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Confraternity of Penitents Monthly Newsletter -- February 2021

Ash Wednesday is February 17. Penitents at the Novice 3 level and above are to observe the Lenten fast as prescribed in the Rule and Constitutions. All others should do penance of some sort during Lent, remembering to observe the fast and abstinence provisions of the Church for Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.  Have a blessed and fruitful Lent!

Corrective to last newsletter (Following Francis, Following Christ: Obedience Clarified):


Contrary to what was stated in an article in the last newsletter, the Pope does not need the consent of the bishops to make an in fallible proclamation. According to the definitive teaching of the First Vatican Council, reiterated by the Second Vatican Council, the Pope enjoys infallibility by virtue of his office when he proclaims in an absolute decision a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals. This teaching is based on the assistance of the Holy Spirit promised to Saint Peter. The Pope does not need the approval of the bishops to define a teaching as infallible. 

It is also important to note that a loyal submission of intellect and will is to be given to the authentic teaching authority of the Pope even when he does not speak “ex cathedra” (infallibly). His teaching must be acknowledged with respect. The level of assent that should be given depends on the character of the teaching. The followed article written by Cardinal Francis George in 1999 explains well the three levels of authoritative teaching of the Magisterium.


I use this quote for one of the opening comments in my parish missions. The quote is from Fr. Kevin Hale, a priest of the Diocese of Brentwood, England. He currently serves as the parish priest of Our Lady of Lourdes in Leigh-on-Sea.


“Our world needs signs of contradiction still. We do not need to be sociologist to observe that society has been beguiled with material things, and how when the things of this world fail us we turn to different forms of escapism to anesthetize the pain… the rising tide of the breakdown in relationships, the decline of marriage and family life together with the decline in the practice of religion all tell us that something is not right in the western world. Something of the reason for this is, we can be certain, the fear we all have of explaining and speaking the truth whatever the cost. To be a public Catholic today means to be a sign of contradiction to our generation and society. To be a Catholic today means to be counter-cultural, since it means to live and communicate the Truth, the Truth for which John the Baptist and the Apostles after him gave their blood. The cost of following Christ in any era is the same - at least it should be. It is a cost that asks for nothing less than everything… What will the kingdom what will increase the kingdom of God on Earth is our steadfastness. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta often used to say to her sisters: “God does not want our success, only our faithfulness.” … John the Baptist would not have been a universally popular preacher, as the only way to be popular with everyone is never to challenge, to be bland, to say nothing. The Catholic Church can never be accused of blandness. We are not called to give blandness to the world, but to give Salt and Light, to give meaning to the existence of our fellow men and women.”


Let’s pray with this as Lent begins. –Father Joseph Tuscan, OFM Cap, Spiritual Advisor for Franciscan Matters


  • I loaned my friend $10,000 for plastic surgery. Now I don’t know what he looks like!

  • I’m reading a book called “Quick Money for Dummies” by Robin Banks.

  • Nothing tops a plain pizza.

  • Lego store opens up after lockdowns. Folks lined up for blocks!

Pope Francis.png

By Cardinal Francis George

The different levels of authoritative teaching discussed here show that such teaching has to be interpreted carefully.

We will examine the three levels of authoritative teaching: dogmas, secondary objects of infallible teaching, Catholic doctrine.


A dogma is a statement which specifies a particular teaching as being contained in the deposit of faith, that foundational revelation concerning Jesus Christ. Such a statement is normative and is to be accepted by the whole church because it is based on the authority of God himself. Such a statement is taught infallibly by the church because the Holy Spirit preserves the church, especially its teaching authority, from error when teaching matters that are essentially related to the deposit of faith. Such a statement carries a quality of irreversibility; we cannot go back on it but we can develop its understanding. This quality of irreversibility distinguishes a teaching that is infallibly taught from a teaching which is not taught under the charism of infallibility.

How is such a dogma taught? It can be taught through the extraordinary magisterium or the ordinary universal magisterium. The extraordinary includes two structures of teaching: an ecumenical council and the pope teaching in an ex cathedra manner. Vatican I specified certain conditions under which the pope can teach in an ex cathedra manner. (1) It is a matter of faith or morals contained in or necessarily related to the deposit of revelation. (2) It is an act of judgment that a proposition of faith is to be held by the whole church with irrevocable assent. This shows that infallibility pertains primarily to the judgment made by the authoritative teacher; it is the act of judgment which is preserved from error. (3) The pope must be acting, not as a private person, but as bishop of Rome and head of the universal church.

If one is looking for examples of such dogmas, one can look first to the doctrines about the Trinity or the affirmation about Christ being a divine person with a human and divine nature, these would be dogmas taught by an ecumenical council, and there are many others. Concerning formal ex cathedra dogmatic statements, there are two: the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception and the bodily Assumption of the Blessed Virgin.


The ordinary universal magisterium involves the situation of all bishops dispersed throughout the world, who in their ordinary teaching and under certain circumstances can teach infallibly. Lumen Gentium (no.25) specified these five conditions. In a sense these five conditions were seen to be operative within an ecumenical council and were extended to include the situation of bishops dispersed.

1. Even though dispersed through the world, the bishops are maintaining the bond of communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter.

2. The bishops, as members of the episcopal college, are authoritatively exercising their office of teachers and witnesses of the apostolic faith for the sake of the church; they are not simply offering their personal opinions.

3) They are teaching matters of faith and morals contained in or necessarily related to the deposit of revelation.

4) They are in agreement on one position. In one sense this shows the universal dimension of the teaching. Yet on a deeper level it conveys an active role of the episcopal college, that they are not just taking a stance of non-opposition or passively accepting the judgment of others but are truly making their own judgment in unity with the other members of the college.

5) They are saying that such a teaching is to be definitely held by the whole church. They have made an act of judgment in saying that this teaching involves an element that is normative for the faith.

The common example of such a dogmatic teaching through the ordinary universal magisterium is the doctrine about the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary before it was formulated in an ex cathedra manner.

Four comments ore in order. First, in these situations of an ecumenical council, an ex cathedra pronouncement, or the bishops being dispersed, there is the presumption that the pope and bishops have exercised a discernment process to determine what the faith of the church is, since they are not expressing their personal opinion about what they think concerning the faith.

Second, when Vatican I said that dogmas are irreformable (or irreversible) this pertains not to the process of discernment but to the situation after a dogma has been promulgated; there is no higher court of appeal or further process of ratification needed for it to be considered normative. Third, there is the affirmation found in canon law that nothing should be understood as infallibly taught unless it is clearly established as such. Fourth, the formulation of the conditions for the ordinary universal magisterium to exercise its teaching role is rather recent, and there is need for greater clarification on determining how dispersed bishops can teach in a definitive manner together.


Secondary objects of infallible teaching are doctrines which are not contained in the deposit of faith but which are necessarily related to the deposit of faith because such doctrines are needed for the defence and/or the explanation of elements in the deposit. Generally speaking, it has been the work of theologians to determine what types of doctrines would fit into this category.

However, the recent doctrine of the prohibition of ordaining women to the presbyterate was put forth by the Pope as being taught infallibly by the ordinary universal magisterium. The idea was that the doctrine is needed to preserve the integrity of presbyteral ordination. Although this type of teaching is not considered a dogma since it is not contained in the deposit, it is considered to be taught infallibly and thus would have the characteristic of irreversibility.


In this category we will find most of the authoritative church teaching; it is the normal way in which the magisterium teaches in matters of doctrine and up to now in all matters of morality. It results because there are situations where there is need to offer a response that is guided by the light of the Gospel and necessary for the time. s type of teaching is distinguished from the previous two categories by the fact that it is non-infallible teaching; this means that such teaching could possibly change. Even though it is non-infallible believers are expected to have an attitude of trust in the authoritative teachers who are exercising their gospel mandate, and the presumption is always that what they are teaching is true.

How is Catholic doctrine taught by the pope? The most common way is through papal encyclicals, apostolic letter, apostolic exhortations. This way of teaching could be termed “ordinary papal magisterium.” Yet it is also possible that such teaching could originate from one of the curial congregations, depending on whether the pope would specifically decide to direct such a teaching to the universal church, technically called in forma speciali. Concerning the teaching about ordination, we see an instance where the pope uses ordinal papal magisterium to make explicit how the dispersed bishops were teaching this matter through the ordinary universal magisterium.

These levels of authoritative teaching show that such teaching has to be interpreted carefully. They set out certain parameters so that the faith and unity of the church will not be seriously compromised. This also means that infallibility pertains to a very important but narrow area of teaching; the claim that certain doctrines pertain to the deposit of faith can be made only after serious reflection.

Further, this also shows the importance of theology for the life of the church in its complementary yet distinctive role to the magisterium. Theological reflection is needed to deepen the understanding of official doctrines and to show how development is possible. Theologians also have the responsibility of raising issues and questions which the authoritative teachers should consider if there is need to make an official response to particular issues.


Cardinal Francis George. On the Papacy and the Teaching Office of the Church. The Catholic Faith 5, no 6, November/December 1999) : 13-14.

Reprinted by permission of The Catholic Faith. The Catholic Faith is published bi-monthly and may be ordered from Ignatius press, P. O. Box 591090, San Francisco, CA 94159-1090. 1-800-651-1531.

The Author

His Eminence Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I., is the Cardinal Archbishop Emeritus of Chicago, he has issued two pastoral letters: on evangelization, “Becoming an Evangelizing People,” (November 21, 1997) and on racism, “Dwell In My Love” (April 4, 2001). His book, The Difference God Makes: A Catholic Vision of Faith, communion and Culture, is a collection of essays exploring our relationship with God, the responsibility of communion and the transformation of culture.

Copyright @ 1999 The Catholic Faith. Reprinted with Permission.



Charles D. Fraune's new edition of "Slaying Dragons" is subtitled "What Exorcists See & What We Should Know".


Mr. Fraune is a devout Catholic father and teacher who has specialized Catechetical training. The book has a nihil obistat and from what I read is doctrinally sound. He takes the time to compile several different exorcist's experiences and provides research notes and resources.


The information on demons and our best defense against them is also in line with another book on the subject, Fr. Robert Spitzer's "Christ versus Satan in Our Daily Lives" (available at Ignatius Press). That is, the more humble, solid and prayerful a person lives their lives in accordance with the virtues, the less likely they are to be influenced by the demons. The less connected and atheistic or occult-oriented, the more likely to be affected by temptation, obsession, oppression, infestation, possession, and subjection to the Evil One.


Some highlights that reinforce the spiritual warfare concept "forewarned is forearmed" are the following:

The demon's three guiding principles:


1. "Anything but God" Knowing that this is the central principle of a demonic way of thinking is helpful. This is the exact opposite principle for those who desire to become saints ("let all be lost, provided God is not lost"). Sin is far worse than Satan. It is our disconnect from God that leads us to rely on ourselves, which necessarily leads to sin and the loss of God.


2. "Anything but moderation". Demons treasure this because it drives people to behaviors of extremes, whereas virtue is the mean between the two. (For example, even St. Francis pointed out that a person can strive for holiness so much that they will be frustrated and give up on the struggle for the over-blown expectations.) The demons push us away from any sort of moderation and toward either over-indulgence or total abstinence.


3. Division. Demons are also guided by the principle of division. "Wars and the division of souls are unequivocal signs of the presence of the devil, which, not by chance, in Greek means 'divider'." (Fr. Amorth).


Demons also block your memories and your ability to remember certain things. This prevents us from remembering the sin that was at the start of all your problems, and which is at the root of the more prominent sins with which you are currently struggling. If the demons can block your memory of that sin, which would help break the hold it has on your life.


St. Francis de Sales describes the demon's objective misery (and unique objective of destroying men and making them their companions in misfortune) as "sadness and melancholy" and that Satan uses sadness and depression to lead good men to give up the pursuit of doing good.


The devil loves when we become wounded. His three ways into our bodies and lives are mortal sin, trauma, or in rare circumstances by God's will (for a higher purpose).


A good deliverance prayer for breaking a particularly stubborn (obsessive or oppressive) sin, is "In the Name of Jesus, I bind you, spirit of N., and I case you to the foot of the Cross to be judged by Our Lord."


On the three ways people can become possessed (probably includes oppression and obsession as well) that is, mortal sin, trauma and God's will. As for trauma, it "can lead to losing faith in the goodness of God and the world He created." The wound from trauma (abuse, abortion, war) tends to gain a diabolical component when the victim, in order to find healing or peace, becomes open to and dabbles in the occult. The trauma becomes a doorway making invitations to evil more easily accepted. The spiritually wounded and spiritually limping are easy prey for the demonic. As Fr. Thomas puts it, when someone opens themselves up to seeking answers through the occult, "an entity may come because it smells blood."


Use of St. Louis de Montfort's "True Devotion to Mary" is very helpful because of the highlight of humility. As an aside, when Mary does show up at an exorcism, she does not have to say anything, the exorcism is over. She has that much of an effect on the demons that they fear her to the point of leaving immediately. (See also, Romans 16:20).


Overall, there are many more examples and nuances but the book does a good job of reinforcing knowledge that is particularly helpful for most. I enjoyed it and took about three pages of notes, which is helpful to recall later. I used the deliverance binding prayer and immediately felt relief by naming a particular temptation and have used it every time it comes up to great effect. JMJ, ~Eric Welch, Novice 3 (Alessandro Prison Ministry)



CFP Friends: Thank you for your kindness, prayers, and generosity at the passing of my grandmother. The Lord is so good in this time of sadness. He has chosen to show me how loved I am through you all. Know my deepest thanks and prayers. – Fr. Jacob


As we approach Lent, CFP formators will inevitably be asked by Postulants and Novice 1s if they should begin fasting. The official answer is, if you have previously fasted from food during Lent, you may continue whatever you have been doing. But if you have not previously fasted from food, you should follow the formation plan and begin fasting from food only in Novice 2 and in the ways and order specified.

This answer may not be very satisfying, but there is a fast that Postulants and Novice 1s should begin during Lent: A credit card fast. That complies with St. Paul’s clear and very explicit directive in Romans 13:8 that we should “owe nothing to anyone. . .”

It also gets us on our way to complying with CFP Constitutions Rule 29c which tells us, “Those living this life must at once begin to pay up their debts. . .” That means debts must be reduced and extinguished and reserves must be built. Paying off credit cards is the first step toward “paying up” one’s debts.

Unlike a food fast, where one is simply reducing the amount of food one eats, a credit card fast is a total abstention from the use of credit cards. For penitents, that should be our goal: Not for gas, not for groceries, not for anything with just two exceptions: (1) checking into a hotel and (2) if you pay off your card every month.

We’ll discuss those exceptions in a moment. But if you keep reading, you’ll find that the CFP way of “paying up one’s debts” is a gradual process. That’s true not just for becoming debt-free, but also for developing a penitential prayer life, fasting and simplifying one’s wardrobe. To quote Aesop, “slow and steady wins the race.”

Why the hotel exception? Because hotels routinely place holds of as much as $500 on debit cards or require deposits to ensure you can pay for your stay and any “incidentals” such as restaurant bills.

Why the exception if you pay off your card every month? That indicates that at least it is pertains to credit card, you “owe nothing to anyone.”

The Hard Lesson of Covid

But, if you’re paying off your card from current income, heed this hard lesson from the 2008-2009 financial crisis as well as the Covid-19 pandemic: You can’t depend upon that income.

Thanks to Covid, millions of Americans who thought they had secure jobs – government and health care workers, for instance – lost their jobs and their income. Many will ultimately have to file bankruptcy, as will millions who are deep in medical debt. Once their bankruptcy is discharged, which can take six months or longer and will remain on their credit report for seven to 10 years, they generally can only obtain a “secured credit card” which is simply a debit card that is treated as a credit card for the purpose of rebuilding one’s credit score.

The truth is, you never know when something totally outside your control will put you into a position where you can’t pay off your credit card every month. Maybe it’s the loss of a job. Maybe it’s a devastating medical bill that’s not covered by insurance. Maybe it’s a catastrophic damage to your home. If you can’t pay off your credit card bill in full if you lose your income or have a catastrophe, you’re only slightly better off than someone who doesn’t pay off their card every month.

The Impact of Credit Card Debt on Charity


After saying we should “owe nothing to anyone” St. Paul added, “except to love one another” (Romans (13:8). St. Paul went on to explain “the one who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the Law.” A reading in the Office of Readings makes it clear that of the three essential elements of penance – prayer, fasting and charity – charity is the most important.

Charity is often translated as “love,” but the CFP Constitutions says we should express our charity in two different ways. One is by an apostolate. Maybe that apostolate is working in a soup kitchen, or teaching RCIA, or singing in a choir, or perpetual adoration at 2 a.m., working for CFP, or some other volunteer activity.

The second is by almsgiving. CFP Constitutions Rule 29c says we are to immediately begin to tithe if we have not done so before. As penitents, God is entitled to 10% of our income, but if we are deep in credit card debt it is much harder to give anything to charity.

Tithing is easier if you’re not paying interest of 9% to 24% a year on that balance. Consider the math: Suppose your income is $50,000. Under our Rule you should tithe $5,000 a charity. The average U.S. household with revolving credit card debt had an estimated balance of $6,849 as of September 2019, according to NerdWallet’s annual credit card survey, costing an average $1,162 in annual interest. That’s an annual rate of 16.9%. It’s easier to donate $5,000 a year to charity when you’re not paying $1,162 a year to a bank.

(It’s also better tax-wise to donate to charity than to pay interest on credit card debt. Charitable donations are tax deductible, whereas credit card interest isn’t. For our $50,000 taxpayer, the tax on the $1,162 paid to banks is roughly 14%, or $162.68. In other words, to pay a bank $1162 in credit card interest, you have to earn $1324.68.)

Giving up credit cards is hard. The credit card companies create an addiction to their use, especially through rewards. Not only that, life is easier in modern society if you use plastic. The gas station is just one example. With a card, one simply inserts the card and gets the gas. Without the card, one has to go into the station and pay cash. If one pays more than one needs to fill a tank, you then have to go back to get your refund. And then there’s online shopping and worries over hacking.

The Catholic Church teaches the Bible is the revealed Word of God, so that’s enough reason to pay attention to St. Paul and get out and stay out of debt. But there are two other reasons for penitents to begin a credit card fast this Lent and make it a lifelong habit.

The first is CFP is in the Franciscan tradition, which places special emphasis on poverty and the poor. When we do not allow ourselves any debts, we ally ourselves with the poor. Having to check our checking account balance and having to forego things we want because we don’t have the money in the bank to pay for them, gives those of us with jobs and incomes a taste of what millions experience every day.

In short, if we don’t use credit cards, we treat ourselves as if we were poor, regardless of how much we have. That’s in the Franciscan tradition.

The second reason is that CFP members effectively are lay religious. We are living a religious rule of life. Among religious, the Rule of their order is considered to be God’s will for them. Vowed religious commit to a life of celibacy, obedience and poverty. We, in essence, commit to a life of chastity, obedience to our Rule and living debt-free.

If there is no better time than Lent to begin the process of paying up one’s debts – especially if you’re coming into CFP – the question is how to do it.

What to Do Now

If you are able to pay off your credit card bill every month, you really need to make only two changes: (1) Build a savings account whose balance is equal to your credit card bill and then (2) opt for having the credit card company debit the full amount of your bill against that account.

If you lose your job tomorrow, you will know you can pay off the next credit card bill while adjusting your spending so you are not spending more than you earn. That eliminates a tremendous amount of stress because it’s one less thing to worry about.

If you have a revolving balance on your credit card, it’s a bit more challenging. What worked for me is a multi-step process, which I will outline in detail in another article. In essence, when I began to grapple with living Rule 29c, I did three things:

  1.  Stop charging. To quote Will Rogers, “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” If you can’t pay off your credit card, stop charging. Use a debit card instead.

  2. Consider multiple accounts. At least for me, part of the challenge was separating grocery spending from everything else. I found a cashback debit card that pays 1% on all spending up to $3,000 a month. We now use that account, rather than a credit card, for groceries.

By definition, a fast ends at a specific point. But CFP Constitutions Rule 29c does not say we should pay off our debts and then run up new debt. Instead, we are to become debt free and remain debt free. We’ll discuss that next month. – Joel Whitaker, CFP



Bishop Kevin Rhoades will bless Annunciation Women’s Vocation and Discernment House at 2 pm on the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25. Thanks be to God for this important date and please continue prayers and support  for the renovation of this house and of Guadalupe Men’s Vocation House!

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