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Top Catholic News Stories of 2017

January 6, 2018
It's that time of year! We look back at the biggest news stories and events of 2017 from a Catholic perspective. Noel Ocol (Host of Perspectives Daily) and Sebastian Gomes (Host of Subject Matters) team up to rank the top 10 Catholic stories of the year, from the Pope's call to the International Space Station, to updating the Catechism on the death penalty, to politically-charged papal visits. Thanks to the Washington, D.C. based Catholic News Service for their video recaps!
It's always a challenge to rank news stories, especially within a half-hour TV time slot! So here are a few noteworthy stories that didn't make our list, but certainly deserve our attention:
  • President Trump recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's capital
    This was one of the biggest global headlines of 2017. In early December President Trump reversed decades of U.S. foreign policy by declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel and directing the State Department to move the nation's embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Among the many statements issued by sovereign states that day was one from Pope Francis. He said he, "could not keep silent about my deep concern" for Jerusalem and urged respect for "the status quo of the city in accordance with the relevant resolutions of the United Nations." Then in his annual Christmas message the Pope prayed for peace for Jerusalem and for all the Holy Land. "Let us pray that the will to resume dialogue may prevail between the parties and that a negotiated solution can finally be reached, one that would allow the peaceful coexistence of two States within mutually agreed and internationally recognized borders." For many years the Vatican has advocated a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine.
    Jerusalem is a holy city for Christians, Jews and Muslims. Following the President's announcement, S+L's Fr. Thomas Rosica wrote a reflection on the spiritual import of Jerusalem published on CatholicPhilly.com. "Jerusalem is the city where the joys, aspirations and pains of humanity converge. It is the city where dreams are dreamt and either realized or shattered." You can read the full reflection here.
  • Two Women are given prominent roles in Vatican Dicastery
    In the latter part of 2017 it was announced that Pope Francis had appointed two women as undersecretaries in the Dicastery for Laity, the Family, and Life. The dicastery, headed by Irish born American Cardinal Kevin Farrell, deals with the vast majority of baptized Catholics around the world. The new undersecretaries are: Gabriella Gambino, a bioethics professor at Rome's Tor Vergata University, and Linda Ghisoni, a judge on the regional tribunal of the Diocese of Rome.
    When Pope Francis began systematically restructuring the Vatican bureaucracy in 2013, it was widely hoped that women would be given prominent leadership roles in various departments. This was the first such announcement. Cardinal Prefect Kevin Farrell was tapped by Francis in 2016 to run the revamped dicastery for the laity which he said, "calls for qualified lay people to hold most of the key posts."
  • Fr. James Martin, the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community
    In June of 2017 Jesuit Father James Martin released a short book entitled "Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity." The book raised basic yet fundamental questions for the Catholic Church in the 21st century: how can the church welcome, love, accompany, listen to and integrate LGBT people into the community?
    The book was written with the full consent of Fr. Martin's religious superiors and in conformity with Catholic Church publishing guidelines, and was endorsed by numerous American Bishops including two Cardinals. But that didn't stop a wave of criticism from some Catholics in the media who believe Martin did not adequately state and affirm the Church's traditional teachings on homosexuality. Debate over the book became so heated that in September, Theological College, a seminary affiliated with the Catholic University of America, rescinded an invitation to Fr. Martin who was scheduled to speak there on the topic of friendship with Jesus. In a statement the College sited "increasing negative feedback from various social media sites" that ultimately led to the decision.
    Fr. Martin, who is acting editor at large at America Media and a consulter of the Vatican's Secretariat for Communication, said he was surprised by the level of hate, personal attacks and homophobia that resulted from the book's publication. But he received far more support than criticism, not only from his superiors and fellow Jesuits, but also from church leaders and lay Catholics around the world. (You can read Fr. Thomas Rosica's statement on the publication of Fr. Martin's book and the various responses here.)
    The real story here is not the publication of Fr. Martin's book per se, but the surprising firestorm it sparked. 2017 was the year that the Catholic Church in North America realized that an open, respectful conversation about the relationship between the church and the LGBT community must be had, and this is only the beginning. That, after all, was Fr. Martin's original goal.
  • Women Deacons
    It was breaking news back in August of 2016 when Pope Francis announced the creation of a new papal commission to study women deacons in the Catholic Church. Salt + Light immediately reached out to American commission member Phyllis Zagano, PhD, one of the most authoritative scholars on women deacons, and filmed two interviews: one on her scholarly work, featured on Subject Matters, and one on her life and career, featured on WITNESS. There was much anticipation surrounding the work of the commission in 2017, but no recommendations from the commission have been issued. That is the story so far.
    Interestingly, 2017 saw the reinstatement of women deacons in the Greek Orthodox Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Alexandria. As the Catholic and Orthodox churches draw closer together under the leadership of Pope Francis, it is not a stretch to assume such moves among the Orthodox could influence the deliberations of the papal commission. 2018 will be another year of anticipation as there is no timetable yet for the Commission's final report.
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