Mr. Shaun McAfee, O.P. is the author of Reform Yourself! and other books, is the founder and editor of EpicPew.com, and contributes to many online Catholic resources. He holds a Masters in Dogmatic Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. Shaun has made his temporary profession as a Lay Dominican and temporarily lives in Italy.
What an amazing decade for the Catholic Church! Thinking back through the events last 10 years is difficult. It might not seem that big, but that is a huge span of time considering how fast information and decisions move in our modern era. So much has happened. In fact, a decade ago, being Catholic was the furthest thing from my imagination. That’s not on this list, but what is on this list are some of the most impactful and newsworthy moments from the last decade.
Canonization of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha
A landmark event on Oct. 21, 2012, Mohawk-born Tekakwitha was the fourth Native American approved for veneration in the Church, but the first of all Native Americans to be canonized.
Resignation of Pope Benedict XVI
The successor to Pope St. John Paul II resigned from the papacy after a surprising announcement on Feb. 11, 2013. Citing his deteriorating strength and mental capacity for the duties of the Supreme Pontiff, the diversely academic pope’s announcement and abdication was rapid. It was the first event of its kind in 600 years, since Celestine V abdicated the Chair of St. Peter. His final day in office would be Feb. 28, 2013. On the eve of the anniversary of his resignation, the pope from Bavaria denied speculation that he had been forced to step down. “There isn't the slightest doubt about the validity of my resignation from the Petrine ministry,” he wrote in a letter to the newspaper. “The only condition for the validity is the full freedom of the decision. Speculation about its invalidity is simply absurd.”
The Election of Pope Francis
Elected March 13, 2013, Card. Jorge Mario Bergoglio of the Society of Jesus became Pope Francis. His choice to take a unique regnal name was the first since Pope Lando in A.D. 913, and was the many of many “firsts” for the pope. He was the first from outside Europe since Gregory III (A.D. 731), first from the Americas, first from the Southern Hemisphere, and first Jesuit elected as pope.
“Who Am I to Judge?”
That Pope Francis opposes so-called “same-sex marriage” has been widely covered, but it did not stop the media frenzy that resulted from his July 2013 in-flight interview comments. “If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in a beautiful way… it says, ‘No one should marginalize these people for this, they must be integrated into society.’” Confusion about his statement still exists, as more than five years after the comment, the statement is used as evidence that the Catholic Church has changed its position on the issue.
The Publication of Amoris Laetitia
The post-synodal apostolic exhortation with the title that means “The Joy of Love” was released on April 8, 2016, and was immediately met with a mix of praise and controversy. The exhortation covered a broad range of topic related to marriage and family life, and aimed to address some extenuating challenges faced by families and individuals throughout the world.
Related to the publication of Amoris Laetitia was the sending of a private letter in September 2016 to the pope by four cardinals requesting clarification to content located in the eighth chapter of the apostolic exhortation in yes or no form. Two months later, the cardinals publicized the letter after not receiving a response from His Holiness. Their questions focus on “whether there are now circumstances under which divorced and remarried persons can receive communion, whether there are still ‘absolute moral norms’ that prohibit Catholics from taking certain acts, and how the pope understands Catholic teaching on the role of conscience in making moral decisions.” The dubia sparked comments from academics and clergy for months in the wake of the initial letter.
Cardinal McCarrick and the Pennsylvanian Abuse Cover-Up
The topic of sexual abuse rocked the Church once again in 2018 when in July, the “open secret” of McCarrick’s circle of crime, along with the August news that a proven cover-up of sexual abuse committed by more than 300 priests in Pennsylvania was blown wide open. Together with the Pope’s recent mistake in accusing Chilean victims of fabricating allegations, the summer and following months were a media tragedy. Following the events, the Pope made sweeping changes to investigations to provide more transparency, and the former Cardinal McCarrick resigned his office and was defrocked.
Viganò Writes a Letter
As if the disaster of the summer months of 2018 was not enough, on Aug. 25, 2018, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, former Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, released a letter containing over 10 pages of descriptions of a series of warnings to the Vatican regarding McCarrick. According to Viganò, Pope Benedict XVI had placed severe restrictions on McCarrick that were removed by Pope Francis who was well-informed of the Cardinal’s history as a serial predator and had made him a “trusted adviser.” The bombshell letter and follow up from Viganò were like aftershocks to the already crippled image of the Church in 2018. Over the next several months, several knowledgeable parties issued statements and Pope Francis would provided his statements. Details were provided from Italian Journalists and letters were released from McCarrick’s private secretary, all of which have provided a mix of clarity and confusion about the timeline and details. Either way, the crisis sparked a general division amongst conservative and progressive Catholics as to the solution for priestly disciplines and curial transparency.
Pope Revises the Catechism’s Discussion on the Death Penalty
Following his 2014 statements that suggested that governments ought to determine an alternative to the death penalty for the protection from aggression, on Aug. 2, 2018, announced that the words to the Catechism of the Catholic Church would be altered to address the inadmissible nature of capital punishment in the modern world. Paragraph 2267 was revised to state, “Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,’ and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”
Few people, even knowledgeable Catholics, had heard the word “Pachamama” before the story that broke in late October 2019. In response to ceremonies in the Vatican surrounding the Amazonian synod involving Pachamama statues and their placement in the Church of Santa Maria in Transpontina, two men entered the church, took as many statues as they could carry, and threw them into the Tiber River. Debates about the origins, status, use and general relevance of the statues dominated Catholic media in the days following.
Rise of the Popularity of the Latin Mass
Also known as the Tridentine Mass, the Usus Antiquior, the Mass of Pius V, the Extraordinary Form, or simply as the colloquial TLM, the Mass has received an enormous resurgence in the last decade. The general form of this Mass was the product of St. Pius V who authorized the new missal in 1570 following the reforms of the Council of Trent. In 1962, Pope St. John XXIII promulgated his edition, and was used until the reforms of Pope St. Paul VI were introduced in 1969. In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI issued the Summorum Pontificum, accompanied by a letter to the world’s bishops, authorizing use of the 1962 Tridentine Mass by all Latin Rite Catholic priests in Masses celebrated without the people. These Masses “may — observing all the norms of law — also be attended by faithful who, of their own free will, ask to be admitted.” In the last decade, more and more dioceses have added a TLM to a competent parish in order to accommodate for the growing demand. Notably, younger Catholics have developed a particular demand and defense of the Extraordinary Form.
Three Popes are Declared Saints
Popes John XXIII, his successor Pope Paul VI, and his successor Pope John Paul II were all canonized in this last decade. The canonizations of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II April 27, 2014, marked a historic moment for the Catholic Church, having two popes canonized on the same day. Four years later on Oct. 14, 2018, Pope Paul VI was canonized.
Giving this list a careful read, the last 10 years show that there are many things that will be beyond our control in the next 10 years — but one thing must never change, and that is our hope in Jesus Christ Our Lord, who has won the battle against evil and makes all things new.
Happy New Year, and may God keep you!