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Everything listed under: pope

  • A headline and a non-headline: The pope's 'mini-Magisterium'

    Pope Francis prays at the guest house chapel

    There was Big News and little news out of the Vatican today.

    The Big News grabbed the headlines: Pope Francis told the head of the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation that he should “act decisively” with regard to cases of sexual abuse by priests, “continuing along the lines set by Benedict XVI.”

    This should be done “first of all by promoting measures for the protection of minors, as well as in offering assistance to those who have suffered abuse, carrying out due proceedings against the guilty, and in the commitment of bishops' conferences to formulate and implement the necessary directives in this area that is so important for the Church's witness and credibility.”

    “The Holy Father assured that victims of abuse are present in a particular way in his prayers for those who are suffering.”

    I’m not even sure what all this means. The first thing to note is that the information came in a statement by the doctrinal congregation after the papal audience. The second thing is its defense of the retired Pope Benedict and his handling of abuse cases.

    More specifically, the reference to the “commitment” by bishops’ conferences to “formulate and implement” necessary directives touches on unfinished business. In 2011, the doctrinal congregation issued a circular letter that required every bishops’ conference in the world to develop guidelines on handling allegations of abuse. It would be interesting to see a progress report on that project.

    The little news

    The lesser news from the Vatican came, as usual, in Pope Francis’ homily at his morning Mass in the Vatican guest house.

    Today’s theme was the name of Jesus. The pope related a story from his days as archbishop in Buenos Aires:

    "A humble man works in the curia of Buenos Aires. He has worked there for 30 years, he is the father of eight children. Before he goes out, before going out to do the things that he must do, he always says, 'Jesus!' And I once asked him, 'Why do you always say' Jesus '?' 'When I say' Jesus '- this humble man told me - I feel strong, I feel I can work, and I know that He is with me, that He keeps me safe.'”

    The pope continued: “This man never studied theology, he only has the grace of baptism and the power of the Spirit. And this testimony did me a lot of good too, because it reminds us that in this world that offers us so many saviors, it is only the name of Jesus that saves.”

    Pope Francis went on to say that “in order to solve their problems many people resort to fortune tellers and tarot cards. But only Jesus saves and we must bear witness to this! He is the only one.”

    I find these morning homilies fascinating, a kind of mini-Magisterium. They are not really part of the pope’s official pronouncements, but thankfully Vatican Radio is there to report on them.

    The other day the pope spoke about how important it was to resist the temptation of constant complaining in the face of life’s disappointments. A few days earlier, he talked about the destructive power of gossip.

    I hope someone is transcribing these sermons. They are always linked to the readings of the day, and seemed designed to provide food for thought at a very accessible level. Frequently, they underline how pastors can learn from people who have never had formal theological training.


  • Creating space for a fresh papal calendar

      Pope Francis visits the excavations beneath St. Peter's

    I was happy to see that Pope Francis took some time for himself on Easter Monday and visited the excavations below St. Peter’s Basilica. This was not simply a tourist stop, of course, but a visit to the roots of the papacy – St. Peter’s tomb was discovered there in the late 1940s.

    As a former student of archeology, I hope Francis also makes his way to a smaller but equally impressive Roman necropolis in a northeastern corner of Vatican City. As I described in my book, it was unearthed in 2003 when the Vatican was trying to build a 900-unit underground car park (and thus became a bone of contention, so to speak.)

    It seems rather incredible, but previous popes have not really taken guided tours of these fascinating places. At most, they managed quick visits.

    Part of the problem is that a pope’s time is no longer his own. From Day 1, he is presented with a long catalogue of requests for audiences, a to-do list of messages, speeches and liturgies, and proposals for Vatican initiatives.

    Much of a modern pope’s calendar has been filled in even before he is elected. This is due in large part to the very active pontificate of John Paul II, who established dozens of annual events that require a papal audience, message or speech. The program has grown by accretion, and it’s probably time to re-evaluate whether all this is really needed.

    There are many Italian Catholic groups, for example, that have a standing meeting with the pope. World leaders of any stripe are generally received by popes, no matter how productive or unproductive such encounters may be. It’s logical that Rome parishes host the pope on occasional visits – it is his diocese, after all – but does a pope really have to visit so many Italian cities? (Pope Benedict made 30 such visits during his reign.)

    As I’ve written elsewhere, the format for the “ad limina” visits that take up so much of a pope’s working day could probably use an overhaul, in order to make them less formal and more productive, and increase the involvement of lay faithful.

    Francis seems willing to take a new look, and create some space for different types of encounters. He is wisely beginning by familiarizing himself with his new environment, and he doesn't have to go far afield – the tomb of Peter lies about 200 feet from his residence in the Vatican guest house.

    In coming days, I wouldn't be surprised to see him wander over to the nearby Vatican shelter for the homeless, where Missionaries of Charity provide meals and housing for more than 70 people each day.


  • New pope offers a lesson for 'new evangelization'

      Pope Francis blesses the city and the world on Easter

    Reading Pope Francis’ recent homilies and talks, I find myself wondering whether the Vatican’s “new evangelization” project might benefit from his simple, direct approach to questions of faith.

    The new pope has an invitational way of presenting Christianity, illustrated well in his homily at the Easter vigil, when he spoke about Christ’s victory over death and sin, “over everything that crushes life and makes it less human.”

    Like the women who found Christ’s empty tomb, he said, modern men and women should be willing to be surprised by God.

    “How often does Love have to tell us: Why do you look for the living among the dead? Our daily problems and worries can wrap us up in ourselves, in sadness and bitterness… and that is where death is,” the pope said.

    “Let the risen Jesus enter your life, welcome him as a friend, with trust: he is life! If up till now you have kept him at a distance, step forward. He will receive you with open arms. If you have been indifferent, take a risk: you won’t be disappointed. If following him seems difficult, don’t be afraid, trust him, be confident that he is close to you, he is with you and he will give you the peace you are looking for and the strength to live as he would have you do.”

    In Vatican-speak, the “new evangelization” program involves a “renewed first proclamation of the Gospel,” and is designed in part to re-educate Catholics in the faith. In that sense, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which runs more than 800 pages, has been described as a “summary” of what Catholics want to communicate to others.

    This approach has always struck me as Magisterium-heavy. I think most people respond better to spiritual promptings than encyclopedic arguments for faith, and the new pope seems to be tapping into that.


  • Making the church less 'self-referential'

         Francis washed and kissed the feet of inmates

    With every act of his pontificate, Pope Francis seems to be demonstrating exactly what he meant when he told cardinals that the church needs to be less “self-referential” and more present in every environment of modern society.

    The debate over washing the feet at the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper had become one of those “self-referential” issues. The controversy was whether both men and women could have their feet washed; some argued that Jesus was instituting the priesthood with his 12 male disciples on that occasion, and that the “men only” rule made ritual sense.

    Pope Francis, as we know, washed and kissed the feet of 12 young inmates in a Rome prison at the Thursday liturgy. Among them were two young women and two Muslims. He explained that washing the feet was above all an act of humble service, and said it illustrated simply that “we need to help one another.”

    “These young people will help me be more humble, to be a servant, as a bishop should be,” he said.

    In other words, rather than drawing boundaries around this Catholic rite, he found a perfect way to make it accessible and understandable to all.

    This is a smart way to evangelize. It’s not a smart way to woo traditionalists, as the reaction from some quarters has made clear – but that does not seem to be among the new pope’s priorities.


  • A Latin American pope who's sticking to Italian

     Italian remains the lingua franca at Vatican events

    One rather surprising feature of Pope Francis’ first two weeks in office is that he’s chosen to speak almost exclusively in Italian.

    This is a man who, according to the Vatican, is fluent in five languages – Spanish of course (he is Argentinian), as well as Italian, English, German and French. Yet at his first general audience this week, he skipped the traditional summary of his talk in various languages and stuck to italiano.

    No one’s sure yet if this represents a change in communication policy or an easing into the role of pope. Luis Badilla, a Vatican Radio journalist who runs a popular blog called Il Sismografo, speculated that perhaps in his first days, the pope has not had time to prepare multi-lingual versions of his remarks.

    There are other possible explanations, too. One is simplicity, which seems to be one of the guiding principles of this pontificate. Speeches or greetings that jump around in five or six languages require advance planning and editing, typically involving linguistic sections of the Secretariat of State.

    Another reason is flexibility. Pope Francis frequently departs from his prepared text, and he clearly feels comfortable doing this in Italian, but not in all the other languages.

    Some believe his exclusive use of Italian reflects his emphasis on the pope's identity as "bishop of Rome."

    On a practical level, the pope is aware that most of those listening at general audiences or other major events in Rome are Italian speakers, and that anything really important will ultimately be translated into other languages. Italian remains the common language at the Vatican, for Roman Curia employees, journalists and anyone else who needs to know what’s going on.

    And although previous popes, in particular Benedict XVI, John Paul II and Paul VI, made an effort to make remarks in multiple languages, the fact is that those comments were often difficult to hear or understand amid the cheering in the audience hall or through the loudspeakers in St. Peter’s Square.

    If you asked people what the pope talked about at his general audience – which I sometimes did as a reporter – most foreigners in attendance didn't really know. They knew that he had given them a blessing in their language.

    If the pope does stick to Italian, it could be that he’ll undo what has become a truism at the Vatican: that a modern pope has to be a polyglot.


  • The pope's 'reform' project has already begun

      At the Domus, Francis often sits in the back of the chapel to pray

    Pope Francis’ reform of the Vatican has already begun.

    Not in the way the world was expecting, through high-profile appointments of Roman Curia heads – though that will come in due time.

    Instead, the pope has embarked immediately on what might be called “re-evangelization” inside the Vatican walls.

    He dropped in today after a Vatican employees’ Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica and spoke about the value of work, thanking them for their service and asking them for their prayers because “I am a sinner, too.”

    This morning, celebrating Mass for a smaller group of Vatican employees and officials at the Vatican guest house, he gave a short homily on the destructive power of gossip. He said speaking ill of others is a “dark joy” that Christians should resist.

    At other liturgies inside the Vatican – attended by everyone from Vatican City garbage-collectors to bank employees – the new pope has spoken about the need for people to open their hearts to those around them and show charity in everything they do.

    Even in what might be considered his most formal speech to an audience that included Vatican higher-ups, an address March 15 to cardinals, he emphasized that their friendship and sense of unity rely in great part on “a climate of mutual openness.”

    Pope Francis came into the Vatican with a mandate to change the way its bureaucracy functions (or disfunctions), in the wake of scandals, leaks and power struggles that have embarrassed the church. It seems to me that he’s taking that task seriously, by laying the spiritual groundwork for change.

    He’s approaching the various Vatican environments not so much as the new boss, but as the new pastor.

    I think that’s one big reason why he’s decided to continue to live in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the Vatican guest house, instead of moving into the formal papal apartment. In the Domus, he’s a few steps away from St. Peter’s, as well as the Vatican City governor’s office, and his morning liturgies are accessible to Vatican employees.

    In the Apostolic Palace, the pope would have been surrounded by Secretariat of State offices and the usual filters. In effect, the Domus provides a much better pastoral base for evangelizing the Vatican.


  • Pope Francis to stay in Vatican guest house

    Word comes from the Vatican today that, as speculated here last week, Pope Francis is opting to stay in the Vatican guest house rather than moving into the papal apartment  in the Apostolic Palace -- at least for now. The reasons seem clear: Francis likes simplicity, and his quarters at the Domus Sanctae Marthae are much more simple than the 10-room apartment on the other side of St. Peter's Square.   Read More...

  • 'Look up toward God, but also down toward others'

            Braided palm fronds went quickly in St. Peter's Square

    Pope Francis made it official at his Palm Sunday Mass today: He’s going to Brazil in July for World Youth Day.

    In his homily in a packed St. Peter’s Square, the pope told young people he was “setting out on a journey with you” that would bring him to Rio de Janeiro this summer.

    “I will see you in that great city in Brazil! Prepare well – prepare spiritually above all – in your communities, so that our gathering in Rio may be a sign of faith for the whole world,” he said.

    Under sunny skies, the pope led his first Palm Sunday procession through the square, as faithful waved palm fronds and olive branches. The Vatican estimated the crowd at 250,000.

    As usual, the pope ad libbed parts of his sermon, at one point quoting his grandmother on the futility of accumulating money in this life because “the burial shroud has no pockets.” In other words, you can’t take it with you.

    He focused on a point he’s made repeatedly in his first 10 days as pope: that a Christian’s life should be marked above all by joy and hope. He said it’s a lesson recalled by Christ’s entry into Jerusalem.

    “Do not be men and women of sadness: a Christian can never be sad! Never give way to discouragement!” he said.

    “Ours is not a joy that comes from having many possessions, but from having encountered a Person: Jesus, from knowing that with him we are never alone, even at difficult moments,” he said.

    Pope Francis said Christ “conquered evil” by dying on the cross, and this should encourage Christians never to be complacent when faced with evil in their own lives. As he has done repeatedly in his first few days, the pope spoke again about the devil.

    “We must not believe the Evil One when he tells us: you can do nothing to counter violence, corruption, injustice, your sins!”

    To make a difference against evil, he added, Christians need to step outside themselves and reach out to others.

    “Let us learn to look up towards God, but also down towards others, towards the least of all!” he said.

    “And we must not be afraid of sacrifice. Think of a mother or a father: what sacrifices they make! But why? For love! And how do they bear those sacrifices? With joy, because they are made for their loved ones.”

    After the liturgy, the pope took an extended ride through the vast crowd in an open jeep, stopping many times to kiss babies, greet their parents and give them a blessing or a thumbs-up.  Read More...

  • What was in the box?

            Francis and Benedict sat facing a large box and two envelopes

    One unanswered question from yesterday’s meeting between Pope Francis and retired Pope Benedict: What was in the box?

    The Vatican video showed the two men sitting down for their 45-minute private conversation, facing a table on which a white box was placed. On top of the box were two large envelopes.

    As soon as the image was shown in the Vatican press office, reporters joked that the box must have held the famous Vatileaks dossier, the confidential report prepared for Benedict by three cardinals and left by the ex-pope to Francis.

    If the dossier needed a box that big, things were worse than anyone thought.

    More likely, sources said, was that the box contained correspondence for Benedict – letters, emails and other communication – that arrived after the German pope left office Feb. 28. The Vatican had said that goodbye messages were pouring in for the pope from world leaders and average people.

    Officially, there was no explanation for the cardboard container or the envelopes, which explained why today’s newspaper headlines spoke of the “mystery” box. Some hypothesized that Benedict was handing over all the important documents regarding unfinished projects of his pontificate, including Curia reform, negotiations with the Lefebvrists and his unfinished encyclical on the Year of Faith.


  • A historic meeting as Francis visits Benedict

                 Pope Francis meets with Benedict XVI 

    For the Vatican, today brought another “first” – two popes, one retired and one in office, met, had lunch and presumably talked about the various challenges facing the Catholic Church.

    Pope Francis and ex-Pope Benedict made sure they met in private, respecting Benedict’s wish that he retire to a “hidden” life that would in no way interfere with his successor.

    But in the eyes of the faithful, those concerns were not so important.

    “I came here to see the popes, naturally,” one Italian woman told Italian television as she waited in front of the papal villa at Castel Gandolfo, hoping the two would make a joint appearance at the window.

    “The popes” is something the Vatican does not talk about, because of course there is only one pope, Pope Francis. But Francis seemed to have no hesitation in seeking out his predecessor – to thank him, to share some impressions of his first 10 days in office and, perhaps, to ask advice.

    I think one reason Pope Francis made the trip to Castel Gandolfo, where Benedict is temporarily residing, is that since his resignation Feb. 28 the former pope has appeared almost as an exile. He was probably the only ecclesiastical figure in the Rome region who did not attend Pope Francis’ inaugural Mass last weekend, for example; instead, he had to watch it on TV.

    This is Benedict’s intention, and there are valid arguments for a retired pope keeping out of sight and out of mind. An ex-pope who travels the world, gives interviews and pronounces on Vatican affairs could create confusion for Catholics.

    But if Benedict were simply to keep a low profile, writing and speaking with his usual discretion but without trying to make himself “invisible,” it might actually help demystify the figure of a retired pope and make the whole idea more normal.

    The small crowd outside the papal villa, situated in the Alban Hills 17 miles from Rome, cheered as Pope Francis’ helicopter flew over and touched down behind the walls of the compound. From time to time they chanted the Italian names of the two popes: “Francesco” and “Benedetto.”

    What they couldn’t see was later described in detail by the Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, and shown in some video footage released by the Vatican Television Center.

    Benedict, walking very slowly with a cane, embraced Francis warmly as the new pope strode from the helicopter. Both were dressed in white, but Benedict wore a simple cassock while Francis also wore the sash and shoulder-length cape that are part of a pontiff’s specific garb.

    The two got into an official limousine, Francis seated on the right – the pope’s traditional seat – and Benedict on the left.

    Inside the villa, they went immediately to the chapel to pray. Benedict deferred to Francis, asking him to take the place of honor on the front kneeler, but Francis replied, “No we are brothers,” and insisted that Benedict kneel next to him.

    Watching these images in the Vatican press office, I heard more than one person say quietly of Benedict: “He looks older.” And it was true. In just four weeks, the pope emeritus appeared to have grown more frail.

    The two then went inside the library for private talks that lasted 45 minutes. Francis brought Benedict a symbolic gift, an icon of Mary known as the “Madonna of Humility,” and he told the ex-pope: “Allow me to say – I thought of you, and your pontificate.” They clasped each other's hands.

    They were joined for lunch by two papal secretaries, before Pope Francis headed back to the Vatican. A spokesman said that, true to Benedict’s intentions, the two would not come to the balcony of the villa to greet the crowd.


  • Pope to diplomats: Two forms of poverty threaten peace

          Pope Francis addressed the diplomatic corps

    In a few quick strokes, Pope Francis today outlined to the world’s diplomats the mission of his pontificate: combatting spiritual and material poverty, building peace and constructing bridges of dialogue.

    It was a typical Pope Francis audience: a relatively short speech, to the point and easy to understand. Rather than a global tour of trouble spots or an examination of the Vatican’s geopolitical strategy, the pope zeroed in on a few basic principles:

    -- The overriding concern of Vatican diplomacy is “the good of every person on this earth.”

    -- One reason he took the name Francis was because of St. Francis’ love for the poor, which is reflected today in the church’s word worldwide. “How many poor people there are still in the world! And what great suffering they have to endure!”

    -- “But there is another form of poverty! It is the spiritual poverty of our time, which afflicts the so-called richer countries particularly seriously.” Spiritual poverty often takes the form of self-interest, which makes building peace much more difficult.

    "There is no true peace without truth! There cannot be true peace if everyone is his own criterion, if everyone can always claim exclusively his own rights, without at the same time caring for the good of others."

    -- The title “pontiff” relates to the pope’s role as “builder of bridges with God and between peoples.”

    “In this work, the role of religion is fundamental. It is not possible to build bridges between people while forgetting God. But the converse is also true: it is not possible to establish true links with God, while ignoring other people.”

    -- Interreligious dialogue should be intensified, especially between Christians and Muslims. Greater outreach is also needed to non-believers, so that friendship will prevail over “the differences which divide and hurt us.”

    -- St. Francis offered important lessons on protecting creation, which the world needs to take to heart. All too often, the environment is “something we exploit greedily, to one another’s detriment.”

    One big change was noticed at today’s encounter: instead of speaking in French, the so-called language of diplomacy, or in various languages, Francis gave his talk in Italian (with translations immediately available.) Evidently it’s a language he feels appropriate to his role as bishop of Rome.

    Mass with garbage-collectors

    Meanwhile, the new pope is finding ways to meet people inside the Vatican. He celebrated his early morning Mass today with Vatican garbage-collectors and gardeners, in the chapel of the Vatican guest house where he's been residing. Yesterday he invited employees of the guest house to the morning liturgy, pausing afterward to chat.


  • Pope Francis in no hurry to move into papal apartment

      The pope's study in his modest quarters at the Vatican guest house

    Rumors are swirling inside and outside the Vatican about where Pope Francis intends to take up residence.

    The initial expectation was that he would move into the formal papal apartment on the top floor of the Apostolic Palace, the building where popes have lived for centuries.

    But Pope Francis appears to be in no hurry. More than a week after his election, he’s still residing in the Vatican’s modern guest house, the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where he eats meals with others in the common dining room and can walk to some of his appointments in the Vatican.

    Yesterday I asked the Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, if the pope had decided where to live, and he said, “Let’s wait and see.”

    When the new pope took a tour of the 10-room papal apartment a few days ago, he was said to have remarked, “Three hundred people could live here.” As a cardinal in Buenos Aires, he chose to live in a small apartment instead of the archbishop’s mansion.

    The Vatican earlier talked about the need for some renovation work before the pope moved into the Apostolic Palace. But the apartment received an extensive makeover in 2005 after Pope Benedict’s election, and it’s hard to believe Pope Francis would want to spend more money on redecorating.

    There are arguments for the pope living in the Apostolic Palace, of course. He’s close to the Vatican’s diplomatic nerve center and several other major offices, he’s close to the formal meeting rooms where he receives guests and he has a bird’s-eye view from the window where pilgrims still expect to receive his blessing every Sunday.

    If he were to stay in the Domus, which lies on the other side of St. Peter’s Basilica, he would effectively be out of the loop of the daily papal program, Vatican officials argue.

    There are also rumors that Pope Francis could decide to reside in the empty papal apartment at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, which is the pope’s cathedral as head of the Rome Diocese. (My friend and colleague Robert Mickens of The Tablet thinks that would be a great idea.)

    Popes lived at the Lateran Palace for about 1,000 years before moving to the Vatican in the 15th century, and officially it remains the residence of the bishop of Rome. Since Francis has referred to himself as “bishop of Rome” far more often than he’s used the word “pope,” some believe he may make the move.

    The Lateran apartment was refurbished more than 50 years ago for Pope John XXIII, who wanted to use it as a retreat house but never got the chance.

    In my view, the important thing is not so much where the pope lives as how accessible he is to people outside the Roman Curia buffer. Popes – even popes who loved being among the people – tend to become isolated behind several layers of “protection” inside the Vatican. There’s the papal household that protects his privacy, assistants who oversee his schedule, security staff and top Vatican officials who guide his energies toward events that tend to focus on the clerical hierarchy and secular VIPs.

    A pope who wants to be close to the people really has to make an effort to break through the Vatican bubble. Pope John Paul II did so by inviting people – yes, even lay people – to lunch. Pope Benedict XVI, a more private person, made fewer connections.

    As an archbishop, Francis rode the bus and quite naturally mingled with people from all walks of life. As pope, he’s going to have to create new channels of communication if he wants to keep that up.

    UPDATE: One sign that the new pope is doing just that: yesterday he invited 50 Argentinians to party with him at an impromptu celebration in the Domus. That's what I'm talking about.

  • Pope Francis will celebrate Holy Thursday Mass at youth prison

     As cardinal in Buenos Aires, the pope washed the feet of drug addicts in 2008 

    Another big surprise from Pope Francis this morning: he’ll celebrate the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord's Supper at a Rome prison for minors, and presumably will wash the feet of 12 young inmates during the liturgy.

    Traditionally, popes have celebrated this Mass, which commemorates the Last Supper, at the Basilica of St. John Lateran or St. Peter’s Basilica. As a cardinal in Buenos Aires, Pope Francis would typically celebrate the liturgy in prisons, hospitals or homes for the poor.

    The pope will go to the “Castel del Marmo” Penal Institute for Minors on the outskirts of Rome for the evening Mass, where young men and women under the age of 21 are serving time.

    The institute trains young inmates for employment in such areas as carpentry, tailoring and cooking, as well as a variety of artistic and technical sectors.


  • A traveling pope?

         The pope greets Brazil's president

    Like his recent predecessors, Pope Francis will be a traveling pope.

    It remains to be seen what style he’ll adopt in these journeys. The joke going around the Vatican press office is that the pope – and reporters – may be flying easyJet from now on.

    The Brazilian president said today the pope told her he would come to Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day in July and then visit Aparecida, site of Brazil’s biggest Marian shrine. The Vatican did not immediately confirm her report.

    If the pope does travel to Brazil, no one would be surprised if he adds a stop or two in his native Argentina.

    But given Pope Francis’ expressed wish to help create “a church that is poor,” some are wondering whether the costs of such visits may lead to changes in the way they’re carried out.

    This is a pope, after all, who on the night of his election called home to Argentina to suggest that pilgrims there skip the trip to Rome for his inauguration, and make a gift to charity instead.

    Papal trips involve significant expenses for travel, organization and construction of altar sites and other structures, as well as spending for security by the host country. To give just one example, hosting Pope Benedict at his two stops in the United States in 2008 was estimated to have cost at least $12 million.

    One can imagine Francis looking at the plans and budget items for such trips, and thinking about how much money could be saved.

    Whether he could actually find a cheaper way to travel is a good question. Typically, popes fly Alitalia charter planes, and about 50 reporters tag along in coach class.

    Alitalia likes to put on a good show, and this can lead to incongruous moments. As I wrote in my book, on papal flights to Africa the airline always seemed to serve the caviar and Champagne just as we were overflying Chad, one of the poorest countries on earth.

    I suppose a pope could fly commercial aircraft, and make sure the venues for papal events are kept as simple as possible. But there aren’t too many other cost-cutting measures one can imagine on such voyages.

    What seems certain is that traveling is now part of the modern pope’s job description. Pope Benedict was a reluctant traveler, but he ended up making 25 trips outside Italy, nine of them outside of Europe.

    Pope has a special interest in this event

    Vatican officials expect Pope Francis’s trip to Brazil to ignite great enthusiasm among Latin American Catholics. For one thing, of course, this is the first Latin American pope, and the whole continent will give him a homecoming welcome.

    Another reason is that World Youth Day is usually a showcase for Catholic energy, and there’s every expectation that young people are going to love this pope with the populist touch.

    The pope has his own special interest in this event, according to the Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff. After her private meeting this morning with Pope Francis, she told reporters that he wants to highlight in Brazil the church’s commitment to the poor, and the need to protect the most fragile sectors of society.

    She said the two leaders discussed young people and their problems, including drug problems like crack cocaine. Use of crack has reached epidemic proportions in Brazil, with an estimated 1 million users today, experts say.

    “For him it’s very clear that the youth are crucial for building the future of humanity.
    He hopes there will be a massive participation at World Youth Day. He’s very enthusiastic about it,” Rousseff said.

    All this may make the World Youth Day trip a unique opportunity – and worth the cost – in the eyes of the new pope. Yesterday after his inaugural Mass, almost every government delegation extended an invitation to the pope to visit. We’ll see if other dates and places are added to his 2013 calendar.

    Istanbul and Jerusalem

    During his encounter with Pope Francis today, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople invited the pontiff to visit Istanbul on the feast of St. Andrew (Nov. 30), either in 2013 or 2014. The two leaders also discussed the possibility of a joint visit to Jerusalem next year, to mark the 50th anniversary of the historic meeting there between Pope Paul VI and Athenagoras I, the ecumenical patriarch of the time.


  • Highlights of pope's talk on ecumenical, interreligious dialogue

                  Bartholomew I of Constantinople

    This morning Pope Francis addressed representatives of other Christian churches and other religions who came to Rome for his inaugural Mass. It was a pretty standard speech, with some interesting points of emphasis that reflect the new pope’s agenda.

    Here are a few highlights:

    -- He addressed the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I of Constantinople, as “my brother Andrew.” The reference was to St. Andrew, the patron saint of the Orthodox patriarchate, just as St. Peter is the patron saint of the Catholic Church.

    -- He said the best service Christians can give to ecumenism is to witness their faith “freely, joyfully and courageously.” This is especially needed in a world marked by divisions and rivalries, he added.

    -- The pope, who as a cardinal in Argentina had excellent relations with Jewish leaders, underlined the “special spiritual bond” between Christians and Jews and pledged to continue dialogue.

    -- Greeting Muslims, he said the followers of Islam “worship the one, living and merciful God, and invoke him in prayer.”

    -- The pope outlined particularly fruitful terrain for ecumenical and interreligious dialogue: in protecting the environment, in working for social justice and, above all, in cultivating a thirst for the absolute in a world where the human person is often “reduced to what he or she produces and what he or she consumes.”

    -- The pope’s only mention of violence came when he spoke about the “efforts in recent history to eliminate God and the divine from the human horizon,” an apparent reference to atheistic communist regimes.

    -- He extended a final thought for all those men and women who do not belong to any religion, but who “feel nevertheless that they are seeking truth, beauty and goodness.” He said they are “our precious allies in the commitment to defend human dignity, build peaceful coexistence among peoples and safeguard creation.”


  • Simplicity and compassion front and center

     Pope Francis stopped his jeep to greet a disabled man in the square

    How does Pope Francis understand “papal power”?

    He answered that question today with these words: “lowly, concrete and faithful service.”

    At an inaugural Mass rich in traditional symbols of the papal office, attended by hundreds of secular and religious leaders from around the world, Pope Francis told the world that his role would be that of a protector – especially of “the poorest, the weakest, the least important.”

    His words confirmed what has already become a new papal style, one that favors the common touch over formal ceremony, and humility over authority.

    The pope’s day began with a long ride in an open jeep through St. Peter’s Square. What struck me was that the pontiff, smiling and giving a thumbs-up, seemed to be connecting with individuals in the crowd.

    As I watched on a monitor from the ABC News platform, I saw the pope’s jeep suddenly stop. Francis got out of the vehicle, walked over to the barricades and kissed a disabled man. It was a brief moment in a long day, but one that will remain in people’s memory.

    The inauguration Mass marks the official start of a pope’s public ministry, and it’s steeped in tradition. Pope Francis made several small but significant changes in the liturgy:

    -- He abbreviated the “act of obedience” performed by the cardinals. In a modification only recently introduced by the master of papal liturgical ceremonies, Msgr. Guido Marini, all cardinals were to have professed obedience to the pope at the beginning of the Mass – which would have likely added an hour and a half to the service.

    Pope Francis, who prefers short liturgies, cut that to six representative members of the College of Cardinals.

    -- He eliminated the offertory procession, which typically features many Catholics or groups of Catholics bringing gifts directly to the seated pope. Vatican officials said this, too, was a move designed to save time. I can’t help but think it also reflected Francis’ desire to remove himself from the center of the liturgical stage.

    -- He decided not to distribute Communion, leaving that task to priests and deacons. Some have suggested that the pope may have wanted to avoid the embarrassment of giving Communion to VIPs – including some international politicians – who may disagree with some church teachings.

    My own theory is that, again, he was removing himself as a celebrity celebrant. For years, people have pulled strings to get into the pope’s Communion line, and it’s often seen as some kind of reward or sign of prestige.

    It was Pope Francis’ homily marking the feast of St. Joseph that really caught the tone of the day in its eloquent simplicity. St. Joseph, he said, was above all a protector who worked “discreetly, humbly and silently,” attentive to God’s voice and God’s plan.

    This “vocation” of being a protector, he said, involves everyone. It means protecting the weak and vulnerable first of all – children, the elderly, the poor, the sick – and protecting “the beauty of the created world,” as St. Francis demonstrated.

    The pope specifically urged political and economic leaders to safeguard the environment. Here we had a first indication that ecology will likely figure as a major theme of this pontificate.

    But Francis said ecology begins with the individual, who needs to guard against pride and envy, as well as emotions that “tear down.” People need compassion, he said, and he argued that “tenderness” should not be seen as “the virtue of the weak.”

    The liturgy had a strong ecumenical element. The pope was joined by the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I of Constantinople, considered the “first among equals” in the Orthodox world, when he descended to pray in the tomb area of St. Peter’s Basilica.

    It was the first time since the Great Schism of 1054 – prompted mainly by disagreement over papal authority – that the ecumenical patriarch had attended a pope’s inaugural Mass.

    A few minutes later, the pope slipped on the Fisherman’s Ring. I was told that Francis thought the original choices of the ring design were too ornate, so instead he chose a relatively simple model that had been crafted many years ago. It features St. Peter holding the keys of the papacy.

    The people in St. Peter’s Square seem to have caught the “simplicity and compassion” theme of this pontificate, judging by some of the banners that greeted the pope as he made the rounds in his jeep.

    One read, “Pope Francis, good morning!” echoing his unpretentious “Good evening” salutation to the crowd just after his election. Another banner declared: “Assisi is waiting for you.” Every expectation is that visiting St. Francis’ birthplace is high on the pope’s to-do list.


  • The pope's coat-of-arms and motto

      Pope Francis has chosen his coat-of-arms

    Pope Francis has decided to keep his relatively simple bishop's coat-of-arms, combining it with traditional papal symbols.

    It features the Jesuit emblem and seal (the Greek letters IHS for the name of Jesus, the cross and nails surrounded by a sunburst.) Below are a star on the left, a symbol of Mary, and an image of nard flowers, a symbol of St. Joseph (I know they look like grapes, but they're flowers.)

    Framing the coat-of-arms are the papal miter and silver and gold keys, linked by a red cord.

    The pope's Latin motto "miserando atque eligendo," recalls a passage from a homily of St. Bede, describing how Jesus chose St. Matthew as his disciple: "He saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him.

    St. Bede's point was that Jesus chose Matthew not in the usual sense, but with a merciful understanding -- something the new pope has already made a theme of his pontificate.

  • With new pope, hopes for ecumenical springtime

             Pope Francis with journalists

    Pope Francis’ first few days have already generated an abundance of hope on many fronts, and one of them is ecumenism.

    The fact that the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, is attending the pope’s inaugural Mass tomorrow is rightly seen as a milestone in Catholic-Orthodox relations. That hasn’t happened since Catholics and Orthodox split in 1054.

    Of course, Pope Francis does not yet have a “record” on relations with other Christian churches. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, however, he dropped some clues.

    According to Bishop Gregory Venables, the Anglican bishop of Argentina, then-Cardinal Bergoglio was apparently not enthusiastic about Pope Benedict’s move in 2011 to create a structure in the Catholic Church to welcome disaffected Anglicans.

    In remarks published by the Anglican Communion News Service, Bishop Venables said Cardinal Bergoglio “called me to have breakfast with him one morning and told me very clearly that the ordinariate was quite unnecessary and that the church needs us as Anglicans."

    Bishop Venables described the new pope as “consistently humble and wise” as well as “outstandingly gifted,” and as someone who would treat him as an equal in joint services.

    In a broader sense, Pope Francis’ whole approach to the office of the papacy has generated hope for an ecumenical springtime. So far, the new pope seems intent on downplaying papal power and highlighting his role as a unity figure among his brother bishops.

    It was striking that in his initial appearances, he repeatedly referred to himself as the “bishop of Rome” rather than emphasizing his role as an authority figure in the universal church.

    Many experts say one of the biggest ecumenical obstacles, especially in dialogue with the Orthodox, is the way papal primacy is carried out. The key issue is how the pope’s universal role of authority and service is balanced with the pope’s collegial relationship with all the bishops.

    Pope Francis has given every indication that he takes collegiality seriously. Addressing the members of the College of Cardinals the day after his election, he told them that “we are as brothers.”

    “We are that community, that friendship, that closeness, that will do good for every one of us. That mutual knowledge and openness to one another helped us to be open to the action of Holy Spirit,” he said. While all roles in the church are not equal, he added, they need to work in harmony.

    Italian Father Bartolomeo Sorge, a leading Jesuit intellectual, told reporters that the expectation of greater collegiality was a reasonable one.

    "It's significant that Pope Francis, in the brief words he pronounced immediately after his election, spoke of the 'church of Rome' that presides in charity over the other churches. This awareness could be a prelude to achieving the kind of collegiality that the (Second Vatican) Council foresaw and that has yet to be realized," he said.

    In his first major audience after his inaugural Mass, Pope Francis is meeting Wednesday with the representatives of other Christian churches who came to Rome for the event. That’s the moment we should get a clearer sense of his ecumenical intentions.


  • All eyes on the smokestack -- even Benedict's

         Another round of black smoke Wednesday

    After two rounds of black smoke, what does it mean?

    First, it’s no surprise. After a month of evaluating papal contenders, the common wisdom in Rome was that no one entered the conclave so heavily favored that he would sweep to a two-thirds majority in three ballots.

    Second, it sets the stage for the crucial two ballots on Wednesday afternoon. Here is where a leading vote-getter either puts distance between himself and the rest of the pack, or stalls short of the necessary 77 votes.

    White smoke this evening would lead many people to expect one of three men to appear at the central loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica: Italian Cardinal Angelo Scola, Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Scherer or Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet.

    Another puff of black smoke would not remove these three contenders from papabile lists, but it would appear to indicate some reluctance among the cardinals in forming a consensus around any one of them.

    If Thursday does not produce a pope, the chance of a surprise is even greater.

    Pope Benedict watching

    The ex-Pope Benedict, like the rest of the world, is following the conclave proceedings from the outside. He watched TV coverage of the first black smoke last night, according to Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, who had spoken with Benedict’s personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Ganswein.

    Benedict is at the papal villa at Castelgandolfo, 17 miles away from Rome. Vatican officials the retired pope won’t receive any special alert when a new pope is elected.

    Today the Vatican said the ex-pope was not expected to attend the inauguration Mass of the new pontiff. That seems to confirm the impression that Benedict really plans to be "invisible" to the world.

    Smoke signal recipe revealed

    Today, to the applause of reporters, the Vatican spokesman actually revealed the chemical composition of the canisters used to create the black and white smoke.

    The high-tech section of the two-part stove burns a “black” or “white” canister that fires five chemical doses over a seven-minute period.

    For black smoke the composition is potassium perchlorate, anthracene and sulpher. The recipe for white smoke is potassium chlorate, lactose and rosin (a natural amber resin made from conifers.)

    So far the system has worked pretty well, better than other years. The black smoke last night looked like an inky eruption. The smoke at midday today was dark grey to black, certainly not white


  • Conclave Day 1: Praying and politicking

       The dining room at the cardinals' Vatican residence

    People often imagine a conclave as a political convention in red robes, where cardinals may pray to the Holy Spirit but do their real business in back-room maneuvers.

    Judging from my conversations with cardinals over the last two weeks, the “campaigning” aspect of a conclave is exaggerated in popular imagination. But that doesn’t mean the cardinals don’t talk, lobby and carefully calculate the chances of their favorite candidate.

    From the moment it begins this evening, you could probably divide the conclave into “praying” and “politicking” moments.

    The praying takes place in the Sistine Chapel, where the voting procedure is so formal and so solemn that the cardinals don’t even talk to each other. There’s a reason the cardinals will file into the chapel in choir dress – they are, in a sense, participating in a liturgy.

    For that reason, there’s no chit-chat among the cardinal electors, and certainly no chance to ruminate on vote tallies.

    But that changes as soon as the cardinals exit the Sistine and get on the mini-buses to the Domus Sanctae Marthae, their residence inside Vatican City. They begin to talk, to reflect on the balloting and, yes, even to promote their candidates to brother cardinals.

    There’s a reason the conclave generally begins with a single ballot in an evening session. The first ballot, which may find 15 or more cardinals receiving votes, gives the lay of the land, and the cardinals have some numbers to work with as they head off to dinner.

    These meals at the Domus are extremely important. There’s no assigned seating, and for many cardinals it’s the first real chance they have to converse at length with prelates from other countries and regions. And once the dining room clears out, smaller and more private conversations continue into the night.

    The conclave rules are pretty adamant about what is and is not allowed in these conversations. What’s forbidden (under penalty of excommunication) is making any pact or promise that would oblige a cardinal to vote for a particular candidate – or deny his vote to a candidate. Also banned are any deals that would promise certain appointments or courses of action if a particular cardinal is elected pope.


  • An Argentine cardinal who's quietly drawing attention - again

            Argentine Cardinal Jorge Maria Bergoglio

    As we approach the start of Conclave 2013, it’s instructive to take a look back on Conclave 2005 – especially given the possibility that a protagonist of that election could return as a papabile this time around.

    The vote tallies in the 2005 conclave were leaked five months later in an anonymous cardinal’s diary, which formed the basis of an article published by the Italian journal Limes. The author, Lucio Brunelli, is a respected journalist who has covered the Vatican for decades, so his account – which has since been supported by others – deserves attention.

    According to the diary, Cardinal Ratzinger led off the first ballot by obtaining 47 votes. Behind him were Argentine Cardinal Jorge Maria Bergoglio with 10 votes, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini of Milan with 9 votes and a handful of other candidates with lower numbers.

    Cardinal Bergoglio’s showing on the first ballot was a real surprise, and the next day his tally climbed to 35, compared to 65 for Cardinal Ratzinger. The third vote brought Cardinal Ratzinger to 72 (five shy of the needed two-thirds majority) and Cardinal Bergoglio to 40.

    The cardinals took their lunch break at this crucial point. It was clear that the next vote would either see the election of Cardinal Ratzinger or, if his support had peaked, mark a move toward another candidate – perhaps Cardinal Bergoglio.

    According to anonymous sources later cited by Italian journalists, Cardinal Bergoglio let it be known – more in gestures than in words – that he was not ready to accept the office of the papacy. They say this is one reason some of his early supporters voted for Cardinal Ratzinger on the fourth and final ballot that elected him Pope Benedict XVI.

    Others are adamant that Bergoglio never “refused” the possibility of election, and say he was simply humbled by the idea of becoming pope.

    Why is this important today?

    Because in the last few days, some serious voices have mentioned Cardinal Bergoglio as a contender in the coming conclave. Not simply because he came in second the last time around, but because he impressed cardinals when he took the floor in the pre-conclave meetings that began last week.

    His words left the impression that even at age 76, Bergoglio had the energy and the inclination to do some house-cleaning in the Roman Curia.  Read More...

  • In one Roman neighborhood, rooting for Cardinal O'Malley

      Cardinal O'Malley greeted by parishioners in Rome on Sunday

    If it were up to Maria Cherubino, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston would emerge from the coming conclave as the next pope.

    “He’s a spiritual figure, he’s fairly young and energetic, and he seems sure of himself. All that is important, because I think the church needs a great guide in this particular moment,” she said after attending Mass celebrated by Cardinal O’Malley in the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome.

    A few pews away, Elisabetta Porco gave a similar endorsement.

    “There was just something about him I immediately liked when I saw him. Maybe being a friar is part of it, but I have the feeling he would be a different kind of pope,” she said.

    Her assessment appeared to be shared by the crowd of parishioners that packed into the small church, where O’Malley is the “titular” cardinal – every cardinal is given a titular church in Rome, and the Boston cardinal was lucky enough to get a historic one in the city center.

    Father Rocco Visca welcomed Cardinal O’Malley with a talk that stopped just short of being a campaign speech. He recalled telling a reporter about O’Malley’s qualities as a “lovable, humble but decisive” man, whose only “defect” was that he was a Capuchin friar – a remark made in jest, but reflecting the fact that it’s been ages since a member of a Franciscan order was elected pope.

    Father Visca said he knows that Cardinal O’Malley has called the prospect of his election to the throne of Peter “surreal” and even frightening, but he urged the cardinal to let himself be guided by "the design of the Holy Spirit.”

    “We hope this will be your last visit to our church as a titular cardinal. And if our prayers are answered, we hope your first visit as pontiff will be to our – and your – church, Santa Maria della Vittoria,” he added, to the delight of everyone in attendance.

    Well, almost everyone.

    A contrary voice from Boston

    Among those attending the Mass was Peter Borré, who heads the Council of Parishes in Boston, a group that has fought against O’Malley’s plans for parish closings. He said Boston has gone from 400 parishes 10 years ago to 280 parishes today, and if Cardinal O’Malley has his way, that will shrink to about 130 parish clusters in coming years.

    The way Borré sees it, “That’s purification with a vengeance.”

    “I think the fundamental policy choice is, do we continue one-third of a century of downsizing … with the idea of, let’s get to a base? Or do we restore the catholic small-c and reach out? O’Malley, for all his pastoral ways, has been on the leading edge of downsizing. That doesn’t work for me,” he said.

    Another reason Borré has trouble envisioning O’Malley as pope is his management style, at a time when many cardinals are calling for deep reform of the Roman Curia.


  • Conclave opens March 12 ... and then?

    We now know the starting date of the conclave: Tuesday, March 12. And we know that the cardinals will process into the Sistine Chapel in the afternoon, which leaves time for the first ballot that evening. If the balloting continues for three days without a new pope, the cardinals are to suspend the voting for a maximum of one day – for prayer, discussion and a spiritual pep talk.   Read More...

  • 'Party politics' and the coming conclave

    Covering the conclave would be a lot simpler for journalists if cardinals would just organize themselves into ecclesial “parties” and then vote the party line inside the Sistine Chapel.

    Naturally, it doesn’t work that way. In the 21st century, it’s hazardous to peg any cardinal to a voting bloc and delineate conclave caucuses. There are several reasons, but the biggest is that it presumes a level of organization among cardinals that usually isn’t there.

    That doesn’t stop intrepid reporters from trying, of course. For days we’ve been reading about the “Roman Party” in the conclave, which in theory includes many of the 41 Roman Curia cardinals (past or present) who will cast a vote, along with some of their 28 Italian confreres.

    In fact, this may be the most cohesive group in the College of Cardinals – and recent criticism of the Roman Curia’s performance has probably led them to close ranks. These cardinals, if they’re on the same page, may well be able to deliver 40 or more votes to a candidate on a first ballot, which could generate enough momentum to carry the day.

    The Roman Party is predominantly Italian, yet all indications are that these cardinals may throw support to a non-Italian who would have broader appeal – someone like Cardinal Odilo Scherer of Brazil or Cardinal Leonardo Sandri of Argentina. Both men were born in Latin America, yet are of European descent. Both have strong ties to the Vatican: Sandri has spent his whole career in the Roman Curia, and Scherer worked there for seven years.

    The expectation is that either cardinal, if elected, would bring in an Italian as secretary of state, thus maintaining the strong Italian influence in internal church affairs and in diplomatic dealings. (The name of Italian Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, floated last week as a potential secretary of state, may have had a boomerang effect, however. Piacenza, head of the Congregation for Clergy, is considered very conservative to the point of being called a "closet Lefebvrist" by one informed Vatican observer.)

    Today, the Rome newspaper La Repubblica has identified what it calls the “Reform Party” among cardinal electors – the only group, we are told, that has the votes to stop the Romans. Their top papal candidates include Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan, an Italian who is viewed as an outsider by the Curia, and U.S. Cardinals Timothy Dolan and Sean O’Malley.

    The Reform Party also counts Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schonborn among its ranks, a man who could have great influence in the voting and who could even emerge as pope.


  • 'U.S. vs. the Curia' has become story line in Rome

      Cardinals meet daily in "general congregations"

    The College of Cardinals’ blanket ban on interviews with the press has returned the conclave narrative to its traditional padroni: Italian journalists and their Italian and Roman Curia sources.

    On a practical level, the move effectively muzzled U.S. cardinals and sent a signal that the Vatican’s communication culture remains one of back-channel sources, leaks and speculation -- not on-the-record press conferences.

    Not surprisingly, the Italian papers today – in particular, La Stampa – were chock full of unsourced details from the cardinals’ closed-door general congregation meetings. Cardinal Fernando Filoni, the Italian head of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, gave a global report on missionary challenges. Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, the Italian head of the Congregation for Clergy, weighed in with an overview on the priesthood and vocations.

    Italian Cardinal Camillo Ruini spoke about the need to choose a younger pope with sufficient energy. Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet and U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke, both Roman Curia officials, talked about the figure and role of “pope emeritus.” Italian Cardinal Angelo Scola went over the five-minute limit in his talk on the nature of the church.

    None of this is earth-shaking news. It’s just more than dribbles out of the official Vatican briefings, in which names are never named.

    More interesting is that the journalistic narrative is now pitting the reform-minded, exasperated U.S. cardinals against the entrenched Old Guard of the Roman Curia and Italian hierarchy.

    Here’s the way the daily Il Fatto Quotidiano set the scene: “The Vatican was not expecting the activism of the American cardinals: that they don’t want to hurry up the process at all cost, that they don’t want to avoid the subject of pedophilia, that they don’t want to skip over the intrigue of Vatileaks, that they don’t want to lock themselves into a conclave and make a mess of it.”

    “The reaction of the Curia officials, the cardinals who control the Holy See under the guidance of the chamberlain, Tarcisio Bertone, was not long in arriving: a ban on talking, no press conferences, we’re in charge.”

    From the people I’ve spoken with, there’s some truth to all this. There’s also a sense that the general congregations have been drifting along without much focus, that with speech after speech on such a variety of topics, they lack cohesion.

    That contrasts with the way the same meetings were chaired eight years ago by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who made a habit of tying themes together and synthesizing interventions at the end of the day.


  • A few modest proposals for the next pope

            Pope Benedict at his blessing last Easter

    Throughout my career, I've wisely refrained from giving advice to popes or the Vatican. I make an exception today, because in the wake of ex-Pope Benedict's resignation I'm hoping the cardinals give some creative thought to how a pope governs in the modern age.

    It's on the op-ed page of USA Today. I tried to keep it short: Seven Steps for a New Pope.


  • Why the press is beating a path to U.S. cardinals

      Cardinal Francis George talks to reporters

    U.S. cardinals are getting rave reviews from journalists for their availability during the “general congregations” leading up to the conclave.

    In contrast to their brethren from the rest of the world, the Americans are holding well-organized daily press briefings at North American College, just up the hill from the Vatican press office.

    Chaired by Sister Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the U.S. bishops’ conference, these sessions typically feature two U.S. cardinals who field questions for a half-hour. The relatively rapid-fire Q and A in English is a welcome complement to the lengthy, multi-lingual briefings offered by non-cardinals at the Vatican.

    One of Rome’s leading newspapers, Il Messaggero, said the American cardinals had clearly learned the value of transparency in dealing with the press.

    “It’s been the Americans who are giving lessons in communication and in conveying a unity of vision,” the newspaper said.

    “The Italians aren’t even thinking about this, maybe because they’re too divided and too resistant to new frontiers. They prefer to slip away, waving nervously and avoiding contact. The Germans, Spanish, French (with a few exceptions) and even the Latin Americans are doing the same,” the newspaper said.

    After today's briefing with Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston and Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, another session was announced for Wednesday featuring Cardinal George and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. A French reporter in the room was heard to exclaim: "God bless America!" (UPDATE: Now we're told it will be Cardinals George and McCarrick on Wednesday, not Dolan.)

    The U.S. cardinals are, of course, walking a fine line. Like other cardinals, they took an oath to preserve secrecy over all matters relating to the conclave.

    Nevertheless, there appears to be an understanding that cardinals can talk to the press throughout the pre-conclave meetings, as long as they don’t divulge too many details about the conclave itself. Since much of these discussion will relate to general church issues and not judgments on papabili, that leaves room for some freedom of expression.  Read More...

  • Roman Curia is early focus of cardinals' discussions

             Cardinals in the general congregation

    We learned today that the cardinals meeting ahead of the conclave focused this morning on three general topics: the Roman Curia and its relationship with bishops around the world, renewal in light of the Second Vatican Council and the demands of “new evangelization” in various cultural contexts.

    Although those are ambiguous phrases, they’re a clue to what’s on the cardinals’ minds. Clearly, governance of the Roman Curia has already been raised and will continue to be discussed, in light of various leaks and scandals that have come to light in recent years.

    Italian newspapers reported this morning that some cardinals, including Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, have asked for information from the three cardinals who prepared a report on the factors that led to the “Vatileaks” scandal. According to these reports, the answers given by the three cardinals were not very precise or helpful.

    Ex-Pope Benedict met with the three cardinals a few days before his resignation and declared that their report would remain secret for the time being, and left only for his successor to read. That may well explain their reluctance to share specific content from the report.

    At a press briefing today, Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston was asked about Roman Curia issues.

    "There is certainly a lot of reflection going on throughout the Catholic world about the governance of the church, about how to improve it and make the Holy Father's ministry more effective and supported by the bureaucracy of the Holy See," he said.

    "Vatileaks grabbed headlines for a long time, but I don’t know how important those issues are in terms of the work of the conclave. I feel confident the cardinals will share with each other the information that is really germane and important for us to know as we try and make this important decision," he said.

    Afternoon sessions scrapped

    One somewhat surprising development came when cardinals decided not to meet twice daily, as had been expected, but to gather only in morning sessions – at least for the next few days.

    No explanation was given, but some cardinals felt the very structured sessions of the general congregations, if held twice a day, simply took up too much time and left little chance for the equally important informal meetings, conversations and dinners – which is where cardinals feel more free to talk about papal candidates.

    Meanwhile, the cardinals have scheduled an afternoon prayer session for Wednesday afternoon in St. Peter’s Basilica. The cardinals and the public are invited.

    Sistine Chapel closed

    The Vatican is closing the Sistine Chapel to visitors as of this afternoon, a sure sign that a conclave is coming. Construction to host the structures needed in the conclave will begin today, too.

    Who will be the last cardinal to the conclave?

    Incredible as it may seem, more than three weeks after ex-Pope Benedict announced he would retire Feb. 28, there are still some cardinal no-shows in Rome.

    Their absence is delaying a vote on the starting date for the conclave, since the dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, apparently believes that decision should be made once all voting-age cardinals have ample time to arrive.

    As of midday on March 5, the second day of the cardinals’ pre-conclave meetings, these cardinals were still reportedly making their way to Rome: Cardinals John Tong Hon of Hong Kong (who was said to be on a Lenten retreat), Coptic Cardinal Antonios Naguib of Egypt, German Cardinal Karl Lehmann, Vietnamese Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man, and Polish Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz.

    Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi downplayed speculation about their absence, saying it was “completely normal” and that the Vatican was in contact with the missing cardinals. It seemed most, if not all, were expected in Rome by Wednesday.

    Telegram to Benedict

    The cardinals sent a telegram today to “His Holiness Benedict XVI, Pope Emeritus,” thanking him for his “untiring work” as pope and assuring him of their prayers.


  • The cardinals open their 'general congregations'

    The College of Cardinals today kicked off the pre-conclave sessions known as “general congregations,” but have yet to set a date for the start of the conclave. One of their first decisions was to write a message to retired Pope Benedict. The text was being worked on, and presumably would have to be approved before it’s sent.   Read More...

  • A non-cardinal as pope?

                         Pope Urban VI

    My Italian colleague Gianfranco Brunelli, who directs the excellent Italian Catholic magazine Il Regno, suggested in an interview yesterday that cardinal electors should take advantage of a little-known clause in canon law and consider electing a non-cardinal in the coming conclave.

    It’s a suggestion that has circulated quietly in Rome since Benedict XVI announced his retirement. Most observers discount the idea, but technically it’s a possibility.

    Church law says a person elected to the papacy should either be a bishop or must be immediately ordained a bishop. Canon lawyers debate how wide a field that wording could create, but it’s clear that the next pope doesn’t have to be a cardinal.

    Nor does he have to be under the age of 80 – which is a requirement to vote in the conclave.

    Brunelli said the cardinals should, in fact, consider choosing a bishop as pope. He says it would be “an act of freedom, strength and courage” in the wake of the ex-pope’s courageous decision to resign. The cardinals would not be saying there aren’t enough good candidates in the room, but recognizing “the experiences of deep renewal and pastoral energy present in the local churches,” he said.

    “It would be a statement that, even today, the Catholic Church has pastoral figures who are prophetic,” Brunelli said.

    If would also expand the number of potential candidates tremendously. The church has more than 5,000 bishops; it has only 117 cardinals eligible to vote in the conclave.

    That’s probably the biggest argument against choosing a non-cardinal. Just getting to know their fellow cardinals well enough to make a choice is considered a daunting task for those who will cast votes in the conclave. Serious consideration of an outside candidate would require time to mature – and many of the cardinals seem in a hurry to wrap this up.

    The last time a non-cardinal was elected pope was in 1378, when Italian Archbishop Bartolomeo Prignano became Pope Urban VI. In part because of the outside political pressures of that time, his 11-year reign was fairly disastrous, leading to the Great Western Schism.


  • The conclave's missing dimension

       Cardinal Angelo Scola among faithful in Italy

    It can’t be easy to cast that first ballot in a conclave, and by all accounts cardinals in Rome are showing due diligence as they research papal candidates.

    They rely, first of all, on the impressions formed in personal encounters they may have had with the men considered papabili. Then they consider past events – mostly in Rome – where leading cardinals have spoken or somehow weighed in over the years.

    And, as Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston said this week, they are “using the Internet a lot.” Yes, cardinals are Googling each other, and could it really be otherwise in this day and age?

    But there’s an aspect that’s often missing from this rapid round of vetting and appraisal, one that should be crucial to the choice of the next pope: the pastoral dimension.

    For all their research and discussion, cardinals have a very hard time gauging how a papabile gets along in his home diocese -- how successful he’s been in energizing the church at the local level, how many bridges he’s been able to build with the larger society and how effective he is when interacting with his own faithful.

    That’s a pretty big blind spot when it comes to choosing a pope, especially when a perennial requisite is that the next pontiff be a “pastoral” figure.


  • Update on secrecy, cardinals summoned to Rome

              Journalists at today's Vatican briefing

    It looks like next Monday is going to mark a showdown on the transparency issue in the run-up to the conclave.

    That's the day cardinals begin their twice-daily "general congregations," meetings that will provide a forum for discussion of church priorities and offer cardinals a chance to size up potential papal candidates.

    It's also the day of the first scheduled briefing on the general congregations, for the hundreds of reporters who are in Rome for the papal transition. The type of information provided to journalists on Monday will probably set the tone for coming days.

    Sources today said Vatican communications officials expect to furnish at least generic summaries of the main themes covered in the cardinals' conversations -- but without naming names. In other words, we may be told, for example, that the subject of the church's relations with Islam drew some strong proposals, but we won't be told who made them.

    Likewise, the cardinals are expected to be told by the dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, to be very careful in talking with reporters and others about the content of their meetings, and to avoid identifying individual speakers. This would, of course, make it more difficult to identify protagonists (and potential candidates).

    If history is any guide, U.S. cardinals will probably follow the rules to the letter, while others -- particularly Italians -- may take a more flexible approach.


  • Benedict pledges 'unconditional obedience' to next pope

    A few hours before his resignation, Pope Benedict sought to reassure cardinals and the rest of the church on two important points. First, he said that the church is a "living reality" that can transform itself and adapt to modern times without changing its fundamental identity, which is found in Christ. The message here was that while papal resignation marks a shift in the office of the papacy, it does not mark a break with the church's core mis...  Read More...

  • The pope's heartfelt goodbye -- and a nod to the Curia

      More than 100,000 came for the pope's farewell

    Those waiting for Pope Benedict to open his heart on the question of his resignation were not disappointed today.

    In his final general audience, the day before he abdicates the papal throne, the pope spoke in an unusually personal way about his decision and offered a frank assessment of his pontificate – both the moments of joy and moments of “rough waters.”

    His words appeared designed to counter the popular media image of a discouraged and defeated pope who felt let down by the top officials of the Roman Curia.

    He went out of his way, in fact, to thank the Curia, in particular the secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who has been seen by many observers as a big part of the problem when it comes to Curia tensions and infighting.

    Benedict also expressed gratitude to the many Vatican employees who “remain in the shadows, but who precisely in their silence and daily dedication … have been for me a sure and trusted support.”

    Speaking to an overflow and enthusiastic crowd in St. Peter’s Square, the pope took issue with what has become a dominant narrative in the media: that of a pontiff so frustrated with the problems of church governance and ill-served by his aides that he felt constrained to leave the scene.


  • "His Holiness Benedict XVI, pope emeritus"

      Pope Benedict will trade in his famous red shoes

    The Vatican today answered some of the nagging questions hanging over the papal resignation, including the title Pope Benedict will carry after he leaves office.

    “His Holiness Benedict XVI, pope emeritus” or “Roman pontiff emeritus” is the proper way to address the retired pope, the Jesuit spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, told reporters.

    On a practical level, it’s an issue that few people are expected to face, since the pope has said he plans to live behind the Vatican walls and avoid public appearances.

    Father Lombardi said the pope would wear a “simple white cassock” after retiring. His famous red shoes will be set aside in favor of a pair of brown shoes he was given last year in Leon, Mexico – a city known for its footwear industry.

    As expected, Benedict’s fisherman ring and the seal of his pontificate will be destroyed; how and when will be determined by the College of Cardinals.