Decoding the Vatican

  • A night to remember

    Five years ago...  

  • Food for thought in pope's speech to diplomats

    Pope Francis this week delivered his annual “state of the world” talk to the diplomatic corps at the Vatican. It was one of his more far-ranging speeches, and his comments touched on several topics of particular interest to the United States:-- North Korea. The pope repeated his call to settle any international disputes by negotiation and agreement, not by recourse to arms, and added:"In this regard, it is of paramount importance to support every effort at dialogue on the Korean...  Read More...

  • Pope Francis and nuclear deterrence

    As 2017 drew to a close, the potential for nuclear destruction was clearly on the mind of Pope Francis.During the Christmas season, the Vatican circulated a card reproducing a dramatic photo from the aftermath of the U.S. bombing of Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945. Taken by Marine photographer Joseph O’Donnell, it showed a boy carrying his dead brother on his back as he waited in line at a crematorium.On the reverse of the card is the phrase “The fruits of war” and the pope’s si...  Read More...

  • On Christmas, pope looks to forgotten conflicts and underlying causes

    Pope Francis’ urbi et orbi blessing on Christmas day checked the expected boxes of global trouble spots, but added several other areas of tragic suffering that often don’t make the nightly news.Most of the coverage focused on the pope’s comments about Jerusalem: “On this festive day, let us ask the Lord 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 ...  Read More...

  • Vatican tightens rules on relic distribution, veneration

    The Vatican this month issued tighter norms governing how relics are obtained, authenticated and venerated by the faithful.It might seem an arcane topic to many Catholics, but the Vatican takes it seriously, especially in an age in which relics can be bought and sold online and are vulnerable to other forms of abuse.The rules were published by the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, the Vatican agency that oversees canonizations, and confirms two trends at the Vatican: greater control over va...  Read More...

  • Pope Francis takes aim at Vatican officials who 'betray trust'

    Pope Francis’ annual Christmas speeches to the Roman Curia have become famous for their honest – some would say brutal – critiques of infighting, careerism and selfishness found in the top tier of the Vatican’s bureaucracy leadership.This year, the pope set his sights on in-house critics and “those who betray the trust put in them,” in particular Vatican officials who, when they find themselves sidelined from power, go around complaining of a “pope kept ...  Read More...

  • Pope Francis returns authority over liturgical translations to local bishops

    Pope Francis has issued a document that effectively returns to local bishops' conferences the leading role in liturgical translations.The move, which involved a modification of church law, reverses years of Vatican efforts to exert centralized control on the thorny issue of language in the liturgy. It is bound to set off a new round of criticism by conservative Catholics who fear that Francis is slowly undoing the legacy of his two predecessors.The pope's decision also underscored just h...  Read More...

  • Pope calls for World Day of the Poor at close of mercy jubilee

    In a document closing the jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis called for an annual “World Day of the Poor” to underline the church’s solidarity with the world’s suffering, and extended special faculties to forgive the sin of abortion.

    The pope’s document, Misericordia et Misera (Mercy and Misery), proposed ways to keep the spirit of mercy alive in all aspects of the church’s life, from the confessional to its social programs.

    The World Day of the Poor would be celebrated in November (on the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time in the church’s liturgical year.) Pope Francis said it would help Catholics “reflect on how poverty is at the very heart of the Gospel” and recall that God will judge people on their works of mercy toward the poor.

    The pope cautioned against merely theorizing about mercy instead of sharing in the lives of the poor. By “hand-crafting” works of mercy and engaging with others, the church can lead a “cultural revolution, beginning with simple gestures capable of reaching body and spirit, people’s very lives,” he said.

    “There is no alibi to justify not engaging with the poor when Jesus has identified himself with each of them,” he said. While acts of mercy depend on individuals, they have an “immense positive influence” as a social value, and can help restore dignity to millions of people, he said.

    In one of the final papal encounters of the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis celebrated Mass Nov. 11 in St. Peter's Basilica for about 6,000 poor and homeless. At that time, he spoke about making it an annual day dedicated to the poor.

    In his document, the pope said he was extending the faculty, granted to all priests during the Holy Year, to absolve those confessing the sin of abortion. Normally this is something reserved to bishops and priests designated by bishops, but the pope said he wanted to underline that while abortion is always a “grave sin” because it puts an end to innocent life, “there is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart.”

    The pope also extended “until further provisions are made” the right of faithful to validly confess to priests of the traditionalist group, the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X, with which the Vatican has conducted a long and painful dialogue aimed at reconciliation.

    The pope said he was also extending the pastoral program of the “Missionaries of Mercy,” priests appointed by the pope to preach and confess in various parts of the world.

    It was important, the pope said, that mercy not be seen as “a mere parenthesis in the life of the church.”

    He emphasized a point he has made again and again during the jubilee year: that “forgiveness is the most visible sign of the Father’s love.”

    “Nothing of what a repentant sinner places before God’s mercy can be excluded from the embrace of his forgiveness. For this reason, none of us has the right to make forgiveness conditional,” he said.  Read More...

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John Thavis

John Thavis is a journalist, author and speaker specializing in Vatican and religious affairs. He is known in the trade as a “Vaticanista,” a calling that became clear only after a circuitous career path.

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John Thavis was in Rome during the recent papal resignation and conclave, and is available to media for interviews about the pope and the Vatican.

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