I also want to offer my prayers and encouragement to those couples who bear the cross of infertility. In a society often bent on avoiding children, they carry the burden of yearning for children but having none. No prayers go unanswered, and all suffering given over to the Lord bears fruit in some form of new life. I encourage them to consider adoption, and I appeal to them to remember that a good end can never justify a wrong means. Whether to prevent a pregnancy or achieve one, all techniques which separate the unitive and procreative dimensions of marriage are always wrong. Procreative techniques which turn embryos into objects and mechanically substitute for the loving embrace of husband and wife violate human dignity and treat life as a product. No matter how positive their intentions, these techniques advance the dangerous tendency to reduce human life to material which can be manipulated.
17. It's never too late to turn our hearts back toward God. We are not powerless. We can make a difference by witnessing the truth about married love and fidelity to the culture around us. In December last year, in a pastoral letter entitled Good News of Great Joy, I spoke of the important vocation every Catholic has as an evangelizer. We are all missionaries. America in the 1990s, with its culture of disordered sexuality, broken marriages and fragmented families, urgently needs the Gospel. As Pope John Paul II writes in his apostolic exhortation On the Family (Familiaris Consortio), married couples and families have a critical role in witnessing Jesus Christ to each other and to the surrounding culture (49, 50).
18. In that light, I ask married couples of the archdiocese to read, discuss and pray over Humanae Vitae, Familiaris Consortio and other documents of the Church which outline Catholic teaching on marriage and sexuality. Many married couples, unaware of the valuable wisdom found in these materials, have deprived themselves of a beautiful source of support for their mutual love. I especially encourage couples to examine their own consciences regarding contraception, and I ask them to remember that "conscience" is much more than a matter of personal preference. It requires us to search out and understand Church teaching, and to honestly strive to conform our hearts to it. I urge them to seek sacramental Reconciliation for the times they may have fallen into contraception. Disordered sexuality is the dominant addiction of American society in these closing years of the century. It directly or indirectly impacts us all. As a result, for many, this teaching may be a hard message to accept. But do not lose heart. Each of us is a sinner. Each of us is loved by God. No matter how often we fail, God will deliver us if we repent and ask for the grace to do His will.
19. I ask my brother priests to examine their own pastoral practices, to ensure that they faithfully and persuasively present the Church's teaching on these issues in all their parish work. Our people deserve the truth about human sexuality and the dignity of marriage. To accomplish this, I ask pastors to read and implement the Vademecum for Confessors Concerning Some Aspects of the Morality of Conjugal Life, and to study the Church's teaching on marriage and family planning. I urge them to appoint parish coordinators to facilitate the presentation of Catholic teaching on married love and family planning -- especially NFP. Contraception is a grave matter. Married couples need the good counsel of the Church to make right decisions. Most married Catholics welcome the guidance of their priests, and priests should never feel intimidated by their personal commitment to celibacy, or embarrassed by the teaching of the Church. To be embarrassed by Church teaching is to be embarrassed by Christ's teaching. The pastoral experience and counsel of a priest are valuable on issues like contraception precisely because he brings new perspective to a couple and speaks for the whole Church. Moreover, the fidelity a priest shows to his own vocation strengthens married people to live their vocation more faithfully.
20. As archbishop, I commit myself and my offices to supporting my brother priests, deacons and their lay collaborators in presenting the whole of the Church's teaching on married love and family planning. I owe both the clergy of our local Church and their staffs -- especially the many dedicated parish catechists -- much gratitude for the good work they have already accomplished in this area. It is my intention to ensure that courses on married love and family planning are available on a regular basis to more and more people of the archdiocese, and that our priests and deacons receive more extensive education in the theological and pastoral aspects of these issues. I direct, in a particular way, our Offices of Evangelization and Catechetics; Marriage and Family Life; Catholic Schools; Youth, Young Adult and Campus Ministries; and the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults to develop concrete ways to better present Church teaching on married love to our people, and to require adequate instruction in NFP as part of all marriage preparation programs in the archdiocese.
21. Two final points. First, the issue of contraception is not peripheral, but central and serious in a Catholic's walk with God. If knowingly and freely engaged in, contraception is a grave sin, because it distorts the essence of marriage: the self-giving love which, by its very nature, is life-giving. It breaks apart what God created to be whole: the person-uniting meaning of sex (love) and the life-giving meaning of sex (procreation). Quite apart from its cost to individual marriages, contraception has also inflicted massive damage on society at large: initially by driving a wedge between love and the procreation of children; and then between sex (i.e., recreational sex without permanent commitment) and love. Nonetheless -- and this is my second point -- teaching the truth should always be done with patience and compassion, as well as firmness. American society seems to swing peculiarly between puritanism and license. The two generations -- my own and my teachers' -- which once led the dissent from Paul VI's encyclical in this country, are generations still reacting against the American Catholic rigorism of the 1950s. That rigorism, much of it a product of culture and not doctrine, has long since been demolished. But the habit of skepticism remains. In reaching these people, our task is to turn their distrust to where it belongs: toward the lies the world tells about the meaning of human sexuality, and the pathologies those lies conceal.
22. In closing, we face an opportunity which comes only once in many decades. Thirty years ago this week, Paul VI told the truth about married love. In doing it, he triggered a struggle within the Church which continues to mark American Catholic life even today. Selective dissent from Humanae Vitae soon fueled broad dissent from Church authority and attacks on the credibility of the Church herself. The irony is that the people who dismissed Church teaching in the 1960s soon discovered that they had subverted their own ability to pass anything along to their children. The result is that the Church now must evangelize a world of their children's children -- adolescents and young adults raised in moral confusion, often unaware of their own moral heritage, who hunger for meaning, community, and love with real substance. For all its challenges, this a is tremendous new moment of possibility for the Church, and the good news is that the Church today, as in every age, has the answers to fill the God-shaped empty places in their hearts. My prayer is therefore simple: May the Lord grant us the wisdom to recognize the great treasure which resides in our teaching about married love and human sexuality, the faith, joy and perseverance to live it in our own families -- and the courage which Paul VI possessed to preach it anew.
The new letter, Apostolos Suos, is a motu proprio-- that is, a document issued by the Pope on his own authority. Catholic World News has obtained an advance copy of the document.
In the apostolic letter, the Holy Father emphasizes that the world's bishops, united with the Bishop of Rome at their head, form one corporate body, which exercises the supreme decision-making power of the Church. But that collegial power cannot be divided. Thus, he teaches in Apostolos Suos, while the body of bishops can make authoritative pronouncements, "Equivalent collegial actions cannot be carried out at the level of individual particular churches or of gatherings of such churches."
The apostolic letter also stresses that each bishops' conference should be run by, and speak for, the bishops themselves; the conference should not be governed by staff members, or appointed commissions. In a statement obviously directed at the US bishops' conference, the Holy Father writes that the true purpose of an episcopal conference "requires that an excessively bureaucratic development of offices and commissions operating between plenary sessions be avoided." He adds that "commissions and offices exist to be of help to bishops and not to substitute for them."
The emergence of national bishops' conferences is a relatively new development in Church history, the Pope points out, although from the earliest days the bishops have looked for ways to cooperate in their pastoral ministry. The leaders of the early Church convened for "particular" as well as "general" councils, and although only general councils were endowed with supreme teaching authority, the particular councils also played a role in helping bishops to define their positions and their strategies.
(Pope John Paul II makes it clear at the outset that an episcopal conference cannot be confused with the synods which govern some Eastern Catholic Churches; these synods play a completely different role, which is spelled out by the Eastern Code of Canon Law.)
The Second Vatican Council spoke specifically of national episcopal conferences, and in 1966 Pope Paul VI encouraged the development of these conferences in every country. Pope Paul stipulated that for adequate pastoral reasons a conference might include bishops from more than one nation, or from only a part of a nation; in any case the structure of the conference must be approved by the Holy See. The Code of Canon Law now includes norms (447-459) for bishops' conferences.
However, the Synod of Bishops in 1985 called for a more detailed study of the role of the bishops' conferences. Apostolos Suos is a response to that request.
Each individual bishop is the sole authoritative teacher in his own diocese, Pope John Paul observes, and the episcopal conference cannot replace him in that role. He stresses that bishops "cannot limit their own sacred power in favor of the episcopal conference." Thus the faithful in any given diocese are called to follow their own bishop, not to look to the national conference as a higher authority.
Clarifying the teaching authority of the episcopal conference, then, the Pope teaches that "the faithful are obliged to adhere with a sense of religious respect" only to statements which win the unanimous approval of the bishops in their episcopal conference. If there is any dissent among the bishops, the statement cannot hold the same teaching authority.
Also, Apostolos Suos adds, statements from an episcopal conference can be authoritative only if they are approved by the bishops themselves, meeting in plenary session; documents issued by committees or staff aides cannot be considered as authoritative.
Finally, the new apostolic letter cautions that while each episcopal conference can set its own rules (subject to Vatican approval), the ultimate responsibility must always fall on diocesan bishops. Auxiliary bishops and retired bishops may participate in discussions and votes, at the discretion of the conference, but the actions of the conference must be under the control of active bishops heading individual dioceses.
Properly understood, the Pope writes, an episcopal conference must be "a concrete application of the collegial spirit." The bishops' conference is an instrument for pastoral cooperation, intended to help the individual bishops in their ministry. It cannot replace the individual bishops, nor insert a new level of authority between the individual bishop and the Holy See.
Noting that each day's new brought new reports of casualties, the Pope said that it is difficult to comprehend the scale of the tragedy, but "we need the help of God and solidarity among men. May the many who have died find peace in the resurrected Christ, and may those who remain find in God the strength and consolation they need."
This was the Pope's third public request for prayers for the victims of the tidal wave. He had issued similar calls on Sunday, at this Angelus audience, and in a telegram addressed to Father Hans Schwemmer, the apostolic nuncio in Papua New Guinea.
Bishop Cesare Bonivento of Vanino, speaking on the airwaves of Vatican Radio, reported that many of the victims were children-- a natural consequence of the fact that children make up half of the island's population. Father Gianni Gattei, a missionary on the scene, told Vatican Radio that the survivors now have an urgent need for food, especially to feed the thousands of refugees who are now pouring out of the jungles where they sought refuge from the devastating tsunami. Authorities say that there is also an urgent need for medicine, since they fear the outbreak of epidemics.
The "most evident sign of the new life" given through the Holy Spirit is the power to forgive sins, Pope John Paul II said today at his Wednesday catechetical audience.
Speaking at the Vatican's Paul VI auditorium, prior to returning to his summer home at Castel Gandalfo, the Holy Father reminded his listeners that all Christians are included in "the universal call to sanctity."
It is through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Pontiff taught, that man can overcome the power of sin, and participate in the life of the Trinity, thus becoming "a new creation." The same power incorporates Christians into the Church, the communion of saints.
After mentioning two particular forms of Christian life-- consecrated life and martyrdom-- the Pope quickly added that every Christian is called to sanctity. "That requires a radical obedience to the commandment of love, which is not possible except through the grace of the Holy Spirit," he said.
The Pope, who returned this week from his vacation in the Dolomite Mountains, will now spend several weeks at Castel Gandalfo. The Vatican had not issued a precise date, but traditionally the Pope stays at his summer residence through September.
On Friday, October 2, the Holy Father will leave Rome for Zagreb, arriving late in the afternoon. After welcoming ceremonies he will head to the Zagreb cathedral, to pray at the tomb of Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac. The following day, he will preside at the beatification of Cardinal Stepinac, at the Marian sanctuary in Marija Bistrica. (The date of the ceremony coincides with the anniversary of day when Cardinal Stepinac was convicted of crimes against the Communist regime-- crimes for which he was sentenced to a lifetime of hard labor.)
Upon returning to Zagreb after the beatification, the Pope will meet with Croatian President Franjo Tudjman. Then in the evening he will meet with cultural leaders at the apostolic nunciature.
The next day's program calls for a visit to Split, a city on the Adriatic coast, which is celebrating its 1700 anniversary. There the Pope will also meet with the Croatian bishops. After a subsequent meeting with religious educators, he will return from Split directly to Rome.
This will be the Pope's second visit to Croatia; he previously traveled to Zagreb in 1994, during a time of warfare in neighboring Bosnia. Croatia is a country of 5 million people, mostly Catholics.
The initial statements before the Senate Labor and Human Relations Committee reflected a backlash against men and insurance coverage of impotence drugs. "If men were the ones who need prescription contraceptives, I have no doubt they would have been covered years ago," said Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said about half of all health care plans do not routinely cover prescription contraceptives. "Some women will forgo the use of contraceptives because they simply can't pay for them, and the result will be an unintended pregnancy, leading to a potential lack of prenatal care or even abortion," she said.
Opponents of the bill point out that impotence is a medical dysfunction while fertility is not a disease or dysfunction. All five methods of prescription contraception would be covered: the birth control pill, Depo-Provera, Norplant, the diaphragm, and intrauterine devices. The US House approved a similar measure affecting health insurance for federal employees last week.
Death of Saint Bridget of Sweden, mystic who spent most of her later life in Rome. For more on this mystic, see TODAY'S LITURGY.
Turkish invasions force Holy Roman Emperor Charles V to abandon his crusade against the Protestants, thus agreeing to a peace treaty and depriving Pope Clement VII of the clout to rid the Protestant Reformation.
Birth of Giovanni Francesco Albani in Urbino, Italy. He would go on to become a cardinal and the 243rd successor of Peter as Pope Clement XI in which he waited seven days before accepting his nomination to make sure it was legitimate. A man of great culture and a lover of the arts, he enriched the Vatican Library and concluded the 16th Jubilee in 1700.