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Judge rules against rural Catholic community in dispute with local authorities in Michigan

Catholic families and other individuals share a common way of life on a five-acre property called Cottonwood Farm in Washtenaw County, Michigan. / Credit: Lucas Larson

Detroit, Mich., Sep 30, 2023 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Five Catholic families seeking to live out their Catholic faith together in rural Michigan received news this past week that could jeopardize their future at the historic farm where they live.

Judge Anna Frushour of the 14th Washtenaw County District Court ruled on Sept. 17 that Cottonwood Farm does not meet the local five-acre threshold to be considered a farm, allowing livestock. The judge said that her court cannot circumvent the zoning board’s decision.

Inshal Chenet of Cottonwood Farm attended the hearing to address what his attorney, Jason Negri, has characterized as “persecution” on the part of local township authorities. In interviews with CNA, Chenet and Negri said the judge’s ruling may have implications not only for the Cottonwood Farm faith community but also for all farmers in Michigan.

“It’s disappointing to see that a judge sees that a local township board of appeals has jurisdiction over whether a farm is actually farming under the Michigan Right to Farm Act. What happened is precisely the sort of outcome that the state Legislature did not intend to have to give that level of jurisdiction to a local governing body over ordinances,” Negri said.

Further aspects of the case will come up for another hearing in November.

Cottonwood Farm is 10 miles from Ann Arbor and has five historic structures. The main house dates to before 1833, when the surrounding Webster Township was incorporated by settlers from New York nearly 200 years ago. Next door is the Webster Historical Society property, which maintains historic buildings dating to more than a century ago.

Chenet, 29, a Catholic father and educator, joined several Catholic friends to form Morning Star LLC in 2019 to purchase Cottonwood Farm, where his family now shares the property with members and renters who share a vision of close cooperation, Catholic faith, and friendship.

Families have their own homes and there is a separate house for unmarried women and another for unmarried men. All of the residents, according to a court filing, qualify as low-income. Several of the men are engaged in construction. The community raises livestock and tends gardens. Members hold down jobs but share aspects of their lives with one another to emulate the earliest Christian communities. Curious outsiders, not all of whom are Catholic or Christian, frequently stop by Cottonwood’s gatherings, such as lectures, potlucks, and game nights.

The approximately 20 residents of Cottonwood, including children, are Catholics who attend various parish churches in the area.

During a morning visit, young giggling children run through the grass, swing from a rope hanging from a tree, and feed sheep. “This is the natural type of thing you don’t see if you live like most others,” Chenet told CNA. There are regular, unplanned social events where kids and parents gather. “If you go back throughout the vast majority of human history, this is what’s natural. This is what just happens,” he said.

Chenet and his wife, Monica, who have four young children, met at Wyoming Catholic College, where other Cottonwood residents also graduated. Parents at Cottonwood share in home schooling, which offers them opportunities for prayer and socializing that they wouldn’t have otherwise.

“That kind of organic community is what’s lacking for many people,” Chenet said, adding that he and his friends wanted a place where Catholics could live in close proximity. 

Monica Chenet said most of her best friends live in Cottonwood. “And I have plenty of friends off Cottonwood, but it’s really amazing to have people I can go to and pour out my heart and tell my troubles and receive their troubles in return … But this is an experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything else.”

Monica also said that because so many curious outsiders stop by at Cottonwood potlucks, it affords opportunities for sharing their faith and evangelization. Characterizing Cottonwood as a village, she said, “It’s part of a vocation. I’m raising the next generation of Catholics. I don’t think enough people appreciate what that is and how important it is.”

The contention between Cottonwood and township authorities started in September 2021, when the township issued a zoning violation notice about the animals. The farm has weathered a yearslong appeal process, with the appeal rejected in August 2022, and another violation that called on the farm to either expand from its current size or send the livestock away. The township claims that the right-of-way alongside the road bordering the farm diminishes the total acreage that can be claimed for farming.

“Trouble with the authorities started pretty early on,” Chenet told CNA, adding that it was not initially over animals. “This is why I’m sure the animals are a pretext.” He said there are other farms in the area that typically have single-family homes. Cottonwood’s pastures and fields were in disrepair when it was purchased, but residents have gradually improved it.

When asked whether the dispute had anything to do with the neighboring historic village, Chenet answered: “I think that had a big part in it. Webster Historical Society wanted to buy this property, but they didn’t have the funds. The other problem is that the town hall is right there — its property abuts ours — so people on the township board can see what we are doing, a lot.” An online search revealed that Zoning Board of Appeals member Rick Kleinschmidt is also a director of the Webster Historical Society.

In an Aug. 17 court filing for Cottonwood, Negri wrote that while a zoning administrator told Chenet in 2019 that the township board did not like the looks of Cottonwood’s dumpster, an official said it “did not violate any specific zoning ordinance,” but “if it wasn’t moved, he would find an applicable public nuisance ordinance to apply to it.” Township Treasurer John Scharf lives close to Cottonwood and in sight of the dumpster, according to Negri.

Other objections emerged about Cottonwood’s milk cow, Prudence, and whether she was getting adequate care. The Humane Society determined that the cow was treated appropriately, while Michigan’s Department of Agriculture found that the farm conformed with accepted agricultural and management practices and guidelines. However, a March citation from the township, later affirmed by the Zoning Board of Appeals, claimed that Cottonwood was violating a local ordinance prohibiting farm animals.

Cottonwood then filed a legal answer claiming that the zoning ordinance is ambiguously worded and that Michigan’s Right to Farm Act allowing agriculture supersedes the local ordinance.

Negri wrote: “It is patently frustrating that, in an age when farming practices have diminished and food prices are rising, and more and more people are turning to home farming options for sustenance, Webster Township feels compelled to cite its own residents in an AG-zoned district who are relearning farming techniques and seeking to be more eco-friendly, healthy, and self-sustaining by trying to shut down their small farming operation on specious grounds.”  

In an interview, Negri told CNA: “This case has precedential effect for anyone who farms in Michigan under the Right to Farm Act if local jurisdictions can be the judge, jury, and executioner all the time. It’s a big problem.” He added that he expects the case will gain the attention of farmers and landowners across the state. 

As for Chenet, he told CNA that he will pursue his legal options and warned that “If someone has a farm and a township doesn’t like it, then that farmer will face officials prosecuting him who are also the jury. It would be like putting a fox in charge of a henhouse.”

Pope Francis creates 21 new cardinals, expanding body's geographic diversity

Pope Francis created 21 new cardinals from across the world at a Saturday morning consistory in St. Peter’s Square (Sept. 30, 2023). / Credit: Vatican Media

Vatican City, Sep 30, 2023 / 07:53 am (CNA).

Pope Francis created 21 new cardinals from across the world at a Saturday morning consistory in St. Peter’s Square, reflecting on how the geographic expansion of the Church’s leadership represents a fulfillment of the promise of Pentecost.

“You new Cardinals have come from different parts of the world, and the same Spirit that made the evangelization of your peoples fruitful now renews in you your vocation and mission in and for the Church,” the pope told the new cardinals in his homily for the event, 18 of whom are under the age 80, and therefore eligible to vote in a conclave.

The Sept. 30 consistory, which saw cardinals created from 15 different countries, was in continuity with Francis’s steady geographic diversification of the College of Cardinals, carried out over the nine consistories he has held during his 10-year pontificate.

The new red hats include Cardinal Stephen Ameyu Martin Mulla of Juba, the first-ever cardinal from South Sudan. Two other African prelates — Cardinal Stephen Brislin from Cape Town, South Africa and Cardinal Protase Rugambwa of Tabora, Tanzania — were also elevated. The total percentage of cardinal electors from Africa is now 14%, a rise of 5% since 2013.

The Pope also created cardinals representing Catholic communities in non-majority Christian countries: Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Cardinal Stephen Chow of Hong Kong, and Cardinal Sebastian Francis of Penang, Malaysia. In total, 16% of all cardinal-electors are now from Asia, compared to 9% before Francis’s pontificate.

Five new cardinals from Latin America — including three from Francis’ native Argentina — were also created on Saturday, and the total percentage of electors from that of the world now stands at 18%, a modest 2% higher than before the Argentinian pope began his reign.

“Mother Church, who speaks all languages, is one and is Catholic,” said Pope Francis at the consistory. The Pope has now created cardinals from 66 different countries, including several from countries that have never had a red hat, like Mongolia and Singapore.

In contrast to the increase in cardinals from the global South and East, the percentage of cardinals from Europe has fallen from 53% in 2013 to 39% today — though this seems to be part of a larger trend; all but one elector in the 1903 conclave, for instance, were European, with more than half from Italy.

Geographic diversity, though, was not the only priority represented in the Pope’s new cardinals, as key ecclesial collaborators were also included. Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernández, the pope’s longtime theological ghostwriter who was recently tapped to head the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, received a red hat, as did Cardinal Christoph Pierre, a Frenchman and the pope’s representative to the United States.

Cardinal Robert Prevost, a native of Chicago who leads the Dicastery for Bishops; and Cardinal Americo Aguiar, the Portuguese prelate who led the organization and implementation of World Youth Day 2023 in Lisbon, were also elevated during the consistory.

With the 18 new electors, the current number of cardinals eligible to pick the next pope stands at 136 — 99, or 72% of whom were picked by Pope Francis. The expansion of the College of Cardinals was symbolically expressed at the consistory, as, after receiving his red biretta, each new cardinal went to sit with the veteran cardinals who had gathered for the event.

During his homily, the Pope shared a guiding image for the College of Cardinals: that of “a symphony orchestra, representing the harmony and synodality of the Church.”

“Diversity is necessary; it is indispensable. However, each sound must contribute to the common design.”

The pope compared his role in the symphony to that of the conductor, who “has to listen more than anyone else.” But the true protagonist of the Church, Pope Francis said, is the Holy Spirit, who “creates variety and unity,” and “is harmony itself”:

"A symphony thrives on the skillful composition of the timbres of different instruments: each one makes its contribution, sometimes alone, sometimes united with someone else, sometimes with the whole ensemble. Diversity is necessary; it is indispensable. However, each sound must contribute to the common design. This is why mutual listening is essential: each musician must listen to the others. If one listens only to himself, however sublime his sound may be, it will not benefit the symphony; and the same would be the case if one section of the orchestra did not listen to the others, but played as if it were alone as if it were the whole. In addition, the conductor of the orchestra is at the service of this kind of miracle that is each performance of a symphony. He has to listen more than anyone else, and at the same time his job is to help each person and the whole orchestra develop the greatest creative fidelity: fidelity to the work being performed, but also creative, able to give a soul to the score, to make it resonate in the here and now in a unique way.

"Dear brothers and sisters, it does us good to reflect upon ourselves as the image of the orchestra, in order to learn to be an ever more symphonic and synodal Church. I propose this especially to you, members of the College of Cardinals, in the consoling confidence that we have the Holy Spirit — he is the protagonist — as our master: the interior master of each one of us and the master of walking together. He creates variety and unity; He is harmony itself. Saint Basil was looking for a synthesis when he said: “Ipse harmonia est”, he is harmony itself. We entrust ourselves to his gentle and strong guidance, and to the gracious care of the Virgin Mary," the pope said.

Data show Americans want larger families even as fertility rates remains at historic lows

null / Credit: Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 30, 2023 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Americans are increasingly of the view that families should be having more children. Yet most seem unwilling to do the job themselves. 

That’s the takeaway after polling this month from Gallup, which found that “Americans’ belief that the ideal family size includes three or more children has been rising steadily in recent years.”

A total of 45% of recent respondents to Gallup’s decadeslong survey claim that the ideal family size is at least three children, with 12% preferring four children and smaller percentages choosing five or six. The 45% figure is ”currently up four percentage points from the previous reading in 2018 to its highest point since 1971.”

Preference for larger families began plummeting in the late 1960s, per Gallup’s polling, but it has been on a slight but steady incline since 2011. 

Yet federal data show that the U.S. fertility rate continued its equally steady decline over that time period, including sharp drops among American women in their 20s; overall the rate declined from about 70 births per 1,000 women in 1990 to 58 per 1,000 in 2019. 

Patrick Brown, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., told CNA the data were ”a tad puzzling to figure out.” 

”People are increasingly telling Gallup [that] ‘the ideal number of children for a family to have’ is three or more, while as we all know birth rates continue to fall both in the U.S. and around the globe,” he said.

”It could be that people are thinking about a hypothetical family in the abstract when answering this question while believing their own family would do better with two, one, or zero kids,” Brown said. 

”It could also be people are concerned about declining fertility and think it would be ideal if other families (but not their own) had more kids.”

Difficulties in polling methodology might also muddle the results, he said.

Large families used to be considerably more common in the United States. Pew polling shows that in 1976, 40% of mothers in their early 40s had four or more children. By 2014 that number was 14%, while similarly aged mothers with just one or two children jumped considerably over that time period. 

The polling service affirmed that the overall decline in family size has been ”driven largely by declines in families with four or more children.”

Brad Wilcox, the director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, told CNA that Gallup’s data are reason for optimism. 

”Given falling fertility rates, it is a surprise and welcome development to see a growing share of Americans would actually like to have two or more children,” he said. 

”The key here is marriage,” he noted. “Young adults who marry in their 20s or early 30s have a much better shot at realizing their dreams of having two or more children. So we need to make marriage more attractive and attainable for young men and women today.”

Wilcox and other sociologists have been sounding alarm bells on declining marriage rates for years. Demographers and statisticians have further noted that sharply declining fertility rates could pose significant risks to the financial and social stability of the U.S.

Brown said polling elsewhere raises additional questions about the responses to the Gallup survey.

”Pew just found that only 26% of respondents said having children was extremely or very important for people to live a fulfilling life (compared to 71% for having a job they enjoy),” he said. ”So I am skeptical that this apparent shift in thinking towards the ‘ideal number’ tells us a great deal about people’s individual preferences. But it is a trend worth keeping an eye on.”

Gallup itself acknowledged as much, noting that in spite of the more favorable responses to large families, ”the U.S. birth rate remains low compared with the 1970s, suggesting that Americans’ views of the ideal may not be their personal reality.”

The polling service noted that young American adults — those under 30, who historically have had higher fertility rates relative to older groups — tend to express a desire for large families roughly equal to that of their older counterparts. 

The fertility decline ”may stem from young adults waiting much longer than prior generations to start having children rather than from a decreased desire to have children altogether,” Gallup pointed out.

Theodore McCarrick to undergo competency exam for Wisconsin criminal case

Theodore McCarrick arrives at Dedham District Court in Massachusetts on Sept. 3, 2021, for his 9 a.m. arraignment. / Credit: Joe Bukuras/CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 29, 2023 / 18:25 pm (CNA).

Less than a month after former cardinal Theodore McCarrick was ruled incompetent to stand trial on child sexual abuse charges in Massachusetts, he has again been ordered to undergo a mental health exam to determine whether he is competent to stand trial on similar charges in Wisconsin. 

The misdemeanor fourth-degree sexual assault charges in Wisconsin relate to an incident that allegedly occurred in April 1977, in which McCarrick is accused of “fondling of the victim’s genitals” at a “Geneva Lake residence,” an April press release from the Wisconsin Department of Justice said. 

Geneva Lake, which is located in Walworth County, is in southern Wisconsin, about an hour-and-20-minute drive south of Madison.

James Grein, 65, told CNA on Thursday that he brought the allegations in the Wisconsin case, saying that the abuse occurred when he was 18 years old. Grein, of Sterling, Virginia, was also the victim named in the Massachusetts complaint.

In the Massachusetts case, McCarrick underwent two separate psychological evaluations, one done in December 2022 for McCarrick’s defense team and the other in June by an expert hired by prosecutors. Both assessments concluded that the disgraced former archbishop of Washington, D.C., is too cognitively impaired to actively participate in his defense.

In a statement filed with the Massachusetts court before the dismissal of charges, Grein accused McCarrick’s legal team of “coaching” the former prelate for the psychiatrist’s interviews.

“Only they and Mr. McCarrick know the extent of the coaching to prepare him for his two interviews. If McCarrick is found incompetent, they will have won and justice will have lost,” he wrote.

Grein first went public with allegations against McCarrick in 2018 in an interview with the New York Times, which referred to him only by his first name. He told the newspaper that McCarrick had serially sexually abused him beginning when he was 11.

“He had chosen me to be his special boy,” Grein told the paper at the time. “If I go back to my family, they tell me that it’s good for you to be with him. And if you go to try to tell somebody, they say ‘I think you are mistaken.’ So what you do is you clam up, and you stay inside your own little shoe box, and you don’t come out for 40 years.”

Walworth County District Attorney Zeke Wiedenfeld told CNA on Thursday that McCarrick’s defense team raised the issue of competency in court proceedings, citing the two psychological evaluations from the Massachusetts case. 

The psychologist obtained by the Wisconsin court to examine McCarrick is Kerry Nelligan, the same psychologist whom the Massachusetts court appointed to evaluate the former prelate at his residence in Missouri, the Vianney Renewal Center, in June. 

In that report, she found that McCarrick “is suffering from an organic process of cognitive decline” that will not improve.

McCarrick’s defense asked the court to appoint Nelligan as the examiner because they said it would be “more efficient,” Wiedenfeld said. 

The state objected to Nelligan’s appointment because “the more normal practice” would be to allow Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services to choose the evaluator, he added.

The court can choose its own examiner and that sometimes happens in cases where a psychologist “has a history in evaluating a person,” he said.

“So it definitely happens. But it’s not the normal procedure,” he added.

Asked if he had concerns about the choice of Nelligan, Wiedenfeld declined comment. He said that after the first evaluation is finished, the prosecution can request its own evaluation, but it’s up to the court to approve the request.

The report is due to be filed in court by Nov. 22, he said.

New study shows that now almost two-thirds of US Catholics believe in Real Presence 

The Eucharistic procession ended in the Vatican’s Lourdes Grotto. / Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 29, 2023 / 18:05 pm (CNA).

A new study shows that almost two-thirds of adult Catholics in the United States believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, a significantly different result from the often-cited 2019 Pew Research study that suggested only one-third of adult Catholics in the U.S. believe in the Church’s teaching on the Blessed Sacrament.

The CARA study, which also points to a high correlation between weekly and monthly Mass attendance and belief in the Real Presence, comes amid the second year of the U.S. bishops’ Eucharistic revival, which was launched in part because of the Pew Research poll. 

The new report — published by Georgetown’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) and commissioned by the University of Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute for Church Life — challenges the methodology and results of the Pew survey but still demonstrates that a large number of Catholics don’t believe in the Real Presence, which the Catechism calls the “source and summit” of the faith.

Zachary Keith, assistant director on the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, told CNA Thursday that it is important to look at how questions relating to belief in the Eucharist are phrased, citing the difference in wording of both studies as a “large part of the reason for the discrepancy.”

Additionally, Keith said that the CARA study shows that those who believe in the Real Presence “do not know how to articulate it as well as I think the Pew study might have implied.” 

The revival culminates at its National Eucharistic Congress, which will be held next July and is expected to draw 80,000 Catholics to worship the Blessed Sacrament at Lucas Oil Stadium, home to the Indianapolis Colts.

Tim Glemkowski, CEO of the National Eucharistic Congress, told CNA Thursday: “What the recent study shows is the deep need for a true Eucharistic revival, one that pushes past mere notional assent and awareness of the Church’s teaching but is about providing an encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist, leading to a lived relationship of discipleship.”

‘A different approach’

CARA’s report takes issue with the phraseology of the questioning in the Pew Research study, calling it problematic. The methodology in CARA’s study “used a different approach to try to be as clear as possible,” the report said. 

In order to determine the percentage of U.S. adult Catholics who believe in the Real Presence, respondents in CARA’s study were asked a variety of different questions.

The report stated that after an examination of “each respondent’s answers collectively,” 64% of those surveyed “provided responses that indicate they believe in the Real Presence.”

The question answered by respondents in CARA’s study “more accurately reflects the Church’s teachings on the Eucharist” as opposed to the question answered in the Pew Research survey, the report said.

The report said there was a “problem” with the question used in the Pew survey, which asked: 

“Regardless of the official teaching of the Catholic Church, what do you personally believe about the bread and wine used for Communion?”

A few options shown below were given for answers.

“During Catholic Mass, the bread and wine... 

1. Actually become the body and blood of Jesus Christ 

2. Are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ 

3. No answer”

The problem with the question, the report said, is that respondents could choose both 1 and 2 and still be correct, citing the U.S. bishops conference, which said: “The transformed bread and wine are truly the Body and Blood of Christ and are not merely symbols.”

The Eucharist is “substance and symbol,” the CARA report said. 

Mass attendance and education

Respondents in the CARA study were also surveyed on a host of other questions, including Mass attendance and where they learned about the Eucharist. 

The study said that 95% of weekly Mass attendees and 80% who attend at least once a month believe in the Real Presence.

Seventeen percent of adult Catholics attend Mass at least once a week, the report said. Before the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019, 24% of Catholics attended Mass weekly, it said. 

Almost 20% of adult Catholics attend Mass at least once a month and 26% attend a few times a year, the report said. Thirty-five percent rarely or never attend. 

Those who entered the Church as adults or served in parish ministry polled at higher levels for belief in the Real Presence. Those who attended Catholic schools at any level were more likely than those who never attended to believe in the Real Presence.

The survey also asked respondents where they learned about the Eucharist, leading to their belief or unbelief in the Real Presence.

Fifty-three percent said they learned from their parents, while 44% said they learned through sacramental preparation or religious education. Just over 40% said they learned at Mass, and 37% said they learned at Catholic school. 

For those who said they learned from their parents, 67% believe in the Real Presence. Seventy-three percent of those who learned from parish programs believe, while 75% who learned their information in Catholic schools believe. 

Sixty percent of those who learned information about the Eucharist from the internet believe in the Real Presence.

“With these methods we hope that we have come to a better understanding of what Catholics believe the Church teaches and what they personally believe about the Eucharist themselves,” the report said.

Spanish Opus Dei priest announced as new Helsinki bishop

Bishop-elect Raimo Ramón Goyarrola Belda of Helsinki, left, and Archbishop Julio Murat, apostolic nuncio to the Nordic countries. / Credit: Catholic Information Centre, Diocese of Helsinki

CNA Staff, Sep 29, 2023 / 17:45 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis on Friday appointed Father Raimo Ramón Goyarrola Belda, a priest of the Personal Prelature of Opus Dei, as the new bishop of Helsinki, Finland.

The apostolic nuncio to the Nordic countries, Archbishop Julio Murat, announced Goyarrola Belda’s appointment at the end of a Sept. 29 Mass he celebrated at St. Henry’s Cathedral in Helsinki.

Finland is home to a small Catholic community, with an estimated 17,000 members as of early 2023, many of whom are immigrants. The vast majority of Finns belong nominally to the Lutheran church, though many Finns are irreligious in practice.

The country of 5.5 million people has only one diocese, just eight Catholic churches, and about 30 priests, according to the diocesan website.

St. Henry's Cathedral in Helsinki, Finland. Credit: Jonah McKeown
St. Henry's Cathedral in Helsinki, Finland. Credit: Jonah McKeown

The Helsinki Diocese had been without a bishop since May 20, 2019, when the pope accepted the early resignation of Bishop Teemu Sippo, who had led the diocese since 2009 and resigned early for health reasons. Sippo was the first Finnish-born Catholic bishop to be appointed since the 16th century. Father Marco Pasinato had been serving as administrator of the diocese.

Goyarrola Belda, 54, most recently served as vicar general for the Helsinki Diocese and has served in Finland since 2006. Catholics in Finland are “very happy” to now have a bishop who is fluent in Finnish, EWTN Norge reported.

Left to right: Bishop emeritus of Helsinki, Teemu Sippo SCI; apostolic nuncio to the Nordic countries, Archbishop Julio Murat; and bishop-elect Raimo Ramón Goyarrola Belda of Helsinki; following a Mass at St. Henry's Cathedral on Sept. 29, 2023. Catholic Information Centre, Diocese of Helsinki
Left to right: Bishop emeritus of Helsinki, Teemu Sippo SCI; apostolic nuncio to the Nordic countries, Archbishop Julio Murat; and bishop-elect Raimo Ramón Goyarrola Belda of Helsinki; following a Mass at St. Henry's Cathedral on Sept. 29, 2023. Catholic Information Centre, Diocese of Helsinki

The bishop-elect was born on July 20, 1969, in Bilbao, Spain. In 1987 he entered the Personal Prelature of Opus Dei, the Vatican announcement stated. 

He studied medicine and surgery at the Universidad de Navarra and subsequently carried out his philosophical-theological studies at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, obtaining a doctorate in dogmatic theology.

He was ordained a priest of Opus Dei in September 2002. The date of his episcopal ordination has not yet been announced.

Left to right: Bishop-elect Raimo Ramón Goyarrola Belda of Helsinki; apostolic nuncio to the Nordic countries, Archbishop Julio Murat; and Father Marco Pasinato, who served as administrator of the diocese since 2019. Credit: Catholic Information Centre, Diocese of Helsinki
Left to right: Bishop-elect Raimo Ramón Goyarrola Belda of Helsinki; apostolic nuncio to the Nordic countries, Archbishop Julio Murat; and Father Marco Pasinato, who served as administrator of the diocese since 2019. Credit: Catholic Information Centre, Diocese of Helsinki

What is a consistory? Your questions answered

The extraordinary consistory of cardinals meets at the Vatican's Synod Hall, Aug. 29, 2022. / Credit: Vatican Media

CNA Staff, Sep 29, 2023 / 17:25 pm (CNA).

On Saturday, Sept. 30, Pope Francis will create 21 new cardinals at a consistory in Rome. 

Here’s everything you need to know:

What’s a consistory?

Cardinals are the pope’s closest assistants and advisers, from all around the world. A consistory is a formal meeting of the College of Cardinals. The pope can convene them for a number of reasons.

One of the most common reasons for a consistory, as is the case here, is to create new cardinals. The ceremony in which the pope makes cardinals is known as an ordinary public consistory. 

Another consistory the pope may convene is an ordinary consistory to vote on the causes of new saints, the last step before a formal canonization can take place.

There are also extraordinary consistories, in which every cardinal is expected to take part, barring a serious reason.

The last ordinary public consistory took place on Aug. 27, 2022. The new cardinals created then included Cardinal Robert McElroy of San Diego and Cardinal Arthur Roche, prefect of the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

Soon after, Pope Francis convened an extraordinary consistory, which took place Aug. 29–30, 2022, during which the world’s cardinals came to Rome to discuss the new constitution of the Roman Curia, Praedicate Evangelium.

Who is being made cardinal this weekend?

Twenty-one men from around the world will “receive the red hat” and become cardinals at the September consistory. 

Among them is Stephen Chow Sau-yan, SJ, bishop of Hong Kong; Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States; Pierbattista Pizzaballa, OFM, Latin patriarch of Jerusalem; and Víctor Manuel Fernández, the new prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. 

A list along with an analysis of each cardinal-elect’s spiritual motto can be found here. 

What will actually happen at this consistory?

In addition to giving each new cardinal their hat, or biretta, Pope Francis at the Sept. 30 liturgy at St. Peter’s Basilica will place a ring on the hand of each new cardinal while saying: “Receive this ring from the hand of Peter and know that, with the love of the Prince of the Apostles, your love for the Church is strengthened.” They will also each receive the formal decree (or papal bull) announcing their creation as a cardinal.

The scarlet biretta is, as the pope will recite, a “sign of the dignity of the cardinalate, signifying your readiness to act with courage, even to the shedding of your blood, for the increase of the Christian faith, for the peace and tranquility of the people of God and for the freedom and growth of the Holy Roman Church.”

Immediately before, the new cardinals will make a profession of faith by reciting the Creed. They then pronounce an oath of fidelity and obedience to the pope and his successors.

The pope will also assign each new cardinal a church in the Diocese of Rome, called a “titular church.” This further links the cardinal to Rome and to the pope, who is the bishop of Rome.

The other members of the College of Cardinals, clergy, Catholics, and members of the public may all attend a consistory to create cardinals.

So, how many cardinals will there be, and why does it matter?

St. Paul VI established in 1970 that cardinals aged 80 and over cannot participate in the process of electing a pope — thus, cardinals who are younger than 80 are known as “electors.” Paul VI also established a numerical limit for the number of electors, capping it at 120, but the number occasionally has risen above that number.   

The number of cardinal electors — and indeed the number of cardinals in general — in the college is always changing, since at any time cardinals may be celebrating their 80th birthday or may have died. 

According to the Vatican, as of Sept. 29, there were 119 cardinal electors ahead of the consistory and 102 non-electors. After the consistory, the number will rise to 105 non-electors and 136 electors. 

Francis has shaped the college greatly during his 10 years as pope, appointing 98, or 72%, of the current electors after the conclave on Sept. 30. The rest were appointed by St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. In all, he has named cardinals from 66 countries, including several first-time nations, such as South Sudan, Singapore, and Mongolia.

That percentage becomes important given the current requirement that a candidate needs a two-thirds majority of the cardinals’ votes to be elected pope. This, however, is a provision that Pope Francis could change at any time. 

Pope Francis denounces ‘body-shaming,’ admits to bullying overweight friend as a child

Pope Francis speaks during a press conference aboard the papal plane from Marseille, France, to Rome on Sept. 23, 2023, at the conclusion of a two-day visit to the southern French port city to take part in the Mediterranean Encounter, a meeting of young people and bishops. / Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 29, 2023 / 17:05 pm (CNA).

In a Tuesday video call with university students from South Asia, Pope Francis highlighted the dignity and value of all human persons, denouncing “body-shaming,” and admitting to bullying an overweight boy as a child.

The pope’s comments were given during a livestreamed dialogue with students titled “Building Bridges Across South Asia,” which was hosted by Chicago’s Loyola University and the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.

The full recorded conversation can be accessed here

Responding to a question raised by Merlin Rosemary, a student at St. Joseph’s University in Bengaluru, India, Francis said that body-shaming is “something artificial” that disrupts the ability to live “in harmony with your hearts.”

“It’s not only a question of measurements or sizes, it’s a harmonic beauty that every woman, every man, has, and we have to cherish that,” Francis said.

“I recall a friend of mine, who was a bit fat, and we would actually mock him, I daresay, bullying him,” the pope confessed to the students.

One day, Francis said that he and his friends “once hit him and he fell down.”

Upon learning of the incident, Francis said his father made him go to the bullied child’s home to apologize.

Years later, the pope said, he reconnected with the friend who had since become an evangelical pastor.

“It was beautiful,” Francis said, “he had overcome all his trauma, all his bullying, all his shame, all his body shame.”

Still responding to the student’s question, the pope also said that plastic surgery “serves no purpose,” because, he said, “this beauty is going to fade eventually.”

“There was a famous actress, Anna Magnani, and when talking about her wrinkles she said: ‘No, I won’t get rid of them. It costs me to get these wrinkles, they are my beauty,’” the pope said. “So, we all have our beauty, and we have to accept it and we have to live in harmony with it.”

“There’s the beauty of the harmony of the individual, regardless of you being fat, thin, short, tall, the important thing is to live in harmony, in harmony in your hearts,” Francis said. “So, beauty makes us grow, in terms of our mental health, every man, every woman have their own beauty. We only have to learn how to see it, how to recognize it.”

Social media and suicide

During the call with students, Francis also addressed high suicide rates among young people, anxiety, and what he called “digital manipulation” on social media.

“While this is a tragic reality, young people commit suicide because they are faced with closed doors, they were looking for something and they couldn’t find it,” the pope said. “There are countries where the suicide rate is incredibly high among young people because they can’t manage failure, especially when they can’t find a job, so they lose all hope.”

Francis said that failure “is actually a call, it’s an appeal.”

“We’re not angels because angels have fallen only once whereas we fell many times due to our limits. But God always gives us the reliance to stand up again, so he takes us by our hands and helps us stand up,” he went on. “The important thing is not to not fall, but not to stay, or lay, on the ground. That’s wisdom, I fall down but then I stand up again.” 

According to Francis, “digital manipulation” on social media is “altering our understanding of social and political reality.”

By this phrase, the pope explained that messaging young people are exposed to through social media, the media, and entertainment distracts from true beauty and harmony.

“So, what’s really pressing is being educated to a new form of communication to avoid this anxiety of digital manipulation,” Francis said. “So as professionals, as students, I’m asking you to take a critical stance towards the positions expressed by the media, by TV programs, you are university students, you must have some critical thinking.

The pope concluded this portion of his talk with young people by imploring them to “look for the true beauty and the true harmony of an individual.”

“A person that lives in harmony regardless of being fat, thin, skinny, is the most important thing,” Francis said, adding: “Don’t be afraid, don’t lose your sense of humor, because humor means mental health.”

Canadian bishops reject euthanasia, discuss Indigenous fund, synod at end of meeting

The 2023 Plenary Assembly of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) being held Sept. 25-28, 2023, outside of Toronto, Ontario. / Credit: CCCB/CECC

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 29, 2023 / 16:43 pm (CNA).

As the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (CCCB) annual meeting came to a close this week, the bishops firmly rejected the country’s expansion of euthanasia and discussed the upcoming Synod on Synodality in Rome as well as funding efforts for Indigenous reconciliation.

During a Thursday news conference, incoming CCCB President Bishop William McGrattan said the Church remains focused on “helping [people] in their suffering,” helping families, and respecting human dignity as Canada expands eligibility for euthanasia.

More than 30,000 Canadians died from euthanasia between 2016 and 2021, which has seen steady growth since the practice was legalized. In March 2024, Canada will expand its legal euthanasia program, known as Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD), to include those suffering from mental illnesses, which will open up the process to significantly more people.

McGrattan said Church-affiliated organizations will focus on palliative care and will not support euthanasia.

“Catholic-sponsored health associations and organizations do not permit MAiD,” the bishop said.

Indigenous reconciliation 

The bishops intend to reach $14 million in the Indigenous Reconciliation Fund by the end of the year with an ultimate goal of reaching $30 million. The fund provides money for more than 60 programs or initiatives to assist Indigenous communities.

McGrattan said the funds are collected in various ways and the bishops submitted a schedule of commitment “on behalf of all of the bishops in Canada.” He said the goal should be reached because “my brother bishops have made that commitment.”

Synod in Rome

The bishops continued a discussion they began on Monday about the upcoming Synod on Synodality. McGrattan, who is one of four Canadian bishops who will take part in the synod, said it will be a prolonged opportunity “where we encounter Christ.” He said synod attendees, like himself, will focus on listening “to the Holy Spirit as to where the [it is guiding] the Church.”

The synod, which begins Oct. 4, will address questions such as how the Church can be an instrument of union between God and humanity; how to share gifts and tasks in the service of the Gospel; and on the processes, structures, and institutions in a missionary synodal Church.

Bishops from around the world will take part in the synod, which will have two assemblies: the one that begins next week and a second one in October 2024.

“I hope to be impacted in a way to influence my ministry [as] a bishop going forward,” McGrattan said. 

Incoming CCCB Vice President Bishop Pierre Goudreault will not attend the synod but expects it will have an impact on Canadian dioceses in helping them make decisions and be more synodal.

“I think we still remain a learning Church about synodality,” the bishop said.

Goudreault added that participants “will be really able to hear each other” and with the contribution of Pope Francis “discern about the needs of the mission today.”

Protection of minors and vulnerable persons, work in Honduras

Earlier in the week, the bishops took time to address the protection of minors and vulnerable adults. One of the focuses was to ensure that dioceses do not neglect protections for vulnerable adults within their codes of conduct. These protections are meant to prevent individuals in positions of authority from imposing themselves on someone under their care.

On the first day of their meeting, in addition to preparing for the upcoming synod, the bishops discussed humanitarian efforts in Honduras, specifically efforts to protect a river in Guapinol, which has been severely polluted, negatively impacting the village’s 45,000 inhabitants.

The 2023 Plenary Assembly of the CCCB began Monday, Sept. 25, and ended Thursday, Sept. 28. It took place in King City, Ontario, which is just outside of Toronto. The Canadian bishops gather every year to discuss issues facing the Church in Canada.

Archdiocese of Baltimore files for bankruptcy amid clergy sex abuse claims

Credit: Minerva Studio/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 29, 2023 / 15:49 pm (CNA).

The Archdiocese of Baltimore declared bankruptcy on Friday several weeks after warning it might do so in response to a looming wave of sex-abuse-related lawsuits.

Archbishop William Lori said in a statement on Friday that ”after consulting with numerous lay leaders and the clergy of the archdiocese,” he had made the decision for the archdiocese to file “for Chapter 11 reorganization.”

“With an approved plan under Chapter 11, the archdiocese will be reorganized, victim-survivors will be equitably compensated, and the Church will continue its mission and ministries,” the archbishop said.

The process will “involve several steps over the next two to three years,” Lori said, including “accept[ing] claims from victim-survivors for a specified period of time” and then “enter[ing] negotiations” with those individuals.

The filing, Lori said, is “the best path forward to compensate equitably all victim-survivors, given the archdiocese’s limited financial resources, which would have otherwise been exhausted on litigation.” 

“Staggering legal fees and large settlements or jury awards for a few victim-survivors would have depleted our financial resources, leaving the vast majority of victim-survivors without compensation while ending ministries that families across Maryland rely on for material and spiritual support,” he said.

The prelate also made the announcement via a prerecorded video uploaded to YouTube on Friday afternoon.

Responding to a user question on its Facebook account, the archdiocese on Friday told members of the diocese that “the money you place in the collection basket or give to your parish online will continue to be used to fund your individual parish.”

“Archdiocesan parishes and schools are separate legal entities, distinct from the archdiocese,” the post said. “Charitable entities such as Catholic Charities are similarly separate legal entities. The ministries and operations of parishes, schools, and other entities, such as our Catholic Charities agencies, should not be directly affected by the archdiocese’s Chapter 11 proceeding.”

Lori had said earlier this month that the archdiocese was considering bankruptcy as one possible maneuver to deal with a potential wave of sex abuse lawsuits against Baltimore. A new law going into effect Oct. 1 will end the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits for negligence in relation to child sexual abuse, opening the local Church up to lawsuits over abuse from years past.  

The archdiocese will join more than two dozen other U.S. dioceses that have filed for bankruptcy in recent years. Behind Baltimore, the Archdiocese of San Francisco is the most recent, having filed in late August in response to numerous abuse lawsuits. 

In his public statement earlier this month, Lori said a bankruptcy filing would help establish “a reasonable and equitable method for compensation of victim-survivors while also preserving the many vital ministries of the archdiocese.”

“In this type of reorganization, the archdiocese would be required to provide resources which would be used to compensate victim-survivors while at the same time ensuring our mission can continue,” Lori said. 

If the archdiocese attempted to litigate each individual lawsuit, Lori said, it would “potentially lead to some very high damage awards for a very small number of victim-survivors while leaving almost nothing for the vast majority of them.” 

“The archdiocese simply does not have unlimited resources to satisfy such claims; its assets are indeed finite,” the prelate said at the time. 

The Maryland attorney general earlier in the week had released an unredacted report on child sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, one that named most of the individuals accused there. A redacted version of the report had been released in April.

The report alleged more than 600 children were abused by 156 people in the diocese over a period beginning in the 1940s through 2002.