Skurla, Wuerl on the family synod

Written by Peter Smith on .

It's surely a coincidence that the Vatican's synod on the family began just a day before the U.S. Supreme Court all but signaled that same-sex marriage would be the legal norm in America.


As I noted in my story Sunday, the synod comes as Catholic tradition on the family is already a tough sell even among Catholics.


Archbishop William Skurla of the Byzantine Eparchy of Pittsburgh acknowledged that the Roman Catholic Church's traditional view on marriage is practically a minority viewpoint now. And that, he told Vatican Radio, isn't the only challenge. These days, families that stay together, pay together. People whose marriages are broken are often financially broke as well.


Vatican Radio reported on Archbishop Skurla's comments in an interview. He's one of the select group of delegates there.


“it is more difficult to speak to the world, because always we have to explain our position as almost a minority understanding of the place of the family in society today.”

Another challenge he cited is that which results a lack of permanence, with families frequently moving from place to place. “It creates an atmosphere where there is not the same kind of support that we had, say, thirty, or forty, or fifty years ago from the family in the community that people are trying to raise their children in.”

The archbishop also highlighted a third challenge which pertains to stability caused by the economic status of the family. “A change during the last twenty years,” he said, “is that the more stable families are actually the more successful [financially] families,” while those that “have to struggle economically have more difficulty in staying together.”

Also a delegate is Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., native and former bishop of Pittsburgh.


Cardinal Wuerl told Vatican Radio not to "expect sound bite solutions” to today's family challenges:


“The secular world, the secular vision doesn’t have a lot of space for a relationship with God, or a transcendent reality beyond us … that world has created a individualism and a self-referential world that doesn’t leave a lot of space for a healthy marriage and a family life that is going to follow on from that”.



And to Catholic News Service he said of the debate over communion for divorced-and-remarried Catholics:

"The reception of Communion is not a doctrinal position. It's a pastoral application of the doctrine.... Just to repeat the practice of the past without any effort to see whether there is some awareness, openness, influence of the Spirit that might be helping us in total continuity with our past practice to find a new direction today."





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Harrisburg bishop: No boy-girl contact sports

Written by Peter Smith on .

Bishop Ronald Gainer -- appointed late last year to head the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg -- is prohibiting girls from boys' contact sports teams at Catholic schools and in Catholic youth leagues, citing "safety & modesty" concerns.

The policy is at this link, and excerpts follow. But it's worth pointing out that if this approach seems traditionalist and even archaic -- something that would be pigeonholed into the conservative thought of the papacies of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and contrary to the modern ethos that enthrones equality above virtually all other concerns -- remember that Bishop Gainer was appointed to Harrisburg by Pope Francis. For all the conversation recently about Pope Francis' appointment of different kinds of bishops than his predecessors (see Chicago), this is just a reminder that Francis is more complex than that. Bishop Gainer, an Eastern Pennsylvania native, was originally a John Paul appointee as bishop of Lexington, Ky., who made it perfectly clear that the pro-life, anti-abortion agenda was "THE paramount issue of are time" for Catholics as both believers and voters. Now that he's in the state capital here, it shouldn't be a surprise that he'd implement rules with a traditionalist understanding of gender roles.

"Gospel-based values are taught and learned in these athletic programs by developing respect for self and for others through competitions and other forms of human interaction in which dignity, integrity, fairness and moral strength are emphasized. Christian witness to authentic Gospel values is given by all who are involved in these programs in the form of adherence to appropriate norms of conduct, decorum and moral discipline.

"Preparation for Christian adulthood likewise involves the development and encouragement of appropriate, dignified and respectful forms of contact between male and female students. The Diocese therefore believes that it is incompatible with its religious mission and with its efforts to teach Gospel values to condone competitions between young men and women in sports that involve substantial and potentially immodest physical contact.

"Consequently, the Diocese has adopted this policy prohibiting co-ed participation in thefollowing sports: wrestling, tackle football and tackle rugby. In any sport in which co-ed participation is permitted, the appropriate ecclesiastical authority designated by the diocesan bishop may issue and enforce rules of conduct that reflect morally appropriate norms of contact between participants."






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Many pastors don't talk about mental illness

Written by Peter Smith on .

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The first responder to a mental health crisis is either a police officer or a pastor, says Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research in Nashville.

Of the two, the police are better trained, he said.

Two-thirds of Protestant pastors surveyed said they talk about mental illness, if at all, once a year or less, according to a survey of 1,000 such pastors around the country. The survey was released Monday by LifeWay and co-sponsored by the group Focus on the Family and a private donor.

If one in four parishioners suffered from, say, cancer, the pastor would probably be talking about it more often, Mr. Stetzer said, and "they should do the same for mental illness."

Only a quarter of churches have a plan to assist families affected by mental illness, and an even lower percentage of such families surveyed knew if their church has one. And roughly a quarter of people who experienced mental illness either switched churches or dropped out due to negative responses, although half stayed with their church and found it supportive.

On the positive side, Mr. Stetzer said, pastors were comfortable referring people to professional mental health services as needed, and most favored the use of medication when needed. 

He said that counters a popular perception of religious leaders seeing mental illness as a solely spiritual problem without a medical component. (That perception has a basis in reality, particularly in a 2008 Baylor University survey finding nearly a third of people who were themselves medically diagnosed with mental illness, or a loved one was, reported being told it was directly due to personal sin, demons or lack of faith.)

"There’s a huge conversation about over-medication and we get that, but clearly there’s a comfort level" with medication, he said.

About one-quarter of pastors themselves say they've had experience with mental illness, including 12 percent who were themselves diagnosed. But they're reluctant to talk about it, according to the survey.

Attention has focused on mental illness from a variety of sources, but the evangelical Protestant community was especially rocked in recent years by the suicides of the adult children of megachurch pastor Rick Warren and of the president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee, Frank Page. Both have spoken publicly and candidly about it.



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Plans taking shape for still-unconfirmed papal visit

Written by Peter Smith on .

rocky poster-280Pope Francis hasn't quite officially confirmed his visit to Philadelphia in September 2015, but he has said he wants to, and planners for the related World Meeting of Families are preparing as if he will.

Assuming he does, they're anticipating 1.5 million people -- probably including some protesters -- to show up for a papal Mass on Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015. That would the last date of a projected three-day visit of the pope.

Meg Kane, vice president for Brian Communications, which is helping organize public relations for the event, gave an overview to reporters at the Religion Newswriters Association gathering on Friday in Atlanta.

Pope Francis would preside from a makeshift altar at the dramatic front entrance of the Philadelphia Museum of Art -- presiding about where the cinematic Rocky had his own transcendent experience of sorts after ascending the multiple steps. Whether the pontiff will try to run up the steps, as countless tourists have been unable to resist doing, wasn't specified. But I promise to keep the Rocky allusions to a minimum now that I've gotten this one out of my system.

The worshipers at the papal Mass would congregate all along Benjamin Franklin Parkway and surrounding streets, parks and plaza.

The cost is estimated in the tens of millions of dollars. There is active fundraising happening in Philadelphia for this event, but beyond that, no specifics at this time.

A papal Mass would culminate the World Meeting of Families, a triennial international Catholic gathering, being held in the United States for the first time in 2015, beginning Sept. 22. Past events in other countries have regularly drawn papal visits and large crowds.

About 10,000 to 15,000 delegates are expected to the conference, highlighting Catholic stances and testimonies on the family, with many more participating in related events.

If the pontiff does attend, planners project he would arrive to a welcome ceremony at the airport on Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, with a projected 350,000 or so lining the streets to welcome him. He would attend the family events on Saturday, with about a half-million people expected.



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