The Traditions and History Behind the “White Smoke Over the Vatican”

The Traditions and History Behind the “White Smoke Over the Vatican”
white smokeOriginally written in 2005 for the Notre Dame Graduate School at Christendom College

This year, 2005 A.D., saw an election of a new pope and traditionally, when white smoke billows forth from the chimney over the Sistine Chapel in Rome, Italy, it is a signal that the Sacred College of Cardinals has elected the next pontiff. Thousands upon thousands of onlookers gathered in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City in April following the death of Pope John Paul II in order to witness the earliest signs of white smoke and capture the first sight of the new pope. News camera from around the world had their “ChimneyCam’s” all focused on the one chimney over the Sistine Chapel, waiting for the first sign of white smoke to beam across the universe the news that Catholics had a new leader. As evidenced, this was no ordinary smoke signal.

Steeped in over two thousand years of history and tradition, the Catholic Church is most likely awash in many misunderstood or unknown practices. There are reasons behind every gesture and action the Church undertakes but sometimes the meaning behind them escapes common knowledge of the faithful and the general public.

Perhaps this is one of those least understood traditions in the history of the Church. Why a smoke signal in the first place and how did this tradition begin? The meaning of the phrase “white smoke over the Vatican” deals directly with the announcement, or signal in this case, that a new Holy Father has just been selected in Rome. When a pope dies, a new one is chosen from the among the Sacred College of Cardinals during the secret conclave, which must begin no later than eighteen days after the expiration of the reigning Pontiff. Those cardinals are sequestered in the conclave (literal meaning is “with a key”) and proceed to cast their votes for a new pope by using paper ballots. Since the process is closely guarded and no outside communication is allowed by the cardinals during the conclave, smoke is used as a signal to let the public know the outcome of the balloting.

Following papal tradition, after the cardinals cast their vote, the ballots are burned and the smoke goes out into St. Peter’s Square through a special chimney in the Sistine Chapel. If no new pope has been chosen, wet straw is mixed with the ballots and burned, which produces black smoke. However, if two-thirds of the cardinals reach consensus on a new pope, the ballots are burned with dry straw which produces white smoke, announcing to those gathered in the square that a new Holy Father has been chosen (“Papal Traditions”, USCCB). The straw has since been substituted for chemicals.

What did they do without TV, the Internet, or smartphones?

In today’s modern world of the Internet, cell phones, and other instant communications, one can know immediately when a new pope has been selected. However, a thousand years ago, the general public was not so blessed. When a new Holy Father was chosen in Rome, the word was spread strictly through word of mouth. Vatican historian Ambrogio Piazzoni explains it this way: “… [the Vatican] would just tell the town criers who would run through the city spreading the news that there was a new pope. The people would then rush to St. Peter’s and wait for the pope to come out onto the balcony for his first address” (Reuters, 4/19/05).

This seems very simple but as cities expanded and Catholics all over the world grew in number, there probably weren’t enough townspeople to go yelling through the streets! Actually, Italy’s unfortunate history as a battleground for various invasions and eventual unification led to smoke being used to announce the new pope. In 1870, forces trying to unify Italy captured Rome and scaled down the Papal States to what is known as Vatican City today. An offended Pope Leo XII, the next pope to be elected after the battle, decided to snub the Italians and gave his papal address inside the Vatican instead of on the balcony of St. Peter’s. Ambrogio Piazzoni explains: “They felt they were prisoners of Italy and didn’t want to recognize the violence suffered. But they had to tell the world it had a new pope so they invented this system of lighting a fire and letting the smoke speak.”

White and Black Smoke Appear

smokefromvaticanAs stated earlier, the Catholic Church is steeped in tradition. As so, this tradition of using smoke signals to announce the election of a new pope stuck. Since the process is clothed in intense secrecy and subject to political ramifications, Pius X decreed that once the votes had been counted, they would be burned to avoid outside influence and scrutiny.

The white smoke first appeared in 1914 with the election of Pope Benedict XV when the cardinals set up the white/black smoke color scheme (Miami Herald, 4/18/05). After Pope Pius X, who was elected in 1903 and died in 1914, declared that the ballots would be burned to preserve secrecy, the cardinals in 1914 decided that black smoke would signal an inconclusive conclave vote and white smoke would announce the good news of the election of a new pope.

This was also good news for the media and the public in general as everyone could get a first-hand look at the events unfolding in Rome during the conclave. In the long history of the Church, using smoke signals is a relatively new concept. However, there is another facet to the announcement of the new Holy Father in Vatican City. A longtime archivist in the Vatican Secret Archives, Monsignor Charles Burns, had this to say to journalists in April 2005 during the conclave regarding smoke signals:

“The whole question of the smoke, that might sound crazy to a lot of you, too. You see, the idea of the smoke was this, that it gave a signal to the gunner on the top of the Castel Sant’Angelo. And when he saw the white smoke, he fired the cannon and the people of Rome knew the pope’s elected, and they would all rush to acclaim him in St. Peter’s Square. So there’s a lot of meaning behind it.”

For geographical reference, Castel Sant’Angelo is very near to St. Peter’s Square so the gunner probably did have somewhat of a clear view of the smoke over the Vatican. Unfortunately, Monsignor Burns give no indication when this tradition started.

But the Vatican Isn’t Perfect

A question of smoke, as Monsignor Burns states, is the signal the entire world focuses on during the conclave. However, even the Vatican is not perfect and there have been problems with this method from time to time. Most notably is the problem of gray smoke over the Vatican – neither black nor white, signaling nothing but confusion. Sometimes the straw didn’t catch fire and the patrons of St. Peter’s Square are left staring at the sky wondering what is going on.

In 1978 cardinals solved this problem, for the most part, by substituting a small vial of chemicals for the wet or dry straw in order to produce the right color of smoke (USCCB). Pope John Paul II was not quite convinced of this solution and in 1996, among other changes to the conclave, added the decree that the Vatican bells would ring when the new pope had been chosen. Thankfully, with the election of Pope Benedict XI, there was both white smoke and the Vatican bells to successfully and affirmatively announce the new pontiff.

Smoke signals v. Modern Technology

The media frenzy surrounding the election of Pope Benedict XVI reached epic proportions as major TV stations had rented out “chimney-view” apartments for years with unobstructed views of St. Peter’s and were prepared for those first wisps of white smoke from the Sistine Chapel. In this period of time though there were no town criers and no gunners. The media was left with seemingly obscure technology to announce one of the most important events of the time:

“The conclave, moreover, offered the ultimate clash between modern technology and ancient Roman Catholic ritual – and 21st century television thrives on it. Why else would a Roman Curia capable of announcing the death of John Paul II by text message let the cameras of the world divine that a new pope had been chosen by reading smoke signals and chimes.”

As far as the rituals of the Catholic Church are concerned, the history of the white smoke over the Vatican is not as much exciting as it is practical, or was practical at the time it was entered into tradition. There were never any canons or doctrines on such practices. It just seemed practical at the time and has since evolved into an exciting ritual watched by millions around the world.





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Papal Conclave Begins

DSC03237This report is coming to you at 7:00 AM Rome time on the first day of the Conclave.  For those on the east coast it’s the middle of the night.  Yesterday they were putting the final touch on the balcony where the world will get a first look at the newest Vicar of Christ. I have to admit it gave me goose bumps to think I might be here to witness history.

In a few hours the Cardinals will gather for Mass and pray again for guidance from God.  Then a little later the order “extra omnes” (all out) is given and everyone not authorized to be in the room must leave.

The Sistine Chapel was swept for electronic listening devices; the cardinals are barred from outside communications, including reading the news; and they must stay together at the Domus Santa Marta, a residence on Vatican grounds.

I can tell you from experience, that if you get anywhere near the Sistine Chapel your cell phone loses service.  I have been told there are jamming devices to insure that any bugs that might have been missed won’t work.

Right about the time the east coast of America wakes up the first vote will take place and we’ll get our first look at the famous smoke.  I hope you are still praying.


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More from Rome; Who is your Favorite Papabile?

DSC03212More was the theme of the weekend in Rome.  There are more pilgrims, more media and on Saturday the local firefighters added more pipe to extend the Sistine Chapel chimney so the smoke could be cheap articles more visible to the world.

I stopped by the EWTN perch overlooking Vatican City Saturday.  There I met Jane Adolphe who serves in the office of the Vatican Secretariat of State.  She was about go on camera with DSC03200Ashley McGuire of The Catholic Association to talk about the role of women in the Catholic Church.

With the world’s attention on the Church, those demanding changes in Church teachings have been handed a media platform.  Ashley and Jane did a great job talking about how the Church honors and respects women.

DSC03203In fact Ashley had an opinion piece in the Washington Post titled; Are women already running the Catholic Church?

I found this quote enlightening; “The Vatican, whose workforce is approximately 40 percent female, has a very progressive maternity leave policy, allowing women paid leave beginning two months DSC03207before their due date and allowing them a year of paid leave after birth. When the women return, they are allowed to create a “milk schedule” so that they can structure their hours around their IMG_1656nursing needs.

By contrast, the United States only ensures that women cannot be fired for becoming pregnant and mandates that women who have given birth be granted a certain period of “disability” leave and mandates that a woman’s job be held for her for three months.”

IMG_1655Sunday, Cardinal Wuerl of Washington, DC celebrated Mass at San Pietro in Vincoli (Saint Peter in Chains).  The basilica is home to the chains that bound Saint Peter when he was imprisoned in Jerusalem.  The chains are kept in a glass case under the main altar. If that wasn’t enough, just a few paces away sits Michelangelo’s statue of Moses.  I promised I waited until Mass ended to take these photos.

One more day of preparation before the Conclave kicks off on Tuesday.  Do you have a favorite among the Papabili?  Will there be an American Pope?  Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle  received a much early attention.  Lately the trio of Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Cardinal Marc Ouellet and Cardinal Angelo Scola seem to be getting a lot of attention.

New Advent has a neat graphic.  It’s NOT a poll.  They “rank the 115 Cardinal according to a “buzz.” The score is based on a cardinal’s relative influence and visibility, and adjusted daily based on Google search activity in various languages (see Google Trends).” It’s pretty ingenious.

I hope you continue to pray to the Holy Spirit.


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Buona Sera from Rome

Buona sera from Rome.  We finally have all the voting Cardinals here and at the end of their first full day of meetings they announced a date for the start of the Conclave.  On Tuesday they begin to select a successor to Pope Benedict the XVI; a line of Popes that can be traced back to Peter.

There is not much to report from Rome tonight. St Peter’s Square is very quiet.  VatThe Vatican Swiss Guard are wearing their over coats and the big screens are up.

There are a few pilgrims and tours walking around.  As always, you can find a number of cheerful nuns and sisters milling about, but I’m pretty sure that’s standard on any night in St Peter’s; conclave or not.DSC03191

The largest group without a doubt are media members. More than 5,000 media credentials have been issued and tonight you could hardly take a picture near Vatican City without a photo bomb by at least a few media members.

DSC03186If you wondered how every TV shot has a perfectly framed picture of St Peter’s Basilica in the background, here is your answer.  There has been a giant platform set up for media and just about every building in the area has a roof top media perch.

DSC03184Are you wondering what to do between now and Tuesday?  Well, you could check out John Allen’s great ongoing series on the Papabili.

You could also learn and, if you have children, Catechize them on how the Pope is chosen.  See this great lesson plan written by the Archdiocese of Washington.

But the most important thing you can do is pray.  Ask the Holy Spirit to come down and give each Cardinal the wisdom to find the right man for the Church and courage to vote for that man.  Let us pray;



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His Holiness Benedict XVI Pope Emeritus

pope.jpg“Thank you for your love and support. May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives.” was the final Tweet by Pope Benedict XVI.

A few moments after this Tweet the appeared at the balcony of the papal vacation retreat in Castel Gandolfo south of Rome and delivered these final public words.

“Dear friends, I’m happy to be with you, surrounded by the beauty of creation and your well-wishes which do me such good. Thank you for your friendship, and your affection. You know this day is different for me than the preceding ones: I am no longer the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church, or I will be until 8 o’clock this evening and then no more.

I am simply a pilgrim beginning the last leg of his pilgrimage on this Earth. But I would still … thank you … I would still with my heart, with my love, with my prayers, with my reflection, and with all my inner strength, like to work for the common good and the good of the church and of humanity. I feel very supported by your sympathy.

Let us go forward with the Lord for the good of the church and the world. Thank you, I now wholeheartedly impart my blessing. Blessed be God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Good night! Thank you all!

His final General Audience 

His final Angelus

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Canon Law and the Actions of Father Marcel Guarnizo

As a priest and canon lawyer, I’d like in canonical terms, to revisit the controversial events surrounding the denial of Holy Communion to Barbara Johnson by Father Marcel Guarnizo. First of all, while I agree with many of the points by the very well-respected canonist Dr. Ed Peters, I believe that even with the rather limited information currently available, Father Guarnizo very possibly and correctly satisfied the conditions of canon 915 in denying Holy Communion to Barbara Johnson. Secondly, I would like to comment on Father Guarnizo’s unjust “administrative leave” in light of the Code of Canon Law.

Part 1 – Canon 915 and Father Guarnizo

The first rule of interpretation in canon law is to read the canon.

Those upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.” As Ed Peters clearly points out, canon 915 lays an obligation on the minister distributing Holy Communion to deny Holy Communion to certain parties. Who are these parties? The first two parties are those who have been excommunicated or interdicted by imposition or declaration. The third party to be denied Holy Communion are those who fulfill all of the following three conditions, i.e., those who 1. Obstinately persist 2. in manifest 3. grave sin.

How is this canon to be interpreted? Ed Peters rightly mentions a general norm:

Can. 18 – “Laws which establish a penalty, restrict the free exercise of rights, or contain an exception from the law are subject to strict interpretation.”

as well as canon 912:

Can. 912 – “Any baptized person not prohibited by law can and must be admitted to Holy Communion.”

On the other hand, Father William Byrne, Secretary for Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns, in the Archdiocese of Washington’s press release, states, “We should receive Jesus with the intention of becoming more like Him. No one is entitled to the Eucharist. It is a free gift and should be received with humility and reverence.” Ed Peters is again correct to say that the burden lies upon Father Guarnizo to prove he satisfied the requirements of canon 915. On the other hand, canon 915 lays a grave obligation on the minister of Holy Communion to protect the Eucharist from sacrilege and to prevent scandal. It goes without saying that the minister who violates canon 915 should be justly punished.

Ed Peters summarily explains why Father Guarnizo does not fufill the conditions of canon 915:

“Guarnizo did not know, and could not have verified, whether Johnson’s sin (speaking objectively), which could be grave (a conclusion I think a Catholic could reach based on the words used here) was also manifest, as well as obstinate and perseverating (sic). “

This statement raises a question. Given the extremely limited information we currently have from a variety of sources, how exactly does Ed Peters judge that Father “Guarnizo did not know, and could not have verified” Barbara Johnson was not a manifest, grave sinner? It is safe to assume that Ed Peters was not present at the chapel for the funeral, nor was he in the sacristy, nor does he have knowledge of who or how many persons witnessed the conversation that took place between Father Guarnizo and Barbara Johnson. Ed Peters goes on to quote a number of very reputable and traditional Catholic moralists and manualists who express in various terms the
meaning of canon 915. Let’s look carefully at canon 915. Here’s the canon again. Canon 915 – “Those upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.” What is the purpose of canon 915? Cardinal Raymond Burke, Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura (the highest tribunal in the Church) answers this question in a paper regarding the liciety of admitting pro-abortion politicians to Holy Communion in light of canon 915. (For those who haven’t read the paper, the quick answer is “no”.) Cardinal Burke states that Canon 915 exists primarily to prevent sacrilege while at the same time preventing our Greatest Good from being violated. His Eminence also remarked in the Jesuit periodical America Magazine that, “Canon 915 deals with the state of someone who persists in an open, serious moral violation and so has gravely sinned. This means you can’t receive Communion, but it is not saying you are excommunicated. It’s just saying you have broken, in a very serious way, your communion with God and with the Church and therefore are not able to receive Holy Communion.” The same point is implied in St. Paul’s scolding of the Corinthian Christians during Mass: “For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord.” The minister who applies canon 915 actually does the sinner a great service in charity by preventing him from committing another grave sin.

The secondary purpose of canon 915 is the prevention of scandal. What is scandal? Cardinal Burke says: The first and properly theological meaning of scandal is to do or omit something which leads others into error or sin. The second meaning is to do or omit something which causes wonderment (admiratio) in others. Denying Holy Communion publicly to the occult sinner involves scandal in the second sense. Giving Holy Communion to the obstinately serious and public sinner involves scandal in the first sense.” In his Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas Aquinas says that although there is a need for the minister distributing Holy Communion to protect the good name of the hidden sinner, there is also an obligation to protect the Eucharist from sacrilege by a public sinner.

Since Barbara Johnson doesn’t fall into the first two categories of canon 915, let’s see she if she fulfills the following three conditions for the last category of persons, i.e., those who

1. Obstinately persist 2. in manifest 3. grave sin.

1. Obstinately persist What does it mean to “obstinately persist”? The Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts (PCLT), the department of the Vatican whose job it is to interpret authentically both universal and particular laws in the Church, states that this phrase “obstinate persistence” is “the existence of an objective situation of sin that endures in time and which the will of the individual member of the faithful does not bring to an end, no other requirements (attitude of defiance, prior warning, etc.) being necessary to establish the fundamental gravity of “the situation in the Church.”

“Obstinate persistence” denotes an objective (not subjective) state. Although commonly misunderstood, it is not necessary that warnings be issued in order to judge “obstinate persistence”. Before the funeral Mass, Barbara Johnson declared her homosexual status by introducing her lesbian lover to Father Guarnizo. What was the purpose of this action? We now know, from media reports, that Barbara has been with her partner for 20 years.

We also know that Barbara Johnson walked out of the sacristy while her lover blocked the doorway. 2. “Manifest” What does “manifest” mean? Among the leading canon lawyers currently living in North America is Professor John Huels at St. Paul’s University. In his 1985 commentary on canon 915, Professor Huels writes that “a manifest sin is one which is publicly known, even if only by a few.” Although it is very tempting to do so, it is not possible completely to equate the term “manifest” with the term “public”, since, in the 1917 Code these two adjectives are used to describe those who are not allowed a Catholic funeral. (1917 Code of Canon Law, c. 1240. Alii peccatores publici et manifesti [Other public and manifest sinners]) If “manifest” were exactly the same as“public”, why would the legislator have used both terms? “Manifest” can also refer to the fact that certain moral actions by their very essence are always immoral and are objectively wrong. For example, we say that it is“manifest” or clear, i.e., there is no doubt, that a certain moral action is definitely wrong. The term “manifest”would certainly in its definition, a politician who is actively attempting to pass legislation to facilitate direct abortions. Understandably there is overlapping in meaning but the the term “public” can mean “that which is provable in the external forum.” The Jesuit theologian Father Davis, in his classic Moral and Pastoral Theology published in 1938, declared that “He is, relatively speaking, a public sinner, if he is known to be such by those who observe that he asks for the Sacraments. He is said to ask for them publicly, if he does so, in the presence of any others, many or few, who would recognize him as a public sinner.” The ancient Rituale Romanum stated: “All the faithful are to be admitted to Holy Communion, except those who are prohibited for a just reason. The publicly unworthy, which are the excommunicated, those under interdict, and the manifestly infamous, such as prostitutes, those cohabiting, usurers, sorcerers, fortune-tellers, blasphemers and other sinners of the public kind, are, however, to be prevented, unless their penitence and amendment has been established and they will have repaired the public scandal.” Furthermore, as Cardinal Burke mentions in his commentary on canon 915, “Regarding the denial of Holy Communion, the [1720 Ruthenian] Synod made its own the perennial discipline of the Church: Heretics, schismatics, the excommunicated, the interdicted, public criminals, the openly infamous, as also prostitutes, the publicly cohabiting, major usurers, fortune-tellers, and other evil-doing men of the same kind, however, are not to be admitted to the reception of this Sacrament, according to the precept of Christ: ‘Do not give the Holy to dogs’. ” A notorious act here means an act that cannot be concealed. The well-respected Father William Woestman adds that, “the public reception of Communion by a public sinner implies that the Church and her ministers somehow condone the public serious sin.”

An author that Ed Peters is familiar with and recommends is the Dominican Father Halligan. Father Halligan, in Administration of the Sacraments, states that a crime “is public, if it is already divulged or is so situated that it may and must be concluded that it will easily become commonly known.” Who else was present in the sacristy on the day of Barbara Johnson’s mother’s funeral? Who else could have heard the conversation that took place between Father Guarnizo and Barbara Johnson? Usually before a liturgical ceremony such as a funeral, a number persons can be present in the sacristy (e.g., altar servers, schola members, members of the recently deceased, the parish secretary, etc.). In addition, reasonableness is assumed in law. Is it not reasonable that the community, largely made up of Barbara Johnson’s family, knew of her lesbian relationship before the funeral if not at least at the funeral? At family gatherings like funerals or weddings, people “catch up” and learn how everyone and everything has been going since the last funeral or wedding. People find out family news. Even strangers discover a little bit about who’s related to whom and so on. Is it not very reasonable that more than a few people present in that church building knew about the lesbian relationship between Barbara Johnson and her lover? Every human being lives in a community. What about the community of which Barbara Johnson is a member and amongst whom she lives? Are they supposed to assume that Barbara Johnson received Holy Communion just like everybody else? Doesn’t this create scandal in Cardinal Burke’s first sense where the faithful are led into error about who is worthy to receive Holy Communion?

A trustworthy witness who wishes to remain anonymous but was present at the funeral mentioned that most of the congregation was mysteriously not made up of those around the age of the recently deceased mother but were more around the age of Barbara Johnson. An unusually small percentage of people came up to receive Holy Communion. If these were friends of Barbara Johnson, what about the possible scandal that could have taken place if Father Gaurnizo had given her Holy Communion? This witness is confident that the vast majority of the persons present for the funeral knew about the lesbian “lifestyle” of Barbara Johnson.

3. Grave sin. Regarding “Grave Sin”, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts declares that this is “understood objectively, being that the minister of Communion would not be able to judge from subjective imputability.”

Now that we’ve walked through a working description of the phrase in canon 915 asserting that those who “obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion,” what is a concrete example of people who fall into this category? The answer is given to us by Blessed Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Catholic Catechism and again, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts.

Blessed John Paul II in Familaris Consortio in 1982:

The Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted hereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict the union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified by the Eucharist. Besides this, there is a another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.” Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1991: “As far as the internal forum solution is concerned as a means of resolving the question of the validity of a prior marriage, the magisterium has not sanctioned its use for a number of reasons, among which is the inherent contradiction of resolving something in the internal forum which by its nature also pertains to and has such important consequences for the external forum.” Catechism of the Catholic Church, numbers 1650-1651: “If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law. Consequently, they cannot receive Eucharistic Communion as long as this situation persists. ” Pontifical Commission for Legislative Texts in 2000: “In effect, the reception of the Body of Christ when one is publicly unworthy constitutes an objective harm to the ecclesial communion: it is a behavior that affects the rights of the Church and of all the faithful to live in accord with the exigencies of that communion. In the concrete case of the admission to Holy Communion of faithful who are divorced and remarried, the scandal, understood as an action that prompts others towards wrongdoing, affects at the same time both the sacrament of the Eucharist and the indissolubility of marriage. That scandal exists even if such behavior, unfortunately, no longer arouses surprise: in fact it is precisely with respect to the deformation of the conscience that it becomes more necessary for Pastors to act, with as much patience as firmness, as a protection to the sanctity of the Sacraments and a defense of Christian morality, and for the correct formation of the faithful.” The noted 1917 Code commentar Fr. Lincoln Bouscaren, SJ, in Canon Law Digest (vol. 1, 408-409) also relates the case of “a woman that was living in open concubinage with a relative, went to confession to a missionary, and was admitted by him to Holy Communion. The pastor of the church questioned the propriety of this course of action on the part of the missionary, and referred the matter to the Ordinary of the place. The latter forbade the admission of the woman to Holy Communion until she should have separated from the man with whom she was living. From this decree, the missionary had recourse tot he Sacred Congregation of the Council. Question: Whether the decree of the Ordinary is to be obeyed. Reply: In the affirmative.” Father William Woestman logically states that “the same principles apply to everyone whose habitual lifestyle is manifestly gravely sinful, e.g., the unmarried “living together,” homosexuals or lesbians in a public relationship, those actively participating in the performance of abortions, drug traffickers, gang members.” We can see that Ed Peters clearly contradicts the point reinterated by Father Woestmann: “For reasons I can develop elsewhere, I think that withholding Holy Communion from those divorced and remarried outside the Church is an application of Canon 915 (see, e.g., Kelly, in GB&I COMM [] 503), but I need not prove that point to show that withholding the Eucharist from divorced-and-remarrieds, that is, those who status is de iure public, is appropriate under, among other things, the 1994 CDF Letter on Communion for Divorced and Remarried Catholics, n. 6. Of course, as Johnson is apparently not divorced and remarried outside the Church, and because Guarnizo did not suspect her of being so, his implicit appeal to the CDF letter and/or c. 915, fails in law and in fact.” Objectively, homosexuality is graver than adultery. I don’t understand why Dr. Peters says that it is licit to use canon 915 to deny Holy Communion to those who are divorced and have remarried but it is not licit to use canon 915 for a lesbian in a homosexual relationship. Up to this point, we’ve applied our attention to law relevant to the particular situation of Baabara Johnson. Now we ask, what should be done practically in a concrete situation? The Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts again provides the answer. “Naturally, pastoral prudence would strongly suggest the avoidance of instances of public denial of Holy Communion. Pastors must strive to explain to the concerned faithful the true ecclesial sense of the norm, in such a way that they would be able to understand it or at least respect it. In those situations, however, in which these precautionary measures have not had their effect or in which they were not possible, the minister of Communion must refuse to distribute it to those who are publicly unworthy. They are to do this with extreme charity, and are to look for the opportune moment to explain the reasons that required the refusal. They must, however, do this with firmness, conscious of the value that such signs of strength have for the good of the Church and of souls.”

“The discernment of cases in which the faithful who find themselves in the described condition are to be excluded from Eucharistic Communion is the responsibility of the Priest who is responsible for the community.” We know that Father Guarnizo did not make the funeral arrangments for Barbara Johnson’s mother. We also know that after hearing confessions from 930-1020am, Father Guarnizo wanted to speak with Barbara before the 1030am funeral Mass but was blocked by Barbara Johnson’s lover. We also know that Father Guarnizo’s action to deny Holy Communion to Barbara Johnson was extremely discreet.

Part 2 – “Administrative Leave” and Father Guarnizo Regarding the “administrative leave” and the loss of his priestly faculties in the diocese of Washington, DC, Father Guarnizo says “I would only add for the record, that the letter removing me from pastoral work in the Archdiocese of Washington, was already signed and sealed and on the table when I met with Bishop Knestout on March 9, even before he asked me the first question about the alleged clash.” The major question in this matter is where is the necessary element of due process? John Beal, a well-known canonist at Catholic University, argues that “administrative leave” can only take place after a formal judicial penal process has been initiated, and not during the information-collecting preliminary investigation. This assumes that the prelimary investagtion of canon 1720 was actually carried out. Thus, the Ordinary should have decreed that the acts of the investigation be handed over to the Promoter of Justice who then presents the libellus (petition of accusation) to the judge. Canons 1720, 1721 and 1722 need to be applied.

Can. 1720 “If the ordinary thinks that the matter must proceed by way of extrajudicial decree: 1º he is to inform the accused of the accusation and the proofs, giving an opportunity for self-defense, unless the accused neglected to appear after being properly summoned; 2º he is to weigh carefully all the proofs and arguments with two assessors; 3º if the delict is certainly established and a criminal action is not extinguished, he is to issue a decree according to the norm of cann. 1342–1350, setting forth the reasons in law and in fact at least briefly.”

Can. 1721 “§1. If the ordinary has decreed that a judicial penal process must be initiated, he is to hand over the acts of the investigation to the promoter of justice who is to present a libellus of accusation to the judge according to the norm of cann. 1502 and 1504. §2. The promoter of justice appointed to the higher tribunal acts as the petitioner before that tribunal.”

Can. 1722 “To prevent scandals, to protect the freedom of witnesses, and to guard the course of justice, the ordinary, after having heard the promoter of justice and cited the accused, at any stage of the process can exclude the accused from the sacred ministry or from some office and ecclesiastical function, can impose or forbid residence in some place or territory, or even can prohibit public participation in the Most Holy Eucharist. Once the cause ceases, all these measures must be revoked; they also end by the law itself when the penal process ceases.” According to Father Guarnizo’s report, the legal measures demanded by canons 1721 and 1722 were simply not applied:

“The letter removing me from pastoral work in the Archdiocese of Washington, was already signed and sealed and on the table when I met with Bishop Knestout on March 9, even before he asked me the first question about the alleged clash.” Where is the right of defense for Father Gaurnizo? Did the Ordinary initiate an administrative process or a judicial penal process with a decree of judicial weight? What about the libellus, the formal petition of accusation? Where is the promotor of justice to ensure that the proper juridical motions are taken at each step of the trial? Where is due process?

In short, I respectfully but substantially disagree with Ed Peters’ view of Father Guarnizo’s alleged violation canon 915 based on the arguments offered above. In addition, the misfortune of the the loss of faculties that Father Guarnizo has suffered has seemingly come about without due canonical process. Furthermore, why did the diocese not mention canon 916, which reminds the faithful of the obligation to receive the Eucharist worthily in their letter of apology to Barbara Johnson? Although any information whatsoever about the entire situation is at a premium, it seems like the Diocese of Washington, DC is more willing, at least externally, to place its trust in somebody who (although canonically is not Buddhist as Ed Peters rightly points out) professes to be a Buddhist, has illegally attempted marriage with her lesbian partner, and was a speaker on March 17th at a national conference for gays and lesbians. Finally, is Father Guarnizo guilty until proven innocent? I’m making these points in order to highlight the priest’s obligation to safeguard the Holy Eucharist and to highlight that a priest accused of wrongdoing receive a right of defense in a just trial.



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Support Cardinal Dolan Sign the Religious Freedom Petition

The Obama Administration announced that Catholics MUST pay into insurance policies that cover abortion, contraception, and sterilization — NO conscience clauses will be accepted.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan released this video:

Please sign the petition to support Cardinal Dolan and stand for religious freedom! We’ll send the petition to President Obama, members of Congress, and HHS Secretary Sebelius.

Your signature will only count after you confirm your e-mail address.  Please check your e-mail inbox for a confirmation.


[emailpetition id=”1″]

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An Architectural Guide to the Spiritual Life

Conscience Examination as Church Renovation: An Architectural Guide to the Spiritual Life

Fr. Daniel Scheidt—Queen of Peace Parish—Advent 2011

Baptismal Font [Nov. 27-28] Who am I to the world? What do I witness to be most important? Who am I to Christ? How can I be more peacefully immersed in His life rather than drowning in my own preoccupations?

Confessional [Nov. 29-30] Where in my life do I need to seek God’s mercy? How in my life do I need to share God’s mercy?

Welcome Portal and Doors of the Church [Dec. 1-2] How is my Catholic identity visible in its beauty? How is my life an open invitation for others “outside the Church” to come into the life of the Church and find their true home?

Bell Tower [Dec. 3-4] How do I survey the passing of the world from the highest perspective, the Lord’s perspective, rather than from that of other people, or the media, or advertisers? What melody does the ringing of my life play?

The Nave (Interior Space) and Cruciform Shape of the Church [Dec. 5-6] How do I accommodate the wide variety of people in my life—old friend and potential new friend, those I dislike, the faithful and the lost? Where is my natural family located in my spiritual family?

Foundation and Pillars of the Church [Dec. 7-8] Who are the supports—visible and invisible—of my faith and mission in life? Who from the past, and in the present, supports (or bears the weight!) of my life and work?

Saints in the Stained Glass Windows and Statuary [Dec. 9-10] Who in my family of earth and our extended family of Heaven surrounds my life and radiantly shines with the love of Christ? Who in my solitude most reminds me that I am never alone in the spiritual life?

Bishop’s Cathedra (Seat of Authority) [Dec. 11-12] How do I relate to those above me in authority? To those below me in authority?

Stations of the Cross [Dec. 13-14] How recently has my life most palpably felt like a Way of the Cross? What have been the heaviest burdens and sufferings of my life and mission?

Tabernacle [Dec. 15-16] When are the still points—and where is the contemplative center—of my life with Christ? How, like the Blessed Sacrament, is my life hidden and reserved in Christ?

Pulpit [Dec. 17-18] What place do I make for the contemplative reading and thoughtful proclamation of the Word of God? How does my life—like that of Our Blessed Lady, the Virgin Mary—proclaim the greatness of the Lord?

Side Chapels [Dec. 19-20] How do the various concerns of my life (persistent needs, key events, significant losses, special devotions) find their center arranged around the “High Altar” of my relation and service to Christ?

High Altar [Dec. 21-22] What are the sacrifices in my life that must be united to the Sacrifice of Christ? How does my life and mission bear the form: “Take, this is my body, given up for you”? In other words, how have I like the Living Bread of the Eucharist been “taken,” “blessed,” “broken,” and “given” by Christ?

Hidden Works of Art [Dec. 23-24] What are my acts of love that only God can see? How am I going to make room for Jesus this Christmas?

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An Attitude of Gratitude

As we approach Thanksgiving Day, we have an opportunity to reflect on all the blessing in our lives. It is so easy to focus on all the problems, challenges and disappointments that we encounter in our lives that we can lose perspective on the blessing that God has given us.

I am reminded of this line from a famous poem, “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.”

My mother taught for 12 years in inner city Catholic schools. She was in daily contact with the materially poor. But when my mom asked them how are you doing they would respond, “ I am too blessed to be depressed.” This response always touched me. It reminds me that Jesus says, “ Blessed are the poor, for the Kingdom of God is theirs.”

One of the ways that we can develop an “Attitude of Gratitude” is by remembering daily all the ways that we have been blessed. It is a good practice to think of 5 things each day that we are thankful for. This practice helps us to see with new eyes the blessings in our life. May we remember the words of Meister Eckhart, “If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”

Giving thanks is at the center of our faith. Even the word Eucharist means thanksgiving. So every time that we generic kamagra celebrate Eucharist we are giving thanks. There is a beautiful songs that says, “Give thanks with a grateful heart Give thanks to the Holy One, Give thanks because He given Jesus Christ, His Son.”

May we all have an Attitude of Gratitude.

Blessing Fr Stefan

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Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry.

Padre Pio,  would often tell people who came to him, “Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry.”  These words give comfort and healing to millions of people.

Padre Pio was born May 25, 1887 in Pietrelcina, Italy, a small town in southern Italy, and he died on Sept 23, 1968.

Who was this man who has inspired millions around the world? And what does  he tell us today?

First of all he was a Capuchin. This means that he was a son of St Francis. When people think of Padre Pio they connect him with many spiritual gifts such as having the stigmata, perfume, prophecy, gifts of healing and bilocation.

If we didn’t know we might think he was a figure out of the middle ages. He was a contemporary saint. He lived thru the first and second World Wars,  the Second Vatican council, and the revolution of the 60’s.

God gave us Padre Pio to remind a skeptical world that God Exist. His supernatural gifts were in stark contrast to modern world rationalism, unbelief.  Padre Pio’s spiritual gifts remind our world that God can still confound the world and its unbelief.

Padre Pio was not a saint because he had such spiritual gifts. Padre Pio was a saint because he was faithful to Jesus and His Church. Padre Pio would hear confession for the thousands of people who came to him from all around the world. He had the gift to read hearts. One of the pilgrims that came to him was none other than John Paul II.

Because tens of thousands came to him from all over the world he had his detractors as well.  On June 1922, restrictions were placed on the public access to him.  He was ordered not to answer letter written to him. From the years 1924-1931 the Vatican issued a statement denying anything supernatural about Padre Pio. On June 9, 1931 Padre Pio was ordered by the Holy See to stop all activities, even hearing confessions, except the mass which was to be celebrated in private. This ban was reversed in early 1933 by the Holy See.

He was a saint because he loved Jesus and His Church. During this time the restrictions were placed on him he never once complained against the Church. He would often say when people pointed out the unfairness of how he was being treated, “we must love the Church She is our Mother.”

Padre Pio reminds us that the Church is our Mother. He reminds us of the value of obedience for the church, even when we have been hurt by the Church.

It is for His love for Jesus and His Church that we call Padre Pio  Saint Padre Pio

Padre Pio Pray for Us – May we Follow the Words of Padre Pio, “Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry.”

Father Stefan Starzynski is the author of Miracles: Healing for a Broken World and the Spiritual Director of the Paul Stefan Home for Mothers


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