Pope Francis opens big Vatican meeting as battle lines are drawn on his reform project

The gathering has drawn an acute battle line in the church’s perennial left-right divide and marks a defining moment for Pope Francis and his reform agenda. (AFP)
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Updated 04 October 2023
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Pope Francis opens big Vatican meeting as battle lines are drawn on his reform project

  • Gathering is historic because Francis decided to let women and laypeople vote alongside bishops in any final document produced
  • Reform is a radical shift away from a hierarchy-focused Synod of Bishops

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis opened a big meeting on the future of the Catholic Church on Wednesday, with progressives hoping it will lead to more women in leadership roles and conservatives warning that church doctrine on everything from homosexuality to the hierarchy’s authority is at risk.
Francis presided over a solemn Mass in St. Peter’s Square to formally open the meeting, with hundreds of clergy from around the world celebrating on the altar before the rank-and-file Catholic laypeople whose presence and influence at this meeting marks a decisive shift for the Catholic Church.
Rarely in recent times has a Vatican gathering generated as much hope, hype and fear as this three-week, closed-door meeting, known as a synod. It won’t make any binding decisions and is only the first session of a two-year process. But it nevertheless has drawn an acute battle line in the church’s perennial left-right divide and marks a defining moment for Francis and his reform agenda.
Even before it started, the gathering was historic because Francis decided to let women and laypeople vote alongside bishops in any final document produced. While fewer than a quarter of the 365 voting members are non-bishops, the reform is a radical shift away from a hierarchy-focused Synod of Bishops and evidence of Francis’ belief that the church is more about its flock than its shepherds.
“It’s a watershed moment,” said JoAnn Lopez, an Indian-born lay minister who helped organize two years of consultations prior to the meeting at parishes where she has worked in Seattle and Toronto.
“This is the first time that women have a very qualitatively different voice at the table, and the opportunity to vote in decision-making is huge,” she said.
On the agenda are calls to take concrete steps to elevate more women to decision-making roles in the church, including as deacons, and for ordinary Catholic faithful to have more of a say in church governance.
Also under consideration are ways to better welcome of LGBTQ+ Catholics and others who have been marginalized by the church, and for new accountability measures to check how bishops exercise their authority to prevent abuses.
Women have long complained they are treated as second-class citizens in the church, barred from the priesthood and highest ranks of power yet responsible for the lion’s share of church work — teaching in Catholic schools, running Catholic hospitals and passing the faith down to next generations.
They have long demanded a greater say in church governance, at the very least with voting rights at the periodic synods at the Vatican but also the right to preach at Mass and be ordained as priests or deacons.
While they have secured some high-profile positions in the Vatican and local churches around the globe, the male hierarchy still runs the show.
Before the opening Mass got under way, advocates for women priests unfurled a giant purple banner reading “Ordain Women.”
Lopez, 34, and other women are particularly excited about the potential that the synod might in some way endorse allowing women to be ordained as deacons, a ministry that is currently limited to men.
For years supporters of female deacons have argued that women in the early church served as deacons and that restoring the ministry would both serve the church and recognize the gifts that women bring to it.
Francis has convened two study commissions to research the issue and was asked to consider it at a previous synod on the Amazon, but he has so far refused to make any change. He has similarly taken off the table debate on women priests.
Miriam Duignan, from the group Women’s Ordination Worldwide, said advocates want the synod to recognize that women were ministers in the early church “and they need to be restored to ministry.”
“The Catholic people around the world in every country have spoken and they have all mentioned women priests,” she said at a prayer vigil on the eve of the meeting. “They can see in their parishes, in their communities, that women are doing the work of priests. They are just not allowed to be recognized as priests.”
The potential that this synod process could lead to real change on previously taboo topics has given hope to many women and progressive Catholics and sparked alarm from conservatives who have warned it could lead to schism.
They have written books, held conferences and taken to social media claiming that Francis’ reforms are sowing confusion, undermining the true nature of the church and all it has taught over two millennia. Among the most vocal are conservatives in the US
On the eve of the meeting, one of the synod’s most outspoken critics, American Cardinal Raymond Burke, delivered a stinging rebuke of Francis’ vision of “synodality” as well as his overall reform project for the church.
“It’s unfortunately very clear that the invocation of the Holy Spirit by some has the aim of bringing forward an agenda that is more political and human than ecclesial and divine,” Burke told a conference entitled “The Synodal Babel.”
He blasted even the term “synodal” as having no clearly defined meaning and said its underlying attempt to shift authority away from the hierarchy “risks the very identity of the church.”
In the audience was Cardinal Robert Sarah, who along with Burke and three other cardinals had formally challenged Francis to affirm church teaching on homosexuality and women’s ordination before the synod.
In an exchange of letters made public Monday, Francis didn’t bite and instead said the cardinals shouldn’t be afraid of questions that are posed by a changing world. Asked specifically about church blessings for same-sex unions, Francis suggested they could be allowed as long as such benedictions aren’t confused with sacramental marriage.


Alexei Navalny to be buried in Moscow amid uncertainty, tight security

Updated 7 sec ago
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Alexei Navalny to be buried in Moscow amid uncertainty, tight security

MOSCOW: Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny will be buried in Moscow later on Friday amid tight security and fears of a police crackdown two weeks after he suddenly died at the age of 47 in an Arctic penal colony.
Navalny’s allies — who have promised to livestream the day’s events online — have accused President Vladimir Putin of having him murdered because the Russian leader could allegedly not tolerate the thought of Navalny being freed in a potential prisoner swap.
They have not published proof to back up that accusation, but have promised to set out how he was murdered and by whom.
The Kremlin has denied state involvement in his death and has said it is unaware of any agreement to free Navalny. His death certificate — according to allies — said he died of natural causes.
Navalny, a former lawyer, mounted the most determined political challenge against Putin since the Russian leader came to power at the end of 1999, organizing street protests and publishing high-profile investigations into the alleged corruption of some in the ruling elite.
But a series of criminal charges for fraud and extremism — which Navalny said were politically-motivated — saw him handed jail sentences of over 30 years and most of his supporters have either fled the country or are in jail.
Navalny decided to return to Russia from Germany in 2021 after being treated for what Western doctors said was poisoning with a nerve agent only to be immediately taken into custody.
Putin, who controls all the levers of state and is expected to be comfortably re-elected for another six-year term in two weeks, has yet to comment on Navalny’s death and has for years avoided mentioning him by name.
Though Navalny is well known in the West, state TV inside Russia did not mention him for years either and when it did it was brief and in a negative light.
A religious service for Navalny is due to be held at 1400 local time in the Church of the Icon of the Mother of God in the Moscow district of Maryino where Navalny used to live.
He is then scheduled to be buried at the Borisovskoye cemetery, around 2.5 km (1.5 miles) away on the other side of the Moskva River two hours later.
Navalny’s allies, who are outside Russia and have been designated as US-backed extremists by the authorities, have called on people who want to honor his memory but cannot attend his funeral service to instead go to certain landmarks in their own towns on Friday evening at 7 p.m. local time.
The Kremlin has dismissed statements by his allies as provocative and warned that the police will uphold the law.
Judging from previous gatherings of Navalny supporters, a heavy police presence is likely and the authorities will break up anything they deem to resemble a political demonstration under protest laws.
Navalny’s wife Yulia, with whom he had two children, has said she is unsure whether the funeral itself will pass off peacefully or whether police will arrest attendees. She is outside Russia.
Navalny’s mother Lyudmila, 69, is expected to attend his funeral. It is unclear who else will be allowed into the church for the service.
Navalny was a Christian who condemned Putin’s decision to send tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine as a crazy enterprise built on lies. But the church that will host his funeral has donated to the Russian army and enthusiastically advertised its backing for the war.
In the run-up to his funeral, his allies accused the authorities of blocking their plans to hold a bigger civil memorial service and said unknown individuals had even managed to thwart their attempts to hire a hearse to transport him to his own funeral.
The Kremlin has said it has nothing to do with Navalny’s funeral arrangements.

First US moon lander in half a century stops working a week after tipping over at touchdown

Updated 6 min 57 sec ago
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First US moon lander in half a century stops working a week after tipping over at touchdown

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida: The first US spacecraft to land on the moon since the Apollo astronauts fell silent Thursday, a week after breaking a leg at touchdown and tipping over near the lunar south pole.
Intuitive Machines’ lander, Odysseus, lasted longer than the company anticipated after it ended up on its side with hobbled solar power and communication.
The end came as flight controllers received one last photo from Odysseus and commanded its computer and power systems to standby. That way, the lander can wake up in another two to three weeks — if it survives the bitterly cold lunar night. Intuitive Machines spokesman Josh Marshall said these final steps drained the lander’s batteries and put Odysseus “down for a long nap.”
“Good night, Odie. We hope to hear from you again,” the company said via X, formerly Twitter.
Before losing power, Odysseus sent back what Intuitive Machines called “a fitting farewell transmission.”
Taken just before touchdown, the picture shows the bottom of the lander on the moon’s pockmarked surface, with a tiny crescent Earth and a small sun in the background.
The lander was originally intended to last about a week at the moon.
Houston-based Intuitive Machines became the first private business to land a spacecraft on the moon without crashing when Odysseus touched down Feb. 22. Only five countries had achieved that since the 1960s, including Japan, which made a sideways landing last month.
Odysseus carried six experiments for NASA, which paid $118 million for the ride. The first company to take part in NASA’s program for commercial lunar deliveries never made it to the moon; its lander came crashing back to Earth in January.
NASA views these private landers as scouts that will pave the way for astronauts due to arrive in another few years.
Until Odysseus, the last US moon landing was by Apollo 17’s Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt in 1972.

Ukraine forces claim downing record number of Russian jets in February

Updated 01 March 2024
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Ukraine forces claim downing record number of Russian jets in February

  • Says 10 SU-34, two Su-35 fighter jets and an A-50 aircraft had been shot down in February
  • Russian military bloggers and the British defense ministry had also mentioned downed A-50 planes

KYIV: Ukraine said Thursday it had destroyed a record number of Russian planes in February, at a time when ground forces are under increased pressure in the east.

AFP was unable to verify the claims and Russian authorities do not comment.
“Our sky defenders have achieved the greatest results in downing Russian jets since October 2022,” the Ukrainian defense ministry said.
It said 10 SU-34, two Su-35 fighter jets and an A-50 aircraft had been shot down in February.
The tally included three Su-34s downed overnight which were “launching guided missiles at our infantry positions in the east,” ground forces commander Oleksandr Pavliuk said.
Ukraine had said it had shot down another A-50 plane in January.
The claims are hard to verify, but Russian military bloggers had mentioned the destruction of the A-50 aircraft — although they blamed friendly fire.
Russian military bloggers, who have sources in the armed forces, often publish exclusive information, contrary to government sources and Russian state media outlets.
The British defense ministry on Tuesday also mentioned two A-50 downed, noting the incidents “forced Russian decision makers to consider safer operating areas.”
Two years into the invasion, Ukraine has said its priority was to “throw Russia from the skies.”
Ukraine is expecting the delivery of F-16 fighter jets supplied by its Western allies.

 

 


US Senate defeats bid to stop F-16 fighter jet sale to Turkiye

Updated 01 March 2024
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US Senate defeats bid to stop F-16 fighter jet sale to Turkiye

  • Republican Senator Rand Paul sought to block the sale, saying it would embolden Turkiye for its “misbehavior"
  • Backers of the sale said it was important for Washington to keep its word to a NATO ally

WASHINGTON: The US Senate on Thursday soundly defeated an effort to stop the $23 billion sale of F-16 fighter jets and modernization kits to Turkiye, which President Joe Biden’s administration approved after Turkiye approved Sweden’s joining the NATO alliance.
As voting continued, the tally was 78 to 13 against a resolution of disapproval of the sale introduced by Republican Senator Rand Paul.
Before the vote, Paul criticized Turkiye’s government and said allowing the sale would embolden its “misbehavior.” Backers of the sale said it was important for Washington to keep its word to a NATO ally.
The Biden administration formally informed Congress on Jan. 26 of its intention to proceed with the sale of 40 Lockheed Martin F-16s and nearly 80 modernization kits to Turkiye, a day after Ankara fully completed ratification of the NATO membership of Sweden.
The sale had been held up for months over issues including Turkiye’s refusal to approve Sweden’s accession to the military alliance. Turkiye first asked to make the purchase in October 2021.
The US Arms Export Control Act gives Congress the right to stop a major weapons sale by passing a resolution of disapproval in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Although the law has been in effect for half a century, no such resolution has both passed Congress and survived a presidential veto.
Sweden and Finland applied to enter NATO after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. While Finnish membership was sealed last year, Sweden’s bid had been held up by Turkiye and Hungary. All NATO members need to approve applications from countries seeking to join the alliance.


Fire in Bangladesh capital leaves at least 43 people dead

Updated 01 March 2024
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Fire in Bangladesh capital leaves at least 43 people dead

  • Firefighters said the fire began in a popular restaurant on the first floor of the mall in a busy commercial district at the heart of the capital

DHAKA: A fire at a six-story shopping mall in the Bangladeshi capital overnight killed at least 43 people and injured dozens of others, the health minister said Friday.
Health Minister Samanta Lal Sen said the fire broke out late Thursday in the building in Dhaka’s downtown area. Firefighters rescued survivors and pulled out bodies, and by early Friday, at least 43 people died and at least 22 others were being treated, he said.
Firefighters said the fire began in a popular restaurant on the first floor of the mall in a busy commercial district at the heart of the capital, and that many people were trapped by the fire.
The cause of the fire could not immediately be determined.
Sen said at least 33 people, including women and children, were declared dead at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital, while at least 10 others died after being taken to the Sheikh Hasina National Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery.
More than a dozen firefighting units were deployed to douse the fire that broke out at the Green Cozy Cottage Shopping Mall, said Fire Service and Civil Defense Director General Brig. Gen. Md. Main Uddin.
At 75 people, including 42 who were unconscious, were rescued from the building, rescuers said.