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The EditorsOctober 04, 2010

When they hear the words Catholic Church, most people, Catholics included, think immediately of the Roman Catholic Church. But in fact the Catholic Church is a communion of many particular churches, of which the Western or Latin church, though the largest, is only one. The Annuario Pontificio, the church’s global almanac, lists 22 Eastern churches in communion with Rome. They were once called rites, a term that distinguished them by language, liturgical tradition and theological patrimony. Since the Second Vatican Council, however, they have been recognized as churches sui iuris (“with their own law”) that are “of equal dignity” with the Latin church. Among the oldest are the six historic Catholic churches of the Middle East: the Armenian, Chaldean, Coptic, Maronite, Melkite and Syrian Catholic churches. With them today are joined the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and a Latin vicariate in the Arabian peninsula. Pope Benedict XVI has called representatives of these churches to meet from Oct. 10 to 24 in a special assembly of the Synod of Bishops with representative bishops from the wider church to address the critical circumstances confronting the whole church in the region.

The last two decades have been inhospitable to Christians in the Middle East. Wars and economic sanctions have led to the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of Christians, especially from Iraq. Armed conflict and political tensions have resulted in steady emigration of both Palestinians and Lebanese from their homelands. The rise of Islamic extremism and of Jewish radicalism has placed in doubt the possibility of continued co-existence among the three Abrahamic faiths. In addition, the refusal of the State of Israel to bring into effect the 1993 Fundamental Agreement with the Holy See and the inability of the two parties over a decade to conclude other negotiations have placed holy sites, church institutions, clergy and religious workers, and the faithful in a defensive posture. They find themselves constantly fending off new impositions and restrictions that impede a normal life for them in the Holy Land.

Two of the issues under consideration by the synod will be immigration and emigration. Immigration is a relatively recent but massive reality. The Latin Catholic population in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states is now almost as large as the combined population of the six other churches. It is made up largely of guest workers from the Philippines and South Asia. But most of the Latin Catholics, nearly two million, reside in Saudi Arabia where public observance of Christianity is prohibited.

Emigration is a longstanding problem. Christians have been emigrating to Latin America, the United States, Canada, South Africa and Australia since the late 19th century. Today, however, emigration threatens the future of the churches of the Middle East, especially the Chaldeans, who have fled their native Iraq because of the religious persecution that followed the disorder created by the U.S. invasion in 2003. Across the region unresolved political and religious tensions continue to drive Middle Eastern Christians abroad, putting their historic communities in jeopardy. When they assimilate in their new countries, they are likely to lose their distinctive historic identities. Even when they remain Catholics, they are likely to join Roman Catholic congregations. In Argentina there are 300,000 Melkites but only three Melkite parishes. Preserving the rich patrimony of the Eastern churches is a challenge to the Roman Catholic Church, therefore, as well as to the Eastern churches.

These Middle Eastern churches are headed by their own patriarchs, but the patriarchs exercise full authority, “universal jurisdiction,” only in the Middle East. In the diaspora, their authority is limited to matters of liturgy. One way to counter the effects of emigration would be to extend the range of their pastoral care and authority over these congregations. This is a proposal made in 1999 by the Eastern patriarchs and bishops themselves. Expanded pastoral authority could be coordinated with national hierarchies in arrangements similar to the military ordinariate or the new Anglican rite churches.

To begin with, expanded patriarchal authority would strengthen the ties of these diaspora Catholics to their home churches, creating a more direct relationship. It would also stem assimilation where it begins, with forced acculturation to the customs of the Western church, such as the requirement of a celibate clergy. Rome’s primacy would not be challenged, but the catholicity of the church as a communion of churches and traditions would be enhanced. Ecumenically, Orthodox and other sister churches would see in a new form of governance ecclesial communion realized without Western dominance.

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12 years 4 months ago
As the Roman Church becomes a more "Fortress" church, preserving an entrenched hierarchy at the expense of everyone else, then we need an American Catholic Church that is sui iuris.

The Roman church that gave us the Crusades in ages past, the raging sex abuse scandal all over the world now, an emerging scandal at the Vatican Bank and Vatican princes, dressed in fine robes (with priests & servants to do their bidding), who would undo Vatican II, no longer identify with many people and we no longer identify with them.  Many in Europe and the U.S. have left the Roman Catholic Church.

The Roman Church would also put the Eastern Churches in a box.  The patriarchs have authority over their people only in the Middle East.  There is no logical reason for that.  It makes second class citizens of their followers who live elsewhere.  It is simply a manifestation of entrenchment.  The Pope and many in the Vatican do not comprehend that the world is a global society and people are more mobile.

The very existence of the other churches, sui iuris, prove that Catholics do not need Rome to be catholic.  The preservation of the Roman Catholic Church is not important.  It is only important that the work of the church (catholic social teaching) should survive.
C Walter Mattingly
12 years 4 months ago
The manner in which you present this leads me to question why you need an American Catholic Church, or for that matter any church at all. What it appears to me you describe might  better be characterized as the American Marxist-Socialist Society, similar to that minority, but significant, portion of the Liberation Theology movement which was in reality a secular socialist movement operating under cover of the mantle of Christian theology.  A doctrine that Jesus was the Son of God? Unnecessary. We need only consider the sociology of a reformer who, after all, is just a man. You certainly don't need the Mass or other sacraments if your only desire is for social teachings. The Resurrection? Unnecessary. Jesus is only Jesus, not the Christ.
Let's recognize that the tenets of logical positivism rule out the idea of a soul separated from matter, the transcendental, which does not exist, and that philosophy and theology to many have been superceded by experimental and cognitive psychology. Let's get back to what Jesus really was, a cog in the long line of social reformers from Marx's list, nothing more. Let's all become secular humanists, but we can give it an extra bit of panache and credibility by naming it the American Catholic Church, church being a form of nostalgia which still has a certain drawing power.
Meanwhile, the recognition of magnum mysterium and the great questions philosophy and theology pose for us evaporate as discredited mythical creations, and we are left as naked as Adam and Eve, ducking the questions of first and last things as Nietzsche did.
Of course the church fails in its purpose if it does not attend to catholic social teachings. You are totally justified in criticizing the church for its failures and fine linen couture, although I don't think it takes away from one of the great figures of our time, John Paul II, that he was wearing fine linens when he took 2 bullets to the gut for being a great christian leader, nor that Mother Teresa should be criticized for wearing her order's uniform rather than work shirt and jeans.
The church has failed to live up to its social ideals ever since Jesus was betrayed and abandoned by the apostles and denied by Peter, yet it remains the church.  While we don't serve Christ and His Church by insufficient attention to the 2nd Great Commandment, we even less do so by ignoring the First.
Jason Corning
12 years 4 months ago
I too was sick at Boarding School when I was an AFS student in Northern England. This experience has made me realize the futility of holding on to Latin in today's world. IF the Roman Catholic Church is to truly make a difference in the years ahead, there must be a concerted effort made to retake the English language and dominate the language, as in ACHIEVE DOMINION OVER ENGLISH and make it a Catholic language just like Italian, French, Spanish, Portugese, etc. English is fast becoming the dominant international language of choice among Asians and Africans. The Church must literally take over English and make it their own. There is no looking back anymore...

TALMUD: Man has two hands, but he is not to rob with the one and give donations with the other. (Talmud, Midrash Proverbs 11)
GOSPEL: When you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:3-4)

TALMUD: Swear not at all, not even to the truth. (The Talmud, Tanchum, Vayikra)
GOSPEL: I tell you, Do not swear at all. (Matthew 5:34)

TALMUD: The pure of heart are God's friends. (The Talmud, Genesis Rabba 41)
GOSPEL: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. (Matthew 5:8)

TALMUD: God will wipe away tears from off all faces (Isaiah 25:8). This means from the faces of non-Jews as well as Jews. (The Talmud, Genesis Rabba 26)
GOSPEL:  Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, My beloved in whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he shall declare judgment to the Gentiles....And in his name shall the Gentiles hope. (Matthew 12:18-21)

TALMUD: If you intend to put man to rights, put yourself to rights first. (The Talmud, Midrash Psalms 53)
GOSPEL: Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?...You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)

TALMUD: When no justice is done here below, it will be accomplished from above. (The Talmud, Deuteronomy Rabba 5)
GOSPEL: Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)

TALMUD: Have no compunction to chastise where chastisement is called for. It will produce not animosity, but eventually love and peace.   (The Talmud, Genesis Rabba 54)
GOSPEL:  Moreover if your brother should trespass against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he will hear you, you have gained your brother. (Matthew 18:16)

TALMUD: God knows our thoughts before they are formed. (The Talmud, Genesis Rabba 9)
GOSPEL: Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.  (Matthew 6:8)

TALMUD: The truth of the Torah is a weapon to its possessor. (The Talmud, Numbers Rabba 12)
GOSPEL: Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. (Matthew 10:34)

TALMUD: One of the characteristics of the righteous is that their yes is yes, and their no is no. (The Talmud, Midrash Ruth 7)
GOSPEL: Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No' be 'No', anything beyond this comes from the evil one. (Matthew 5:37)

May the LORD GOd bless you in the name of St. Judas Maccabaeus.
TM Lutas
12 years 4 months ago
John Paul II apologized to the Eastern Church for all the offenses that the Western (Roman) Church did. That was good and a necessary gesture. But apologies only cover past acts. If the Latin Church is continuing to act against the married priesthood, it is spitting on the memory of John Paul II and his courageous effort to put that sad history behind the Universal Church. Equality is something necessary, something that was specifically reinforced by Vatican II (Orientalium Ecclesiarum) and by subsequent official policy in Rome. Pope Benedict XVI continues this tradition. 

It is sad to hear that forced assimilation continues to be a problem. Past actions by arrogant bishops have led to schism when these bishops refused to follow Vatican guidance. Bishops who are in rebellion over this issue need to be named and shamed into treating their Eastern brothers as they should, as respected equals. 

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