Catholic News

USCCB News News from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

  • Faith in democracy: Participation in government long a papal priority
    by PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICE on July 12, 2024 at 8:30 am

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- More than 2 billion people in over 50 countries were set to go to the polls in 2024, according to the Center for American Progress, but Pope Francis has said he is worried that people are more disconnected than ever from the governments that are meant to provide for their well-being. Participating in a conference in Trieste, Italy, July 7, the pope discussed democracy at length. In preparation for that visit, the Vatican publishing house produced a booklet compiling papal speeches on democracy and featuring a new introduction to the text written by Pope Francis. The booklet was published in Italian July 7 as an insert in Trieste's local newspaper, Il Piccolo. In it, the pope wrote that while democracy has spread globally in recent decades, today it "seems to be suffering the consequences of a dangerous disease," that of "democratic skepticism." People's distrust in democracy, which "sometimes seems to yield to the allure of populism," he wrote, ultimately stems from its perceived difficulty in addressing current challenges, such as, "issues related to unemployment or the overwhelming technocratic paradigm." In his speech at the event July 7 during Italian Catholic Social Week, the pope underlined the need to train people in democratic participation from a young age and instill them with "a critical sense regarding ideological and populist temptations." The four-day conference, organized every three to four years by the Italian bishops' conference to engage Catholics in social issues, chose as the theme for its 50th edition "At the Heart of Democracy." True democracy, he added, does not entail merely voting, but creating the conditions and space for "everyone to express themselves and participate" in society. That sentiment echoes a distinction made by Pope Pius XII in his radio message to the world Dec. 24, 1944. Still in the midst of World War II, the pope discussed the key difference that exists in a democratic system between "the people" and "the masses." Pope Pius XII sits in front of a microphone prepared to give a radio address in this 1943 file photo. During World War II, the pontiff made many pleas for peace through Vatican Radio. (CNS photo) A people, the pope said, "lives and moves by its own life energy" and is composed of individuals "conscious of (their) own responsibility and (their) own views." "The masses, on the contrary, wait for the impulse from outside, an easy plaything in the hands of anyone who exploits their instincts and impressions; ready to follow in turn, today this flag, tomorrow another," he noted. Whereas a people actively involved in democracy instills into a population "the consciousness of their own responsibility" and "the true instinct for the common good," Pope Pius issued a stark prediction for the fate of the disengaged masses: "in the ambitious hands of one or of several who have been artificially brought together for selfish aims, the state itself, with the support of the masses, reduced to the minimum status of a mere machine, can impose its whims on the better part of the real people." As a result, "the common interest remains seriously, and for a long time, injured by this process, and the injury is very often hard to heal," Pope Pius said. For Pope Francis, to counter the tendency to drift toward merely becoming "the masses" entails developing a sense of solidarity and togetherness, from which grows a will to participate in public life. In authoritarian regimes, "no one participates; everyone watches passively," he wrote in his introduction to the booklet. "Democracy, on the other hand, demands participation, demands putting in one's own effort, risking confrontation, bringing one's own ideals, one's own reasons, into the question." He added that "standing at the window, watching idly what is happening around us, is not only ethically unacceptable but also, even from a selfish perspective, neither wise nor convenient." Or, put more succinctly, "indifference is a cancer of democracy," Pope Francis said during his July 7 speech. Yet in his text the pope wrote that it is by leveraging democracy's greatest asset that society can overcome its sense of passivity. "Democracy has in it a great and unquestionable value: that of being 'together,'" he wrote, praising the model for exercising government power "within the framework of a community that freely and secularly confronts each other in the art of the common good." Togetherness, the pope added, fosters a "positive and almost concrete sense of solidarity, which comes from sharing and advancing, for example in the public arena, issues on which to find convergence." The pope highlighted several pressing issues in society which require joint action and which people are called "to engage democratically": receiving migrants, falling fertility rates and the pursuit of peace through negotiation rather than increased firepower. Particularly "in these times overshadowed by war," the pope prayed for a "more convinced commitment to a fully participatory democratic life aimed at the true common good."

  • In synod process, church is listening to God, not 'polls,' cardinal says
    by PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICE on July 11, 2024 at 8:30 am

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Catholic Church can only teach the faithful if it is an institution that listens, but that does not mean it should take to heart every opinion uttered, according to the head of the church’s synod. The church "is not interested in surveyed polls,” said Cardinal Mario Grech, secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops. "The church is always and only listening to the voice of God." The cardinal presented the working document for the second assembly of the Synod of Bishops on synodality at a Vatican news conference July 9. He explained that God speaks in many ways: through Sacred Scripture, for example, "but also through the sense of faith of the people of God, the voice of pastors and the charism of theologians," through which God's truth continues to be revealed. The time between the two synodal assemblies, in which the Secretariat of the Synod again sought input from local churches in light of the findings from last year's synodal assembly, "has been always and only in order to seek, with the certainly perfectible tools we have at our disposal, what God wants to say to the Church in this hour of its journey," he said. Cardinal Grech noted that 108 of 114 bishops' conferences submitted responses to questions from the synod secretariat to form the working document. Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, relator general of the synod, told the news conference that reports from the bishops' conferences "unanimously testify, without hiding the struggles and difficulties of synodal conversion, also a feeling of joy and gratitude" for the synodal process. The official logo for the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. (CNS photo/courtesy Synod of Bishops) He said that local churches carried out the second consultation after the synod's first universal phase "with greater freedom and creativity in the way they took ownership of the process." Yet the cardinal noted that the reports do contain a sense of "weariness and fatigue of a path of conversion" which is "not immediate." The demand for more immediate action was reflected in questions put to the cardinals at the news conference, several of which focused on the issue of expanding the diaconate to include women. In March, Cardinal Grech announced that Pope Francis had decided to establish 10 study groups dedicated to hot-button topics raised during the 2021-24 synod process and they are expected to explore the question of the women deacons. The working document said that the question of admitting women to diaconal ministry "will not be the subject of the work of the Second (synod) Session" but affirmed that "theological reflection should continue" on the matter, noting that the body studying the question, study group five, will take into consideration that results of two theological study commissions created by Pope Francis in 2016 and 2020. However, the document added that "theological and canonical questions concerning specific forms of ecclesial ministry -- in particular, the question of the necessary participation of women in the life and leadership of the Church -- have been entrusted to the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith" which will be in dialogue with the synod secretariat. A list of study group members published by the Vatican did not list individual members of study group five but said that the doctrinal dicastery will publish a document on questions surrounding ministerial forms, which includes the question of women deacons. Asked whether the topic of women deacons was still being considered after Pope Francis rejected the possibility of their ordination in a CBS interview aired May 20, Cardinal Grech said "according to the information that we have today, it is a no, but at the same time the Holy Father has said that reflection, deeper theological study, should continue." "To me this is not a contradiction," he added. Father Riccardo Battocchio, a theologian and special secretary to the synodal assembly, said that the document's language on the role of women "is not about changing the structure of the Catholic Church" but to ensure women may participate in decision-making by reconsidering "how a bishop or bishops come to make decisions."

  • Bishop Zaidan Condemns Targeting of Civilians in Gaza
    by PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICE on July 10, 2024 at 8:30 am

    WASHINGTON - Bishop A. Elias Zaidan of the Maronite Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon, has expressed his solidarity with the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem in condemning the targeting of civilians. The Latin Patriarchate released a statement expressing grave concern over news of raids that were launched at the Sacred Family School in Gaza, which also reportedly included civilian casualties and destruction. As chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, Bishop Zaidan said: “The Sacred Family School has been a place of refuge for hundreds of civilians, and I join the Latin Patriarchate in condemning any targeting of civilians in the Sacred Family School in Gaza. I urge in strongest terms that civilians remain outside the sphere of combat, while also praying for peace and an immediate end to hostilities.” ###

  • Solidarity Fund for the Church in Africa Helps the Church Thrive Amidst Change
    by PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICE on July 10, 2024 at 8:30 am

    WASHINGTON - Across the continent of Africa, the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Solidarity Fund for the Church in Africa is supporting Catholic ministries in countries where the people are strong in faith and devotion, but lacking in resources due to poverty, political instability, and civil conflict. The Fund was established by the bishops of the United States in the spirit of their 2001 statement, “A Call to Solidarity with Africa,” as a way to help the growing African Church thrive and adapt to the pastoral needs and challenges it faces. Catholics across the United States can answer this call to “Stand with Africa” by participating in their diocese’s annual collection for the Solidarity Fund for the Church in Africa. “Globalization, climate change, and poverty deeply affect the lives of African men and women every day. But amidst rapid societal change, the Catholic Church remains constant, proclaiming the timeless and hopeful message of the Gospel,” said auxiliary Bishop Peter Smith of Portland in Oregon, and chairman of the bishops’ Subcommittee on the Church in Africa. “The Solidarity Fund for the Church in Africa enables the Church to support those who are in dire need of pastoral care and to inspire those whose faith and hope may be flagging.” Catholics wishing to participate in this annual collection are invited to give through their parish collection or e-offertory program on the date scheduled by their diocese.  #iGiveCatholicTogether also accepts funds for the Church in Africa program year-round. The Solidarity Fund for the Church in Africa awarded more than $2.1 million for 75 projects that were proposed by the bishops of Africa in 2023. Grants are helping Kenyans and Ugandans recover spiritually from the COVID pandemic, which led to the disintegration of marriages and family violence. In Cameroon, cited by human rights groups for appalling prison conditions, Catholic prison chaplains learned to document abuses and advocate for reform. The sisters of the Association of Consecrated Women in Eastern and Central Africa received theological and practical training to apply Catholic social teaching to a broad range of threats to human life, from human trafficking to environmental degradation. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the public sector is plagued by rampant financial corruption, diocesan and parish staff studied proper church administration and financial stewardship. In South Africa and Namibia, ethnic groups received hymnals in the Xhosa and Rumanyo languages and a Bible in the language of the Rukwangali people. “The Church helps people to praise God in their own language because God came to us speaking our languages,” said Bishop Smith. “He wants to walk with everyone through whatever hardships or heartaches we suffer. That is the purpose of the Solidarity Fund for the Church in Africa. Gifts to this fund make God’s love tangible.” For more information see https://www.usccb.org/committees/church-africa. ###

  • Pope asks world's religions to push for ethical AI development
    by PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICE on July 10, 2024 at 8:30 am

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis called on representatives from the world's religions to unite behind the defense of human dignity in an age that will be defined by artificial intelligence. "I ask you to show the world that we are united in asking for a proactive commitment to protect human dignity in this new era of machines," the pope wrote in a message to participants of a conference on AI ethics which hosted representatives from 11 world religions. Religious leaders representing Eastern faiths such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and Bahá'í, among others, as well as leaders of the three Abrahamic religions gathered in Hiroshima, Japan, for the conference, titled "AI Ethics for Peace." They also signed the Rome Call for AI Ethics -- a document developed by the Pontifical Academy for Life which asks signatories to promote an ethical approach to AI development. Participants of a conference on AI ethics, including several representatives of world religions, pose for a photo in Hiroshima, Japan, July 10, 2024. Standing front and center is Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life. (CNS photo/Courtesy Holy See Press Office) Microsoft, IBM, Cisco, the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization and the innovation ministry of the Italian government have signed the document. A July 10 press release from the academy said Franciscan Father Paolo Benanti, an ethics professor at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University, presented an addendum to the document in Hiroshima specifically focused on the ethical governance of generative AI -- which can process, interpret and produce human language. The addendum said generative AI requires sustained commitment to ensuring its use for humanity's good. In his message to the conference published by the Vatican July 10, Pope Francis noted the "great symbolic importance" of the religious leaders' meeting in Hiroshima and noted the increasingly central role which artificially intelligent technology plays in society. "As we look at the complexity of the issues before us, recognizing the contribution of the cultural riches of peoples and religions in the regulation of artificial intelligence is key to the success of your commitment to the wise management of technological innovation," he wrote. Echoing his address on artificial intelligence to the G7 summit in June, the pope asked the participants to jointly push for the ban of lethal autonomous weapons, which "starts from an effective and concrete commitment to introduce ever greater and proper human control." "No machine should ever choose to take the life of a human being," he wrote. Opening the conference July 9, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, academy president, said that artificial intelligence "must be guided so that its potential serves the good from the moment of its design." "At Hiroshima, a place of the highest symbolic value, we strongly invoke peace, and we ask that technology be a driver of peace and reconciliation among peoples," he said. "We stand here, together, to say loudly that standing together and acting together is the only possible solution."