The Blog

Everything listed under: Vatican

  • Pope denounces scandals … but which ones?

    Pope Francis today made a brief, impromptu request for people to forgive the “recent scandals both in Rome and in the Vatican.” The problem in interpreting his remarks was that there are several scandals to choose from.

    The gay official of the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation who recently came out with his partner, saying the climate at his workplace was homophobic? Accusations of sexual impropriety made by a group of Catholics against priests and an official of the Carmelite religious order in Rome? The resignation of Rome’s leftist mayor, Ignazio Marino, following press reports that the pope was unhappy with the mayor’s action on a number of issues?

    The accusations of sexual abuse against a Vatican diplomat, who was found dead in his Vatican residence in late August before he could stand trial? Or this week’s leak of a “Letter of 13” cardinals to the pope, contesting the direction and methods of the current Synod of Bishops on the Family, which was followed by a series of confusing denials and clarifications?

    “Jesus is realistic and it is inevitable that scandals occur,” the pope said at the start of his general audience in St. Peter’s Square. “But woe to the person who causes scandal. Before I start this catechesis, I'd like to ask you for forgiveness, in the name of the church, for the scandals that have occurred both in Rome and in the Vatican in recent times.”

    Perhaps it’s likely that the pope had sexual abuse in mind. After his off-the-cuff remarks, he spoke in his regular audience talk about the place of children in the family. Every child trusts that he or she will be loved, the pope said, and “when that promise is broken, the result is a ‘scandal’ which Jesus condemns.”

    But beyond sexual abuse, there is growing concern at the Vatican over the multiplication of scandals and a return of the “Vatileaks” syndrome – a climate of revelations, suspicion and rumors of a “gay lobby” that helped convince Pope Benedict XVI to resign in 2013. The most notorious chapter, played out in 2012, was the systematic leaking of papal documents to an Italian journalist by Benedict’s butler.

    I wrote yesterday that the developments at the synod, in particular, were reminiscent of the final days of Pope Benedict’s pontificate. Today, in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, veteran Vatican analyst Massimo Franco suggested that the recent scandals were part of an attempt by opponents of Pope Francis to “recreate the climate of Vatileaks.”

    “It makes one think of an operation that’s been planned for some time, and which aims at delegitimizing not the synod but the two years of the Argentine pope,” Franco wrote. “It describes an episcopate in the grip of chaos and fratricidal conflicts, as if it were the Curial version of the Italian Parliament. It pushes everything back to the time of thirty months ago, as if during this time nothing or little had changed.”

    It was Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who first evoked the “Vatileaks” scandal. Mueller refused to confirm reports that he was one of the signatories of the letter critiquing some aspects of the synod, but he condemned the publication of a version of the text, saying: “The scandal is that a private letter to the pope has been published. It is a new Vatileaks.”


  • Opening synod, Pope Francis aims for balancing point

    Pope Francis tried to set the tone of the Synod of Bishops on the Family in his opening Mass today. It was a tone of balance between preaching truth and practicing mercy.

    The pope’s point was that the church can and must do both, that there is no contradiction between the church as a doctrinal teacher and the church as a pastoral “field hospital.”

    In one of his homily’s key passages, he first quoted Pope Benedict XVI in saying, “Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality.” Then, explaining why the church must be a bridge and not a roadblock to people who fall, he quoted Pope John Paul II, who said that those who err must be “understood and loved.”

    By drawing on both his predecessors, I think Pope Francis was doing a little bridge-building himself, between the liberal and rigorist wings of the more than 270 bishops who will participate in the three-week long synod.

    Here is how the pope described the church’s mission in today’s world. On the one hand, truth:

    To carry out her mission in fidelity to her Master as a voice crying out in the desert, in defending faithful love and encouraging the many families which live married life as an experience which reveals of God’s love; in defending the sacredness of life, of every life; in defending the unity and indissolubility of the conjugal bond as a sign of God’s grace and of the human person’s ability to love seriously.

    And mercy:

    To carry out her mission in charity, not pointing a finger in judgment of others, but – faithful to her nature as a mother – conscious of her duty to seek out and care for hurting couples with the balm of acceptance and mercy; to be a “field hospital” with doors wide open to whoever knocks in search of help and support; to reach out to others with true love, to walk with our fellow men and women who suffer, to include them and guide them to the wellspring of salvation.

    Not surprisingly, the pope did not focus on hot-button issues like divorce, gay marriage and cohabitation, topics that became lightning rods in last year’s synod debate. Instead, he emphasized the spiritual and material afflictions – including loneliness and selfishness – that are harming family life around the globe.

    Today we experience the paradox of a globalized world filled with luxurious mansions and skyscrapers, but a lessening of the warmth of homes and families; many ambitious plans and projects, but little time to enjoy them; many sophisticated means of entertainment, but a deep and growing interior emptiness; many pleasures, but few loves; many liberties, but little freedom.

    I think of the elderly, abandoned even by their loved ones and children; widows and widowers; the many men and women left by their spouses; all those who feel alone, misunderstood and unheard; migrants and refugees fleeing from war and persecution; and those many young people who are victims of the culture of consumerism, the culture of waste, the throwaway culture.

    In describing the contemporary culture, the pope seemed to strike some notes of criticism that sounded familiar to those (like me) who heard many such homilies from John Paul II and Benedict. Lasting and fruitful love, Pope Francis said, is “increasingly looked down upon, viewed as a quaint relic of the past.”

    “It would seem that the most advanced societies are the very ones which have the lowest birth-rates and the highest percentages of abortion, divorce, suicide, and social and environmental pollution.”

    I expect this is the kind of message we’ll hear from the synod, too. The more unsettled part of the debate, however, is pastoral language and practice regarding those who don’t align perfectly with church teaching, including Catholics who practice birth control, couples who live together outside of marriage, divorced and remarried Catholics, and gay couples.


  • On eve of synod, a Vatican official comes out as gay

    If the Vatican wanted to bury the question of homosexuality during the Synod of Bishops that begins tomorrow, those plans were upset today when a longtime official of the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation came out as gay.

    Monsignor Krzysztof Charamsa did not come out quietly, either. He held a press conference (at which he hugged his partner), gave interviews and announced that a book on his experience is imminent.

    Saying he was “happy and proud” to be gay, Charamsa said his (soon to be former) workplace at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was homophobic and paranoid. He said he was asking Pope Francis to change the Catholic catechism, which calls homosexuality “disordered.”

    That gay priests work at the Vatican will come as no surprise to those who have read my book, “The Vatican Diaries.” But this kind of public revelation represents a real challenge to the “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude that reigns there.

    Keep in mind that for church officials, there are two kinds of public admission here. First is Charamsa’s sexual orientation. The second, and probably more serious in the eyes of the Vatican, is that the priest is in a sexual relationship, violating the promise of celibacy he made when he was ordained.

    Most objectionable of all, for the Vatican, was the publicity he sought out, with the expressed desire to influence the outcome of the Synod of Bishops on the Family, which begins Sunday.

    A Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, said there was no way Charamsa could continue in his position at the CDF. Lombardi saw it as a move to manipulate the synod.

    “The decision to make such a pointed statement on the eve of the opening of the synod appears very serious and irresponsible, since it aims to subject the synod assembly to undue media pressure,” the spokesman said.

    For his part, Charamsa said in an interview that he wanted the synod to take note: “I would like to tell the Synod that homosexual love is a kind of family love, a love that needs the family. Everyone – gays, lesbians and transsexuals included – foster in their hearts a desire for love and family.”

    The Synod of Bishops is discussing the family, and at its first session last fall homosexuality became one of the hot-button issues that quickly drew the attention of bishops and the media.

    This month’s session will feature a more controlled, point-by-point discussion of family issues, with less public reporting on the proceedings.

    Charamsa called Pope Francis “fantastic” for his emphasis on dialogue. The pope recently met with a former student who is gay, along with the man’s partner.

    The pope, however, has also made it clear that he opposes outside efforts to manipulate the debate during the Synod of Bishops.



  • Pew survey outlines challenges, opportunities for Pope Francis

    There are enough interesting numbers in the just-published survey on U.S. Catholics
    by the Pew Research Center to keep Vatican-watchers busy for days. Here are my thoughts on a few of the highlights:

    -- The Pew summary underlines that while U.S. Catholics overwhelmingly favor a married mother and father as the ideal situation for raising children, a strong majority also rates as “acceptable” other kinds of families, including cohabitating parents, single parents or divorced parents. A smaller majority said it was acceptable for children to be raised by gay or lesbian couples, though the Catholic respondents were evenly split on church recognition of gay marriage.

    Some would see this as an implicit challenge to church authorities and their defense of the traditional family. But these respondents were not simply theorizing; they were speaking largely from experience. One-fourth of the Catholics surveyed said they have gone through a divorce, and more than 40 percent have, at some point in their lives, lived with a romantic partner outside marriage. The reality of family configuration is changing even inside the Catholic Church, something that was recognized at last year’s session of the Synod of Bishops, where many bishops said pastors should reach out to people in “irregular” situations and build on the good in their relationships.

    -- I’ve seen some headlines today that focus on one finding of the survey: that 77 percent of people raised Catholic but no longer Catholic say they don’t envision returning to the church. That is seen by some as a type of wall facing the perceived “Francis effect” among fallen-away Catholics.

    I would point out two things. First, the survey found a similar majority (70 percent) among current Catholics who say they’ll never leave the church. But it also found that among adults raised Catholic, 52 percent have left the church at some point in their lives, and many have returned. Catholics move in and out of the church more than people recognize, and perhaps more than Catholics themselves expect.

    In addition, the survey found that among “cultural Catholics” – those who don’t self-identify as Catholics today but who have some ties to the church – 43 percent could see themselves returning to the church. This group (cultural Catholics) was large, 9 percent of the total respondents, and it certainly represents a target audience for Pope Francis.

    -- According to the survey results, the overall number of Catholics as a percentage of U.S. population is down, from nearly 24 percent in 2007 to 20 percent today. More worrisome for church authorities is that the number dips to 15 percent among “millennials,” those born between 1981-1996. Among that same millennial group, 35 percent say they have no religious affiliation.

    Those are challenging statistics for the Catholic Church, I think. Although young people have a very favorable impression of Pope Francis, that may not matter when it comes to belonging to the church. It’s much easier to bring someone back to the church who is already in touch with Catholic life, than to evangelize young people for whom life in the church is completely foreign.

    -- Although the Catholic share of the U.S. population may be diminishing, the Pew survey found that 45 percent of all respondents said they were connected to Catholicism in some way – as members of the church, as fallen-away Catholics, through marriage or through a cultural connection. That’s an amazingly high number, and it helps explain, I think, why the actions and words of Pope Francis resonate so deeply in this country these days.


  • On economic battleground, the pope finds 'radical' ally

    Canadian author and activist Naomi Klein will be a featured speaker at a Vatican conference this week to follow up on Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment. In fact, Klein will join Cardinal Peter Turkson Wednesday at a press conference to launch the Vatican event.

    I had heard the news a couple days ago, but almost didn't believe it until I saw the notice posted on the Vatican press office bulletin board today.

    For those unfamiliar with Klein, she is one of the most influential critics of corporate capitalism, and has argued – as the pope did in his encyclical – that many of the root causes of climate change are economic.

    This is from the website of her latest book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate:

    “Forget everything you think you know about global warming. The really inconvenient truth is that it’s not about carbon—it’s about capitalism. The convenient truth is that we can seize this existential crisis to transform our failed economic system and build something radically better.”

    The Vatican’s invitation to Klein confirms Pope Francis’ strategy of joining with secular allies on the issue of environmental protection. In April, the pope invited U.N. General-Secretary Ban Ki-moon and more than 100 political and scientific leaders to a similar Vatican summit.

    Klein has been a much more vocal critic of globalized capitalism, challenging, as she puts it, the "unquestioned ideology that sees privatization as always good." Her presence at the Vatican this week is bound to upset some conservative Catholics who are already alarmed about the economic direction of this pontificate.

    Klein sees the conference as a sign of follow-through from the Vatican after the papal encyclical. She told The Guardian: "The fact that they invited me indicates they’re not backing down from the fight. A lot of people have patted the pope on the head, but said he’s wrong on the economics. I think he’s right on the economics."

     

  • 'Laudato Sì' calls for radical new approach to ecology, global economics

    Pope Francis’ encyclical on ecology delivers a strongly worded indictment of the global economic system’s “compulsive consumerism,” and warns that catastrophic consequences can only be avoided through “ecological conversion” at every level of social life.

    Throughout the text of Laudato  (Praise be to you), the pope emphasizes that a true understanding of Christian ethics – as developed from the Old Testament right on through the recent teachings of popes – demands a change from a modern lifestyle that, in many ways, has become unsustainable and unjust.

    The document lays down stark challenges to both policy-makers and individuals, and is particularly tough on the architects of global finance. It is the first encyclical solely authored by the Argentine pope, and the perspective of the global South comes through in every page of the 41,000-word text.

    What emerges in high relief is that the pope sees environmental degradation as a consequence of economic excess and exploitation, a result of profit-driven abuses that will not be resolved simply by free market forces or advances in technology.

    On the contrary, he argues, ecological remedies so far have been piecemeal and ineffective precisely because of this “dominant technocratic paradigm.”

    “We fail to see the deepest roots of our present failures, which have to do with the direction, goals, meaning and social implications of technological and economic growth,” he states. Effective responses must respond to “both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”

    The pope says moderating the production-consumption model and slowing the “constant flood of new products” is key to restoring ecological balance in the world. The prevailing economic system, he says, has led to destruction of rain forests, over-fishing of ocean waters, industrialized farming and loss of local biodiversity, and mining techniques that strip developing countries of resources and leave behind only problems and pollution.

    The pope blames wealthy countries for their disproportionate use of natural resources, and says that while the world’s poor are often mentioned in international discussions, their struggles seem to be an afterthought. “Indeed, when all is said and done, they frequently remain at the bottom of the pile,” he says.

    Radical economic change is needed to fix the situation, he says.

    “It is not enough to balance, in the medium term, the protection of nature with financial gain, or the preservation of the environment with progress. Halfway measures simply delay the inevitable disaster. Put simply, it is a matter of redefining our notion of progress,” he states.

    The encyclical carefully builds on the words of his predecessors, but in its economic critique and its elaboration of an “ecological spirituality,” Pope Francis stakes out new ground. Along the way, he makes his points with characteristic bluntness (emphases are mine):

    -- “Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain. We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth. The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes, such as those which even now periodically occur in different areas of the world.”

    -- “All of this shows the urgent need for us to move forward in a bold cultural revolution…. Nobody is suggesting a return to the Stone Age, but we do need to slow down and look at reality in a different way, to appropriate the positive and sustainable progress which has been made, but also to recover the values and the great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur.”

    -- “It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been. The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance. There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected.”

    -- “We know how unsustainable is the behavior of those who constantly consume and destroy, while others are not yet able to live in a way worthy of their human dignity. That is why the time has come to accept decreased growth in some parts of the world, in order to provide resources for other places to experience healthy growth.”

    On the issue of climate change, Pope Francis cites the “very solid scientific consensus” that global warming has been produced or aggravated by human causes. Technology that relies on fossil fuels, he says, needs to be replaced by sources of renewable energy “without delay.”

    He says the effects of climate change, including desertification, rising sea levels and destructive weather patterns, strike the world’s poorest populations most directly. And he warns that more dire consequences may lie ahead.

    “Our concern cannot be limited merely to the threat of extreme weather events, but must also extend to the catastrophic consequences of social unrest. Obsession with a consumerist lifestyle, above all when few people are capable of maintaining it, can only lead to violence and mutual destruction,” he says.

    The pope dismisses the strategy of buying and selling “carbon credits” as a way to reduce greenhouse gases, saying it can simply become a “ploy” that allows richer countries and sectors to maintain excessive consumption. Carbon trading is widely used in Europe and is supported by the International Monetary Fund.

    The pope devotes particular attention to shortage of safe drinking water in many parts of the world. He assails attempts by businesses to “privatize” access to safe drinking water, which should be a basic human right.

    On the much-debated topic of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, the pope says that while there is no conclusive proof that they pose a risk to humans, their safety should continue to be carefully studied. He cites one problem, however, saying widespread use of GM crops tends to diminish the diversity of production and concentrate agricultural land in the hands of a few owners.

    In one section of the encyclical, the pope examines the Christian tradition, which views human life as grounded in three fundamental relationships: with God, with our neighbor and with the earth itself. He says the biblical reference to man’s “dominion” over the earth has been misinterpreted by some to justify unbridled exploitation of resources. The biblical text is more correctly understood as a call to care, protect and preserve creation, he says.

    He emphasizes that safeguarding human life, including human embryos, should be a priority of any true ecological movement, and says concern for protection of nature is “incompatible with the justification of abortion.”

    The pope argues that the Christian spiritual tradition, in encouraging a prophetic and contemplative lifestyle, is not really compatible with the modern “obsession with consumption.”

    “We need to take up an ancient lesson, found in different religious traditions and also in the Bible. It is the conviction that ‘less is more,’” he states.

    The title of the encyclical comes from the opening of a canticle of St. Francis of Assisi, which reminds people that the earth is like a sister and a mother. This spiritual approach to ecology cannot be written off as mere romanticism, because it affects choices that determine behavior, the pope says.

    In a closing chapter, the pope encourages individuals and communities to take steps immediately – even small, daily actions that have the ability to spread and do much good, such as modifying consumption, separating waste, taking public transportation and turning off lights.

    He also encourages political engagement, saying individual action alone cannot solve the problems of ecological damage. The Christian response, he affirms, must go deeper than the “false or superficial ecology” that believes these problems can be managed by merely tweaking the system.

    “Such evasiveness serves as a license to carrying on with our present lifestyles and models of production and consumption. This is the way human beings contrive to feed their self-destructive vices: trying not to see them, trying not to acknowledge them, delaying the important decisions and pretending that nothing will happen,” he says.

    The encyclical includes an interesting reflection on the Internet. Pope Francis appears to believe that online media have contributed to an overload of superficial information and “contrived emotion” that have little to do with real experiences of nature or other cultures.

    “Today’s media do enable us to communicate and to share our knowledge and affections. Yet at times they also shield us from direct contact with the pain, the fears and the joys of others and the complexity of their personal experiences,” he says.

    The full text of the English translation of the encyclical is here.

     

  • A new day in St. Paul-Minneapolis

    The resignation of Archbishop John Nienstedt in St. Paul-Minneapolis came after nearly two years of patience at the Vatican, which generally prefers a bishop to put his diocese in order rather than be yanked from office. Despite Nienstedt's efforts to make some changes, it was clear that the problems were not going away.

    Filing for bankruptcy four months ago was bad, but worse came 10 days ago, when a local prosecutor announced he would bring charges against the archdiocese for failing to protect children. That meant the drumbeat of bad news would continue for the foreseeable future.

    On Minnesota Public Radio this morning, I took a long look at the implications of the resignation and possible future steps. I've been a member of the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese for a couple of years now, and I think many Catholics here recognize that Archbishop Nienstedt's departure will not solve all the problems.

    I'm glad the pope did not immediately name the archbishop's successor. I hope it is a sign that the Vatican is going to take the time to carefully evaluate the needs of the archdiocese. I see two key priorities. First, the Vatican should involve lay Catholics in the selection process. In practice, that can range from listening sessions in local parishes to canvassing for local candidates. We should move beyond the point where Rome's choices simply parachute in to dioceses, with no connection to their new flock.

    Second, the Vatican needs to choose someone who does not see the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis merely as a set of problems. There are many good people and good priests here, lively parishes and a history of service to others. These are invaluable resources, and a new archbishop will need them. 

     

     

  • Francis at the two-year mark: Early achievements and persistent obstacles

    Pope Francis’ pontificate hits the two-year mark this week, and it’s a delicate moment for his program of bureaucratic house-cleaning and pastoral revitalization. The pope has set new directions and new priorities, reflecting his vision of how the Vatican should operate and how the church should evangelize. I think he’s seen real success in several areas, but he’s also encountered serious obstacles.

    Here is a brief summary:

    -- Financial reforms at the Vatican. With the recent consolidation of the Secretariat for the Economy, the pope has put in place a system of financial safeguards that is unparalleled in Vatican history. His reforms have effectively cleaned out hidden accounts and rogue budgets, and thankfully lessened Italian influence over Vatican finances in general.

    But the fierce infighting over the Economy secretary, Cardinal George Pell, along with other turf battles that have simmered in the background, only illustrate that the culture of power struggles persists inside the Vatican walls. That culture is the real problem, and I see no sign that it is disappearing.

    -- Reform of Roman Curia offices. The planned streamlining of the Vatican bureaucracy is at least halfway to the finish line, and eventually we’ll see fewer agencies and greater coordination, especially among communication agencies. That’s all to the good.

    It’s equally clear, however, that the pope has no intention of challenging the “system” in the Roman Curia, by which I mean a network of powerful administrative departments, headed by cardinals, where decision-making is linked to clerical identity and lay people function in auxiliary roles.

    The pope has called several times for an attitude of service in the Curia, but it appears to me that few if any structural changes are being contemplated that would end careerism at the Vatican.

    -- The pope as a communicator. By speaking plainly and spontaneously, without the usual Vatican filters, Pope Francis has revolutionized papal communication and, I would argue, papal teaching. It’s not just that he’s willing to converse freely with journalists and visitors; he has made this kind of direct discourse, often in interviews and off-the-cuff sermons, a primary method of instructing the faithful.

    Spontaneity, however, has brought with it a wider margin for misspeaking and misinterpretation. And the wars of interpretation over the pope’s words are being fought, rather predictably, along familiar battle lines by conservative and liberal wings of the Catholic Church.

    -- “Synodality” and collegiality. By challenging the Synod of Bishops to have truly open discussions about a series of pastoral problems (including but not limited to divorced and remarried Catholics), I believe the pope is trying to tackle collegiality from the ground up – beginning with how bishops relate to each other. How the bishops might share greater responsibility with the pope in church governance and pastoral care is a related question, but one that so far has barely been posed.

    Keep in mind that the pope is caught in a bit of a paradox. There’s no doubt Pope Francis wants to govern more collegially and involve the bishops in any major pastoral changes. But he’s working with a generally conservative hierarchy put in place by his two predecessors. For many of them, the very topics that need a fresh pastoral approach are considered “off limits.” In other words, the pope’s own pastoral initiatives may not survive the collegiality test today.

    -- Papal popularity. We read last week that Pope Francis’ popularity rating in the United States is 90 percent. Global media interest also remains sky high. There is much applause for the pope’s willingness to tackle social and environmental issues like climate change, and for his more recent statements that Catholic morality and theology are pointless without mercy and without direct contact with suffering humanity.

    For many, these words are a welcome change from the doctrinal litmus-test approach of recent decades. But have the pope’s words been translated into energy and engagement in local parishes around the world? Because that’s what Francis has in mind. If the net result is merely a collective “like”, then that’s not good enough for him.

    In some ways, energizing Catholics remains the biggest challenge facing Pope Francis. And in that regard, here’s another paradox he’s dealing with: The pope said at the outset that he wanted to move the church away from self-referential debates and preoccupation with its own structures, and move it toward engagement with the world. Yet in his first two years, interest in his pontificate has been largely focused on these very things: structural reforms and pastoral policy debates.

    As the church looks ahead to the next two (and more) years of Pope Francis, here’s a thought to keep in mind, a “mission statement” expressed in the pope’s own document on evangelization, Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”):

    I dream of a “missionary option,” that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation. The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with himself.


  • A papal call for mercy, and a warning against a 'closed caste' church

    Pope Francis today delivered an impassioned defense of what has become a leitmotif of his pontificate – the church of mercy that reaches out to the marginalized vs. the church of rules that closes itself into a “closed caste.”

    The pope’s homily was addressed to a group of new cardinals gathered for Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. But one had the impression that it was also aimed at in-house critics who have questioned some of Francis’ statements and who have warned against an over-emphasis on mercy at the expense of doctrinal truth.

    The pope said the Gospel account of Jesus’ curing of the leper was, in a sense, a model for how the church must operate with compassion to “reintegrate the marginalized” – including fallen-away Catholics – even when it provokes criticism.

    “Jesus does not think of the closed-minded who are scandalized even by a work of healing, scandalized by any kind of openness, by any action outside of their mental and spiritual boxes, by any caress or sign of tenderness which does not fit into their usual thinking and their ritual purity,” the pope said.

    The pope said the modern church, too, stands at a crossroads of two ways of thinking: “We can fear to lose the saved and we can want to save the lost.” The thinking of the “doctors of law,” he said, would remove danger by casting out the sick or sinful person. But God’s way is to show mercy and accept this person, turning condemnation into salvation.

    That has always been the church’s way, too, he said. This means the church must “leave her four walls behind” and not only welcome people who knock at its doors, but also seek out those on the “outskirts” of life, including the sick, the suffering and the spiritually alienated. It also means “rolling up our sleeves and not standing by and watching passively the suffering of the world,” he said.

    The pope told the cardinals: “Total openness to serving others is our hallmark, it alone is our title of honor!”

    He asked them to help make sure the modern church turns to the outcast, resisting the temptation to become “a closed caste with nothing authentically ecclesial about it.”

    They should see Jesus, he said, in everyone who is excluded – the sick, the imprisoned, the unemployed, the persecuted, and even in “those who have lost their faith, or turned away from the practice of their faith.”

    “Truly the Gospel of the marginalized is where our credibility is found and revealed!” he said at the close of his remarks.

    The homily was a capsule version of the vision that inspires so many of Pope Francis’ actions to date, including his consideration of new policies for divorced and remarried Catholics, for example, or his efforts to make the Vatican bureaucracy more responsive to real-world problems.

    With most of the world’s cardinals in attendance, the pope made it clear that this vision of the church’s mission is not something he invented, but is rooted in the words and actions of Christ.


  • Don't look for laity in top Roman Curia positions under reform plans

    “Downsizing expectations.”

    That’s the title I’d give Father Federico Lombardi’s briefing today on the College of Cardinals’ meeting to discuss Roman Curia reform.

    For one thing, the cardinals were told it could take years to complete the reforms. An explicit comparison was made to Pope John Paul II’s modifications to the Roman Curia, which took 10 years to design and implement, with multiple stages of consultation and approval.

    I’m not sure Pope Francis has 10 years to dedicate to this project.

    The cardinals were also offered a vague outline of a proposal to combine six or seven pontifical councils into two new congregations, which are more important Curial agencies. The hypothesis, which has been floating around a while, would foresee a Congregation for Laity, Family and Life, and a Congregation for Charity, Justice and Peace.

    The latter congregation, Father Lombardi said, may have a special sector for environmental issues and “human ecology,” which are the focus of an encyclical that Pope Francis is expected to publish this year.

    But the Vatican spokesman illustrated the limits of change when he said it was “unthinkable” for any Vatican congregation – even one for laity – to be headed by a lay person. Because of the level of responsibility involved, that position will no doubt continue to be filled by a cardinal, he said.

    That tells me that whatever the pope’s advisors have in mind, Curia reform is not going to touch the fundamental clerical framework of decision-making in the Vatican.

    Nor is there serious discussion of adding a “moderator” office to the Roman Curia, a position responsible for coordinating the various activities of the Vatican’s many agencies. The role of moderator will probably be implicit in the role of the Secretariat of State, which would be no change at all.

    In this morning’s discussions, it appears that even relatively modest proposals like rolling some councils into congregations met with objections. Some said congregations had a traditional function in church governance, while councils did not.

    There were different points of view, as well, on whether term limits for Curia officials made sense. Some favored distinct terms, and others thought experience sometimes argued for open-ended terms.

    The cardinals only began to explore the concepts of collegiality and synodality, which the pope wants to strengthen in the way the Roman Curia functions. Those issues probably offer material for many years of further discussion.

    It seems to me that it may take some forceful leadership moves by Pope Francis to advance this reform movement beyond the “endless study” stage.