforth Abbey processes plans to make urgent repairs to the Grade II listed Monk’s Bridge and the Grade I listed Abbey Church.

After the necessary repairs are made, it is hoped that more tourists will be attracted to the abbey and grounds. The 2,200 acre estate in North Yorkshire has been home to the Benedictine community since 1802.

Sue Fisher, director of Development at Ampleforth Abbey, said: “Receiving Heritage Lottery Funding’s support is a testament to the historical significance of Ampleforth Abbey. This National Lottery money will enable us to encourage more visitors to come to see and experience the Benedictine way of life in the 21st century.”

Funds will extend the visitor experience and provide a better understanding of monastic life and heritage with the 59 monks engaging with visitors through organised retreats, acts of worship, the visitor centre, tearoom, orchard, shop and landscape.

Sir Peter Luff, Chair of Heritage Lottery Fund, said: “Ampleforth Abbey is a place of inspiration and beauty. It has entranced past generations and will continue to do so in the future thanks to National Lottery players. Visitors will see more clearly than ever the wonderful heritage of buildings, of nature and of faith as they marvel at the Abbey’s breath-taking architecture and enjoy the surrounding landscape.”

The Pope may have a hard time distinguishing friends from enemies when he visits Ireland (Comment)

Some things never change. 

It seems that if the Pope goes to Northern Ireland, as part of his prospective Irish visit then the Free Presbyterian Church will protest. 

This has happened before. When St John Paul II visited Britain in 1982, the Rev Ian Paisley protested, with the help of his friend Pastor Jack Glass. 

In 1988 when the saint visited the European Parliament, Paisley was on hand to denounce him as the anti-Christ. 

When Benedict XVI came to Britain, members of the Free Presbyterian Church were there to protest, alongside other groups. 

It would be most strange if a Papal visit were not to be accompanied by a Free Presbyterian protest.

As it is, the words of the current leader of the Free Presbyterians, Rev Ian Brown. are remarkably moderate. He said that because the current Pope is “no closer to proclaiming the one true biblical Gospel, that salvation is by faith alone through Christ alone, the only proper response to his high publicity visit is a solid protest.”

It is good to know that the objections to the Pope are theological; rather like the objections of Catholics to sola fide; though it has to be said that few Catholics, if any, ever feel moved to protest about that. 

At the same time, some Presbyterians are quite keen on seeing the Pope and like his theology, as the News Letter reports here

Meanwhile, the same website reports that the Orange Order is keeping its counsel, given that the visit is still conjectural. Arlene Foster, the First Minister of Northern Ireland, has said she will meet the Pope, if he comes as a head of state: this represents an interesting, and correct, distinction. 

St John Paul came to Britain on a pastoral visit; Benedict’s was a state visit, the difference being that Pope Benedict was invited by Gordon Brown. 

Mrs Foster will meet the Pope if he comes to Northern Ireland at the invitation of the British government. 

That is unlikely, I would imagine. 

Possible, though perhaps also unlikely, is the prospect of Mrs May flying to Northern Ireland to meet the Pope in the course of a pastoral visit. 

But if that were to happen, Mrs Foster could hardly not meet him too.

The political ramifications of a visit to Northern Ireland will have to be worked out. 

Certainly Martin McGuinness is very keen for the Pope to visit Northern Ireland, and the Irish Prime Minister is very keen to see him in the Republic. 

The Pope’s reason for visiting is to take part in the World Meeting of Families, which is an apolitical event, but it is entirely possible that both Mr McGuinness and Mr Kenny see some political advantage to themselves in a Papal visit. 

Perhaps Sinn Fein wants to burnish its much tarnished Catholic credentials with the voters. 

Perhaps Mr Kenny wants us all to forget his attack on the Vatican, which he made five years ago

 That speech, let us all remember, pandered to anti-clerical feeling, while making no specific fact-based charge that the Vatican might refute. 

But now that Mr Kenny has seen the Pope, and given that Pope Francis has the global appeal of a rock star, the mood music has changed.

The changeable nature of Mr Kenny’s attitude to the Church and the Vatican are in strong contrast to the unchanging line taken by the Free Presbyterians. 

They are people of principle. I imagine the by-the-book Arlene Foster is too. 

The Pope, in stepping into the world of Irish politics, may well find that the categories of avowed enemy and avowed friend rather confusing.

Government urged to protect religious freedom in new Bill of Rights

Image result for RespublicaA new report by think tank Respublica, several of whose past recommendations have influenced government policy, has suggested a “reasonable accommodation” for religious beliefs in law.

The report, Beyond Belief, written by James Orr, a philosophy fellow at Christ Church, Oxford, was launched this morning in Parliament. 

It follows a series of cases in which Christians have lost their jobs or businesses, or been otherwise penalised, for acting on their consciences, especially in disputes over LGBT rights.

Most recently, Ashers bakery in Northern Ireland was fined for refusing to bake a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan. 

The decision was upheld on appeal, a widely criticised decision which gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell described as “a defeat for freedom of expression”.

It follows similar cases, such as that of Lillian Ladele, a registrar who lost her job after asking not to preside at same-sex civil partnerships.

Beyond Belief warns that at the moment, “rights accrue not to who is right, but to whoever is the most politically connected and can persuade the state to take their side”.

It proposes a return to “the original and more reasonable account of rights, where reasonable accommodation is made once more between different minorities and nobody is more equal than anyone else.”

The report suggests that the British Bill of Rights, a piece of legislation which has been proposed by the Conservative government, could include a “reasonable accommodation” clause. A draft Bill of Rights has not yet been published.

Beyond Belief calls for the government to “set the principle of reasonable accommodation of religious belief on a constitutional footing”. 

Employers and public sector bodies would have to accommodate religious practice. 

In a similar way, the law already grants “reasonable adjustments” to some groups. For instance, Sikhs are allowed to wear a turban instead of a crashhelmet when riding a motorcycle.

The “reasonable accommodation” law would oblige public-sector employers to take steps so that religious employees were not placed in a difficult situation by their beliefs. What counted as “reasonable accomodation” might include “the degree to which an accommodation would be practical; the financial and/or other costs of implementing the accommodation; the availability of resources necessary to make an accommodation; and the degree of disruption that making an accommodation would entail.”

It explains that the clause would mean that “the employee would no longer bear the burden of proof – he would not need to show that a rule or requirement puts him at a disadvantage.

“Instead, the employee need only make a request that his religious beliefs or practices be accommodated, and the burden of proof rests with the employer to assess whether reaching an accommodation would impose an unreasonable degree of hardship.”

The report also recommends that the Equality and Human Rights Commission introduces a Religious Freedom Code of Practice, to help employers and service-providers work through difficulties over freedom of conscience. And it calls on universities to address their statutory duty to protect freedom of speech, after a series of cases in which .

The report argues that failure to protect religious freedom will harm the economy, if believers cannot engage in commerce (like running a bakery), and will hurt civil society, by making religious people less likely to volunteer. 

The “privatisation” of religion will also accelerate the decline in social trust, the report suggests.

EU prelates affirm importance of hospitality to migrants, religious freedom

Image result for Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE)Representatives of different religions, including two Catholic bishops, took part in an annual dialogue with a leading EU official on November 29.

The theme of this year’s dialogue was “Migration, Integration, European values: from words to action.”

Belgian Bishop Jean Kockerols, who serves as first vice president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE), told the European Commission’s Frans Timmermans that “it is our duty to recall that every refugee has the right to receive a fair and human treatment.”

“The question of a common solution to the refugee crisis is a question that touches directly upon the values and the future of Europe,” added the prelate, who said that hospitality is part of the foundation of Christianity.

Bishop Czeslaw Kozon of Copenhagen said that family reunification is “a key issue and also one dealing with fundamental rights, as everybody has a right to found a family and all members of such a family the right to live together.”

Bishop Kozon also called upon those who operate refugee centers to respect religious freedom. 

He said:
The Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church and some Free Churches are doing a lot to help immigrants of their denomination and also Muslims who want to convert. This functions when refugees can freely contact the churches. It is, however, often difficult for representatives of the churches to enter camps and centers, because authorities want these places to be religiously “neutral.”