Decoding the Vatican

  • 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...

  • The pope's plea against an 'epidemic of animosity and violence'

    Pope Francis created 17 new cardinals Saturday and urged them to counter the “epidemic of animosity and violence” that is spreading in the world.

    The pope’s message reflected his vision of a church that is more merciful than judgmental, but it also appeared to be aimed at a wider audience – including the United States. In particular, the pope described how easy it is for immigrants to be marginalized and turned into the “enemy.”

    “Little by little, out differences turn into symptoms of hostility, threats and violence,” he said.

    “In God’s heart there are no enemies. God only has sons and daughters. We are the ones who raise walls, build barriers and label people.

    The pope emphasized that the church is not immune from this "virus of polarization and animosity." Church leaders, he said, need to be vigilant "lest such attitudes find a place in our hearts."

    A key passage of the pope's homily is worth reading in full (emphases mine):

    Ours is an age of grave global problems and issues. We live at a time in which polarization and exclusion are burgeoning and considered the only way to resolve conflicts. We see, for example, how quickly those among us with the status of a stranger, an immigrant, or a refugee, become a threat, take on the status of an enemy. An enemy because they come from a distant country or have different customs. An enemy because of the color of their skin, their language or their social class. An enemy because they think differently or even have a different faith. An enemy because… And, without our realizing it, this way of thinking becomes part of the way we live and act. Everything and everyone then begins to savor of animosity. Little by little, our differences turn into symptoms of hostility, threats and violence. How many wounds grow deeper due to this epidemic of animosity and violence, which leaves its mark on the flesh of many of the defenseless, because their voice is weak and silenced by this pathology of indifference! How many situations of uncertainty and suffering are sown by this growing animosity between peoples, between us!

    Yes, between us, within our communities, our priests, our meetings. The virus of polarization and animosity permeates our way of thinking, feeling and acting. We are not immune from this and we need to take care lest such attitudes find a place in our hearts, because this would be contrary to the richness and universality of the Church, which is tangibly evident in the College of Cardinals. We come from distant lands; we have different traditions, skin color, languages and social backgrounds; we think differently and we celebrate our faith in a variety of rites. None of this makes us enemies; instead, it is one of our greatest riches.

    It’s significant that one of those receiving his red hat was Cardinal Joseph Tobin, who as archbishop of Indiana denied a request by Indiana Governor – now Vice President-elect – Mike Pence to put a halt to Catholic Charities’ resettlement of a Syrian refugee family. A federal court later blocked Pence’s move, saying it was discriminatory.

    The pope's words came the same week that President-elect Donald Trump confirmed his intention of deporting up to three million undocumented immigrants from the United States and his plan of building a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border.  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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