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Swiss bishops call for respect for ‘rules’ after woman appears to concelebrate Mass

January 12, 2023 Catholic News Agency 5
The bishops’ call for adherence to Catholic “rules” follows an internet controversy over a August 2022 video of a laywoman who seemed to concelebrate Mass with priests. / Katholisches Medienzentrum YouTube screenshot

Denver, Colo., Jan 12, 2023 / 10:10 am (CNA).

Only ordained priests may preside at Mass, and the liturgy should not be “a testing ground for personal projects,” three Swiss bishops have said. Their intervention follows internet controversy over a video of a laywoman who seemed to concelebrate Mass with priests.

“You all know that only the priest validly presides at the Eucharist, grants sacramental reconciliation, and anoints the sick. This is precisely why he is ordained. This rule of the Roman Catholic faith must be respected without restriction in our dioceses,” Bishops Joseph Bonnemain of Chur, Felix Gmür of Basel, and Markus Büchel of Sankt Gallen said in a Jan. 5 letter to people active in pastoral care, the French Catholic newspaper La Croix reported.

Their three dioceses are the predominantly German-speaking dioceses of Switzerland.

The bishops acknowledged people’s desire to participate in the liturgy but said the Catholic liturgy has a universal character, and this especially concerns celebrations of the sacraments.

“Common witness requires common forms and rules. We bishops regularly receive requests and worried reactions: the faithful have a right to religious services that respect the rules and forms of the Church,” their letter said.

Their letter came after controversy over an August 2022 Mass in the Diocese of Chur at which a longtime de facto parish administrator, Zurich resident Monika Schmid, appeared to concelebrate the Eucharist to mark her retirement.

Bishop Bonnemain quickly opened a preliminary canonical investigation into the action on the grounds of alleged liturgical abuse. Canon 907 of the Catholic Church’s canon law bars Catholic deacons and Catholic laity from offering the eucharistic prayer and from performing actions “proper to the celebrating priest.”

Schmid has denied her actions constituted an attempt to concelebrate Mass or to be provocative, the Swiss Catholic internet news portal Cath.ch reported. Schmid acknowledged that as a woman she can’t validly celebrate the Eucharist as ordained Catholic priests do. She said the controversy was based on a video clip uploaded to the internet without the knowledge of all the participants.

“And some are already seeing red when they see a woman at the altar in a photo,” she said.

According to Cath.ch, the video of the Mass “clearly shows her, in civilian clothes, at the altar, surrounded by two priests and pronouncing with them, extending her arms, the text of the consecration of bread and wine and of the eucharistic prayer.”

The text of the eucharistic prayer had been “extensively revised,” La Croix reported in September.

In their letter, the bishops of German-speaking Switzerland said they are aware that some have argued that women participate in the liturgy.

“We hear the requests of many people to be able to participate in the liturgy in other ways, for example as women,” they said. “However, we urge you to not make the sign of unity that is the liturgy into a testing ground for personal projects. It is precisely in the worldwide celebration of the same liturgy that we are Catholic and in solidarity with one another.”

The bishops rejected any claim that they were defending “patriarchal clericalism.” Rather, they said, “priests, in the service and execution of the sacraments, make visible that Jesus Christ himself acts in and through the sacraments.” Priests “keep open, as it were, space for God’s action in the liturgy.”

Schmid, the pastoral worker whose retirement Mass sparked the controversy, was critical of the bishops’ letter. She advocated a liturgical celebration that, in her view, “reaches out to people in their daily lives, in their language and in their understanding of themselves,” Cath.ch reported.

The bishops referred to Pope Francis’ June 2022 apostolic letter Desiderio desideravi. It insists on the quality of liturgies, the careful attention to every aspect of liturgical celebration, and the observance of every rubric.

According to La Croix, the German bishops invited Catholics to use “the diversity of forms for liturgical celebrations that the Church offers … and to use places in the liturgy, such as reflection, preaching, meditation, intercessions, songs, music, and silence, so that you can be part of it personally.”

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More than ‘the nuts and bolts’: World’s newest bishops talk synodality in Rome

October 2, 2022 Catholic News Agency 1
St. Peter’s Basilica / Simone Savoldi / Unsplash (CC0)

Rome Newsroom, Oct 2, 2022 / 03:00 am (CNA).

The world’s newest bishops gathered in Rome last month to learn more about what it means to be a Catholic bishop.

While the week’s presentations spanned a range of topics, three U.S. bishops who attended told CNA that synodality emerged as a key theme.

The Vatican’s annual formation course, sometimes known by the nickname “baby bishop school,” was canceled for two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic — making the 2022 edition the largest yet, with approximately 330 participating bishops across two sessions.

“People kind of picture baby bishop school as nuts and bolts, like ‘how to be a bishop.’ It’s not that at all,” Bishop Erik Pohlmeier of the Diocese of St. Augustine, Florida, told CNA at the end of the course.

“It’s kind of whatever the Church is talking about at that time, bringing that to the bishops that are coming on board,” he said. “The synodal process has been … a hallmark of conversation for the last couple of years, so now as we’re new bishops … the reflections revolved around that.”

The seminar’s first session was primarily attended by bishops consecrated in 2019 and 2020, while the second session was mostly those who joined the ranks in 2021 and the first part of 2022.

Thirty-nine U.S. bishops and auxiliary bishops attended, divided between the two weeks.

Pohlmeier was the freshest U.S. bishop to join. He was ordained a bishop on July 22 — just two days after his 51st birthday and seven weeks before arriving in Rome for the Sept. 12–19 course. 

Speaking to CNA in Rome on Sept. 19, Pohlmeier said that as a new bishop, there are many things you do not know, but that’s where one’s fellow bishops come in.

“Every bishop knows other bishops,” he explained, like the bishop of the diocese where they served as a priest. “And they’re always, I mean to a person, helpful.”

Bishop Gregory Gordon, the first-ever auxiliary bishop of Las Vegas, Nevada, told CNA on Sept. 19 that the U.S. bishops’ conference also organizes meetings between bishops of the same ordination year, or “class,” as a way to build fraternity and create a network of support.

Bishop Gregory Gordon greets Pope Francis at the end of the course Sept. 19, 2022. Vatican Media
Bishop Gregory Gordon greets Pope Francis at the end of the course Sept. 19, 2022. Vatican Media

While the formal theme of this year’s seminar was how to announce the Gospel in changing times, Pohlmeier, Gordon, and Bishop Louis Tylka of Peoria, Illinois, said the unofficial topic of the week was synodality.

What they talked about

“We’re in the midst of the synod,” Tylka, who attended the seminar Sept. 1–8, told CNA by phone from his diocese. So the course, he added, focused on questions such as: “What does it mean to be a synodal Church? What is the ministry of the bishop in relation to that?”

Care for the planet and one’s neighbor, themes important to Pope Francis’ pontificate, were also a major part of the seminar, Tylka said.

The week’s presentations also covered child protection and the sexual abuse crisis.

“That’s one of those things that I think we will take home, saying we will be very, very careful not to neglect,” Gordon said. 

Some talks, Pohlmeier noted, were directly about synodality and what it means. At the same time, those of a more practical nature, such as canon law for bishops, “would always include some comment on the synodal approach.”

“You’re going to get different articulations of what that means depending on who you talk to, but in general, my understanding is that it is more of a listening posture,” the St. Augustine bishop said.

A bishop takes a photo of Pope Francis during their encounter on Sept. 19, 2022. Vatican Media
A bishop takes a photo of Pope Francis during their encounter on Sept. 19, 2022. Vatican Media

Bishop Gordon said Pope Francis himself modeled this listening attitude in their meeting with him on the final day of formation.

In the nearly two-hour meeting, he said most of the time was spent with the pope answering the bishops’ questions. “So you finished the course, [the pope] said. You’ve heard a lot already… Now I want to hear from you.”

This was Gordon’s big takeaway from the week: “It has to go back to the Holy Father’s words to us as he was answering our own questions, you know, asking us to exercise that episcopal closeness.”

The week also included time for communal prayer, Mass, adoration, and confession. 

Bishop Tylka of Peoria said his personal opinion is that “a big part of synodality is the willingness and openness to create space for people to share their stories, to share their own encounters with Christ, to share their own experiences of how life is going.”

“So I think the role of the bishop clearly is to model that openness and that willingness to engage in dialogue,” he said.

What (not) to wear

But there is also a lighter side to being a new bishop, as Pohlmeier evidenced with an amusing scene from the end of the week.

“Here we are, brand new and so … we got instructions on what we’re supposed to wear to meet the pope,” Pohlmeier said.

He explained that bishops in the Latin Church have two main styles of a full-length garment called a cassock. The new bishops were told to meet the pope. They should wear a black cassock with red trim, a purple fascia, and a purple zucchetto. (There is also a purple cassock with red trim for special liturgical events.)

Pohlmeier said it was funny to watch the bishops get ready for Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica and, afterward, the meeting with Pope Francis. Many of them were helping each other figure out where each piece of the complicated attire went — including the tall headpiece, called a mitre, which bishops wear to denote their office.

“Guys are literally opening up bags that haven’t been opened with miters from right there, from Euroclero,” Pohlmeier said, pointing over his shoulder in the direction of a clerical supply store next to St. Peter’s Square.

“You could see everybody that bought one this morning because they all matched,” he chuckled. “There were several people that were literally opening it up and pulling it out of the package and trying to get it on straight, and get things attached right, and not sure what clips go where and what’s right.”

“Those kinds of things are funny,” Pohlmeier said, “but nobody just tells you, ‘OK, buy this stuff, here’s what you need.’”

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Bishops of Mexico stand in solidarity with Nicaragua ‘at a time of profound suffering’

August 10, 2022 Catholic News Agency 1
Bishop Rolando José Álvarez of the Diocese of Matagalpa, Nicaragua, was placed under house arrest by the police of Daniel Ortega’s regime in early August 2022. / Photo credit: Diocese of Matagalpa

Denver Newsroom, Aug 10, 2022 / 17:12 pm (CNA).

The Mexican Bishops’ Conference expressed its solidarity with the Church in Nicaragua, whose freedom of speech and religion is under attack by the dictatorship of President Daniel Ortega.

“At this time of profound suffering, the bishops of Mexico wish to convey to you our fervent prayer, closeness, and support, imploring the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, the much-longed-for peace, justice, and harmonious coexistence of your people,” the conference said in an Aug. 8 statement.

The recent wave of repression against the Nicaraguan Church began Aug. 1, when the Ortega dictatorship ordered the closure of eight Catholic radio stations in the Diocese of Matagalpa.

Later, the bishop of Matagalpa, Rolando José Álvarez, was placed under house arrest and threatened with prison for allegedly trying to “organize violent groups” to destabilize the government.

The cathedral in Managua was vandalized Aug. 6, cutting off electricity to it and other buildings on the grounds. From Aug. 1 through Aug. 4, riot police prevented Father Uriel Vallejos and a group of faithful from leaving the rectory of Jesus of the Divine Mercy parish in the town of Sébaco after the police forced their way into the parish to shut down the Catholic radio station that operated on the premises. Vallejos is the radio station’s director.

On Aug. 6, unidentified vandals stole the main switch to the cathedral’s electrical control system, leaving the cathedral and surrounding grounds without power.

“We express our solidarity with the bishops’ conference of Nicaragua for the deplorable events that they have been enduring and that have caused suffering and global outrage due to the suppression of individual guarantees, particularly their fundamental rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion,” the statement said.

The Mexican bishops also lamented “that in communities, families, consecrated life, priests, laity, children, and young people suffer from conditions that create fear, take away tranquility, and steal peace.”

“They even experience difficulty in worshiping, praying, and announcing the Gospel,” they added.

“As an ecclesial family, we join in raising awareness so that, in the face of these situations that cry out to God for social justice, there be added attitudes of dialogue and encounters that seek a healthy coexistence,” they continued.

At the end of their message, the bishops of Mexico implored “the Blessed Virgin Mary of Guadalupe, Empress of America, her maternal intercession to find paths of dialogue that lead to respect and peace.”

Other Latin American bishops stand in solidarity

The Guatemalan Bishops’ Conference issued a statement Aug. 8 to express “its closeness, support, and solidarity,” especially to the priests deprived of their liberty and to Bishop Álvarez.

“Freedom of speech is part of the rights of man. Our love and support extends to all Nicaraguan Catholics to whom we recall the promise made by our Savior: ‘I will be with you all days until the end of the world,’” the message said.

The Bolivian Bishops’ Conference published a statement Aug. 5 assuring that it “is closely following … with deep pain the situation that the Church and the Nicaraguan people are suffering.”

“We want to express our most sincere solidarity and closeness in this difficult moment that you are going through. We ask you not to give up the effort to build a dialogue that is capable of achieving unity and peace in [the] land of Nicaragua. For this, you have our prayers for you, for the people you serve, and for the political authorities,” the conference stated.

The same day, the Costa Rican Bishops’ Conference lifted up “a prayer for peace to come and [that] paths of dialogue can be opened in search of the well-being of all the inhabitants of the sister country” of Nicaragua.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

[…]