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World Youth Day 2011

Last week was World Youth Day in Madrid.

There has been reflection on the protests. One might reflect on the inability of Roman Catholic priests not normally having the facility to absolve abortion. One might reflect on the Roman Catholic Church’s waning influence in the host country, Spain (14% of young people describe themselves religious, gay marriage has been legal since 2005, less than 15% of the population ever attends Mass, 112,000 legal abortions were performed in Spain in 2009,…)

Around two million young people were at this year’s World Youth Day.

I think it is an invitation to reflect on mission and ministry to young people. And by young people.

What are your ideas…

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16 Responses to World Youth Day 2011

  1. “One might reflect on the inability of Roman Catholic priests not normally having the facility to absolve abortion.”

    Not exactly true.

    “Normally, only certain priests have the power to lift such an excommunication, but the local diocese has decided to give all the priests taking confession at the event this power,” said the pope’s spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi.

    Not sin-specific absolution faculties, but faculties to reverse excommunications.

    • OK, Dan, can you please describe the normal process, then, for teenage girl A who comes to normal (non-excommunication-lifting) Fr B and confesses she has had an abortion? Fr B, in your scenario, absolves her, and then tells her God fully forgives her and welcomes her back, but if she ever wants to receive communion again she has to drive to city C, find Fr D (of the lifting-excommunication type) and then what? Does she go to confession again to Fr D? Or does Fr B breach the seal of confession and contact Fr D by phone? Is girl A expected to contact Fr D by phone? Looking forward to a response. Blessings.

      • Yes, I was puzzled by this one too. Just last year — wasn’t it? — the Pope lifted the excommunications of the three bishops of the Society of St. Pius X (among whom was the notorious Bishop Richard Williamson, who, as everyone but the Roman Curia seems to have known, is/was a Holocaust denier). I remember that it was explained that, although this didn’t regularize their ministerial situation, it did mean that they could now go to confession. An excommunicated person is denied access to all the sacraments.

        So it would seem that a person who had incurred automatic excommunication for direct participation in an abortion (everyone directly connected with it, not just the expectant mother) would first have to petition to have the excommunication lifted before receiving the benefit of absolution.

        The explanation I’ve heard in the past for this special treatment of particular sins is that some sins are sufficiently grave to wound the whole Body of Christ, so that it cannot be just a matter between the penitent person and God.

        But I agree, Bosco, that it would be a real barrier for some people to take the steps needed for absolution (and for Catholics the priestly absolution will be seen as almost indispensable — barring an act of “perfect contrition”, which I’m not sure many of us could manage). So I’m all for at least this temporary dispensation!

        As to your larger question, what struck me about all these young people (in the reports I read) was their commitment to Catholicism as a way of life, a guide on the road of all their life, a society of persons striving to grow in grace and holiness. This was overtly countercultural, and there were some sad stories of anti-Catholic protesters giving some of these kids a very hard time.

        So that makes me think that it’s not so much a question of us old geezers coming up with a “mission and ministry to young people” as it is of being confident and articulate in presenting the Gospel and the Christian life as an all-embracing, holistic, demanding, and rewarding way of life for people of all ages. It seems to me, anyway, that the young will respond more enthusiastically when presented with something difficult than with something easy, with a radical and exciting identity to make their own. It’s all there in the Church, but we don’t always do a good job of announcing it to the world, or of living it ourselves. I think monastic vocation has to be front and centre here: a sign of total commitment to the promises of Christ.

        • Thanks, Jesse. Someone else will be better to explain the RC excommunication/confession point you raise. Certainly, your suggestion that an excommunicated person cannot even go to confession is interesting – to say the least…

          As to your second point, Jesse, I couldn’t agree more. My primary ministry is with young people. The approach many use towards young people is to water down and lower the threshold totally unaware that young people, as you say, are actually attracted by the difficult and the higher threshold. It is not at all surprising to me that the lowering of the threshold for ordination in our province has resulted in far less not more younger people showing interest in being ordained, for example. Blessings.

          • Right on, Bosco. Looking specifically at the vocations question, you remind me of an advertising campaign inaugurated a few years ago by the RC Archdiocese of Halifax here in Canada. They used big billboards painted all black except for the outline of a priest’s collar and a humorous caption (“Yes, you get to combat evil. No, you don’t get to wear a cape.”) I was just embarking on my own, prolonged (Anglican) discernment process, and I found them positively thrilling!

            There’s a good article about this (http://www.christianweek.org/stories.php?id=1214), and the following excerpt from it, quoting the archdiocesan vocations adviser, is perhaps relevant to this thread:

            “Everyone within the church knows there’s a shortage of clergy -– not just within the Catholic church, but also in Protestant churches,” he says.

            “But I see this as more of a faith crisis than a priest shortage crisis. I believe where faith abounds, people will say, ‘Yes, Lord, I’ll do whatever you ask.’ If we can turn people onto God and Christ, that will help deal with the crisis in the priesthood.” (my emphasis)

            And more generally, on inspiring the young with the challenge of the Christian way, have you come across this wonderful video clip from an interview with the late and celebrated Romanian Orthodox theologian Fr. Dumitru Staniloae in which he speaks about the “essence of Christianity” as a struggle with the passions to free us to make sacrifices out of love for others? (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u13y__BCI60)

  2. Bosco,

    Your question to Dan over the normal process of lifting an excommunication I don’t specifically know the answer to. However, I can tell you that when I came back to the Church, I was in what was called an “irregular marriage”, in that I was married to a divorced man. When I talked to the priest about this, he didn’t absolve me, he told me to go talk to my husband about what we had to do. Once all the steps were in place, I was able to then receive absolution in Confession, but not before. I would guess that the lifting of an excommunication would be similar, it would involve the excommunicated girl maybe contacting the Bishop’s office and going from there.

    • What is interesting, Lucia, is that someone within the RC Church with a strong interest in its teachings does not know the answer. Surely, this is not a rare even? And it is very emotionally fraught. You are suggesting that a young woman, having finally plucked up the courage to go to confession about an abortion will not receive absolution but be told to contact the Bishop’s office. Astonishing.

        • The division of sins into two absolute categories “serious” and “not serious” is new to me, Lucia, with absolution deemed not enough for serious sins. Your response, previously, was that you did not know how abortion, a “serious” non-simply-absolvable sin is to be dealt with. Presumably it is to be dealt with as all others in your “serious” category – hence there appears to be a serious lack of RC teaching for the category of “serious” sins. Certainly no one in this thread has suggested that abortion is not serious. Blessings.

          • Bosco, there are venial sins (don’t need to be confessed, but are worthwhile to confess), mortal sins (absolutely vital to be confessed otherwise the soul is in danger of permanent separation from God) and then there are those mortal sins (such as abortion) which also incur automatic excommunication.

            I am neither a cleric, nor a person that works in the Church in any capacity whatsoever. I am just a married laywoman who recently returned to her faith, as such do not know everything there is to know.

            There is a serious lack of Catholic teaching in New Zealand with regards to sin in general, not just in this area. In fact, after what I saw on Friday at the Cathedral in Wellington, it appears a number of our priest no longer believe in sin. Yes, we have a problem.

          • Lucia, from the little I know of you online, you seem to me to very much part of the work in the church; and being a married laywoman doesn’t deserve the demeaning qualifier “just”. Being a married laywoman in today’s world is at the cutting edge of mission and ministry between the church and the world. What happened in the Wellington Cathedral on Friday? Blessings.

      • And you’re right, I don’t know the answer because the teachings and rules of the Church are greater in number than what I’ve studied to date. But having been in a situation where an Absolution wasn’t forthcoming because more needed to be done on my part, I can guess that the same would happen in the situation of a woman confessing abortion. So as to not violate the seal of the confessional, in normal circumstances the next step would be up to her to initiate.

  3. As a Catholic who is interested and informed, I have an answer. Normally, the procedure is that a priest can apply to the diocese for a lifting of excommuncation and then absolves the woman (or man, if the penitent had performed an abortion). Yes, the process is not instant (two days, one for the application and one for the lifting and absolution), but with a tactful and kind-hearted priest, one can hope for respite. However, in the event of World Youth day, with so many confessions and so many confessors, this kind of reconciliation becomes cumbersome. Therefore, it makes sense to lift excommunications for all present. Personally, I do not consider this to be ideal, but Canon Law is not dogma and can be shifted. But nevertheless, I do hope that a genunine reconcilliation ocurred, and that those involved in abortions found solace in World Youth Day.

    • Thanks, Julian, for this information. I am still trying to get my head around the specifics. From the penitent’s point of view, if s/he approaches the priest anonymously (screen, etc) s/he has to make an “appointment” to return to the same confessional in anticipation of meeting the same priest. In some places, her returning there two days later will immediately alert some onlookers that there is something pretty major going down… From the priest’s perspective, presumably the priest in contacting the bishop’s office cannot give any details, and so I assume will always be given the facility to lift the excommunication? What might be a possible situation in which the bishop’s office would refuse the request? If such a request is always granted – why is the request required? Blessings.

  4. Well, I personally feel that Canon Law could do with some fine-tuning at this point, and, unlike dogma, it can be altered. Nevertheless, I think that it is important to remember that the clergy who adminsiter the sacrament are not heartless and legalistic; I myself have helped with folding pamphlets for the Christchurch diocese about helping women involved in abortion, and every step urged simplicity, compassion and a lack of judgement; the issue stated most clearly is that the excommunication must be lifted swiftly for a repentant soul, with an absolute minimum of embarassment. There is a huge opposition in the Catholic Church to abortion, and it is recognised that great care needs to be taken with women who have suffered.

    • Thanks Julian, so if the diocese recognises that every step there be simplicity, compassion and a lack of judgement, and that the excommunication must be lifted swiftly for a repentant soul, with an absolute minimum of embarrassment, why is the actual process not simple and compassionate? Why does it need the involvement of the diocesan office in the knowledge that every application, or so it seems, will be responded to in the affirmative? Blessings.

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