Conversion of Islam; women and Vatican vote

| Father Kenneth Doyle | July 21, 2016 | 0 Comments

Q. Long ago, as a child, I remember saying prayers aloud for “the conversion of Russia” after every Mass. Why, in our troubled world, are we not doing the same thing now for Islamic extremists, who are surely in need of our prayers? And where would such a directive come from?

A. The prayers to which you refer were recited by the priest and people after every low Mass from the years 1884 to 1965. Technically called the “Leonine prayers” because they were introduced under Pope Leo XIII, their original purpose was to pray for the sovereignty and protection of the Holy See.

In 1930, following the Lateran Treaty that stabilized the relationship between the Vatican and the Italian state, these prayers were redirected by Pope Pius XI to be offered instead for the people of Russia.

Although popularly believed to have been “for the conversion of Russia,” they were actually said, in the words of Pius XI, “to permit tranquility and freedom to profess the faith to be restored to the afflicted people of Russia.” The prayers were discontinued in 1964 through a Vatican instruction (“Inter Oecumenici”).

The Church stills welcomes converts from other religions and believes that the Catholic Church alone embraces fully the central truths that Christ came to proclaim. Each year, just in the United States, thousands of adults are received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil liturgy.

However, the Church promotes unity among all religions and nations. The Second Vatican Council’s declaration “Nostra Aetate” (1965) states that the Church “rejects nothing that is true and holy” in other religions and “regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men” (No. 2).

In the same document, the Church specifically mentions its “esteem for Muslims” and notes that Muslims “value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting” (No. 3).

The Church does pray, strongly and consistently, against violence — particularly violence done in the name of religion.

Q. I read in a National Geographic that there were only two countries in the world that don’t allow women to vote. One was Saudi Arabia, which for centuries treated women as second-class citizens — not permitting them to be seen in public, for example, except for their eyes, and prohibiting them from driving cars. The other place was Vatican City. Since that article appeared, Saudi Arabia has now extended voting rights to women, leaving the Vatican City State as the only exception. How do you explain that?

A. Your question is a legitimate one, but a bit misleading. In fact, the only election held at the Vatican is the one to choose a new pope, and since the 11th century, only cardinals of the Church have been eligible to vote. So, if you’re one of the 800 citizens of Vatican City State, you don’t get to vote even if you’re a man — unless you happen to be one of the cardinal electors.

The good news, though, is that the number of women working at the Vatican has nearly doubled in the last 10 years, according to a recent study conducted by Vatican Radio. In 2012, a laywoman was named to the position of undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, the first laywoman to hold such a high-ranking post in the curial leadership.

Recently, Pope Francis has appointed several women to the International Theological Commission, which assists the Vatican in reviewing doctrinal issues, and, in May 2016, the pope announced his intention to set up a commission to study the matter of women deacons.

Father Doyle writes for Catholic News Service. A priest of the Diocese of Albany, New York, he previously served as director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Questions may be sent to and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, NY 12208.

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Category: Ask Father Mike