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  • The Vatican commission on sex abuse takes shape


    Marie Collins, an abuse survivor, named to Vatican panel

    Pope Francis today named eight members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, including an Irish victim of clerical sexual abuse.

    This core group of the commission, which includes four women, has been asked to further define the scope of the panel's responsibilities and recommend additional members.

    The Vatican said the commission would promote “a multi-pronged approach to promoting youth protection, including: education regarding the exploitation of children; discipline of offenders; civil and canonical duties and responsibilities; and the development of best practices as they have emerged in society at large.”

    The commission includes Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston and Catholic experts from seven other countries. Most are from Europe, but the Vatican said additional members would be found from other continents. Among the eight are specialists in human rights, church and civil law, moral theology and psychology.

    The Irish commission member, Marie Collins, is a well-known sex abuse survivor who has actively campaigned for investigation of sex abuse by priests. She was recently critical of a statement by the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland, which questioned whether some priests who had made “mistakes” early in life should continue to be excluded from ministry.

    Here is the list of the members announced by the Vatican, and a statement by Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi:

    The Holy Father Francis has instituted the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which was announced on Dec. 5, 2013, and called to be a part of it:

    Dr. Catherine Bonnet (France)

    Mrs. Marie Collins (Ireland)

    Prof. the Baroness Sheila Hollins (United Kingdom)

    Card. Sean Patrick O’Malley, OFM Cap (U.S.)

    Prof. Claudio Papale (Italy)

    Her Excellency Hanna Suchocka (Poland)

    Rev. Humberto Miguel Yañez, SJ (Argentina)

    Rev. Hans Zollner, SJ (Germany)

    Their principal role will be to prepare the Statutes of the Commission, which will define its tasks and competencies. Other members will be added to the Commission in the future, chosen from various geographical areas of the world.

    Brief biographies of the members can be found here.

    Comment by Father Lombardi:

    As Blessed John Paul II declared, "People need to know that there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young…. So much pain, so much sorrow must lead to a holier priesthood, a holier episcopate, and a holier Church" (Address of John Paul II to the Cardinals of the United States, 23 April 2002). 

    In the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, as we commit ourselves to the safeguarding of minors, we need "to establish the truth of what happened in the past, to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent it from occurring again, to ensure that the principles of justice are fully respected and, above all, to bring healing to the victims and to all those affected by these egregious crimes" (Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the Irish Bishops, 28 October 2006).

    Continuing the work undertaken by his predecessors, and having heard the advice of a number of Cardinals, other members of the College of Bishops, and experts in the field, and having duly deliberated, Pope Francis now is forming a Commission for the safeguarding of minors.

    Pope Francis has made clear that the Church must hold the protection of minors amongst Her highest priorities. Today, to carry forward this initiative, the Holy Father announces the names of several highly qualified persons who are committed to this issue.

    This initial group is now called to work expeditiously to assist in several tasks, including: participating in the deliberations concerning the Commission’s final structure; describing the scope of its responsibilities; and developing the names of additional candidates, especially from other continents and countries, who can offer service to the Commission.

    Certain that the Church has a critical role to play in this field, and looking to the future without forgetting the past, the Commission will take a multi-pronged approach to promoting youth protection, including: education regarding the exploitation of children; discipline of offenders; civil and canonical duties and responsibilities; and the development of best practices as they have emerged in society at large.

    In this way, and with the help of God, this Commission will contribute to the Holy Father’s mission of upholding the sacred responsibility of ensuring the safety of young people.

  • A pope who wants to be 'normal'

    Pope Francis’ latest interview, published today by the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, featured more of his characteristic pastoral populism and a tolerant tone on several moral issues. His defensive comments on clerical sex abuse will no doubt raise the question: Does the pope think this issue is really behind us?

    Here are some highlights:

    -- The pope said he liked to get out and be among people, but he cautioned against creating “a certain mythology about Pope Francis.” “When for example it’s said that he goes out from the Vatican at night and feeds the homeless on Via Ottaviano. That never even occurred to me…. To paint the pope as some kind of superman, a type of star, seems offensive to me. The pope is a man who laughs, cries, sleeps well and has friends like everyone else. A normal person.”

    -- Francis said he had sometimes asked the advice of retired Pope Benedict: “The emeritus pope is not a statue in a museum…. Benedict is the first and perhaps there will be others. We don't know. He is discreet, humble and doesn’t want to be a bother. We talked about this and we decided together that it would be better if he saw people, got out and participated in the life of the church…. I thought of grandparents, who with their wisdom and counsel give strength to the family and don’t deserve to end up in a nursing home.”

    -- Pope Francis distanced himself from the church’s past use of the concept of “non-negotiable values” on certain moral and ethical questions related to human life and sexuality: “I never understood the expression 'non-negotiable values.' Values are values, period. I can’t say that among the fingers of a hand, one is less useful than the other. So I don't understand in what sense there can be negotiable values.”

    -- On civil unions, the pope indicated some margin of tolerance: “Marriage is between a man and a woman. The lay states want to justify civil unions in order to regulate diverse situations of cohabitation, motivated by the need to regulate economic aspects among persons, for example in assuring medical care…. We need to look at the different cases and evaluate them.”

    -- The pope said the 1968 encyclical against birth control, Humanae Vitae, was “prophetic” in its defense of morality and its opposition to population control programs, but he said this teaching needs to be applied carefully in pastoral situations. “The issue is not changing the doctrine, but going deeper and making sure that pastoral action takes into account that which is possible for people to do. This, too, will be discussed in the Synod.”

    -- Asked about clerical sex abuse, the pope called such cases “terrible” but defended the church’s actions to safeguard children. “The cases of abuse are terrible because they leave very deep wounds. Benedict XVI was very courageous and opened the road. The church has done much along this road. Perhaps more than all the others.” He said statistics show that most violence against children takes place in family or neighborhood environments. “The Catholic Church is perhaps the only public institution to have acted with transparency and responsibility. No one else has done more. And yet the church is the only one to be attacked.”

    -- Concerning his strong critique of modern capitalism, the pope said he was not bothered by those who have accused him of Marxism: “I’ve never shared a Marxist ideology, because it’s not true, but I’ve known many good people who profess Marxism.” He added that the Gospel clearly rejects the “cult of well-being” as a form of idolatry. And while modern globalization has saved some people from poverty, the pope said, it has “condemned many others to die of hunger.” The problem with economic globalization as practiced today is that “the human person is no longer at the center, only money,” he said.

  • Pope says church must accompany those in failed marriages, not condemn them


    Here’s Pope Francis today on what the church should do when a marital relationship falls apart:

    “When this love fails – because many times it does fail – we need to feel the pain of this failure and accompany those who have experienced this failure in their love. Not condemn them! Walk with them! And not treat their situation with casuistry.”

    I think the pope is using the term “casuistry” here to refer to a legalistic, rule-based approach. In any case, his message was clear: the church’s approach should be merciful and understanding.

    The comment is especially interesting as an internal debate heats up among Vatican officials and others in the hierarchy over the correct pastoral response to Catholics who have divorced and remarried civilly without an annulment.

    Earlier this week, German Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, reiterated his view that pastoral policies must be in line with doctrine, specifically the doctrine on the permanence of marriage.

    The Synod of Bishops on the Family is expected to take up the issue in October.

    The pope made the remarks at his morning Mass. Vatican Radio now has its English version up here.

    Related: In his address to cardinals a week ago, Cardinal Walter Kasper said that while the church cannot change its teaching on the permanence of marriage, it could "tolerate that which is impossible to accept," i.e., a second union. He suggested a penitential path that would accompany divorced Catholics back into full communion with the church -- in effect, he said, "a pastoral approach of tolerance, clemency and indulgence." The Catholic News Service report on his talk is here.



  • The path forward for Pope Francis and his reforms

    The PBS Frontline folks asked me to write a piece analyzing the challenges facing Pope Francis and his reform project as his pontificate nears the one-year mark. You can read it here.

    In brief, I believe the pope's financial reforms at the Vatican will be the easiest to enact, despite pockets of resistance. The structural reforms at the Roman Curia will take more time, and for me a key issue is whether Francis is willing to bring in lay people at the decision-making level, which would do much to inhibit the climate of clerical careerism at the Vatican.

    The larger questions concern the church's mission and its role in society. The new pope wants to move the focus from identity-building to spiritual outreach and "healing wounds," as he puts it. That approach seems to resonate with many ordinary Catholics, but I think less so with the current generation of bishops and priests. 

    At the Synod of Bishops on the Family in October, we will see whether bishops are willing to take an honest look at the gap between Catholic practice and church teaching on questions of marriage and sexuality. We'll also see if Francis wants to make the synod an element of more collegial governance.

  • Courage, creativity urged as cardinals begin talks on family issues


                     Cardinal Walter Kasper

    Pope Francis this morning opened a two-day discussion of cardinals on the family, saying the church’s pastoral response to modern problems must be marked by intelligence, courage and love.

    Here’s the key quote from the pope’s talk to about 150 cardinals gathered at the Vatican:

    Our reflections must keep before us the beauty of the family and marriage, the greatness of this human reality which is so simple and yet so rich, consisting of joys and hopes, of struggles and sufferings, as is the whole of life. We will seek to deepen the theology of the family and discern the pastoral practices which our present situation requires.

    May we do so thoughtfully and without falling into “casuistry”, because this would inevitably diminish the quality of our work. Today, the family is looked down upon and mistreated. We are called to acknowledge how beautiful, true and good it is to start a family, to be a family today; and how indispensable the family is for the life of the world and for the future of humanity. We are called to make known God’s magnificent plan for the family and to help spouses joyfully experience this plan in their lives, as we accompany them amidst so many difficulties, including with a pastoral approach that is intelligent, courageous and full of love.

    That last phrase about a courageous and compassionate pastoral policy was added extemporaneously by the pope.

    Briefing reporters afterward, the Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said that in referring to “casuistry,” the pope meant that the cardinals should not “fragment” their discussion by focusing on particular situations over a more general vision.

    Lombardi also summarized some key points made by German Cardinal Walter Kasper, who delivered a two-hour-long address to introduce the themes of the discussion. Kasper spoke about the need to connect God’s design for the family in the order of creation to the reality of the family today. On one hand, the church has to be able to transmit the joy and the positive values of the family to society, and in this sense the family should be a privileged means of evangelizing, he said.

    But the cardinal said the church also needs to look closely at the tensions faced by modern families, including alienation between men and women, and problems faced by women and mothers.

    Cardinal Kasper said a key concept in their reflections on the family should be the “law of graduality,” which recognizes that people come to accept the church’s teachings in a process of spiritual growth and maturation. He noted that this does not mean “graduality of the law,” but it requires time and patient accompaniment.

    The cardinal said the church’s pastoral task today was not simply to repeat: “The doctrine of the church is this,” but to return to the roots of the doctrine, which is the Gospel, and find creative pastoral approaches that respond to new problems.

    Father Lombardi said Cardinal Kasper spoke about the situation of divorced and remarried Catholics, citing the need to find a solution that took into account both pastoral compassion and church law. The cardinal indicated that a penitential period with the sacrament of Reconciliation was a possible path toward a solution for such difficult situations.

    The cardinals’ discussion comes eight months ahead of a Synod of Bishops on the Family. Their meeting was closed-door, and there were no plans to publish Cardinal Kasper’s text, Lombardi said.

  • Two more Roman Curia heads confirmed in their jobs

    On Wednesday, we saw another sign that there’s a new “normal” at the Vatican these days.

    The Vatican announced that Pope Francis has confirmed two top Roman Curia department heads in their current jobs: Cardinal Leonardo Sandri as prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches and Cardinal Kurt Koch as president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

    Journalists weren’t quite sure what that meant. Were they confirmed for new five-year terms? Or for the time being – until Pope Francis’ Curia reform is introduced? Or “until otherwise provided,” to use the classic term of Vatican vagueness?

    They asked the Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi. He didn't know either, at least not right away.

    One wonders whether the two cardinals have a clear idea of their new mandate.

    There is a strong sense in Roman Curia offices that everything is temporary, pending Francis’ reforms, but also an increasing consensus that “temporary” could last a long time. Perhaps that’s why the pope let these two department heads know they shouldn’t be packing their bags quite yet.

    To date, in fact, the pope has left almost all the top Roman Curia leaders in place. Some he has formally “confirmed,” others not.

    He has named his own men to head the Secretariat of State, the Congregation for Clergy and the Synod of Bishops.

  • Decision time on Vatican reforms? "Pazienza"


                    Pope Francis with his advisory group of cardinals

    I’m in Rome, where Pope Francis’ “Group of 8” cardinal-advisors are meeting this week to discuss prospects for administrative and economic reforms at the Vatican.

    As Francis’ one-year mark approaches, many are expecting to see the pope’s reform agenda take concrete shape in structural changes, new policies and bureaucratic streamlining.

    But judging by the comments of Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, the week is likely to pass without major decisions on reforms.

    That kind of lengthy timeline is not a surprise to those who have followed Vatican affairs – Pope John Paul II’s Curia reform effort took 10 years to prepare, and it was a relatively minor touch-up of the Vatican’s network of offices.

    But I think the wider audience will soon be asking, What’s the hold-up?

    Part of the answer is that Pope Francis has named several advisory bodies, in addition to existing ones, to help him in the reform process. Their tasks sometimes overlap, and that complicates things.

    This week and next week, for example, the Vatican is experiencing a virtual gridlock of commissions, councils and consistories. There’s the commission on administrative and economic reforms and a separate commission on the future of the Vatican bank, both of which have reported to the Council of 8. Tomorrow, the “Council of 15,” an advisory body of cardinals established by Pope John Paul II to monitor financial affairs, will meet with the Council of 8. Thursday and Friday, a special consistory of cardinals will discuss themes of the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the Family, and next week the synod’s secretariat will hold a two-day meeting. The Council of 15 will hold its own session next week, too.

    For reporters asking when decision-time might arrive, Father Lombardi was very cautious, noting that all these entities are advisory. Essentially, Pope Francis will decide when to decide.

    Meanwhile, Archbishop Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, who with 18 others will become a cardinal at a special liturgy Saturday, has been actively taking part in the meetings of the Group of 8. No one would be surprised if the pope makes Parolin a permanent member of the group, which would mean that the Secretariat of State would be weighing in on every proposed reform.

    Let’s not forget that the Vatican has also hired outside consulting agencies to help simplify and coordinate its bureaucratic structures, especially in communication, and has turned to other financial management consultants to review Vatican financial practices. Their input also must be evaluated.

    At today’s briefing, Lombardi cast doubt on predictions that the major reform decisions could be made by late April, when the Council of 8 is expected to meet again in Rome.

    If I had to predict, I’d say that the framework for reforming the Vatican’s economic affairs and in particular the Vatican bank will come first, and changes in Roman Curia offices will take shape much later.

    (UPDATE: On Wednesday, Father Lombardi said the two commissions looking at financial affairs handed in sets of proposals to the pope, who will now study them. That's further evidence that Francis wants to move more quickly on the financial reforms.)

    Meanwhile, the Synod of Bishops has a fixed date, Oct. 5-19, and it is expected to take up some controversial topics, including the issue of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. Father Lombardi emphasized that the cardinals’ two-day meeting this week on these topics would not “pre-empt” the synod, but was merely a free discussion without proposals or recommendations.

    Much has been made of the fact that Cardinal Walter Kasper, who long ago recommended a degree of pastoral flexibility for divorced Catholics, will be giving the opening talk at the cardinals’ meeting. I have no doubt that participants will also hear a strong defense of the current policy, which prohibits divorced Catholics who have remarried civilly without an annulment from receiving the sacraments. For many cardinals, the issue boils down to the defense of marriage as indissoluble.

    One member of the Group of 8, Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, suggested in a recent interview that part of Curia reform might mean bringing in a married couple to head the Pontifical Council for the Family. Father Lombardi said he knew of no concrete proposal to do that, but he said there were a lot of ideas floating around.


  • One year later: How Benedict's decision changed the church

    One year ago, Pope Benedict announced his resignation. I had just returned to Rome ahead of the publication of my book, and some of my journalistic colleagues thought I'd been tipped off. Not exactly. I had been emailing some of those same colleagues in previous weeks, wondering whether the pope might be preparing to resign. But when it actually happened, I was as shocked as anyone.

    Looking back, I think Benedict's decision stands out for its courage and humility. I was among those who foresaw potential problems with "two popes" -- one retired, one active -- but experience has proved me wrong on that. The church has not suffered divided allegiances. On the other hand, there has been heightened sensitivity, at the Vatican and among many Catholic faithful, to any criticism of Benedict's pontificate. In view of Pope Francis' great popularity, finding fault with Benedict has become the third rail of Vatican commentary. I suspect it will take some time before that disappears.

    I wrote a brief reflection here on the anniversary of Benedict's announcement for the blog Il Sismografo, a valuable clearinghouse for online news about the Vatican.



  • Pope's cardinal choices signal geographic shift, but no earthquake



    Pope Francis’ first batch of cardinal appointments registered a geographical shift toward Latin America, Africa and Asia, but without bringing major changes to the College of Cardinals in its size or make-up.

    Announced by the pope today in Rome, the 19 new cardinals include 16 under the age of 80 and therefore eligible to vote in a conclave. Three over-80 cardinals were also named, including Blessed Pope John XXIII’s secretary, 98-year-old Archbishop Loris Capovilla. No U.S. cardinals were named.

    Pope Francis had the freedom to break with tradition when it came to naming cardinals. As pope, he could have raised the number of voting age-cardinals substantially, allowing for a more immediate introduction of geographical balance in a College dominated by Europeans.

    He could have rewritten the rules so that the red hat was not obligatory for top Roman Curia officials. He could have introduced lay cardinals. He could have taken this opportunity to give the College a wider role in church affairs.

    The fact that he chose not to make such radical changes reflects several factors, I think. First, Francis probably did not want to be seen as revamping the very institution that elected him only 10 months ago. If deeper changes are needed, they can easily come later in his pontificate.

    Second, he may be convinced that a shift toward more pastoral leaders and fewer bureaucrats in the College of Cardinals is something that can be accomplished gradually. Over the next five years, he will have an opportunity to name at least 40 additional cardinals.

    Third, the College of Cardinals may not be all that crucial to the reforms Pope Francis has in mind for the Vatican and the church at large. At present, a cardinal’s most important task is voting in a conclave. Although known as the church’s “Senate,” the cardinals really aren’t convened very often in Rome, and there is no indication Pope Francis plans to change that.

    Being a cardinal does not by definition bring greater influence in most central church decisions. Traditionally, cardinals have dominated membership in Roman Curia agencies, but it remains to be seen if that will continue under Francis.

    A look at today’s appointments:

    -- Five of the 16 voting-age cardinals are residential bishops in Latin or Central America, and four more are from Africa or Asia. That’s the shift I spoke about above.

    Because the pope continued his predecessors’ custom of handing out red hats to leading Vatican administrators, four of the 16 voting-age cardinals are Roman Curia officials. That helped keep the College’s geographical balance firmly in the Old World: six of the 16 come from Europe (four of them from Italy, which retains the highest number of cardinal electors.)

    As expected, among the Vatican cardinals is the new secretary of state, Archbishop Pietro Parolin. Unexpected was the pope’s selection of Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops; that may well be a sign that the pope foresees a much more important role for the synod in the months and years to come.

    -- The pope stretched the numerical limit of 120 voting-age cardinals, but only by a few months. After the consistory to formally create the cardinals is held in February, there will be 122 cardinals under age 80, but that number goes down to 120 by the end of May. (Of course, the presumption is that no conclave will be held before then.)

    -- The Vatican said the pope’s choice of cardinals for Burkina Faso and Haiti reflected his concern for people struck by poverty. He also chose two prelates from places that do not traditionally have a cardinal, Perugia in Italy and Cotabato on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines. This practice, too, if continued in future appointments, could help redistribute the cardinal population around the world.

    -- Many Catholics will note that Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin is, once again, missing from the list of new cardinals. No doubt the thinking was that more cardinals from the Third World means fewer from Europe. But Archbishop Martin, more than other residential archbishops, has shown tremendous courage and honesty in addressing the sex abuse scandal, and his appointment would have sent an important signal.

  • Pope to Curia: An end to the role of 'inspector and inquisitor'

    Pope Francis’ meeting today with officials of the Roman Curia was important for what was said and what wasn’t said.

    The annual Christmas encounter between the pope and his bureaucratic support system is often a time for “big” speeches that outline papal agendas, and what better occasion for Pope Francis to explain his big project of Curia reform?

    That didn’t happen. Instead, in a short speech, the pope made three points that, while offering some praise for the performance of the Roman Curia, also seemed to challenge the reigning attitudes there.

    First, the pope spoke of the need for professional skill and competence. “When professionalism is lacking, there is a slow slide toward the area of mediocrity,” he said. Tasks become routine and communication closed, while awareness of the bigger picture is lost.

    Incompetence and lack of communication, of course, have been two of the biggest criticisms of the Roman Curia in recent years – criticisms that were aired in the cardinals’ meetings that took place ahead of last spring’s conclave.

    Second, the pope emphasized that the Roman Curia is at the service of the church – the whole church and every local Catholic community, not just the pope. When this attitude of service is lacking, he said, “the Curia structure grows into a heavy bureaucratic customs office, an inspector and inquisitor that no longer allows the action of the Holy Spirit and the development of the people of God.”

    Ouch. And this was a Christmas greeting.

    The pope identified a third crucial element for Roman Curia officials, holiness of life, which he said was “the most important in the hierarchy of values.” And he repeated a remark he’s made elsewhere, that he’s convinced there are “saints” in the Curia, men and women who serve with faith, zeal and discretion in a spirit of pastoral service.

    He added that holiness has an enemy: gossip, which he said unfortunately tends to be an “unwritten rule” of the Curia environment. He suggested that they all become “conscientious objectors” to gossip, which damages people as well as institutions.


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