Browsing News Entries

Browsing News Entries

Annual Survey Provides Insight into the State of the Permanent Diaconate in the Church

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations has released its annual survey, A Portrait of the Permanent Diaconate in 2023: A Study for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Since 2005, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University has conducted this survey which provides important statistics and forecasting trends on the state of the permanent diaconate in the Church in the United States. 

Bishop Earl A. Boyea of Lansing, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations expressed his gratitude for the service of permanent deacons in the Church: “An important part of the life of deacons has been their service of the poor or vulnerable by bringing them the love of Christ and guidance. The faithful and tireless witness of deacons is greatly appreciated, and it challenges each of us to strive to serve our neighbor better. I invite the faithful to pray and support deacons in their efforts to spread the Word of God and serve those who are many times the least, the last and the lost. 

The survey utilized contact information from the National Association of Diaconate Directors (NADD) and was sent to the Office of the Permanent Diaconate in the Latin and Eastern Rite (arch)dioceses and eparchies. In total, CARA received responses from 128 of the 185 (arch)dioceses/eparchies whose bishops are members of the USCCB and have an active Office of Deacons, for a 69% response rate. 

  • The estimated number of permanent deacons in active ministry was 13,718 in 2023, roughly 69% of all permanent deacons in the Latin Church. 
  • The Archdiocese of Chicago had the greatest number of permanent deacons (827) followed by Galveston-Houston (346), New York (357), and Joliet in Illinois (307). 
  • There were 587 men ordained to the permanent diaconate in 2023. Since 2014, the estimated number of ordinations averaged 613. 
  • Most active deacons are between 60-69 years old (42%) followed by deacons 70 and older (36%). 
  • Most permanent deacons are Caucasian/white (73%) followed by Hispanic/Latino (20%), Asian/Pacific Islander (3%), African American/black (3%), and Native American/other (1%). 
  • Active permanent deacons most commonly serve in a parish ministerial position, such as a DRE or youth minister (23%), followed by a parish non-ministerial position, such as administration or business (20%), diocesan non-ministerial positions (12%). Additionally, 9% were entrusted with the pastoral care of one or more parishes, 8% serve in prison ministry and hospital ministry. 

The full survey conducted by CARA may be accessed here.


Lasting peace requires all warring parties in dialogue, cardinal says

The only way to achieve true, stable and just peace is by having all sides of a conflict involved in dialogue, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, said at a peace summit in Switzerland.

"The Holy See expresses its hope that the diplomatic effort currently being promoted by Ukraine and supported by so many countries will be improved, in order to achieve the results that the victims deserve and that the entire world is hoping for," he said in his speech June 16.

Upon Ukraine's request, Switzerland organized a Summit on Peace in Ukraine, which was held at a resort overlooking Lake Lucerne in the Canton of Nidwalden June 15-16. Switzerland invited more than 160 heads of state and other government leaders to kick-start a peace process by developing "a common understanding of a path towards a just and lasting peace in Ukraine." 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy gestures as he speaks at a press conference during a summit on peace in Ukraine held in Stansstad, Switzerland, June 16, 2024. (CNS photo/KEYSTONE/EDA/POOL/Michael Buholzer)

About 100 delegations, including 57 heads of state and governments, attended the conference. Russia, which escalated its attacks on Ukraine with a full-scale assault in 2022, was not invited after it had indicated multiple times it had no interest in participating, and China, repeatedly called on by international leaders to use its leverage to bring Russia to the negotiating table, was also absent.

Cardinal Parolin, who led the Vatican delegation, said, "It is important to reiterate that the only means capable of achieving true, stable and just peace is dialogue between all the parties involved."

"In the face of war and its tragic consequences, it is important never to give up, but to continue to seek ways to end the conflict with good intentions, trust and creativity," he said, praising Ukraine for working "continuously on the diplomatic front, eager to achieve a just and lasting peace" all while it is "making enormous efforts to defend itself from aggression."

The Vatican is deeply concerned about "the tragic humanitarian consequences" of the war "and is especially committed to facilitating the repatriation of children and encouraging the release of prisoners, especially seriously wounded soldiers and civilians" by maintaining direct contact and communication with both Ukrainian and Russian authorities, he said.

"The reunification of minors with their families or legal guardians must be a paramount concern for all parties, and any exploitation of their situation is unacceptable. It is therefore imperative that every available channel is strengthened to facilitate this process," he said. 

peace summit
About 100 delegations, including 57 heads of state and governments, attend a plenary session of a summit on peace in Ukraine held in Stansstad, Switzerland, June 16, 2024. (CNS photo/KEYSTONE/EDA/POOL/Urs Flueeler)

The Vatican "remains prepared to assist in the implementation of potential mediation initiatives that are acceptable to all parties and benefit those who have been affected," he said, encouraging all nations and members of the international community "to explore ways of providing assistance and facilitating mediation, whether of a humanitarian or political nature."

"We trust that by supporting these efforts, we can help to find consensus and ensure the timely implementation of these projects," he said.

The Vatican participated in the summit as an observer state and, as such, did not sign the final joint communiqué on a peace framework meant to be the basis for a peace agreement to end Russia's two-year war.

Innovate to care for the environment, the excluded, pope tells CEOs

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Today's businesses must focus their innovation in caring for the environment, Pope Francis told a group of leaders of major companies and banks.

"It is no longer enough merely to comply with the laws of states, which are proceeding too slowly: we need to innovate by anticipating the future, with courageous and forward-looking choices that can be imitated," he said.

"We are living in a time of serious environmental crisis that depends on many individuals and factors, among which are the economic and business choices of the past and present," he told the group during an audience at the Vatican June 15.

The group included 25 CEOs who are part of the Sustainable Markets Initiative. Established in 2020 by King Charles III, the initiative brings together leaders from different sectors to commit to concrete action that supports sustainable economic growth and caring for the environment.

The pope urged the leaders to pay attention to and critically discern the impact of their businesses so as to "fully exercise responsibility for the direct and indirect effects of your choices."

Pope Francis rides the popemobile in St. Peter's Square.
Pope Francis smiles as he rides the popemobile around St. Peter's Square before his weekly general audience at the Vatican June 12, 2024. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

He gave them three tasks: to help care for the environment, the poor and young people.

"I urge you to place the environment and the earth at the center of your attention and responsibility," he said, adding that "the innovation of the entrepreneur nowadays must first and foremost be innovation in caring for our common home."

"Do not forget the poorest and the discarded," he said. Just as people seek to recycle materials and waste, "we have not yet learned -- allow me to use the expression -- to 'recycle' and not discard people and workers, especially the most vulnerable, to whom the culture of waste often applies."

He warned against a kind of "meritocracy" that is used to legitimize excluding the poor, "who are judged as undeserving, even to the point of viewing poverty itself as their fault."

"And let us not settle for merely a little philanthropy, that would be insufficient. The challenge is to include the poor in businesses, to make them resources for the benefit of all," he said.

"I dream of a world in which the discarded can become protagonists of change," he said, pointing to Jesus as someone who did just that.

Lastly, he said, young people are often among today's poor, in that they may lack resources, opportunities and a future.

He urged them to practice "corporate hospitality, which means generously welcoming young people even when they lack the required experience and skills, for every job is learned only by doing it."

Recap of U.S. Bishops’ Spring Plenary in Louisville

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) gathered this week for their Spring Plenary Assembly in Louisville, Kentucky. Throughout the gathering, the bishops spent time in prayer and fraternal dialogue with one another.

The public portion of the assembly began with the bishops sending prayers and a message to the Holy Father, followed by an address by Cardinal Christophe Pierre, papal nuncio to the United States. Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, and president of the USCCB, also addressed the bishops.

The bishops received updates on the following topics: the 2021-2024 Synod on Synodality; the bishops’ national mental health campaign; the National Eucharistic Revival and the National Eucharistic Congress; the Religious Worker Visa Program, and the National Review Board.

During their meeting, the bishops held a consultation on advancing the cause for beatification and canonization for Adele Brise, a lay woman who taught and catechized to children in Wisconsin and founded the Sisters of Good Help, a community of lay women. By a voice vote, the bishops affirmed the advancement of the cause of beatification and canonization on the diocesan level.

The bishops discussed and voted on three action items related to liturgical texts pertaining to the Liturgy of the Hours, presented by the USCCB’s Committee on Divine Worship:

  • The bishops voted 177 votes in favor, 3 votes against, and 1 abstention to approve the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) Supplementary Texts to the Liturgy of the Hours. The approval of this requires a two-thirds vote of the Latin Church members, with subsequent confirmatio from the Vatican’s Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
  • The bishops voted 180 in favor, 2 votes against, and 0 abstentions to approve the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) Additional Texts for the Liturgy of the Hours. The approval of this requires a two-thirds vote of the Latin Church members, with subsequent confirmatio and recognitio by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
  • The bishops voted 178 in favor, 4 votes against, and 0 abstentions to approve the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) Gray Book of the 2021 Roman Missal-Liturgy of the Hours Supplement. The approval of this requires a two-thirds vote of the Latin Church members, with subsequent confirmatio by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

They also reviewed, discussed, and voted on two sets of guidelines to assist with specific ministries:

  • Listen, Teach, Send: A National Pastoral Framework for Ministries with Youth and Young Adults,” presented by the USCCB’s Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth is a guiding document for use by pastors, ministry leaders, and families in an effort to revitalize ministries with youth and young adults. While an overwhelming number of bishops voted in favor of approving the framework, it was two votes short of meeting the threshold of two-thirds of the Conference membership to pass. The bishops eligible to vote who were not present at the time the vote was taken will be contacted and given the opportunity to cast their vote next week.
  • Keeping Christ’s Promise: A Pastoral Framework for Indigenous Ministry, a plan to assist dioceses and Catholic Native communities in their ministry. The bishops voted 181 in favor, 2 against, and 3 abstentions to approve the framework, which is intended to assist dioceses and local Catholic Native communities to develop their own pastoral plans that are sensitive to the vast cultural differences among the various communities.

The Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis provided an update on the Task Force for a National Directory for Instituted Ministries. They put forth two votes before the body that required a simple majority vote of bishops present:

  • A friendly amendment to allow the presentation of an interim document on the catechist: the bishops voted 136 in favor, 22 against, and 14 abstentions to pass.
  • Writing of a National Directory on Instituted Ministry: the bishops voted 156 in favor, 8 against, and 11 abstentions to pass.

Prior to the public sessions, the bishops spent time reflecting on positioning the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) for the future. For a half-century, grants made possible through the annual CCHD collection have gone to help community organizations working to empower people striving to overcome poverty. help community organizations working to empower people striving to overcome poverty. While the bishops met behind closed doors in an executive session, Archbishop Broglio provided an update at a press event without breaking the confidentiality of the bishops’ discussion saying simply: “The bishops had a good discussion, including time to share in small groups. The CCHD subcommittee will take this feedback and discern the best way to incorporate it into the future work of the CCHD. In all these discussions, the bishops’ ongoing commitment to the vital work of fighting poverty was clear.”

News updates, texts of addresses and presentations, and other materials from the 2024 spring plenary are posted to: www.usccb.org/meetings.


U.S. Bishops Approve New Guidelines for Pastoral Ministry with Native Peoples

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - At their annual June Plenary Assembly, the Catholic bishops of the United States approved a national pastoral framework to guide dioceses and those engaged in ministry with Native and Indigenous peoples. The document, Keeping Christ’s Sacred Promise: A Pastoral Framework for Indigenous Ministry, intended for use by dioceses, Catholic Native organizations, schools, missions, and parishes, was approved by the full body of bishops in a vote of 181 to 2 with 3 abstentions.

The document was presented to the body of bishops for the vote by Bishop Chad Zielinski of New Ulm, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Subcommittee on Native American Affairs. “The framework encourages bishops, dioceses and local Catholic Indigenous communities to work together, using the framework as a reference while developing their own local pastoral plans that are sensitive to the vast cultural differences among the various Native and Indigenous Tribes,” said Bishop Zielinski. “It covers a broad range of issues and concerns such as missionary discipleship, evangelization, the role of catechesis, sacramental and liturgical questions, youth and young adult ministries, and social justice issues. And it also addresses difficult topics such as reconciliation for any mistreatment and wrongs done during the boarding school period,” he continued.

After a dialogue with Native Catholic leaders in 2019, the subcommittee responded to the needs raised by developing a framework to guide Native and Indigenous communities in revitalizing pastoral ministry. The pastoral framework is the result of extensive consultation and dialogue over the last several years by the subcommittee with the leadership of Catholic Native groups.

The full text of Keeping Christ’s Sacred Promise: A Pastoral Framework for Indigenous Ministry is currently posted here, and the formatted version will be posted to the USCCB’s website on the page of the Subcommittee on Native American Affairs shortly: https://www.usccb.org/committees/native-american-affairs.


U.S. Bishops Affirm Advancement of a Cause of Beatification and Canonization for Adele Brise, Lay Woman

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - At their annual June Plenary Assembly, the bishops of the United States held a canonical consultation on a possible cause of beatification and canonization for Adele Brise. Bishop Thomas John Paprocki of Springfield in Illinois, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance, and Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay, facilitated the discussion by the bishops. By a voice vote, the bishops expressed support for the advancement of the cause of beatification and canonization on the diocesan level.

The following brief biography of Adele Brise was drawn from information provided by the Diocese of Green Bay:

Adele Brise was born on January 30, 1831, in Dion-le-Val, Belgium, to Lambert and Catherine Brise. Despite losing sight in one eye from a childhood accident, she was known for her cheerful demeanor. Adele pledged to the Blessed Virgin Mary to become a religious sister after her first Holy Communion, a goal that continued even after her family immigrated to the United States in 1855. Settling in Wisconsin, Adele remained committed to her religious calling.

In 1859, Adele experienced several apparitions of a woman dressed in white whom she later identified as Mary, the Queen of Heaven. She instructed Adele to become a teacher of religion. Adele began a door-to-door ministry, eventually founding a community of laywomen known as the Sisters of Good Help. They chose to live following the Franciscan way of life, without taking formal vows and focusing on religious education. The community faced many challenges, including the Peshtigo fire of 1871, which threatened their chapel and school. Historically considered one of the deadliest forest fires, these buildings were spared and considered by many to be a miraculous and divine response to prayers.

Adele continued her mission tirelessly, teaching and catechizing children, and creating a lasting impact on her community until her death on July 5, 1896. Her legacy of devout service is summarized by the inscription on her headstone: “Sacred Cross, Under thy Shadow I Rest and Hope.”

The Marian apparitions experienced by Adele in 1859 were given formal and official approval by Bishop Ricken of the Diocese of Green Bay in December 2010, and the site of the apparitions was designated as a national shrine by the U.S. bishops in 2015, today known as the National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion.


World needs urgent political action to guide AI, pope tells G7

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Political leaders have a responsibility to create the conditions necessary for artificial intelligence to be at the service of humanity and to help mitigate its risks, Pope Francis told world leaders.

"We cannot allow a tool as powerful and indispensable as artificial intelligence to reinforce such a (technocratic) paradigm, but rather, we must make artificial intelligence a bulwark" against the threat, he said in his address June 14 at the Group of Seven summit being held in southern Italy.

"This is precisely where political action is urgently needed," he said.

Many people believe politics is "a distasteful word, often due to the mistakes, corruption and inefficiency of some politicians -- not all of them, some. There are also attempts to discredit politics, to replace it with economics or to twist it to one ideology or another," he said.

But the world cannot function without healthy politics, the pope said, and effective progress toward "universal fraternity and social peace" requires a sound political life. 

pope g7 summit
Pope Francis gives a speech on the benefits and dangers of artifical intelligence to world leaders attending the Group of Seven summit in Borgo Egnazia in Italy's southern Puglia region, June 14, 2024. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

The pope addressed leaders at the G7's special "outreach" session dedicated to artificial intelligence. In addition to the G7 members -- the United States, Japan, Canada, Germany, France, Italy and Great Britain -- the forum included specially invited heads of state, including the leaders of Argentina, India and Brazil.

The G7 summit was being held in Borgo Egnazia in Puglia June 13-15 to discuss a series of global issues, such as migration, climate change and development in Africa, and the situation in the Middle East and Ukraine. The pope was scheduled to meet privately with 10 heads of state and global leaders in bilateral meetings before and after his talk, including U.S. President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Because of time limits set for speakers during the outreach session, the pope read only a portion of his five-page speech, although the full text was made part of the official record. The Vatican provided a copy of the full text.

In his speech, the pope called artificial intelligence "an exciting and fearsome tool." It could be used to expand access to knowledge to everyone, to advance scientific research rapidly and to give "demanding and arduous work to machines."

"Yet at the same time, it could bring with it a greater injustice between advanced and developing nations or between dominant and oppressed social classes, raising the dangerous possibility that a 'throwaway culture' be preferred to a 'culture of encounter,'" he said.

Like every tool and technology, he said, "the benefits or harm it will bring will depend on its use." 

pope g7
Pope Francis gives a speech on the benefits and dangers of artifical intelligence to world leaders attending the Group of Seven summit in Borgo Egnazia in Italy's southern Puglia region, June 14, 2024. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

While he called for the global community to find shared principles for a more ethical use of AI, Pope Francis also called for an outright ban of certain applications.

For example, he repeated his insistence that so-called "lethal autonomous weapons" be banned, saying "no machine should ever choose to take the life of a human being."

Decision-making "must always be left to the human person," he said. Human dignity itself depends on there being proper human control over the choices made by artificial intelligence programs.

Humanity would be condemned to a future without hope "if we took away people's ability to make decisions about themselves and their lives, by dooming them to depend on the choices of machines," he said. In his text, he specifically criticized judges using AI with prisoner's personal data, such as their ethnicity, background, education, psychological assessments and credit rating, to determine whether the prisoner is likely to re-offend upon release and therefore require home-confinement.

The pope also cautioned, students especially, against "generative artificial intelligence," which are "magnificent tools" and easily make available online "applications for composing a text or producing an image on any theme or subject."

However, he said, these tools are not "generative," in that they do not develop new analyses or concepts; they are merely "reinforcing" as they can only repeat what they find, giving it "an appealing form" and "without checking whether it contains errors or preconceptions."

Generative AI "not only runs the risk of legitimizing fake news and strengthening a dominant culture's advantage, but, in short, it also undermines the educational process itself," his text said. 

pope meloni
Pope Francis listens to Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni before giving his speech to world leaders attending the Group of Seven summit in Borgo Egnazia in Italy's southern Puglia region, June 14, 2024. (CNS photo/courtesy of G7 Italia 2024)

"It is precisely the ethos concerning the understanding of the value and dignity of the human person that is most at risk in the implementation and development of these systems," he told the leaders. "Indeed, we must remember that no innovation is neutral."

Technology impacts social relations in some way and represents some kind of "arrangement of power, thus enabling certain people to perform specific actions while preventing others from performing different ones," he said. "In a more or less explicit way, this constitutive power dimension of technology always includes the worldview of those who invented and developed it."

In order for artificial intelligence programs to be tools that build up the good and create a better tomorrow, he said, "they must always be aimed at the good of every human being," and they must have an ethical inspiration, underlining his support of the "Rome Call for AI Ethics" launched in 2020.

It is up to everyone to "make good use" of artificial intelligence, he said, "but the onus is on politics to create the conditions for such good use to be possible and fruitful."

Pope swaps jokes with comedy stars at Vatican

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As they waited for Pope Francis to arrive at the Clementine Hall in the Vatican Apostolic Palace for an early morning audience, late night comedy stars looked at each other and thought, "something's wrong." 

"We're in this beautiful, beautiful space in the Vatican and for some reason they've let comedians in, which is always a mistake," comedian Conan O'Brien told reporters after meeting the pope June 14. 

He was just one of 105 comedians from around the world who traveled to the Vatican for a papal audience and to "establish a link between the Catholic Church and comic artists," according to the Dicastery for Culture and Education, which organized the meeting.

Conan O'Brien speaks to journalists.
U.S. television host and comedian Conan O'Brien speaks with reporters in the Lapidary Gallery of the Apostolic Palace, part of the Vatican Museums, after meeting Pope Francis during an audience June 14, 2024. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

Comedians from the United States included Stephen Colbert, Chris Rock, Jimmy Fallon, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Whoopi Goldberg, Jim Gaffigan and Mike Birbiglia among others. 

Before Pope Francis entered the room, Fallon stood in front of the pope's chair and was cracking jokes to the entertainment of his peers. But once Pope Francis entered, they all took to their feet to applaud. Several stars, accustomed to being in front of the cameras, held out their phones to record the pope walking steadily to his seat. 

And immediately Pope Francis cracked a joke, saying that since smiling is good for one's health, it would be better for him to just make a funny face for the crowd rather than to read his lengthy speech.

Pope Francis greets Jimmy Fallon.
Pope Francis shakes hands with Jimmy Fallon during a meeting with comedians at the Vatican June 14, 2024. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Yet he told the comedians that "in the midst of so much gloomy news, immersed as we are in many social and even personal emergencies, you have the power to spread peace and smiles." 

"You are among the few who have the ability to speak to all types of people, from different generations and cultural backgrounds," he said.

The pope highlighted the unique role of laughter in bringing people together in the face of conflict, stressing that humor "is never against anyone, but is always inclusive, purposeful, eliciting openness, sympathy, empathy."

He also encouraged them to remember a prayer often attributed to St. Thomas More, which he said he prays every day: "Grant me, O Lord, a good sense of humor."

Louis-Dreyfus, the star of hit shows "Seinfeld" and "Veep," said after the meeting that Pope Francis' words were "gorgeous," and praised the pope's message for highlighting that comedy "has a sacredness to it."

Stephen Colbert speaks to reporters.
U.S. comedian and writer Stephen Colbert speaks with reporters in the Lapidary Gallery of the Apostolic Palace, part of the Vatican Museums, after meeting Pope Francis during an audience June 14, 2024. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

Each comedian was able to greet the pope individually at the end of the audience. 

Colbert, a Catholic, said he told the pope in Italian that he gave his voice to produce the audiobook version of the pope's recently published autobiography. He later told reporters that after reading the book, he thought he would love to interview the pope on his late-night TV program, "but I really want to do a cooking segment with him, because he talked a lot about cooking: evidently he makes a great 'tortellini in brodo.'"

Jim Gaffigan, another Catholic comedian who speaks often about his faith life, brought his family with him to the Vatican to meet the pope. His son Michael got rosary beads blessed by the pope that he proudly touted around the Vatican hallway leading out of the meeting. 

Gaffigan told reporters after the meeting that being Catholic and a comedian is "the most punk rock thing you can do," since believing in God in the comedy business is just "asking for trouble."

Jim Gaffigan speaks with reporters.
U.S. comedian and actor Jim Gaffigan speaks with reporters in the Lapidary Gallery of the Apostolic Palace, part of the Vatican Museums, after meeting Pope Francis during an audience June 14, 2024. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

Although the group of comedians who came to the Vatican and met the pope was not composed solely of Catholics, the experience "was universal," Gaffigan said. "There is this warmth, this openness, even with the exceeding amounts of problems that have existed and will exist." 

The pope typically sits in front of the groups he meets with for a group photo before leaving his audiences, and participants often sit politely and clap as he walks away. 

This time, Chris Rock, seated near the front row, jumped up behind Pope Francis to put his face right by the pope's for the photo. Other comedians couldn't resist following suit and soon enough a group swarmed around the pope for the picture. 

Pope Francis encouraged the fun, chuckled and gave a wave as he walked out. 

Pope champions laughter with comedians

Pope champions laughter with comedians

Pope Francis met with comedians, including famous U.S. late night comics, at the Vatican June 14.

Statement of USCCB on Supreme Court’s Decision on Abortion Pill

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - In response to the decision by the Supreme Court of the United States today on FDA v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) offered the following statement from its spokesperson, Chieko Noguchi, executive director of public affairs.

“Today’s Court ruling on procedural grounds will continue to put the health of women and girls at risk. As the USCCB’s pro-life chairman has said, abortion is not health care. The Church will continue to advocate for women’s health and safety, and to lovingly serve mothers in need.”


Ecumenism and papal primacy: Vatican releases status report on dialogues

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The reason why the 2024 edition of the Vatican yearbook has re-inserted "Patriarch of the West" as one of the historical titles of the pope appears to be a response to concerns expressed by Orthodox leaders and theologians.

For months after the yearbook, the Annuario Pontificio, was released, the Vatican press office said it had no explanation for the reappearance of the title, which Pope Benedict XVI had dropped in 2006.

But new documents from the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity place the change squarely in the middle of a broad discussion among all mainline Christian churches on the papacy and the potential role of the bishop of Rome in a more united Christian community.

Members of the dicastery proposed that "a clearer distinction be made between the different responsibilities of the Pope, especially between his ministry as head of the Catholic Church and his ministry of unity among all Christians, or more specifically between his patriarchal ministry in the Latin Church and his primatial ministry in the communion of Churches."

For the Orthodox, the papal title of "Patriarch of the West" is an acknowledgement that his direct jurisdiction does not extend to their traditional territories in the East.

Armenian Orthodox Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, the representative of the Armenian Apostolic Church to the Holy See, told reporters June 13, "The recent reinstatement of the title of 'Patriarch of the West' among the pope's historical titles is important, since this title, inherited from the first millennium, evidences his brotherhood with the other patriarchs."

Cardinal Kurt Koch
Cardinal Kurt Koch, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, and Cardinal Mario Grech, secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops, lead the a press presentation of the text, "The Bishop of Rome. Primacy and Synodality in the Ecumenical Dialogues and in the Responses to the Encyclical 'Ut unum Sint,'" at the Vatican June 13, 2024. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

Cardinal Kurt Koch, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, said that "when Pope Benedict XVI canceled this title and when Pope Francis introduced it again, they did comment" on why they made the decision. "But I am convinced they did not want to do something against anyone, but both wanted to do something ecumenically respectful."

Twenty-nine years ago, St. John Paul II called for an ecumenical reflection on how the pope as bishop of Rome could exercise his ministry "as a service of love recognized by all concerned."

Already in 1967 St. Paul VI had recognized that the papacy was "undoubtedly the gravest obstacle on the path of ecumenism."

Following St. John Paul's ecumenical invitation in 1995, studies were conducted, meetings were held and reports were made.

The pace picked up with the pontificate of Pope Francis and his frequent references to being the bishop of Rome, his reliance on an international Council of Cardinals to advise him on issues of governance and his continuing efforts to reform and expand the Synod of Bishops and the practice of "synodality."

Over the past three decades, the Catholic Church's ecumenical partners responded to St. John Paul's request by questioning things like papal infallibility and claims of universal jurisdiction, yet many also expressed support for trying to find an acceptable way for the bishop of Rome to serve as a point of unity for all Christians.

According to members of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, there has been "a significant and growing theological convergence" both on the need for a universal figure at the service of Christian unity as well as for Christian churches and communities, including the Catholic Church, to learn from each other's styles and structures for consultation, governance and leadership.

Staff of the dicastery have spent years summarizing the reflections and released their work June 13 as a "study document" titled, "The Bishop of Rome. Primacy and Synodality in the Ecumenical Dialogues and in the Responses to the Encyclical 'Ut unum sint.'" The publication also included a series of proposals titled, "Towards an Exercise of Primacy in the 21st Century," which was approved in 2021 by the cardinals and bishops who are members of the dicastery.

Cardinal Koch wrote in the preface to the study document that Pope Francis approved its publication.

The role a pope could play in a re-united Christian church obviously involves practical considerations about power and authority and how they are exercised. But for the ecumenical dialogues, the first considerations are tradition -- what was the role of the bishop of Rome in the early centuries before Christianity split -- and theological, including what is the church and how is it different from other kinds of organizations.

The document approved by dicastery members said the dialogues have "enabled a deeper analysis of some essential ecclesiological themes such as: the existence and interdependence of primacy and synodality at each level of the Church; the understanding of synodality as a fundamental quality of the whole Church, including the active participation of all the faithful; and the distinction between and interrelatedness of collegiality and synodality," that is, between the shared responsibility of bishops and the shared responsibility of all the baptized.

Cardinal Mario Grech
Cardinal Mario Grech, secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops, speaks during the press presentation of "The Bishop of Rome. Primacy and Synodality in the Ecumenical Dialogues and in the Responses to the Encyclical 'Ut unum Sint'" at the Vatican June 13, 2024. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

One crucial issue for many Christians is papal infallibility; in fact, "infallibility" is cited 56 times in the documents released June 13.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, "Christ endowed the Church's shepherds with the charism of infallibility in matters of faith and morals. The exercise of this charism takes several forms: The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful -- who confirms his brethren in the faith -- he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals."

Catholic and other theologians and bishops, the new documents said, have called for "a Catholic 're-reception,' 're-interpretation,' 'official interpretation,' 'updated commentary' or even 'rewording' of the teachings of Vatican I," the council held in 1869-70 that solemnly proclaimed papal infallibility under some circumstances.

Emphasizing those limited circumstances does not seem to suffice. For example, the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission in 1981 said, "The ascription to the bishop of Rome of infallibility under certain conditions has tended to lend exaggerated importance to all his statements."

One thing everyone involved in ecumenical dialogue agrees on, though, is that the unity of the early Christian communities was expressed by their leaders and members visiting one another, praying together and working together. The new documents called for those efforts to continue and to grow.