Eighteen Catholic colleges have asked the Obama administration to exempt all religious individuals and institutions from being forced to participate in the federal mandate that health insurance plans cover contraceptives and sterilization.
The 13-page appeal was sent to the White House Sept. 29 and called the Department of Health and Human Services’ exemptions for religious employers as “potentially so narrow as to be not only nearly inconsequential but insulting to religious entities, in particular to Catholic colleges and universities.”
Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Thomas J. Curry, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Catholic Education, also signed the letter.
The Catholic institutions join the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic Health Association in support of stronger religious exemptions under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. HHS was accepting comments on the proposed religious exemption until Sept. 30.
Msgr. Stuart Swetland, vice president of mission at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md., told Catholic News Service the proposed mandates under the health care law threaten the operation of Catholic colleges and universities.
“It’s unprecedented in federal law. Religious exemptions were always written to accommodate sincere religious beliefs. This is written so narrowly,” said Msgr. Swetland, who also is executive director of the Center for the Advancement of Catholic Higher Education, a division of the Cardinal Newman Society, which helped organize the colleges’ appeal.
The letter said the mandates violated several federal laws, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First and 14th amendments to the Constitution.
It pointed to the possibility that the mandate could be used to require future insurance coverage of abortifacients as long as the Food and Drug Administration classifies them as contraceptive in nature.
“No federal rule has defined being ‘religious’ as narrowly and discriminatorily as the mandate appears to do, and no regulation has ever so directly proposed to violate plain statutory and constitutional religious freedoms,” the appeal said.
The colleges maintained that they have a “legal right not to be required to offer or pay for health insurance coverage that includes practices to which they have a religious or moral objection, and not to be forced to choose between offering such coverage, paying a fine or offering no coverage at all.”
The appeal said the same rights also extend to all employers so they do not have “their religious and moral beliefs burdened.” Likewise, the colleges continued, individuals have the right not to be forced to enroll in or purchase health insurance coverage which conflicts with their religious or moral beliefs.
“The right to religious freedom requires no less,” the colleges said.
The Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Alliance Defense Fund, an organization working to protect religious liberty, drafted the letter in conjunction with the Center for the Advancement of Catholic Higher Education.
Signatories to the letter were Aquinas College, Tennessee; Ave Maria University, Florida; Benedictine College, Kansas; Catholic Distance University and Christendom College, Virginia; College of St. Mary Magdalen and Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, New Hampshire; College of St. Thomas More and University of St. Thomas, Texas; DeSales University, Pennsylvania; Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio; Holy Apostles College and Seminary, Connecticut; John Paul the Great Catholic University and Thomas Aquinas College, California; Mount St. Mary’s University; St. Gregory’s University, Oklahoma; University of Mary, North Dakota; and Wyoming Catholic College.
An Illinois county circuit judge has denied an emergency request by Catholic Charities to stay his earlier ruling that the agencies have no right to state contracts to provide adoption and foster care services.
In his Sept. 26 ruling, Judge John Schmidt of the Sangamon County Circuit Court in Springfield said the state can begin canceling the contracts for foster care and adoption it has with Catholic Charities agencies in the dioceses of Belleville, Joliet, Peoria and Springfield.
The state’s Department of Children and Family Services ended $30 million in contracts with these agencies in July stating that Catholic Charities’ practice of referring unmarried couples to other agencies was discriminatory and a violation of the state’s civil union law.
The Thomas More Society, which is representing Catholic Charities in this case, said it planned to immediately seek a stay from the Illinois Appellate Court to allow the agencies to continue their operations during the appeal.
In court documents, the Catholic Charities lawyers argued that canceling these contracts would be disruptive to their 2,000 children clients. They also said it would have a significant impact on Catholic Charities employees who could lose their jobs and could impair the charitable programs Catholic Charities provides.
The legal proceedings on this issue began after passage of the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act, which took effect June 1.
On June 8, Catholic Charities agencies in Illinois filed suit seeking legal clarification about continuing to place foster children with only married couples and single, noncohabiting individuals under the state’s new civil unions law.
Judge Schmidt ruled Aug. 18 the state of Illinois could refuse to renew its foster care and adoption services contracts with these Catholic Charities agencies.
His summary judgment order did not specifically address Catholic Charities’ issues or the intent of the new civil union legislation but instead focused on whether the state could refuse to renew Catholic Charities’ contracts, as the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services did in early July. Schmidt temporarily reinstated the $30 million in contracts while he considered the case.
“In sum, (Catholic Charities) have failed to show they have a legally recognized property right to renew their contracts,” wrote Schmidt.
In response to that decision, Peoria Bishop Daniel R. Jenky said he was “extremely disappointed” by it.
“Clearly the intent of the civil union law was not to force the state to end these contracts and force the transfer of thousands of children’s cases,” the bishop said, adding that Catholic Charities is one of the lead providers of foster care services in the state.
According to Catholic News Service, the Diocese of Rockford announced in May that its Catholic Charities offices would no longer offer state-funded adoptions and foster-care services once the civil unions law took effect.
Pope Benedict XVI said he was happy to see that “the faith in my German homeland has a young face, is alive and has a future.”
At his weekly general audience Sept. 28 in St. Peter’s Square, the pope told an estimated 10,000 pilgrims and visitors about his trip Sept. 22-25 to Germany.
While the pilgrims were awaiting the pope’s arrival by helicopter from Castel Gandolfo and again at the end of the audience when he was greeting cardinals and bishops, the crowds were entertained by the Angelus Domini children’s choir and nine little dancers from Cheongju, South Korea. Even while the children were singing, a violinist met the pope and played a quick tune for him, standing right in front of him.
In his audience talk, the pope said his trip was a true “festival of faith,” and his liturgies and Masses, meetings with public officials, other Christians and Jewish and Muslim representatives “helped us see once again how it’s God who gives the deepest meaning and true fullness to our lives; in fact, he alone gives us, gives everyone, a future.”
Pope Benedict said it was “particularly moving” to meet briefly in Erfurt with the 98-year-old Msgr. Hermann Scheipers, “the last surviving priest from the Dachau concentration camp.” The Nazi camp had a special section for imprisoned priests and ministers who had spoken out against the Nazis. Msgr. Scheipers was arrested for ministering to forced laborers from Poland. More than 2,500 Catholic priests were imprisoned in Dachau, and more than 1,000 of them died there.
The pope also spoke briefly about his meeting in Erfurt with five victims of clerical sexual abuse. He said, “I wanted to assure them of my sadness and my closeness to them in their suffering.”
Pope Benedict said he was honored to be the first pope to address the German parliament and he wanted to lead the legislators and all citizens in a reflection about the relationship between faith and freedom, and about the importance of moral values having an impact on the way people live together in society.
The 84-year-old pope said that since he was a young man “I had heard people talk about the region of Eichsfeld — a strip of land that always has remained Catholic despite various historical events — and about its inhabitants who courageously opposed the dictatorships of Nazism and communism.”
Visiting the Marian shrine at Etzelsbach and celebrating vespers, the pope joined generations of people who “entrusted to Mary their requests, concerns and sufferings, receiving comfort, grace and blessings,” he said in a Catholic News Service report.
The final leg of the pope’s trip took him to Freiburg, a deeply Catholic region of Germany.
The trip, he said, “offered me the occasion to meet the faithful of my German homeland and to confirm them in faith, hope and love, and share with them the joy of being Catholic. But my message was addressed to the entire German people to invite them to look with hope toward the future.”
The text of the pope’s audience remarks in English is posted online at http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2011/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20110928_en.html.
The text of the pope’s audience remarks in Spanish is posted online at http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2011/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20110928_sp.html.
Pope Benedict XVI has transferred responsibility for two very precise administrative procedures from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments to the Roman Rota, a church court.
According to Catholic News Service, the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, published the papal directive Sept. 27 giving the Rota responsibility for handling procedures involving a marriage that was celebrated validly but not consummated and for cases involving the nullity of an ordination.
Pope Benedict said he made the change so that the congregation for worship could “dedicate itself principally to giving a new impulse to the promotion of the sacred liturgy in the church, according to the renewal willed by the Second Vatican Council.”
In the document, dated Aug. 30, the pope said a new office would be established within the Roman Rota to handle the two specific types of cases. He also said the new norms would go into effect Oct. 1.
The change was reported as a rumor in February and, at the time, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said the change would give the Roman Rota responsibility for technical administrative procedures such as those involved in releasing a couple from the obligations of marriage when they have not consummated their bond.
Canon law also allows for a declaration of the nullity of an ordination to the priesthood when it can be demonstrated that there was a defect in the rite used or that the person being ordained did not or could not understand what ordination meant.
The Mexican Supreme Court began debates Sept. 26 on the legality of two states’ constitutional amendments that human life begins at conception.
But the Archdiocese of Mexico City questioned how the 11 judges could consider overturning the amendments since the court ruled in a 2008 case that any state government could set health policy as it sees fit.
“The issue is very simple: The states of the republic have the right to defend human life just as Mexico City expressed its right not to,” the archdiocese said in a Sept. 25 editorial in its publication, Desde la Fe.
The editorial also took issue with the court for failing to decide the legality of abortion — and focusing on jurisdictional matters, instead.
In 2008, the court ruled, 8-3, to uphold a Mexico City law decriminalizing abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Eighteen states subsequently passed amendments to their state constitutions placing restrictions on abortion. The court is addressing the legality of the amendments approved in the states of Baja California and San Luis Potosi.
How the court rules this time remains uncertain due to changes made on the bench since 2008. For the amendments to be struck down, at least eight judges must vote in favor a report presented by Justice Fernando Franco advocating such measures.
“The Constitution of the United Mexican States does not establish that those not born are persons, individuals or judicial or normative subjects, and only recognizes them as judicially protected property,” Franco wrote in his report, according to Catholic News Service.
The judge also criticized the Archdiocese of Mexico City for its editorial.
The church must change to respond to the Gospel call and the needs of real people, but that change must be dictated by Christian values and not by greater adaptation to the values of the modern world, Pope Benedict XVI said.
Meeting Sept. 25 with about 1,500 Catholics involved in church ministries, lay movements and civic, political or social activities, the pope said he knows Germany is experiencing a decline in religious practice and is seeing many of its members drift away from church life.
The audience, which included German President Christian Wulff, gave the pope a standing ovation when he finished his speech.
According to the bishops’ conference, the number of Catholics in Germany was 28.2 million in 1990, and has dropped to about 24.6 million today.
Formal church membership in Germany automatically subjects workers to a church tax taken from their salary and given to their declared church. In 2010, the bishops’ conference said, it received about $6.4 billion from the church tax. The money is used to pay priests’ salaries and run parishes, as well as fund schools, hospitals, old-age homes, social services and huge overseas relief and development projects.
Pope Benedict said he knows the numbers of Catholics leaving “prompts the question: Should the church not change? Must she not adapt her offices and structure to the present day in order to reach the searching and doubting people of today?”
Blessed Teresa of Kolkata once said the first thing the church needed to change was “you and I,” the pope said.
“The church is not just other people, not just the hierarchy, the pope and the bishops: we are all the church, we the baptized,” the pope said in his last speech before the airport farewell ceremony ending his four-day visit to Germany.
Change is needed constantly, but as Blessed Teresa said, that change must begin with the individuals who make up the church, he said in a Catholic News Service report.
The changes must be dictated by the Gospel, not the world, the pope said. In fact, to carry out her mission, the church “will constantly set herself apart from her surroundings; she needs in a certain sense to become unworldly or ‘desecularized,’” he said.
Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg, president of the German bishops’ conference, told reporters Sept. 25, “The pope did not come to offer solutions, but to offer support.”
“We are supposed to continue on the way of renewal,” he said, always keeping in mind that “we are part of the universal church and in everything we do we must remain within the universal church.”
The pope’s speech to the Catholic leaders took place in the Freiburg concert hall and the meeting included musical interludes performed by a dozen members of the Freiburg Philharmonic Orchestra.
In his speech to the Catholic leaders, Pope Benedict did not look at specific questions being raised by many German Catholics — questions about dealing with people who are divorced, or with the role of women in the church or church attitudes toward homosexuality.
Instead, he spoke of the danger posed when the church “becomes settled in this world, she becomes self-sufficient and adapts herself to the standards of the world. She gives greater weight to organization and institutionalization than to her vocation to openness.”
There were times in history when governments confiscated church property or stripped the church of social privileges it had enjoyed, he said. The process actually helped the church let go of worldliness and embrace her poverty.
“History has shown that when the church becomes less worldly, her missionary witness shines more brightly,” he said. “Once liberated from her material and political burdens, the church can reach out more effectively and in a truly Christian way to the whole world, she can be truly open to the world.”
The pope said Catholics don’t need some sort of strategy for relaunching the church, they need honesty, transparency and conversion.
Pope Benedict said he knows the clerical sex abuse scandals have made it harder to attract people to the Gospel by focusing attention on the unworthiness of those who proclaim it.
The church must bring “the life-giving strength of the Christian faith to those in need, to sufferers” and their caregivers, especially through its charitable work, he said.
The church must bear witness to God’s love by the deeds of its members, the pope said. “As individuals and as the community of the church, let us live the simplicity of a great love, which is both the simplest and hardest thing on earth, because it demands no more and no less than the gift of oneself,” he said in a Catholic News Service report.
Pope Benedict XVI’s four-day visit to Germany highlighted two closely connected challenges for the church: how to re-evangelize traditionally Christian countries in the West, and how to regain a credible voice in modern society.
In a sense, the pope’s German homeland was a test case for the “new evangelization” project that has taken center stage in his pontificate.
As the pope pointed out repeatedly during the Sept. 22-25 visit, modern Germany is a highly secularized country where atheism or religious indifference is widespread, where traditional moral values are eroding and where the church’s message seems to have less and less impact.
And yet Germany has a native son as pope — still a point of pride for many Germans — and a tradition of intellectual debate. At the very least, the pope hoped for a fair hearing, and at some levels, he got one.
His address to the German parliament, in which he argued that social justice must be grounded in morality, prompted reflection and discussion in German media. The normally critical weekly Der Spiegel called the speech thought-provoking and “courageous.”
It was a classic Pope Benedict speech, a philosophical exposition that ranged from the biblical account of King Solomon to the positivist world view of modernity. He showed that he can connect with the intelligentsia, and at this rarified level he gets respect.
The pope also clearly connected with the Catholic faithful who turned out by the tens of thousands for his Masses and prayer services. Praying before a statue of Mary at a shrine in Etzelsbach or kneeling in eucharistic adoration at the Freiburg cathedral, the pope heard behind him the sound of silence — music to his ears, because it was a sign of intense participation.
His appeal to return to the Christian roots of Germany met with enthusiastic approval from what one woman called his “base” — the Catholic families who have tried to maintain their religious traditions in the face of decades of communism and more recent years of social fragmentation.
Other audiences appeared less in sync with the pope’s message and his single-minded focus on the “return to God” theme.
To Germans who have left the church or those who have pushed for a “dialogue” within the church on issues like priestly celibacy and the role of women and lay people, the pope had some pointed words.
First, he said the root problem was a misunderstanding of the nature of the church: It’s not just a social organization that people opt in or out of, but a community of believers that belongs to Jesus Christ. He blamed internal dissatisfaction on Catholics’ superficial notions of a “dream church” that has failed to materialize.
In a meeting in Freiburg with officials of Germany’s central lay Catholic committee, the pope bluntly described the German church as “superbly organized” but lacking in spirit. Rather than relying on big church structures and programs, he said, “new evangelization” will depend more on small Catholic communities and individuals able to share their faith experiences with co-workers, family and friends.
The pope’s visit was also designed to reach a wider audience, the millions of Germans who have drifted away from the church or religion. At the trip’s first event at Berlin’s presidential palace, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich told Catholic News Service that he was convinced these Germans would be listening to the pope — even the skeptics, he said.
The skeptics were not at the papal venues, however. They followed the visit through the media, if at all. And their reactions were mixed.
“His speech to parliament showed he is a man with high intellect. But for most people, it is too high. The talk about needing to rediscover God — this I didn’t understand. It sounds like what he’s saying belongs to the past,” said Magda Hilmers, a Protestant from Freiburg.
Inga, a 46-year-old woman who comes from a Catholic family but said she is “not religious,” thought the pope should have spoken more about social issues, including war and economic imbalances. She said she was put off by the cost and showiness of the papal visit.
For Andres Capriles, a young Bolivian immigrant to Germany, the pope’s words were important but did not address what’s on many Catholics’ minds.
“People are not just disillusioned about God and religion, they are disillusioned about the church and the direction the church is moving, which seems to be away from the Second Vatican Council,” he said.
Petra Kollmar, a 57-year-old Catholic from Freiburg, said the problem with the pope’s visit was “what he did not talk about — the ‘no’ to women priests, the church’s attitude toward homosexuals and divorced people in the church, the abuse of children that has occurred.”
Many of those interviewed said these are issues that have left the church with less influence and credibility among Germans.
Such attitudes are not uncommon throughout Europe, and they complicate the “new evangelization” plan, making it much harder for the pope to reach his target audience of the indifferent and disaffected.
But the pope’s approach in Germany was not to make concessions. In Freiburg, he said that rather than launch a “new strategy,” the church needs to “set aside its worldliness” and stop adapting itself to the standards of the secular society.
Faith lived fully is always counter-cultural, he said, but history has shown it’s the only way for the church to regain credibility for its mission.
As evident in Germany, the pope sees “new evangelization” as a long and uphill process that starts with a clearer understanding of the church’s own nature and purpose, and not an attempt to find middle ground with critics.
On a four-day visit to Germany, Pope Benedict XVI warned that godlessness and religious indifference were undermining the moral foundations of society and leaving its weakest members exposed to new risks.
He repeatedly mentioned the duty to protect the unborn, and proposed this as an area where Catholics and non-Catholics can witness together and help resist ethical erosion.
The pope, making his first official state visit to his homeland, said after arriving Sept. 22 that he had come “to meet people and to speak about God.” He took that message to the country’s political leaders, to the church’s ecumenical partners, to the Catholic faithful and, through the mass media, to the German people.
The 84-year-old pope at times looked tired during the heavy program of events, but generally held up well. He beamed when enthusiastic Catholics in central and southern Germany chanted his name and waved banners with the trip’s slogan, “Where there is God, there is a future.”
When the pope stepped off his plane in Berlin, the German capital, he was greeted by President Christian Wulff and Chancellor Angela Merkel. The pope smiled as a boy and a girl presented him with a bouquet of flowers, and cannons boomed out a 21-gun salute.
At a welcoming ceremony at the presidential Bellevue Palace in Berlin, the pope strongly defended the church’s voice in public affairs and said that to dismiss religious values as irrelevant would “dismember our culture.”
Wulff, in his own speech to the pope, agreed that the church’s message is needed in modern society. But the president, a 52-year-old Catholic who is divorced and civilly remarried, added that the church too is challenged by important questions today: “How compassionately will it treat points of rupture in the lives of individuals? How will it approach points of rupture in its own history or the wrongdoing of members of its clergy?”
The pope’s main event in Berlin was his speech to the German parliament, the first time he has addressed a legislative body. Although dozens of parliamentarians boycotted the event, he received a standing ovation from the assembly.
The pope’s speech, philosophical in tone, argued that belief in God was the foundation for Western progress in law, social justice and human rights through the centuries.
Germany’s Nazi past, he said, illustrates that without justice, the state becomes “a highly organized band of robbers, capable of threatening the whole world and driving it to the edge of the abyss.”
Today, he said, with unprecedented opportunities to manipulate human beings, the threat is even more dramatic. He pointed to Germany’s ecology movement as a step in the right direction, but said an “ecology of man” was needed to protect human dignity.
The pope later met with Jewish representatives and recalled the Nazi “reign of terror” in his homeland, saying it showed what people are capable of when they deny God.
“The supposedly ‘almighty’ Adolf Hitler was a pagan idol, who wanted to take the place of the biblical God, the creator and father of all men,” he said.
Celebrating Mass in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium for 70,000 people, the pope appealed for a better understanding of the church, one that goes beyond current controversies and the failings of its members.
On the plane carrying him from Rome, the pope told reporters he understood the feelings of German Catholics who have left the church because of revelations about clerical sex abuse, but he urged them to work against such crimes “on the inside.” The pope later met with five sex abuse victims in Erfurt, an encounter that the Vatican said left the pontiff “moved and deeply shaken.”
The pope presided over major ecumenical events Sept. 23 in Erfurt, the town where Martin Luther was ordained and site of an Augustinian monastery where he lived for several years. Meeting with Lutheran leaders, the pope prayed for Christian unity and said ecumenism today faces threats from both secularization and Christian fundamentalism.
“God is increasingly being driven out of our society. … Are we to yield to the pressure of secularization, and become modern by watering down the faith?” he said in a Catholic News Service report.
The pope also cautioned against viewing ecumenism as a type of negotiation. The best path to Christian unity, he said, is witnessing the Gospel courageously in a society that is often antagonistic toward the faith.
Meeting with Orthodox representatives Sept. 24, the pope urged Christian churches in Germany to speak up jointly in defense of human life “from conception to natural death” and defend “marriage between one man and one woman from any kind of misinterpretation.”
In encounters with the faithful in Erfurt and Freiburg, the pope did not enter into details of the contentious issues that have divided German Catholics, such as priestly celibacy, women’s ordination and church teaching on homosexuality. Instead, the pope preached the importance of living the Gospel and held out German saints as models of the “radical” embrace of Christ.
In Erfurt, a city in former East Germany, the pope said at a Mass that Nazism and communism had been like “acid rain” for Christianity. But he said the oppression and difficulties in those dark years actually left many Catholics with a stronger faith — stronger, perhaps, than under current freedoms.
Addressing German lay leaders in Freiburg Sept. 24, the pope said the church in Germany was clearly “superbly organized.” Then he asked: “But behind the structures, is there also a corresponding spiritual strength?” He suggested that small Christian communities may be the most promising path toward renewing the church’s impact in society.
At a prayer vigil in Freiburg, the pope rode his popemobile past screaming teens who snapped photos with cell phones. An oversized road sign proclaimed in English, “Highway to Heaven — B16.”
His talk to the youths emphasized that human efforts to make a better world were never enough, and that only faith in God cuts through the “darkness and gloom” of suffering and evil.
At a Mass on his final day in Freiburg, the pope told an estimated 100,000 people that agnostics who are troubled by the question of God are closer to the kingdom of God than “routine” Catholics whose hearts are untouched by faith.
He said the church in Germany would make an impact in society only if everyone works together “in fidelity to their respective vocations” and in unity with their bishop and the pope.
In a meeting afterward with Catholics involved in church institutions, lay movements and political life, the pope said the best way for the church to influence society was to “set aside her worldliness” and stop adapting to the standards of secular society. History has shown that when it is liberated from organizational and political burdens, the church’s “missionary witness shines more brightly,” he said.
Meeting a dozen Orthodox bishops in Germany, Pope Benedict XVI continued his appeal for people of faith to work together to bring God and moral values back to German society.
In a climate in which some people would like “to ‘liberate’ public life from God,” the Christian churches promote understanding and solidarity “on the basis of their faith in the one God and father of all,” the pope said Sept. 24, according to Catholic News Service.
The meeting in the Freiburg seminary was attended by Russian, Greek, Serbian, Romanian, Coptic, Syrian, Armenian and Ethiopian Orthodox bishops. The red-sashed cardinals in the pope’s entourage sat across from the black-robed Orthodox bishops wearing a variety of flat, rounded or pointed black hats.
Germany’s Orthodox population, estimated at 1.6 million, is made up of Russians who arrived after the 1917 Russian Revolution, Greeks and Serbs who arrived during the economic boom of the 1960s and Romanians and other East Europeans who came after the fall of communism.
In 2009, their bishops formed an episcopal conference to coordinate their work and their relations with other Christians, particularly with the Catholic Church.
Pope Benedict congratulated them on their commitment to working together and prayed that their experience would help strengthen the bonds between Orthodox churches elsewhere, hastening “the progress of efforts to establish a pan-Orthodox council.” Efforts to hold a pan-Orthodox council have been stalled for decades by internal tensions, including disputes over leadership.
Of all Christians, he said, Catholic and Orthodox are theologically the closest and their churches have the same basic structure, “so we may hope that the day is not too far away when we may once again celebrate the Eucharist together.”
However, he said, some theologically thorny issues — including the question of the primacy of the pope — have to be resolved before that can happen.
In the meantime, he said, Catholics and Orthodox must give witness together to their faith in Jesus Christ and to the dignity of the human person.
Catholics and Orthodox should speak out together “for the protection of human life from conception to natural death” and for “the uniqueness of marriage between one man and one woman,” he said.
Working together, Catholics and Orthodox will contribute “to building up a society equipped for the future, in which the human person is given the respect which is his due,” the pope said.
Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Augoustinos of Germany, president of the Orthodox bishops’ conference, thanked the pope for taking time to meet with them during a busy trip and he assured the pope that, with the new Orthodox bishops’ council, relations with the Catholic Church will grow even more solid.
The metropolitan noted that the pope’s earlier meetings with German Protestants, Jews and Muslims had included women, but their encounter with the pope was all men.
The fact, however, that the Catholic and Orthodox bishops have such a strong devotion to Mary — and the Orthodox bishops wear an “encolpion,” or medallion, of Mary close to their hearts — is proof that “it is not misogyny that our meeting today, in contrast to the ecumenical encounters of the last days, is a meeting of men only,” the metropolitan said.
Meeting seminarians in Freiburg, Pope Benedict XVI made a rare, direct comment about a group seeking major changes in church practice and discipline.
“Some people say, ‘we are church’ and they are right, we are church,” the pope said Sept. 24 in a conversation with the seminarians.
The We Are Church movement began in Austria in 1995 and spread internationally; its supporters have called for greater lay participation in church decision-making, the ordination of women and of married men, and for church acceptance of homosexuality.
The pope said the “we” that is the church “is much larger than that small group. It’s the worldwide church — the whole community of believers today and in all places and times.”
Pope Benedict, who was staying at the seminary, spoke to the candidates for priesthood without a prepared text. Vatican Radio’s German program posted a transcript of the pope’s remarks on its website.
The pope told the seminarians that while the opinions and convictions of members of the Catholic community are important, “there can never be a majority against the Apostles — that would be a false majority.”
Developments in Catholic life and practice must be in line with church tradition and undertaken in unity with the pope and bishops, the successors of the Apostles, he said.
“We are church, yes, but in the broader sense,” the pope told the seminarians in a Catholic News Service report. “Let’s be church by opening ourselves and reaching out to others.”