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Everything listed under: Vatican

  • New role of laity is key issue in sex abuse summit

    There are signs that Vatican officials preparing the February summit on sex abuse hope the event will launch a new role for Catholic laity.That would be a significant development in a scandal that, as Pope Francis himself has said, has been perpetuated by clericalism.At first glance, the Feb. 21-24 summit looks like another “bishops monitoring the bishops” event. But planners have quietly taken steps to involve lay experts, and are signaling a more open approach to lay authority and ...  Read More...

  • Transparency must be tackled at Vatican abuse summit, moderator says

    The moderator of the Vatican’s upcoming summit on sex abuse has underlined several crucial themes for the four-day meeting, including the need for greater accountability and transparency by bishops.Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the former Vatican spokesman tapped by Pope Francis to chair the Feb. 21-24 summit, said past cover-ups by church officials have been the cause of “evil and tragedy.”He made the comments in an article published in late January by “La Civilt&agra...  Read More...

  • Food for thought in pope's speech to diplomats

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

  • Vatican tightens rules on relic distribution, veneration

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

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

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

  • Pope 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.  Read More...

  • 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.


  • Pope opens cardinals' meeting, says he's determined to bring reform to Roman Curia

    Pope Francis delivered a brief but significant talk to open a two-day meeting of cardinals, convened for a progress report on Curia reform.

    At a time when the pace of the reform project is slowing and resistance has increased inside the Vatican, the pope underlined his “determination” to follow through on plans to streamline the Vatican bureaucracy, establish transparency and end the power struggles and careerism inside the Roman Curia.

    He reminded his audience that two years ago, in meetings ahead of the conclave that elected him, the majority of cardinals pushed strongly for these reforms.

    “The goal is to favor greater harmony in the work of the various agencies and offices, so that there is more efficient cooperation, carried out in that absolute transparency that builds true synodality and collegiality,” the pope said.

    “Certainly, to reach that goal is not easy. It requires time, determination and above all the cooperation of everyone,” he said.

    Pope Francis also underlined that merely structural reforms at the Vatican – which have been the focus of the work so far – are only a means to an end. That’s an important point: the pope wants to change the culture in the Curia, not just the office nameplates.

    The real purpose of these reforms, he said, is to better witness the Gospel (yes, even in Vatican affairs), to make evangelization more effective, to promote an ecumenical spirit and to “encourage a more constructive dialogue with all.” In short, he wants a simpler Vatican bureaucracy so that it can better keep the faith and spread the faith.

    He said that means “perfecting” the identity of the Roman Curia, which he described as helping the pope in his pastoral duties “for the good and for the service of the universal church and particular churches.”


  • As Curia reform moves (slowly) forward, Cardinal Muller weighs in

      Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman

    I’ve seen this week described as “crucial” for Pope Francis and his plans for Vatican reform, a “turning point” in his pontificate, a make-or-break moment for the Francis “revolution.”

    But so far, there have been no dramatic announcements and no final decisions, just a series of progress reports from an array of councils and commissions that seem to meet a few times a year.

    This doesn't mean important things aren’t happening. But they are happening at a slower pace than many would have foreseen two years ago.

    Pope Francis came out of the gate fast. Elected with a mandate to reform the Roman Curia and streamline Vatican structures, he quickly named a council of eight cardinals (now nine), established financial watchdog agencies and let it be known that his reforms would be deep, not superficial. Later he set up a child protection commission, another commission to revamp Vatican communications and brought in outside consultants to make recommendations on best practices.

    But Francis soon came face to face with an inconvenient reality: The Vatican operates in its own time zone, a dimension where you can check your watch and calendar at the door, and where change is always in slow-motion.

    When Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, told reporters that he hopes the statutes for the Secretariat for the Economy (instituted a year ago) will be ready soon, there was soft laughter in the room. The reporters know that, in Vatican time, “soon” can mean months or even years.

    Today, Lombardi was asked whether the College of Cardinals, when they meet Thursday and Friday, will be reviewing a draft for the new constitution of the Roman Curia. The answer was no.

    “We’re still in a phase of considering the outline of the structure of (Vatican) agencies. Considering that legal experts are being consulted when these texts are pulled together, it’s not going to happen in a very brief time,” the spokesman said.

    Yesterday, Lombardi referred to an interim report presented by the commission studying how to better coordinate the Vatican’s media structures. He underlined that it was too early, of course, to be looking for final proposals – the commission began its work only five months ago. But before that, there was a separate seven-month study of Vatican media by outside consultants.

    The Vatican’s child protection commission held a press conference this week, and its members sounded mildly optimistic about the progress they had made. But Peter Saunders, an abuse survivor and commission member, summed things up when he said: “I have learned that the church and the Vatican operate in a slightly different time dimension than the rest of us.” Given that reality, he said he was willing to allow the Vatican another year or two to take steps to make bishops accountable for covering up abuse cases.

    The line-up of important meetings at the Vatican this month has included the Council for the Economy, a 15-member panel of lay and clerical experts. They are trying to figure out how the Vatican’s new economic agencies will operate and coordinate their specific activities. One big task is to more clearly define the competencies and authority of the Secretariat for the Economy, headed by Australian Cardinal George Pell. This month’s meeting ended with no conclusions, at least none that were published. (Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, who is on the council, said after the meeting that the rollout of economic reforms has been met with some resistance, even by those who were "shouting the loudest" for the Vatican to clean up its act during the 2013 conclave.)


    In a sense, this is the “working out the details” phase following the bold steps announced by the pope. But it’s a phase that involves not only issues of efficiency and transparency, but also questions about the very nature of the Roman Curia.

    That was the subject of a very interesting article written by Cardinal Gerhard Muller and published a few days ago in the Vatican newspaper. Cardinal Muller, who heads the doctrinal congregation, said it was important that Pope Francis’ reform project be understood as a spiritual purification, and not as a rearranging of ecclesial power, influence and prestige.

    He strongly defended the traditional role of the Roman Curia, which he said helps the pope in a special way to exercise his primacy, reflecting the unique function of the “Roman Church” in the pastoral and doctrinal governance of popes.

    “The Synod of Bishops, bishops’ conferences and the various groupings of particular churches belong to a category that is theologically different from the Roman Curia,” he said.

    For that reason, Muller said, decentralizing the church’s administrative structures “does not mean giving more power to bishops' conferences.” As for the Synod of Bishops, he said, it does not really belong to the Roman Curia.

    “The Curia and the Synod are formally distinguished by the fact that the Roman Curia supports the pope in his service for unity, while the Synod of Bishops is an expression of the catholicity of the church,” he said.

    Cardinal Muller’s words seemed to sound a note of caution about Pope Francis’ idea of enhancing “synodality” in church governance. There has been talk, for example, about giving the Synod of Bishops more authority, or of making the pope’s “Council of Nine” a permanent advisory body that would give greater voice to the world’s bishops in papal decision-making.

    Muller’s article helps explain why the pope cannot rearrange the Vatican’s bureaucratic landscape overnight. Francis would face objections and resistance if reform is not done carefully, and with some level of consensus. There is an equal risk, however, of allowing time to slow the pope’s momentum and take the edge off reforms.

    I remember that when Pope John Paul II unveiled his reform of the Roman Curia, it turned out to be a rather disappointing touch-up rather than an upheaval. It was a project that took the Polish pope ten years – a flash in Vatican time.


  • 'Bishop of Bling' getting a job at the Vatican

              Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst

    The Vatican has found a place for the “Bishop of Bling.”

    It’s still a bit of a mystery, with no official confirmation, but it seems that Pope Francis has agreed to make German Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst the “delegate for catechesis” at the Pontifical Council for New Evangelization. It’s a new position, created just for him.

    Nearly a year ago, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Tebartz-van Elst as the bishop of Limburg, in the wake of a spending scandal. The bishop was remodeling his residence and a diocesan center to the tune of $40 million (his walk-in closets alone were said to have cost $480,000.)

    At that time, the Vatican said Tebartz-van Elst would eventually be given another assignment. His position at the new evangelization council will involve making contact with bishops’ conferences on issues involving religious education, which has been one of his areas of interest. In contrast to earlier reports, he will not be given an executive position at the council.

    It struck some as odd that a bishop forced to resign for financial mismanagement would land any job in the Roman Curia. All the more, in this case, because under the Curia restructuring plan being hammered out by papal commissions, the council for new evangelization may well disappear sometime next year.

    However, parking problematic bishops in the Curia is a bit of a Vatican tradition.

    After former Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo was removed from his Zambian diocese over faith-healing practices in 1983, he was brought to the Council for Migrants and Travelers as a special delegate. In 2011, Portuguese Bishop Carlo Azevedo ended up in a newly created position of delegate at the Pontifical Council for Culture, following disagreements with the patriarch of Lisbon.

    Bishop Tebartz-van Elst is only 55, and presumably has many years of service to the church ahead of him. Whether his time at the Vatican is rehabilitation or reward remains to be seen.

    One group wasted no time criticizing the appointment. SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said in a statement: “This is why corruption in the church hierarchy continues. And it’s why the supposed ‘new policies’ to deal with irresponsible bishops won’t work. Because virtually no wrongdoer is ever harshly disciplined. And even when a prelate’s misdeeds are so egregious that the Vatican must act, the ‘discipline’ is temporary.”



  • Pope's sex abuse commission zeroes in on bishop's accountability

         Sex abuse survivor Peter Saunders and Cardinal Sean O'Malley

    For months, I’ve heard mixed reviews of Pope Francis’ efforts to confront the sex abuse scandal in the church.

    The pope generally gets high marks for two initiatives – his meeting with abuse victims last summer and his establishment of a Vatican child protection commission to strengthen and coordinate anti-abuse policies worldwide.

    Critics, however, have pointed out that the commission, established late in 2013, is still getting organized and setting priorities. That makes its current three-day meeting in Rome especially important. People are waiting to see what concrete changes will emerge.

    On Saturday we got a glimpse of the commission’s agenda from Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, who heads the Vatican agency. Probably the most important disclosure was that the commission is drawing up recommendations for sanctioning bishops who have covered up abuse cases.

    To date, bishops’ accountability has been the missing element in the Vatican’s approach to the scandals. While Pope Francis has investigated and, in a couple of cases, removed bishops, there is no systematic procedure for discipline or dismissal when reporting guidelines are not followed.

    The assumption has always been that only the pope can “fire” a bishop – and that it’s almost impossible for the pope to follow details in every diocese. But the commission appears to be looking at a new way to bridge that gap.

    Cardinal O’Malley said a specific working group that includes canon lawyers is drawing up “policies that would allow the church to respond in an expeditious way when the bishop has not fulfilled his obligations.” He said work on the recommendations is nearly complete, and that they would be presented to the pope and “hopefully implemented.”

    “We think we have come up with some very practical recommendations that would help to remedy the situation that is such a source of anxiety to everybody on the commission,” O’Malley said.

    “Obviously, there have to be consequences” for such bishops, O’Malley said. He declined to say specifically what sanctions the commission had in mind.

    Marie Collins, an Irish survivor of clerical sexual abuse who is also on the commission, said she considers the accountability issue crucial. If the commission’s recommendations are followed, she said, she felt confident that they would resolve the problem.

    “You have to have sanctions (for bishops), or it’s a waste of time,” she said.

    Asked about the fact that dismissal of a bishop is seen as only the pope’s prerogative, Collins said, “Currently, yes.” She said she could not elaborate at the present time.

    Cardinal O’Malley outlined several other initiatives by the commission and its various working groups:

    -- Each bishops’ conference around the world will be asked to name a contact person who will keep open a line of communication with the commission.

    -- The commission will work with the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation to suggest “best practices,” especially to bishops’ conferences, and will also present methods for measuring compliance. O’Malley said that only a small minority of bishops’ conferences, about 4 percent, have failed to draw up sex abuse guidelines, as requested by the Vatican in 2011. But he added that some of the guidelines that have been devised were too weak.

    -- The commission is developing educational seminars on sexual abuse for Roman Curia officials and new bishops who come to Rome for orientation.

    -- A church-wide Day of Prayer for all those harmed by sexual abuse is being prepared, to aid spiritual healing.

    -- The commission is asking Catholic funding organizations to include child protection in the guidelines for eligibility for funding, and to award grants to countries that lack resources to deal with sexual abuse.

    -- One of the commission’s working groups is reaching out systematically to survivors and survivor groups, so they can participate in the overall work of the commission. One commission member said it was proposed to request cooperation from U.S.-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP, a group that has been sharply critical of the pope, the Vatican and local dioceses on the sex abuse issue.

    Beyond the details of commission projects, what was striking about the Vatican press conference was the change in attitude, compared to years past. When the sex abuse scandal exploded in 2002, Vatican officials were often defensive and dismissive, suggesting that the problem was being blown out of proportion by lawyers and the media.

    At Saturday’s meeting with the press, the Vatican went out of its way to make commission members available to reporters, including the two victim survivors serving on the panel, who spoke bluntly about church failures.

    Peter Saunders, a British survivor who was abused by two priests and others for five years, was outspoken in his call for bishops’ accountability, saying there had been “an abysmal record of so many ill-judged responses by priests and dioceses around the world.”

    Saunders said the commission was also looking at how experts can study the deeper causes of sexual abuse. He said one factor that should be studied is priestly celibacy, although he made clear that he did not think celibacy led to abuse.

    “In my version of the Bible, Jesus never said, ‘If you want to follow me, you have to be celibate,’” Saunders said.


  • Pope Francis: Church urgently needs to offer space to women

    Evidently, Pope Francis does not share Cardinal Raymond Burke’s concern about an overly “feminized” church.

    Addressing a Vatican conference on women today, the pope said there was an urgent need to offer space to women in the life of the church, taking into consideration the “changed cultural and social sensibilities.”

    “It is desirable, therefore, for a feminine presence that is more capillary and incisive in the community, so that we can see many women involved in pastoral responsibilities, in accompaniment of individuals, families and groups, as well as in theological reflection,” he said.

    Not surprisingly, the pope made no mention of women priests. He has previously said the door is closed to that possibility.

    Cardinal Burke made headlines a month ago when he said that Catholic parish and liturgical activities had become so influenced by women and so feminine that “men do not want to get involved.”

    Pope Francis said it was important for women to be full participants in church and social life, and not just feel like guests.

    He offered a special thanks to the many women who work with families, in religious education and other pastoral programs, and in social and economic services.

    “You women know how to embody the tender face of God, his mercy, which is translated more by a willingness to give one’s time than to occupy spaces, to welcome rather than to exclude,” he said.

    The pope said society, at least in the West, had wisely moved away from seeing women as subordinate to men. At the same time, he said, it was a mistake to try to impose a model of “absolute equivalence” between men and women. He said the proper relationship is an equality that recognizes and appreciates the differences between the sexes.

    The pope also condemned violence against women, saying the female body was often attacked and disfigured, even by those who ought to be “guardians and life companions.” Domestic violence was a topic of discussion at the meeting, which was sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Culture.

    “The many forms of slavery, commercialization and mutilation of the woman’s body challenge us to work to defeat this form of degradation that reduces it to a pure object to be sold off on various markets,” the pope said.

    He offered a special thought for the many women living in poverty and on the margins of society, in conditions of risk and exploitation.


  • Pope Francis asks bishops for their 'complete cooperation' with Vatican sex abuse commission

    Pope Francis has written to the world’s bishops and the heads of religious orders, urging them to take “whatever steps are necessary” to protect children from sexual abuse by clerics and provide psychological and spiritual assistance to victims.

    Families need to know the church is “making every effort to protect their children,” the pope said.

    “Consequently, priority must not be given to any other kind of concern, whatever its nature, such as the desire to avoid scandal, since there is absolutely no place in ministry for those who abuse children,” he said.

    The letter was released Thursday at the Vatican, the day before the start of a three-day meeting of the Vatican’s Commission for the Protection of Minors, which the pope established in 2013. The pope recently added new members to the commission, which includes two sex abuse victims.

    Francis asked bishops and religious superiors to give their full cooperation with the Vatican commission, especially in exchanging best practices and developing programs of education, training and response to sexual abuse.

    He also insisted on full compliance with a 2011 Vatican document that called on bishops’ conferences around the world to draw up guidelines for handling sexual abuse of minors by clerics. Once norms are established, he added, the conferences should establish practical means to guarantee that they are being followed.

    The pope said his meeting with sex abuse victims at the Vatican last summer had deeply moved him and left him even more convinced that “everything possible must be done to rid the church of the scourge of the sexual abuse of minors and to open pathways of reconciliation and healing for those who were abused.”

    He called specifically on bishops and superiors of religious orders to establish programs that provide psychological assistance and spiritual care to victims. He said pastors should be available to meet with victims and their loved ones.

    “Such meetings are valuable opportunities for listening to those who have greatly suffered and for asking their forgiveness,” he said.



  • A Latin American pope, a Latin American martyr

                  Archbishop Oscar Romero

    “We had to wait for the first Latin American pope to beatify Oscar Romero."

    That’s how Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia described the long wait for the Vatican’s green light for the beatification of the Salvadoran archbishop.

    "There's a connection between the pontificate of Pope Francis and the beatification of Romero, which I would sum up in the phrase: 'a church that is poor and for the poor,'" Archbishop Paglia said, citing Francis' remark shortly after his election in 2013. Archbishop Romero, an outspoken defender of the poor and a critic of human rights abuses, was murdered in 1980.

    Archbishop Paglia, the postulator for Romero’s sainthood cause, spoke at a Vatican press conference Wednesday. He said Romero is expected to be beatified in San Salvador sometime later this year -- the earlier the better.

    Pope Francis’ decision to approve the martyrdom of Archbishop Romero, announced Tuesday, fit well with the Argentinian pope’s vision of the church’s place in society, the role of the bishop and the process by which sainthood is recognized. It also underscores some similarities and a few important differences with his two predecessors, Benedict XVI and John Paul II.

    Re-reading some of Romero’s writings and homilies, one immediately senses an affinity with Pope Francis’ emphasis on a church that is close to the people, especially the poor, and that is not afraid to be socially and politically involved.

    Archbishop Romero: “When we struggle for human rights, for freedom, for dignity, when we feel that it is a ministry of the church to concern itself for those who are hungry, for those who have no schools, for those who are deprived, we are not departing from God’s promise. He comes to free us from sin, and the church knows that sin’s consequences are all such injustices and abuses. The church knows it is saving the world when it undertakes to speak also of such things.”

    Pope Francis in his document Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel): “If the just ordering of society and of the state is a central responsibility of politics, the church cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice.”

    As it happens, Pope Francis was quoting Pope Benedict in that particular passage. Pope Benedict once said Romero deserved beatification, and Pope John Paul II once prayed at Romero’s tomb. But both Benedict and John Paul II were hesitant to promote his sainthood cause. Pope Benedict feared that a “Saint Romero” would be politically manipulated in Latin America, and one presumes John Paul II had the same apprehensions. On the other hand, according to Paglia it was Benedict who unblocked Romero’s cause late in 2012, little more a month before the German pope resigned.

    Over the years, Archbishop Paglia recounted, strong opposition was expressed to Romero's beatification. A "mountain" of paper arrived in Rome with objections, including accusations of doctrinal errors that needed to be investigated by the doctrinal congregation. The strongest objections were that Archbishop Romero was too political.

    Pope Francis does not appear to be intimidated by political fallout when it comes to such causes. I think that’s because he expects the church to be deeply involved in the lives of the people, even if that creates waves and provokes criticism – or, as he said famously in Brazil, “a mess.” He also wants bishops to be closer to their flocks, sharing their suffering.

    It was interesting that on the same day he approved Romero’s beatification, Pope Francis also signed off on the martyrdom of three priests killed by the leftist guerrillas in Peru in 1991. It was as if to say that “hatred of the faith” can come from anywhere along the ideological spectrum.

    Francis has spoken of the price Christians must sometimes pay for witnessing the faith.

    “The disciple is ready to put his or her whole life on the line, even to accepting martyrdom, in bearing witness to Jesus Christ, yet the goal is not to make enemies but to see God’s word accepted and its capacity for liberation and renewal revealed,” the pope said in Evangelii Gaudium.

    Archbishop Romero, who was killed at the altar by a gunman believed linked to right-wing death squads, once said, “I don’t want to be an anti, against anybody. I simply want to be the builder of a great affirmation: the affirmation of God, who loves us and who wants to save us.”

    In general, Pope Francis seems to have an implicit trust in Catholics to recognize saints, relying less on Roman procedures to verify a life of holiness or martyrdom. He has several times waived the miracle requirement for canonization. In that sense, I think the strong conviction among many Latin American Catholics that Archbishop Romero was a saint helped move his cause forward once Francis assumed the papacy.

  • Vatican, religious sisters urge global mobilization against human trafficking

    The Vatican today presented details on the first International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking, calling for a global mobilization to assist victims and strengthen laws against traffickers.

    It’s the latest in a long series of church efforts against what Pope Francis has called a “crime against humanity.” Although accurate statistics are hard to obtain, some experts estimate that more than 2 million people are trafficked each year, nearly half of them for prostitution. For traffickers and pimps, it is a $32 billion a year industry.

    The day of prayer is scheduled for Feb. 8, the feast of Saint Josephine Bakhita, a Sudanese kidnaped by slave-traffickers when she was nine years old and who, after she was freed, joined a Catholic religious order.

    Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said the prayer initiative was designed to expand awareness “to the very depths of this evil and its farthest reaches.”

    The press conference featured a number of women religious, whose orders have taken up the fight against human trafficking by organizing assistance centers around the world. Maltese Sister Carmen Sammut said the anti-trafficking network known as Talitha Kum, established by religious order, now works in 81 countries, helping victims and working for more effective policies against trafficking.

    “We are here because we want to encourage all people of good will to join forces so that this terrible global phenomenon can be stopped. Today thousands of children, women and men are sold into slavery, forced labor, prostitution, trafficking of organs,” she said.

    It is common, she said, for shady organizations to lure young people into believing they will find jobs abroad, and then trap them in abusive modern forms of slavery.

    Several of the speakers said that while such evils are often publicly denounced, the level of trafficking in many countries is increasing. In Italy, for example, the number of street prostitutes on the rise, and those involved are increasingly younger.

    Last December, Pope Francis and leaders of other churches and faiths signed a joint declaration calling for the end to all forms of human slavery. The pope also denounced human trafficking in his World Peace Day message for 2015.  Read More...

  • Vatican conference to examine new approaches to women's issues

                      Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi

    Even before it began, this week’s Vatican-sponsored meeting on “Women’s Cultures: Equality and Difference” sparked debate on a variety of issues: women’s specific characteristics, the meaning of “generativity” vs. “maternity,” and even whether plastic surgery represents a form of aggression against women.

    At a press conference Monday, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, whose Pontifical Council for Culture is organizing the conference, waded into these and other controversies. He was navigating difficult waters. It is problematic, I think, for any Vatican official to talk about women’s equality when Vatican decision-making remains an all-male, all-clerical domain.

    Nevertheless, Ravasi has opened some new and interesting areas of discussion. The meeting’s working document, for example, suggests that the church’s traditional image of women “does not correspond to reality” today, and that some women may be leaving the church as a result.

    “Why with their great presence have women had so little impact on the Church’s structures? In pastoral praxis, why are we giving women only those tasks of a somewhat rigid scheme, the fruit of ideological and ancestral left-overs?” the document asked.

    It concluded: “A realistic objective could be that of opening the doors of the Church to women so that they can offer their contribution in terms of skills and also sensitivity, intuition, passion, dedication, in full collaboration and integration with the male component.”

    For the Vatican, however, collaboration and integration clearly do not include women’s ordination. The document underlined that in the meeting’s program, “there is no discussion here of women priests, which according to statistics is not something that women want.” Nor do most women want the bishop's "purple biretta," it said.

    The real question in Rome is whether Pope Francis’ planned reform of the Roman Curia will bring women to executive roles in the Vatican, something that until now has been rejected because – as Pope Benedict once explained – decision-making in the church has been linked to holy orders.

    The panel at the Vatican press conference included four women who helped prepare the document, all of them Italian and all of them successful in their careers. They offered some qualifications on the document’s assertion that non-therapeutic plastic surgery can indicate a “refusal of the body” and a denial of the natural aging process; the women said much depends on a woman’s motives and attitude toward such surgery. (For the record, the working document did not exactly assert that "plastic surgery is like a burqa made of flesh," although it cited the line as an opinion worth discussing.)

    The pontifical council deliberately avoided the term “maternity” in its working document, preferring to talk about what it calls a quality of “generativity,” which refers to the life-giving, nurturing and educating role of women – not only in bringing babies into the world, but also extending to other social relationships and even business activities.

    The document insists that equality must not mean trying to erase real differences between men and women – differences, for example in problem-solving, emotional reaction and ways of cooperation. But it seemed to suggest that a favorite Vatican term used to describe the men-women relationship, “complementarity,” may be open to revision, asking: “Can the categories of ‘reciprocity’ and ‘complementarity’ be an interpretative key and possible way of life, or must we find other categories?”

    The conference will also examine violence against women, including domestic violence, as well as selective abortion of females.

    Pope Francis will meet with the conference participants on Saturday, and is expected to give a speech that will draw close attention


  • Ten years after John Paul II's death, focus in Poland shifts to Francis

    I’ve been in Warsaw for the last few days, doing interviews for the launch of the Polish edition of The Vatican Diaries. As expected, there were many questions about Pope John Paul II (and about Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, who is seen as the protector of the late pope’s legacy.)

    The most common question was how John Paul II could be a saint, considering the sex abuse scandals that came to light only late in his pontificate. One of the chapters of my book details the painfully slow Vatican response to accusations against Legion of Christ founder Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, who was given strong support by Pope John Paul. Only in late 2004 did the Vatican reopen an investigation that eventually confirmed Maciel’s sexual abuse of seminarians and a lifetime of lies.

    Clerical sex abuse remains a current topic in Poland, where some 27 priests have been convicted in recent years, in cases that have drawn much publicity and generated much criticism of the hierarchy.

    But my Polish interviewers also inevitably came around to Pope Francis – his agenda, the resistance he faces and his chances for success. It was in Poland that I realized that it was 10 years ago this month that John Paul II's illness took a serious turn for the worse, leading to his death several weeks later. For many younger Poles, he is a figure from the past, someone they never knew. Pope Francis is the name on everyone’s lips.

    In Poland as elsewhere, there’s been open criticism of Pope Francis and some of his more controversial statements by conservative commentators. These are primarily Catholics who felt empowered under Pope Benedict and his Catholic identity focus, and who feel disoriented under Francis and his “who am I to judge” approach. I’m convinced they are a minority, but they are a minority with a voice.


  • New cardinals from the church's 'periphery'

    With today’s announcement of 20 new cardinals, Pope Francis has moved decisively toward making the College of Cardinals a truly global institution.

    The cardinals come from 14 countries on five continents, including Cape Verde, Myanmar, Panama, New Zealand and even the Kingdom of Tonga, a Pacific archipelago that is home to a mere 15,000 Catholics.

    They will receive their red hats at a consistory in Rome in mid-February. The list of appointees included no one from the United States or Canada. Pope Francis, in fact, has yet to appoint a cardinal from the United States, which today has 18 cardinals, a relatively high number.

    There are several things to note in the pope’s selections:

    -- By choosing prelates from eight dioceses that have never had a cardinal, Francis is clearly shaking up the geographical mix of a group known as the church's "senate." In effect, the pope is removing the expectation of red hats that have attached to many established major dioceses for centuries. This new policy – enunciated explicitly today by the Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi – sets in motion further globalization for the future: expect fewer Europeans, and more cardinals from the Catholic “periphery.”

    -- Of the 15 new cardinals who are under age 80, and therefore able to vote in a conclave, the pope chose two Italians. That means Italy would continue to have great influence in a potential papal election, with more than one-fifth the number of voting cardinals. But as he did last year, the pope selected Italians from smaller dioceses, passing over traditional cardinalate sees like Venice and Turin. Once again, the effect is to remove the customary expectation of a red hat.

    -- Only one new cardinal comes from the ranks of the Roman Curia: French Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, who recently succeeded Cardinal Raymond Burke as head of the Vatican’s top tribunal. The number of Vatican officials among voting-age cardinals has dropped under Pope Francis. After February, they will make up about 27 percent of the total, compared to about 35 percent in the conclave that elected Pope Francis.

    -- The pope demonstrated that the limit of 120 voting-age cardinals is a guideline, not a hard and fast rule. After the next consistory, the church could have 125 cardinals under age 80. Pope Francis has chosen, like his predecessors, to stay close to the 120 ceiling. But there’s no reason why, in the future, he could not simply decide that the fastest way to increase geographic diversity in the College of Cardinals is to increase the number of its members.


  • Pope's Christmas gift to Roman Curia: a harsh diagnosis of careerism, self-interest

    Pope Francis did not play Santa Claus today when he addressed the officials of the Roman Curia in their annual pre-Christmas get-together. Instead, he issued a blistering critique of "curial illnesses," ranging from the "terrorism of gossip" to the search for worldly profit.

    It was another sign that this pope is trying to change the culture inside the Vatican, and not simply reform its bureaucratic structures.

    Here is the pope's list of what he described as 15 of the most common illnesses and temptations that are found in the Roman Curia:

    1. Feeling oneself as “immortal,” “immune” or even “indispensable,” a sense of superiority that results from a “pathology of power” and narcissism. To put things in perspective, the pope advised making visits to cemeteries to read the names of the once-powerful.

    2. Working too hard, forgetting to take time for rest, reflection and spiritual revitalization.

    3. Mental and spiritual petrification, causing one to lose touch with people and develop a “heart of stone.”

    4. Excessive planning and an overly pragmatic approach to one’s mission, turning apostles into “accountants” and closing off the action of the Holy Spirit.

    5. Poor coordination with colleagues, with the loss of a sense of communion and a team spirit.

    6. “Spiritual Alzheimer’s,” in which the primary encounter with the Lord is forgotten and progressively replaced by obsession with one’s own projects. These are people, the pope said, who build walls around themselves with their own habits and activities.

    7. Rivalry and arrogance, when humility gives way to selfish interests, and when honors and awards become a primary objective.

    8. “Existential schizophrenia,” a hypocrisy that comes from spiritual emptiness and that often strikes those who leave pastoral service for strictly bureaucratic activities. The pope said these people proclaim severe truths to others but often lead hidden, dissolute lives.

    9. The “terrorism of gossip,” an illness that begins perhaps with idle chatter and gradually takes over one’s personality, sometimes leading to the “cold-blooded murder” of the good name of colleagues. “This is the illness of cowards who lack the courage to speak directly, so they speak behind one’s back,” he said.

    10. Deifying one’s boss, in the hope of gaining promotion or favor. These are wretched and selfish people thinking only of their own career advancement, the pope said, but they are often abetted by their superiors, who reward such flattery.

    11. Indifference to others, often exhibited when information is kept for oneself rather than shared with colleagues, or when one takes joy in a colleague’s misfortune.

    12. Long-faced, theatrical severity with others, who are deemed to be inferior in some way. The pope said such arrogance and pessimism have no place in the life of an apostle. “A heart full of God is a happy heart that radiates and infects with joy everyone around him,” he said.

    13. The accumulation of material goods, which only slow down the journey to holiness.

    14. The “closed circle” mentality, in which belonging to a select group is more important than service to the church and to Christ. The pope called this disease a type of cancer that can harm the church from within.

    15. The search for worldly profit, in which positions of service to the church are used to obtain power and wealth. “This is the disease of people who seek insatiably to multiply powers and to that end are capable of vilifying, defaming and discrediting others, even in newspapers and magazines,” the pope said.

    Ever since his election, Pope Francis has been asking officials of the Roman Curia to make a serious examination of conscience about their attitudes and practices. By raising these issues in such forceful terms today, he was telling them that he intends to follow through on his designs.  Read More...

  • Report on U.S. nuns emphasizes 'gratitude,' reflects changes at Vatican

    Today's Vatican report on the investigation of U.S. women's religious orders was largely positive in tone, in contrast to statements issued when the investigation began in 2009.

    At that time, Cardinal Franc Rodé, who headed the Vatican congregation for religious orders, said the study was aimed at identifying "secular" and "feminist" attitudes that had infiltrated the nuns' orders and helped cause a drastic decline in membership.

    Today's report didn't go there. Instead, it delineated real challenges facing religious orders while thanking the sisters repeatedly for their service to the Gospel.

    This balanced approach reflects a changing of the guard at the Vatican -- but it's a change that began under Pope Benedict. In 2011, Benedict named Brazilian Cardinal João Braz de Aviz to replace Cardinal Rodé. The Brazilian cardinal took over the investigation of women religious, but adopted a much more conciliatory approach.

    I think today's balanced report was pretty much a foregone conclusion, given Cardinal Braz de Aviz's continued leadership at the Vatican's congregation for religious orders, and given that Pope Francis clearly wants peace with U.S. sisters.

    Yet there seems to be a "good cop, bad cop" dynamic that still lingers on at the Vatican. A separate Vatican investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the largest association of U.S. sisters, was carried out by the doctrinal congregation, and it has been far more critical. In 2012, the doctrinal congregation issued a "doctrinal assessment" and insisted on major changes in the LCWR to ensure that the organization aligns with Catholic teaching in areas like women's ordination, homosexuality, abortion and euthanasia.

    The tug of war over implementing those changes continues. Last year, in a rare display of divergent views at the Vatican's highest levels, Cardinal Braz de Aviz criticized the way the LCWR review was conducted. That prompted a quick statement from the Vatican that tried to downplay any disagreement between Braz de Aviz and Cardinal Gerhard Muller, head of the doctrinal congregation.

    Cardinal Muller has not let up, however. Several months ago, he rebuked the LCWR for adopting ideas that he said lead to "fundamental errors" about "the omnipotence of God, the incarnation of Christ, the reality of original sin, the necessity of salvation and the definitive nature of the salvific action of Christ."

    The LCWR is working with Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, who was appointed in 2012 to implement the doctrinal assessment. After meeting with the archbishop last August, the LCWR issued a statement that said in part: "We will continue in the conversation with Archbishop Sartain as an expression of hope that new ways may be created within the church for healthy discussion of differences."

    At America magazine, Sister Mary Ann Walsh has a good take on today's report.


  • A signal on removal of bishops?

    A single sentence in a papal document issued today may signal that Pope Francis is willing take a stronger hand in removing some bishops from office.

    The one-page document deals primarily with the age of a bishop’s retirement. But it also states: “In some particular circumstances, the competent Authority (the pope) may consider it necessary to ask a bishop to present the resignation of his pastoral office, after letting him know the motives for such a request and after listening attentively to his justifications, in fraternal dialogue.”

    The power of a pope to sack a bishop has always been presumed, but here it is spelled out. It comes after Pope Francis has already removed a Paraguayan bishop from office over pastoral controversies, and accepted the resignation of a German bishop in the wake of a spending scandal. The Vatican is actively investigating the pastoral leadership of at least two other prelates, including Bishop Robert W. Finn of Kansas City, Mo., who was convicted two years ago by a civil court on misdemeanor charges of failing to report suspected child abuse by a diocesan priest.

    A Vatican spokesman quickly underlined that today’s document contained “nothing truly new,” but was a forceful restatement of existing norms. But surely there was a reason it was issued.

    In recent months, several Vatican officials have emphasized that church law envisions the possibility of a bishop losing his office for abuse or negligence in ministry. Specifically, some officials have said bishops need to be held accountable for their mistakes in the handling of sex abuse cases.

    A note: Over at his canon law blog, Dr. Edward Peters says that “Roman requests (demands?) for episcopal resignations are occurring much more often these days,” although they did not begin with Pope Francis. Peters said the fact that this is occurring without any recognizable canonical process raises serious questions.


  • Vatican condemns terrorism of Islamic State, rejects war as solution

    The Vatican summit today on the Middle East heard a strong call to protect Christian minorities, but also a strong rejection of war as a solution to the situation in Syria and Iraq.

    Pope Francis denounced what he called “terrorism on a scale that previously was unimaginable.”

    The Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, was more specific, condemning Islamic State fundamentalists for “unprecedented atrocities.” He also said Muslim leaders have a responsibility to publicly denounce the goals and activities of the so-called Islamic State. More broadly, Parolin said the separation of religion and state was an idea that should be developed in the Muslim world.

    Parolin directly addressed the question of “the use of force to stop aggression and to protect Christians and other groups that are victims of persecution.” He said action to stop unjust aggression was legitimate, but needed to be carried out “in respect of international law.”

    “Nevertheless, it is clearly seen that one cannot entrust the resolution of the problem to a solely military response. The problem needs to be faced more profoundly, starting with the causes that are at its origin and that are exploited by the fundamentalist ideology. As far as the so-called Islamic State is concerned, attention should also be given to the sources that support its terrorist activities through more or less clear political backing, as well as through the illegal commerce of oil and the furnishing of arms and technology,” he said.

    There’s also a very important line in Parolin’s speech aimed at the local church leaders in the Middle East, regarding political arrangements with governing authorities. The leaders of the small Christian flocks, he said, are called on to cooperate with Muslims and act as peace-builders, “without ceding to the temptation of seeking protection or defense by political or military authorities of the day, in order to ‘guarantee’ their own survival.”

    Here are a few other important passages (my translation, and my emphases) of the wide-ranging address by Cardinal Parolin to the one-day meeting of cardinals and patriarchs:

    "We have listened with emotion and great concern to the testimony about unprecedented atrocities perpetrated by more than one party in the region, but in particular by the fundamentalists of the group that calls itself the Islamic State, an entity that violates law and adopts terroristic methods in an effort to expand its power: mass killings, decapitations of persons who think differently, the sale of women, enrollment of children in combat, and destruction of places of worship."


    "In the concrete case of the so-called Islamic State, a particular responsibility falls on Muslim leaders, not only to distance themselves from the pretension of calling itself 'Islamic State' and forming a caliphate, but also to condemn more generally the killing of a person for religious reasons...."

    "Faced with the present challenges, attention must go to the roots of the problems, recognize also the errors of the past and try to favor a future of peace and development for the region, focusing on the good of the person and the common good. Experience has demonstrated that the choice of war, instead of dialogue and negotiation, multiplies the suffering of the entire population of the Middle East. The way of violence only leads to destruction; the way of peace leads to hope and progress. The first urgent step for the good of the population of Syria, Iraq and the entire Middle East is to put down the weapons and to dialogue."

    "In the specific case of violations and abuses committed by the so-called Islamic State, the international community, through the United Nations and the structures established for such emergencies, should take action in order to prevent possible new acts of genocide and to assist the numerous refugees. It seems opportune that the states in the region be directly involved, together with the rest of the international community, in the actions to be undertaken, with the awareness that this is not a matter of protecting a particular religious community or a particular ethnic group, but persons who are part of the human family and whose fundamental rights are being systematically violated."


  • A modest proposal as the synod winds down

    The Synod of Bishops has entered the crucial, final 48 hours of its assembly, a time to produce results and deliver them to the pope and to the world.

    From the outside, this synod is looking more and more like an amazingly candid exchange of ideas, with two different pastoral perspectives locked in a line-by-line, word-by-word debate over the final text.

    The perspective emphasizing mercy, welcome and accompaniment was expressed in Monday’s remarkable midterm relatio, which proposed, among other things, that modern evangelization should begin by finding “positive elements” in unions and relationships that the church had always considered sinful or “irregular.” This is Pope Francis’ line, and I’m sure he would like to see it endorsed by this synod.

    The critical reaction has been unusually blunt, by Vatican standards. The small-group reports released yesterday went beyond fine-tuning – some groups proposed what would amount to a recasting of the entire document in a more doctrinal mold. (We need to remember, however, that these reports deal only with proposed changes, so there may well be a greater-than-apparent level of consensus on much of the relatio.)

    I would love to hear what Pope Francis thinks of the proceedings so far. It may be an exaggeration to say that his pastoral agenda is at stake, but it’s hard not to see this synod as an evaluation of his first 18 months in office. At one point in the synod, one bishop told the pope that not even he had the right to change divine law. That’s a measure of the resistance that has surfaced here.

    I’m sure Francis knew he was taking a risk with this synod. This is a pope who has chosen to practice real collegiality and “synodality” with a world episcopate largely appointed by two quite conservative predecessors.

    The rumblings about the pope’s “who am I to judge” approach have come into the open here – not in direct criticism of the pontiff, of course, but in criticism of a text that very much reflected his ideas about evangelization. I think many bishops see this as a chance to reclaim the narrative that has dominated in the Catholic Church over the last 40 years, a narrative built around Catholic identity, doctrinal clarity and countercultural witness.

    I’m not sure that’s possible, no matter what the final document says. With the midterm relatio, the genie was let out of the bottle. The critics are now trying to put it back in, but we have a pope who seems quite determined.

    In the past, synods of bishops have tended to “blanderize” innovative proposals, and final documents have broken little new ground. This time around, I think, such an approach would be seen as running away from the questions. I’m not sure the synod can really express a consensus on all the controversial issues – but I’m not sure it has to.

    My modest proposal is that if the synod cannot substantially agree on all these matters – on the proposed shift in language, evangelizing methods and sacramental rules – it can simply say so. Despite the tradition of voting on a result, this synod doesn’t need to deliver conclusions. In view of the fact that there’s supposed to be a year-long reflection on these themes in the wider church, followed by another synodal assembly in Rome, maybe this synod can simply say, “These are tough questions. We don’t have all the answers yet. And we’re willing to listen to the faithful.”



  • Synod group reports want more doctrinal context, 'prophetic' language in final document

    Reports from the 10 discussion groups of the Synod of Bishops are in, and many of them reflect serious challenges to a midterm report that only three days ago seemed to launch a new chapter of outreach to cohabitating, divorced and gay couples.

    These reports, taken as a whole, represent a real test for Pope Francis’ Gospel of “mercy,” because they not only articulate the desire for doctrinal qualifications in the synod’s document but also critique what one group called the “search for a facile populism that silences and muffles” what the church teaches about marriage and the family.

    More than one person here read that “facile populism” line as perhaps directed in part at Pope Francis himself.

    The reports were presented on the synod floor after four days of discussion, along with several hundred proposed amendments to the midterm relatio. Granted, these reports reflect a process designed to improve the relatio, so we should expect to see questions and requests for clarification, not ringing endorsements of the text, much of which seems to be supported by the majority.

    Some of the reports, in places, did echo some of the relatio’s language – for example on using new language and a more invitational tone.

    But the challenges are not small ones. Several groups, for example, proposed a rewriting of the relatio’s second section, which was the part that caught everyone’s attention with its argument that the church should, for example, accept the reality of civil marriage and cohabitation and build on the positive values that may be shown in such unions.

    More specifically, on the “law of graduality,” the principle that the church should reach out, value and accompany those who don’t fully accept its teachings, two groups said the concept cannot be applied in these situations. Several other groups questioned its application.

    Others took issue with the relatio’s attempt to take Vatican II's search for "positive elements" outside the church's structures and apply that principle to irregular unions outside of sacramental marriage. The chief promoter of that "hermeneutical key" was Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, a man whose long experience and experience in drafting the current catechism should make him an influential figure at the synod. It is telling, however, that Schonborn's own discussion group actually took a vote and failed to get majority backing for that approach.

    Almost all the groups expressed the desire that the final synod document present a more positive image of sacramental marriage, explicitly express the church’s teachings, and rediscover the church’s “prophetic” voice in criticizing modern threats to the traditional family.

    One group said its members were divided on the issue of language. Some felt it was “indispensable” for the synod to state its teaching on marriage, the family and sexuality “without hesitating to employ the categories of ‘sin’, ‘adultery’ and ‘conversion’ regarding situations that objectively contrast with the Gospel.” Others recommended more encouraging and less judgmental language as a key to evangelization today.

    On the question of readmission of divorced and remarried Catholics to Communion, there were mixed opinions expressed in the reports, with some endorsing the possibility, some rejecting it and others calling for deeper study. Less was said in these reports about streamlining the annulment process, an idea that still apparently had strong synod support, although one group objected to the idea of an "administrative" process of annulment carried out by local bishops.

    The reports took issue with they called an over-emphasis on positive elements outside of marriage. One English-language group said that “where the relatio appeared to be suggesting that sex outside of marriage may be permissible, or that cohabitation may be permissible, we have attempted to show why such lifestyles do not lead to human fulfillment.”

    As for the “seeds of truth and goodness” the midterm relatio said might be found in irregular unions, this group said the synod must emphasize that such “seeds” are found in the persons involved, not in their relationships. “We believe that if we imply that certain lifestyles are acceptable, then concerned and worried parents could very easily say, ‘Why are we trying so very hard to encourage our sons and daughters to live the Gospel and embrace church teaching?’” the report said.

    More than one group said there was a risk of misunderstanding in the midterm document’s section on “welcoming homosexual persons.” A French-speaking group said that while discrimination against homosexuals should be denounced, “that doesn't mean the church should legitimize homosexual practices and, even less, recognize so-called homosexual ‘marriage.’” A second French group made a similar point, saying that to “pastorally accompany a person doesn't mean to validate either a form of sexuality or a style of life.” A Spanish-language group said the term “homosexual persons” seemed to use sexuality as the key to their identity, and that it would be more accurate to speak of “persons with homosexual tendencies.”

    One English-language report said the church must welcome “without judgment or condemnation” those who live in irregular unions, but in a way that doesn't weaken sacramental marriage or “leave the impression that all unions are equal.” Another group spoke of welcoming such people, but also of leading them to “conversion” and the sacrament of marriage.


  • Yes, this synod really is big news

    The Synod of Bishops has become a dynamic event, with sharp debate over new pastoral directions in the Catholic Church. That’s to the credit of Pope Francis, who demanded honest and open discussion, but it may also present him with a dilemma.

    Will the synod conclude with a clear endorsement of the pope’s call for a more merciful, patient style of evangelization, building on – as stated in the synod’s midterm relatio – the “positive elements” that can be found even in relationships and unions the church considers “irregular”?

    Or will it adjust and qualify that document with the kind of doctrinal declarations aimed at reassuring Catholics – and above all, some of the bishops – that there’s no change in fundamental church teaching?

    The answer depends partly on the sentiments of the nearly 200 participating bishops, and partly on how tightly the pope pulls the reins of the synod. At this point, a watered-down synod document might broaden the consensus in the synod hall, but would likely be seen as less-then-enthusiastic support for the pope’s pastoral agenda.

    Sectors of the Catholic commentariat are now trying to downplay the synod’s midterm relatio and, not surprisingly, blame the press for pumping up expectations for change.

    (UPDATE: See below, Archbishop Kurtz says pope was right to make synod on family a year-long process)

    Did the media overreact when the relatio was read aloud on Monday? I don’t think so. The media recognized in the text a profoundly new pastoral approach to a whole range of marriage and family issues, and in particular a welcoming tone regarding homosexuals. The bishops in the hall recognized the same thing, and not all of them were pleased. That’s why the synod hall quickly lit up like a pinball machine with questions and calls for clarification.

    As for the weight of this relatio, some things need to be said. I have covered synods of bishops for 30 years, and the midterm relatio is always where the ideas expressed in synod speeches begin to gel. All last week, in fact, reporters at the Vatican were told not to put too much stock in individual synod statements or daily summaries – it would be the midterm relatio that would distinguish the really important themes.

    Of course, it’s not an encyclical – no one said it was. Of course, it doesn't change doctrine – everyone knew that. Of course there can be modifications – that was reported. But up to now, it’s the most authoritative text coming out of this very important assembly. And unlike previous assemblies (which have used the relatio as a jumping-off point to write final “propositions”), this synod’s relatio will be the main document going forward, even with possible revisions.

    As for objections by some bishops to the text, I have no doubt they are real. But when it was presented to reporters Monday by some of its authors, reporters were repeatedly assured that it accurately reflected the main themes of the synod. And after the relatio was read aloud, there was strong applause in the synod hall. We shall see just how strong the objections really are only when we see the final, revised text.

    I think the alarm being expressed in some church circles over the synod’s direction reflects similar unease over some of Pope Francis’ statements during his first 18 months. When the pope said last year: “A gay person who is seeking God, who is of good will – well, who am I to judge him?” we heard the same kind of reaction: “no news here,” “the church is not changing its doctrine” and “pay no attention to those newspaper articles.” By now, it should be clear that the pope is proposing a paradigm shift in the church’s style of evangelizing, one that favors outreach and dialogue over doctrinal identity, and he wants the Synod of Bishops on board. This is news, and it deserves attention by anyone interested in the Catholic Church.

    UPDATE: At today’s synod briefing, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, described the midterm relatio as “a wonderful working document” and said the small groups would be proposing amendments to give greater emphasis to the positive values of sacramental marriage.

    Archbishop Kurtz outlined three potential areas of improvement to the text: highlighting the witness of “sacrificial, loving families today,” making sure that “all our words are truly welcoming,” and making sure the synod’s pastoral outlook is grounded in Scripture and church teaching.

    The archbishop also said it was clear from the synod’s proceedings that Pope Francis was wise to make this a year-long process, leading up to another synodal assembly in 2015, because “I think we would not be ready at the end of this week to give thoughtful, meaningful and enduring pastoral direction.”


  • And now, the aftershocks...

    The synod’s ground-breaking relatio yesterday, which displayed a new pastoral tone and remarkable openness to cohabitating, divorced and gay couples, was met by praise in many quarters but also by a series of objections and criticisms, both inside and outside the synod hall.

    Today’s synod bulletin summarizes the reaction among synod participants during a two-hour debate yesterday. On one hand, it said, there was acclaim for the way the document managed to accurately reflect the speeches at the assembly and its general theme of “welcoming” as a key to evangelization. The synod should have the “watchful gaze of the pastor who devotes his life for his sheep, without a priori judgment,” was how the Vatican summarized the favorable reviews.

    As for the objections, they were many – although it is hard to say how much support each criticism has among the nearly 200 bishops present. Here is a sample of the criticisms, according to the Vatican summary:

    -- The document should talk more about families that faithfully follow church teachings, thanking them for their witness to the Gospel, instead of focusing so much on “imperfect family situations.” The synod should offer a clear message that “indissoluble, happy marriage, faithful forever, is beautiful, possible and present in society,” the summary said. Some urged greater treatment of the missionary role of the family.

    -- The relatio’s section on homosexuality should make clear that “welcoming” gay people should be done with a certain prudence, “so as not to leave the impression that the church has a positive evaluation of this orientation,” the Vatican summary said. Similar objections were raised to the relatio’s treatment of cohabitating couples.

    -- Some bishops objected that the document’s words on the principle of “graduality” needs clarification and a deeper reflection, because it could generate confusion.

    -- It was said that the concept of sin needs better mention in the relatio, as well as some reference to Jesus’ “prophetic tone,” in order to avoid giving the impression that the church is conforming to the mentality of the modern world.

    -- Doubts were raised about how a streamlining of annulment procedures would work, with some pointing out the risk of overloading local bishops with work if a less cumbersome procedure relies on a bishop’s direct involvement.

    -- Greater attention was requested for polygamy, which only received a passing mention in the text. The same was said of pornography, with some bishops saying online porn represents a real risk for modern families.

    -- Some bishops said the section on openness to life should be more ample and more hard-hitting on the issues of abortion and surrogate motherhood.

    -- The synod heard a call for greater attention to the theme of women, including the protection of women and women’s role in transmitting life and the faith.

    -- One suggestion was that the synod make explicit mention of the role of grandparents and elders as a resource in the modern family.

    Meanwhile, Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, president of the Polish bishops’ conference, told Vatican Radio that the synod mid-term relatio was unacceptable to many bishops, and should focus more on “good, normal, ordinary” families.

    U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke, who heads the Vatican's highest tribunal, said the relatio contained confusing and erroneous language, and should be “set aside completely” in favor of a new document that reflects church teaching.

    Whether these objections are reflected in the synod’s final document, which goes directly to the pope, remains to be seen. The synod’s discussion groups are meeting this week, and among their tasks is to propose revisions to the text.

    These revisions will be presented to the group writing the synod’s final relatio, but it is not yet clear whether they will be voting on each proposal.

    UPDATE: At today’s briefing for reporters, the Vatican spokesman and two synod participants seemed to be doing everything possible to downplay expectations raised by the relatio, emphasizing that it remains a “work in progress.”

    Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of South Africa said the relatio did not accurately reflect all of the synod debate, and that the text did not express some things in a "helpful" way, although he was not specific about which points he thought may have been mistaken or distorted.

    It’s difficult to say what Napier meant, exactly. At one point he seemed to come very close to disowning the text, and at another he said the relatio basically represented what was said in the synod hall.

    Napier said the discussion in his group, which he moderates, showed support for “reorganizing the material in a way that’s going to be much more positive” so that when next year’s synodal assembly comes around “we’ll be building on positives and not simply on negatives.”

    Napier said the fact that the midterm relatio was released (as it always is at synods) and became a big media story (inaccurate stories, in his view) has left many synod fathers upset, because it limits their ability to make modifications. “We are now working from a position that is virtually irredeemable. The message has gone out, ‘This is what the synod is saying, this is what the Catholic Church is saying.’ And it's not what we're saying at all.” Again, he was not specific.

    Napier said of the relatio itself: “I don’t think anyone is saying there is a gross misrepresentation of the church’s teachings in the document. The media may have gone further than the document.”

    Italian Cardinal Fernando Filoni, also a group moderator, said the relatio was considered “substantially positive” in its pastoral approach, but needing improvement in “contextualizing” some of its statements, particularly on doctrinal matters. For example, he said, the relatio mentioned the words of Christ regarding marriage, but did not develop it.

    The Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said that most of the comments by synod participants expressed appreciation for the relatio, and then made suggestions for improvement.


  • A pastoral earthquake at the synod

    In pastoral terms, the document published today by the Synod of Bishops represents an earthquake, the “big one” that hit after months of smaller tremors.

    The relatio post disceptationem read aloud in the synod hall, while defending fundamental doctrine, calls for the church to build on positive values in unions that the church has always considered “irregular,” including cohabitating couples, second marriages undertaken without annulments and even homosexual unions.

    Regarding homosexuals, it went so far as to pose the question whether the church could accept and value their sexual orientation without compromising Catholic doctrine.

    (See UPDATE below, calls for clarification already coming from some synod participants.)

    While defending the traditional teachings that reject divorce and gay marriage, the synod said the modern church must focus more on the “positive elements” in such relationships, rather than their shortcomings, and open a patient and merciful dialogue with the people involved. The ultimate aim, it said, is to use these “seeds” of goodness to bring people more fully into the church.

    It summed up the pastoral challenge for the church in this way:

    "It is necessary to accept people in their concrete being, to know how to support their search, to encourage the wish for God and the will to feel fully part of the Church, also on the part of those who have experienced failure or find themselves in the most diverse situations. This requires that the doctrine of the faith, the basic content of which should be made increasingly better known, be proposed alongside with mercy."

    The document clearly reflects Pope Francis' desire to adopt a more merciful pastoral approach on marriage and family issues. It is subject to revisions by the bishops this week, and in its final form will be used as part of a church-wide reflection leading to the second synod session in October 2015.

    The relatio emphasized the “principle of graduality” – the idea that Catholics move toward full acceptance of church teachings in steps, and the church needs to accompany them with patience and understanding. And it emphasized the opening of the Second Vatican Council, which leads the church to recognize positive elements even in the “imperfect forms” found outside of sacramental marriage.

    The relatio said a “new dimension of today’s family pastoral consists of accepting the reality of civil marriage and also cohabitation.” Where such unions demonstrate stability, deep affection and parental responsibility, they should be considered a starting point for a dialogue that could eventually lead to sacramental marriage, it said.

    It cited situations of couples who choose to live together without marriage for economic or cultural reasons, or those in Africa who enter into traditional marriages in “stages,” and said that in response the church must keep its “doors always wide open.”

    “In such unions, it is possible to grasp authentic family values or at least the wish for them. Pastoral accompaniment should always start from these positive aspects,” it said.

    In dealing with broken families, couples who have separated or divorced, the relatio said the church must avoid an “all or nothing” approach, and instead engage in patient dialogue with such families in a spirit of respect and love.

    On the question of Communion for Catholics who have divorced and remarried without an annulment, the document left the question open for further theological study and reflection by the church as a whole, especially on the links between the sacrament of marriage and the Eucharist. It noted that some synod participants were against admission of divorced Catholics to the sacraments, while others foresaw Communion as a possibility, perhaps after a “penitential path” carried out under church guidance.

    In dealing with divorced and remarried Catholics, it said, the church must avoid discriminatory language. For the church, reaching out to divorced Catholics does not represent a “weakening of its faith” or a weakening of the indissolubility of marriage, but rather an exercise of charity.

    The relatio also cited the many calls in the synod for a speeding up and streamlining of the annulment procedures, including the possibility of an “administrative” decision of nullity made by local bishops without the need for a tribunal process. The pope has already named a commission to explore those possibilities.

    In a section titled “Welcoming homosexuals,” the relatio clearly rejected gay marriage but stated:

    “Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community. Are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?”

    "Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions, it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners," it said. 

    Naturally, the synod framed its “opening” to irregular unions in the context of evangelization – leading people to the Gospel – and nowhere in the text is there a suggestion that basic church teachings are up for debate.

    The first part of the relatio presents, in fact, a rather severe diagnosis of the ills that affect the modern family, citing in particular the dangers of an “exasperated individualism” that seems to have replaced family cohesion. Other families are struggling with economic troubles, violence and social upheaval, it said.

    In dealing with these problems and failures, it said, the church needs to open a process of “conversion,” not merely announcing a set of rules but putting forward values, recognizing the opportunities to evangelize but also the cultural limits.

    On the question of birth control, the synod’s relatio had little new to say. Openness to life is an essential part of married love, it said, and it suggested a deeper reading of Humanae Vitae, the 1968 encyclical that condemned contraception, as well as better promotion of natural family planning methods of birth regulation.

    Here, as elsewhere, the text said the church needs to use a “realistic language” that begins with listening to people, and can lead them to acknowledge the “beauty and truth of an unconditional opening to life.” It added, however, that the church also needs to "respect the dignity of the person in the moral evaluation of the methods of birth control."

    The relatio said that in caring for “wounded families,” what rang out in the synod was the need for “courageous pastoral choices” and new pastoral paths that begin with the situation of the suffering couples or families, recognizing that, often, their situations are more endured than freely chosen.

    It called for improvement of marriage preparation for Catholics, saying programs should better involve the church community as a whole. The church also needs to design pastoral accompaniment for couples in the early years of married life, using experienced couples as a resource, it said.

    It made a particular point of inviting local Catholic communities around the world to continue the synod’s discussion and offer their perspectives, in view of the synod’s follow-up session on the same theme, which will take place in Rome Oct. 4-25, 2015.

    UPDATE: The relatio has already occasioned some pushback. Following its presentation in the synod hall, 41 bishops spoke about the content, and several pressed for clarifications on specific points:

    -- Some asked whether, in the section on homosexuality, there shouldn’t be a mention of the teaching that “some unions are disordered,” a reference to the phrase the church has used to describe homosexual relations. That information came from Cardinal Peter Erdo, the primary author of the relatio, who spoke to reporters at a Vatican press conference.

    -- Sources said other bishops questioned the analogy the relatio drew between the principle of finding “elements of sanctification and of truth outside” outside the visible structure of the church, expressed in the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium, and the broader idea that positive elements can be found not only in sacramental marriage but also in irregular unions.

    -- At least one bishop asked what happened to the concept of sin. The word “sin” appears only rarely in the 5,000-word relatio.

    At the press conference, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of the Philippines emphasized that this text was not the final version and said with a smile, “So the drama continues.”

    A TRANSLATION ISSUE: Some people are taking issue with the English version of the relatio (a translation of the original Italian text that was put out by the Vatican press office but which is not “official”) and its treatment of the homosexuality issue. Specifically, this line: “Are our communities capable of providing that (a welcoming home for homosexuals), accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?”

    The Italian text uses the verb valutare, which can mean a lot of things -- to value, appreciate, consider, evaluate or judge. The English translators decided on “valuing.” I think “appreciating” would also fit. Given the context of the sentence (“welcoming” and “accepting”), I don’t think translating the word as “evaluating” or "judging" would make much sense. In any case, the sentence has apparently already caused some fireworks in the synod hall, so it will be interesting to see if it survives the revision process.



  • 'Penitential path' for divorced and remarried gets synod hearing

    Last February, at Pope Francis’ invitation, Cardinal Walter Kasper outlined a possible way for the church to admit divorced and remarried Catholics to Communion. He called it a “penitential path” that would, in effect, recognize the Eucharist as a healing sacrament for those most in need.

    During the current Synod of Bishops, the proposal seemed to have disappeared – until last night, when several bishops expressed support for the idea and outlined how it might work. It was envisioned as an in-depth examination of conscience, with guided reflection on how the person’s divorce may have harmed others, including the original spouse and children.

    Repentance and the sacrament of reconciliation is presumed, and some proposed that the church might design a detailed procedure, an ordo penitentium, to structure the process. Others compared it to a jubilee year of penitence, which would culminate in re-admission to Communion in a formal service with the local church community.

    Among those who spoke strongly in favor of such an approach was Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, whose parents divorced when he was a teenager.

    Those defending the church’s current policy, which prohibits divorced and civilly remarried Catholics from receiving Communion (unless they live in sexual abstinence), also weighed in last night. But sources told me they were not in the majority.

    We shall see how the synod’s revised relatio, a summary document to be released on Monday, treats the topic. That document is supposed to reflect the synod’s closed-door discussion so far. At the end of next week, the bishops will pull together a working document for the next phase of this synod, a year-long period of reflection followed by another assembly in Rome in October 2015. It will also issue a message to the world.

    As the synod moved toward the end of its first week, it was easy to get lost in the details: possible canon law modifications on annulments, fine-tuning church language on irregular unions, back and forth over the doctrinal dimensions of church teaching on marriage and the limits of reform.

    These details are important, and are being carefully sifted as the final statements are being written. But sometimes the tone of synod interventions are just as important as the debating points.

    This morning’s session began with an opening reflection from Bishop Arnold Orowae of Papua New Guinea, a talk that, in its simplicity and elegance, captured the spirit of Pope Francis’ pastoral agenda and his hopes for the synod itself.

    Bishop Orowae said the rediscovery of the “joy of the Gospel,” the title of Pope Francis’ major document, was the key to family well-being and evangelization today. He credited the pope with “igniting a flame that is spreading throughout the world” with the fundamental message that faith in God and imitation of Christ leads to acts of charity.

    The healthy Christian home, the bishop said, is marked above all by happiness. He acknowledged challenges for modern families, but said families are at their best when tackling problems. It helps, he said, when families read Scripture and try to make it part of their daily life.

    Bishop Orowae spoke not of what the church tells families and expects them to do, but about how grateful the church is for the many Catholic families who teach their children well and set examples that other families can imitate. This is evangelization, he said.

    Here’s an idea for the synod: Just take Orowae’s one-page sermon and issued it as the assembly’s final “message” to the world.

    On the other hand, we also continue to see at this synod the “report card” approach, an attempt to gauge how families are measuring up – or falling short – of the church’s teachings. French Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, introducing the debate last night, spoke about how ill-prepared many families feel in educating their children in Gospel values.

    Given that families teach best by witness, he identified three elements that make education of children more difficult today: same-sex unions, single-parent families and the phenomenon of street children. Parents in other “irregular” situations pose particular difficulties for Christian education, especially when they don’t agree with some church teachings, he said.

    Although Cardinal Vingt-Trois said such couples must be approached with respect, he framed the issue as a problem that is essentially solved by adhesion to the Magisterium.

    That is also the approach reflected in many of the “testimonies” delivered by married Catholic couples at the synod. Last night, Olivier and Xristilla Roussy, a French couple with seven children, told the synod that living according to the church’s teaching on birth control was not only possible, but had made their marriage stronger and happier.

    The couple said Xristilla had tried the birth control pill for a while, but found it left her in a bad mood. They practiced natural family planning with mixed results – on one occasion, “unable to contain our desire” during a fertile period, they had a child nine months later. But they welcomed that child with joy, they said.

    For the most part, the couples chosen to address the synod have been from Catholic lay movements, often involved directly in marriage spirituality programs. They have endorsed church teachings, saying sexuality should reflect the “plan of God” and not the consumerist and selfish model of the world. No one doubts their sincerity, but perhaps the synod might have invited some other voices as well.

    An Australian couple, Ran and Mavis Pirola, were the exception to the rule when they told the synod the story of friends who had welcomed a son’s gay partner to a Christmas gathering, and suggested the church should show the same welcoming attitude.

    Cardinal Raymond Burke, the head of the Apostolic Signature who has become the “Dr. No” of this synod, has now voiced his objections to that approach in an interview with the U.S.-based Lifesite News.

    “If homosexual relations are intrinsically disordered, which indeed they are … then what would it mean to grandchildren to have present at a family gathering a family member who is living in a disordered relationship with another person?” Burke said.

    Burke said Catholics should not give children the impression that such relationships are alright, “by seeming to condone gravely sinful acts on the part of a family member.”


  • A top Vatican canonist argues for pastoral flexibility

           Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio

    It sounds like the Synod of Bishops on the family has let loose with some of the “frank and open” talk encouraged by Pope Francis. Over the last two days, reports from the inside speak of spirited, impassioned at even at times confrontational discussion, with bishops answering bishops directly on the synod floor.

    In its discussion of “irregular” and difficult family situations, the Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said there were two general lines of argument: one emphasizing a need to defend the church’s traditional teachings, and the other focusing more on finding pastoral solutions for estranged Catholics.

    That’s not surprising, and Lombardi said it was impossible to say which group held the upper hand at this point in the assembly. We may have a better sense of where this is going at the end of next week, when concluding documents are issued at the close of the synod’s first phase.

    But meantime, some very interesting comments came today from an unlikely source. Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, reviewed with reporters some of the pastoral options that are being proposed for Catholics who have divorced and remarried without an annulment.

    He noted the suggestion that the church should look into the Orthodox Church practice of accepting, to some degree, second and third marriages, and said it deserved study. But he foresaw problems, and did not appear at all convinced that the Catholic Church would go down that road.

    Instead Coccopalmerio favored streamlining the annulment process. He is a key member of a commission recently named by Pope Francis to study that very issue.

    Coccopalmerio said one of more intriguing ideas was to establish an “administrative” procedure whereby a local bishop, after careful consideration based largely on the credibility of the couple, could simply declare a marriage annulled – thus avoiding the sometimes lengthy and costly treatment by marriage tribunals. Care would be needed to ensure this procedure did not become superficial, but he said he was “very much in favor” of this approach. It was significant that such an endorsement came from the Vatican’s top canon law official.

    Then Coccopalmerio explained why he thought something had to be done to address the needs of Catholics in irregular unions. He said he agreed with Pope Francis’ view – that “yes we have to protect the doctrine, but we also have to begin with the situations of real people, and give them a response. These are people with urgent problems, and they need our help.”

    Coccopalmerio cited the Scripture accounts of what Jesus said about the law of the Sabbath, and why doing good in urgent situations was sometimes more important than abiding by the rules. In modern situations, too, pastors are faced with either doing nothing – because we have our rules – or finding a creative response, he said.

    The cardinal said he had expressed his view on this issue during the synod. He described the situation of a woman who married a man who had been unjustly abandoned by his first wife, helping him raise his three children and sharing a life together.

    “And now we say: ‘Abandon this union or we won’t give you Communion.’ But she thinks, ‘I cannot abandon this union, or abandon this man, or leave these children without a mother,’” Coccopalmerio said. He said that in these types of situations, the church’s pastors cannot simply throw their hands up and cite the rules – they have to do something.

    “If the synod is thinking along those lines, it's already a big result,” he said.

    A more severe argument was reportedly made by U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke, who heads the Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signature, the Vatican’s highest tribunal. Burke has been a strong critic of proposals to find a less rigorous way to readmit divorced and remarried to the sacraments.

    According to the Italian magazine Il Regno, Burke gave a talk at last night’s session that offered three “no’s”: no to any doctrinal change; no to any change in church law; and no to any change in pastoral practice. The magazine said his brief talk was met in the synod hall with icy silence. Apparently the bishops recognized that these three “no’s” were, in essence, a “no” to Pope Francis and his calls for pastoral mercy.


  • Two colorful cardinals, two takes on the synod

    It was soundbite city in Rome last night, as two participants in the Synod of Bishops offered somewhat different takes on how mercy, language and doctrine apply to family and marriage issues.

    Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Australian Cardinal George Pell talked at a Rome launch of Crux, the Boston Globe’s online project that focuses on Catholic news. Both have a reputation for speaking their minds.

    Guess who said this:

    “The thing I’ve taken from the first three days is the level of trouble we’re in, right around the world, with marriage and the family. There are very, very few societies where the trend is running in the direction of strengthened family life.”

    And who said this:

    “Even thought there is this gritty realism, and complete and utter bluntness about the challenges we’ve got, you don’t detect much hand-wringing, and you don’t detect much pessimism or gloom. … There’s not a sense of panic.”

     The first quote, of course, came from Pell, who considers himself a “realist” willing to say things that, as he put it, might be “ecclesiastically incorrect.”

    The second was from Dolan, who realizes that sounding upbeat is a prime requisite when church leaders meet the press.

    Cardinal Pell, who has been among the cardinals who publicly criticized Cardinal Walter Kasper’s proposal to find a way to admit divorced and remarried Catholics to Communion, also had this to say:

    “As Christians, we follow Jesus. I might have hoped Jesus would have been a little bit softer on divorce. But he wasn’t, and I’m sticking with him.” That line brought applause from a mostly clerical crowd at North American College, where the event was held.

    Cardinal Dolan, while saying that the church cannot soften or dilute its teachings, declared that mercy is already front and center for most bishops. “The bishops are speaking with immense love and tenderness about their people, especially about their broken people. It moves them, it moves us, when we see people who are outside the church.”


  • Church doctrine on family can develop, papal advisor says

       Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez

    When Pope Francis called for frank and open talk at the Synod of Bishops, he was encouraging bishops to speak up “without fear that Cardinal Mueller will come after you,” one of the pope’s closest associates said today.

    The humorous aside – well, I think it was humorous – came from Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez, rector of the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina, who is reputedly one of the pope’s top theological advisors.

    Archbishop Fernandez was addressing reporters on the synod’s third day, and he said the pope’s call for an honest exchange was necessary if the assembly wanted to be productive.

    The reference to Cardinal Gerhard Mueller prompted chuckles in the press room. Mueller, head of the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation, has been among those sharply criticizing a proposal by Cardinal Walter Kasper that the synod find a way for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion.

    Fernandez also addressed what has become a common refrain at the synod – that the assembly had no intention of changing doctrine, but simply looking at pastoral practices.

    “When it’s said that this is a ‘pastoral’ synod, it doesn’t at all mean that one cannot deepen the doctrine,” he said. “We need to develop the doctrine on the family much more. If we came here only to repeat what we’ve always said, the church wouldn't grow.”

    He pointed to the issue of slavery, which was accepted in past centuries by the church, as an example of where teaching changed “because there was a development in doctrine – and that continues to happen.” You can't say doctrine developed in the past, but no longer does, he added.

    Fernandez said the synod needs to proceed by looking not only at the truths of its faith, which should be defended, but also at the pastoral realities, which can sometimes be messy.

    As pastors, he said, bishops need to reach out and help people even when they do not fully accept church teaching – when “perfection is not possible,” as Pope Francis put it in his document Evangelii Gaudium.

    Archbishop Fernandez is said to have worked closely with Pope Francis on that document, and his briefing in the press room today certainly seemed to reflect the pope’s point of view.


  • Cutback of information makes this synod harder to read

    Getting a read on any Synod of Bishops is not easy, at least from the outside. This synod is proving especially difficult for reporters because of the lack of raw material provided to the media.

    Granted, it’s only Day 3 of the synod, which is discussing marriage and family issues. But already, more than 100 short speeches have been given on the synod floor. No texts or summaries have been published, unlike previous years, except for the opening working document and a few talks delivered by lay couples who are attending as auditors.

    Moreover, the Vatican press briefings, while checklisting some of the themes raised by bishops, are carefully avoiding detailed accounts of the interventions and the reactions in the hall. No names are named – we are not being told who said what.

    The impression of the synod so far is unclear and fragmented, with opinions and points of emphasis all over the map. We are told one moment of a call for “empathy and tenderness” in presenting church teachings, and then of the need for “severe” preparation for married couples.

    We are told the synod appreciates the input of Catholics in surveys conducted ahead of the assembly, and then warned that these surveys must not be seen as public opinion polls.

    We are told the church must dispense the “medicine of mercy” to couples and families, but that it must continue to proclaim firmly the truths about marriage as a permanent union between a man and a woman.

    We are told that the high rates of unmarried couples who live together represent a crisis for the church, and that cohabitation also can reflect positive values and be a pastoral opportunity and a seed to be nurtured.

    Again, it’s early in the synod, and I’m hoping the synod briefers will find a way to describe how and if consensus is building on specific issues.

    There are a few themes that seem to be emerging as important ones:

    -- Recognizing the “law of graduality,” which acknowledges that the Christian path toward holiness develops in steps and stages, and that immediate acceptance of church teachings (like the rejection of birth control) may be an unrealistic expectation.

    -- The church’s language on marriage and family issues should be welcoming and invitational, not absolute and off-putting.

    -- The annulment process needs to be simplified. There’s a strong case being made that many modern marriages may be invalid because couples lack the proper level of faith and understanding of the sacrament.

    -- Despite social changes, the nuclear family is not outdated and remains the ideal for societies around the world. In this sense, the synod seems reluctant to entertain the notion that the changing configuration of families may bring positive values and new opportunities.

    -- That no change in doctrine will be considered at this synod. We’ve already heard this proclaimed several times, though I’m not sure what it means. Doctrine develops in the church, just as people’s understanding of Scripture and revelation develop. I expect this point will be taken up more fully on the synod floor – but it’s too bad we on the outside may not hear much about it.

    By giving journalists only a drip of information, the Vatican is clearly trying to give bishops the freedom to talk frankly and openly. It is also trying not to feed the media’s tendency to proclaim winners and losers, as if this were a legislative process with up and down votes.

    This synod will unfold in two phases, with a second session in October 2015. I think Pope Francis wants to bring about important changes – yes, including new pastoral policies for divorced and remarried Catholics – and he’ll need that time for new ideas to take root and find acceptance. In that regard, making the synod’s deliberations more confidential may make tactical sense.

    But it also gives the impression that the church is still afraid to face these questions openly – and air internal differences publicly. At a synod on issues that directly affect the lives of millions of families, that’s hard to understand.


  • Church needs to drop harsh language on marriage and family, synod is told

    As the Synod of Bishops entered its second day, more than one participant zeroed in on the negative language the Catholic Church sometimes uses when it discusses marriage and family issues.

    In particular, one bishop said, terms like “living in sin,” “intrinsically disordered” or “contraceptive mentality” do nothing to draw people closer to church teaching. It’s a form of labeling that can turn people off, he said.

    The point emerged during a briefing for journalists that identified some of the topics discussed during the synod, but without identifying the speakers. In some cases, a few lines of the unnamed participants’ talks were quoted.

    According to Father Tom Rosica, one of the briefers at the Vatican press office, a strong argument was made for the church to adopt more positive, hopeful language about marriage and the family.

    “Living in sin” is sometimes used to describe cohabitating couples, while “intrinsically disordered” is the used by the Catechism of the Catholic Church to describe homosexual acts. Many Vatican officials have criticized what they call a “contraceptive mentality” in modern culture, a phrase used in Pope Saint John Paul II’s 1981 document on the family, Familiaris Consortio.

    Father Rosica, quoting one synod participant, said the church needs to work to find a language that embodies its theology and invites people to embrace it. To many people, the participant said, marriage seems to be “filtered in harsh language through the church.” The challenge is to make that language loving and appealing, he said.

    The synod’s discussion touched on a variety of other topics. According to English Cardinal Vincent Nichols, who also addressed reporters, one point that seemed to be developing was the call to respect the “law of graduality” – the idea that a Christian’s moral development takes place gradually, in a “stepping stones” fashion, and not necessarily in an immediate embrace of doctrine.

    Nichols said that in this perspective, individuals are encouraged to take one step at a time in understanding and accepting the church’s teachings. At the same time, Nichols noted, Pope John Paul II stated in Familiaris Consortio that the “law of graduality” did not imply a “graduality of the law.”

    Another point mentioned during the synod’s first sessions was that while the family is still considered the basic unit of society, the church has to be sensitive to non-traditional forms of family, including those that, by choice or not, are without children.

    The Vatican press office later released a two-page written summary of synodal talks, listing some of the themes raised by participants:

    -- A need to develop a longer program of accompaniment for married couples, and not just a brief marriage preparation course that ends with the ceremony. The preparation for engaged couples needs to be “long, personalized and even severe, without fear of seeing the number of church weddings decrease. Otherwise, there’s the risk of clogging up the tribunals with marriage cases.”

    -- Couples who have divorced or are in irregular unions need the “medicine of mercy,” but they want above all to be loved and welcomed, even more than “rapid pastoral solutions.” Regarding the possibility of Communion for Catholics who divorced and remarried without an annulment, the point was made that the Eucharist is “not the sacrament of the perfect, but of those on a pathway.”

    -- At least one synod participant took aim at the influence of the mass media, and the widespread presentation of “ideologies contrary to church doctrine on marriage and the family.”


  • Cardinal Marx says German bishops back Kasper proposals on divorced and remarried Catholics

                 German Cardinal Reinhard Marx

    Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich said a strong majority of German bishops supported Cardinal Walter Kasper’s proposal to find a way to allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion, and that he intended to raise the issue at the Synod of Bishops.

    Speaking at the close of the synod’s first day, Cardinal Marx also said it was crucial for the synod’s debate on family issues to be an “open discussion” that extends beyond the synod hall and involves the wider society.

    Marx, who is president of the German bishops’ conference, made his remarks in a meeting with journalists. Synod participants have been told that their official speeches during the assembly should not be published, but that they were free to give interviews.

    The synod’s opening summary document, read at the start of the first session, downplayed Cardinal Kasper’s proposal to find a “penitential path” that would allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion. Rather than dwelling on the reception of the sacraments, the synod document emphasized proposals to streamline procedures to make annulments easier to obtain.

    Cardinal Kasper’s suggestions have been highly criticized by some Vatican cardinals, who say they could undermine the church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. Cardinal Marx said, however, that Cardinal Kasper’s ideas had the support of the great majority of bishops in Germany.

    Marx also expressed some reservations about seeking the pastoral solution for divorced Catholics in a simplified annulment process. Determining whether a marriage was valid will never be easy, he said. He asked how the church could possibly grant annulments to couples married 20 or 30 years. And if annulments are conceded because the level of faith was not adequate at the time of marriage, he said, how many annulments would the church have to give?

    More generally, Cardinal Marx said, if the church starts granting numerous annulments it could weaken its overall message about the sacrament of marriage.


  • Synod of Bishops hears plain talk from Australian couple

    This morning, Pope Francis called for open and honest discussion at the Synod of Bishops. This evening, the bishops heard it loud and clear from an Australian married couple, who urged the church to learn from the sometimes “messy” lives of modern families.

    Ron and Mavis Pirola of Sydney were the first of several couples to address the synod as “auditors.” They don’t have a vote in the proceedings, but they do have a voice – and they delivered a message that contrasted with the ecclesial-speak of the synod’s official documents.

    Ron Pirola told the synod that his 55-year happy marriage began when he looked across a room and saw a beautiful young woman. Their attraction, he said, was basically sexual and a longing to be intimate with each other. He went on to call marriage a “sexual sacrament with its fullest expression in sexual intercourse.”

    The arrival of their four children filled them with joy but also brought nights when, as parents, they would lie awake wondering what went wrong.

    Although practicing Catholics, Pirola said, the couple only occasionally looked at church documents for guidance, and “they seemed to be from another planet with difficult language and not terribly relevant to our own experiences.”

    He suggested that to have a greater impact, the church should learn from families. For one thing, the church wants to uphold truth while expressing compassion and mercy – something families try to do all the time, he said:

    “Take homosexuality as an example. Friends of ours were planning their Christmas family gathering when their gay son said he wanted to bring his partner home too. They fully believed in the Church’s teachings and they knew their grandchildren would see them welcome the son and his partner into the family. Their response could be summed up in three words, ‘He is our son’.

    What a model of evangelization for parishes as they respond to similar situations in their neighborhood!”

    Pirola cited other parents they know who face deep challenges – a divorced woman who remains faithful to the church, a widow who cares for a disabled son. Like the families depicted in the Bible, modern families have lives that are “chaotic and full of messy dramas,” but they deserve to be listened to and treated as co-responsible for the church’s action by clergy, he said.

    He said the church can also learn a lesson about effective transmission of values from parents who have struggled with their children:

    “A high respect for authority, parental, religious or secular, has long gone. So their parents learn to enter into the lives of their children, to share their values and hopes for them and also to learn from them in turn. This process of entering into the lives of our other persons and learning from them as well as sharing with them is at the heart of evangelization.”


  • Synod kicks off with a papal call for candor

              Pope Francis at the Synod of Bishops

    Pope Francis convened the working phase of the Synod of Bishops on the family with a strong call for frank discussion, saying bishops should not feel afraid to disagree openly but respectfully – even with the pope.

    His brief talk Monday was followed by the reading of a revised synod working document that downplayed a topic at the center of fierce debate in recent weeks: the possibility of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics.

    The pope sat at a dais in the Vatican’s synod hall before about 180 bishops and some 70 other participants at the start of the two-week-long assembly. He said “synodality” means talking clearly and listening with humility.

    Francis recalled that after last February’s meeting of cardinals on synod themes, one participant wrote to him and lamented that some cardinals were afraid to say what they thought, because they disagreed with the pope.

    “That’s no good. That’s not synodality. We need to say what we feel and at the same time listen and welcome with an open heart what our brothers are saying,” the pope told the assembly.

    But if Francis seemed to be calling for candor, the text of the revised working document or relatio, prepared by Cardinal Peter Erdo of Hungary, went out of its way to defuse a growing and public disagreement over the situation of Catholics who have divorced and remarried without an annulment.

    Cardinal Walter Kasper, invoking Pope Francis’ theme of pastoral mercy, has said the church needs to search for a way to give Communion to such Catholics. Other cardinals, including the Vatican’s top doctrinal official, have pounced on Kasper’s suggestion, saying it would be tantamount to disavowing the indissolubility of marriage.

    Cardinal Erdo’s relatio treated the situation of divorced Catholics at length, but without explicitly mentioning the issue of Communion. Indeed, he said, "it would be misleading to concentrate only on the reception of the sacraments" in discussing the issue.

    Erdo emphasized that the synod was not in any sense challenging the permanence of marriage. He mentioned, as a matter needing further study, the practice of some Orthodox Churches in recognizing second marriages, but said this study needs to avoid “any questionable interpretations and conclusions.”

    In another section of his text, Erdo said that pastoral mercy cannot go against the remands of the marriage bond, and that “a second marriage recognized by the church is impossible, while the first spouse is still alive.”

    It remains to be seen whether Cardinal Kasper’s proposal receives more attention from this synod. But judging by today’s opening summary text, which is supposed to set directions for the discussion, the synod planners clearly do not want this very controversial issue to take over the assembly. I think they also wanted to reassure the doctrinal conservatives who have spoken out against Kasper’s ideas that what’s up for discussion are pastoral policies, and not established church teaching.

    What was striking about Cardinal Erdo’s text was that it took almost for granted that streamlining the annulment process would go forward. He said there was a “broad consensus” for simplifying annulment procedures, and even suggested the church might institute an administrative, “extra-judicial” process in which a local bishop could annul a marriage. That in itself would be a remarkable change, and the pope has already named a commission to study these possibilities.

    What Erdo had to say about cohabitation was also interesting, and unusually positive by Vatican standards. Some couples, he said, choose to live together without marriage in relationships that are marked by stability, deep affection and parental responsibility. He said the church should see these relationship as an opportunity and “a seed to be nurtured” toward the sacrament of marriage.

    The opening relatio made two points about homosexuality. It said gay men and women should not be discriminated against. But it said most Catholics still reject the idea of gay marriage. What most Catholics appear to want, it said, was a change in culturally conditioned traditional roles and discrimination against women, but without denying the differences between the sexes and their “complementarity.”

    In general, the relatio tried to strike a balance between alarm at the erosion of marriage and traditional family values, and confidence that the family “is not an outdated model.”

    “The family is fast becoming the last welcoming human reality in a world determined almost exclusively by finance and technology. A new culture of the family can be the starting point for a renewed human civilization,” it said.


  • Bishop Finn investigation is another sign that accountability is on Pope Francis' agenda

    The news that the Vatican is investigating the pastoral leadership of Bishop Robert W. Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., is another sign that Pope Francis is willing to tackle the problem of bishops’ accountability in a new way.

    The National Catholic Reporter reported that, at the Vatican’s request, Canadian Archbishop Terrence Prendergast visited the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese for several days last week, asking more than a dozen interview subjects questions about Finn’s leadership abilities. A spokesperson for the diocese later confirmed the investigation and said Finn was “cooperating with the process.”

    Two years ago, a civil court convicted Finn on misdemeanor charges of failing to report suspected child abuse, in connection with the child pornography conviction of a local priest. The bishop was sentenced to two years’ probation.

    News of the Vatican investigation comes on the heels of the pope’s removal of a Paraguayan bishop who had been criticized, among other things, for his promotion of a priest accused of child abuse.

    Catholics in Missouri have called for Finn’s resignation, but until now there was no sign that the Vatican was paying any attention. For many Catholics, in fact, Bishop Finn has come to represent a bishop’s protected status and the Vatican’s unwillingness to take action on mishandling of sex abuse cases.

    Earlier this year, Catholics in Finn’s diocese wrote to the apostolic nuncio, the Vatican’s representative in the United States, asking for a canonical review of Finn. It appears the nuncio and the pope were listening.

    There have been several recent signs that the Vatican is taking a new look at holding bishops to account for mistakes, particularly in handling of sex abuse allegations. Bishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, a former key official of the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation, pointed out in a speech last year that under church law bishops can lose their office for abuse or negligence in ministry.

    His point was echoed more recently by U.S. Father Robert W. Oliver, Scicluna's successor at the doctrinal congregation, who said it was a “crime” under church law for a bishop to be negligent in supervision.

    Pope Francis, when he met with sex abuse victims last summer at the Vatican, apologized for “sins of omission” by church leaders and said bishops “will be held accountable.”


  • War of words heats up as Vatican counts down to synod

            Cardinal Walter Kasper

    Journalists often exaggerate conflict at the Vatican. But it’s no exaggeration to say that sharp battle lines are being drawn for the October Synod of Bishops, in particular on the issue of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics.

    This week saw several leading cardinals and Vatican officials weigh in on the “No” side, with the imminent publication of two new books on the topic. Among them were two leading Roman Curia officials – German Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Australian Cardinal George Pell, head of the Vatican’s new Secretariat for the Economy.

    Specifically, they took issue with Cardinal Walter Kasper, who was selected by Pope Francis to address the world’s cardinals last February. Kasper proposed that the church find ways to allow divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion, arguing that the Eucharist should be a spiritual “life raft” for those who need it most.

    There are two ways of looking at these developments. For some, it’s part of the open and lively debate that Pope Francis desired when he chose the synod’s theme (the family) and called for a more merciful and pastoral approach on the issue of divorced Catholics.

    Others see it as pre-emptive strike by doctrinal hardliners, an attempt to mark certain options as off-limits even before the bishops arrive in Rome to begin deliberations. Their argument is not that the church shouldn’t admit divorced and remarried to Communion, but that it cannot do so without breaking with the teachings of Christ and the church.

    As Cardinal Müller put it, a sacramental marriage is indissoluble, and Catholics whose “state of life contradicts the indissolubility of sacramental marriage” cannot be admitted to the Eucharist.

    Pre-emptive strikes are not new for the Synod of Bishops. In 1985, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger came out with a book-length interview on the state of the church that framed much of the discussion for that year’s extraordinary on the aftermath of Vatican II.

    But by Vatican standards, this kind of open verbal warfare is unprecedented. Two comments by Cardinal Kasper, reported today in the Italian press, take it to a whole new level.

    In an interview with the newspaper La Stampa, Kasper said he was blindsided by publication of the new books. “I was surprised. I learned about it only today from journalists – they were sent the text, not me. In all my academic life I’ve never experienced anything like this.”

    And in an interview with another newspaper, Il Mattino, Kasper went farther, saying his critics appeared to want a “doctrinal war” at the synod, and that the target was not himself but “probably” Pope Francis.

    “They claim to know on their own what the truth is. But Catholic doctrine is not a closed system, it is a living system that develops, as Vatican II taught us. They want to crystalize the truth in certain formulas,” Kasper was quoted as saying.

    He added: “None of my cardinal brothers have spoken with me. I, on the other hand, have spoken twice with the Holy Father. I arranged everything with him. He was in agreement. What else can a cardinal do, other than stand with the pope? I am not the target, the target is someone else.”

    Asked if the target was Pope Francis, Cardinal Kasper replied: "Probably yes."


  • Spanish appointment tells Curia heads: You can go home again

    A chapter in Pope Francis’ revolution was written today when the pope named Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera as archbishop of Valencia, Spain. The appointment was remarkable mainly because it violated the age-old Roman Curia maxim, “You can’t go home again.” Cardinal Cañizares was being sent back to Valencia, where he was ordained a priest 44 years ago, after a five-year stint as head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments. UPDATE: Cardinal Cañizares said in an int...  Read More...

  • Curia rumblings about a pope who won't be filtered

    There’s been a lot of media attention to Pope Francis’ now-famous phone call to an Argentine woman who is civilly married to a divorced man, reportedly telling her she could receive Communion.

    While in Rome this week, I’ve made some soundings inside the Roman Curia, and found concern among Vatican officials in two areas. First, they’re worried about the doctrinal and pastoral implications of the pope’s supposed remarks, and the risk of raising expectations for a change in church policy that may never occur.

    Second, and more broadly, they’re concerned that the Vatican is losing control over papal communication. In that sense, the phone call was a tipping point: an institution that has spoken for centuries in a formal, calibrated hierarchy of expression is now headed by a man who chats on the phone, delivers soundbites to reporters and improvises daily sermons.

    That explains the unusual statement from Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, who announced to journalists a few days ago that the pope’s phone call – indeed, any papal phone call – did not form part of the Magisterium, the official teaching of the church. “Consequences relating to the teaching of the church are not to be inferred from these occurrences,” was the way he put it.

    Father Lombardi’s statement was probably drafted by the Secretary of State’s office, which used to be the communications gatekeeper at the Vatican, but which today finds itself increasingly on the sidelines. Quite often, Pope Francis does not go through the usual filters anymore.

    The Old Guard at the Vatican tends to view many of the pope’s interviews, Tweets and off-the-cuff remarks as expressions of lesser consequence. His morning Mass homilies make headlines almost every day, but – reportedly at the pope’s request – are not being collected for publication in the permanent Vatican record, the Acta Apostolicae Sedis (they are extemporaneous talks, so there’s no complete text.)

    None of this less formal output is considered part of the “capital M” Magisterium. But for most Catholics, that’s a distinction without a difference. They don’t care whether comments like “Who am I to judge?” find their way into the Vatican’s official archives. All they care is that the pope said it.

    In the case of the Argentine woman, the fact that Pope Francis would even make such a call bothers some officials at the Vatican. On one level, they say, it creates confusion, because no one is sure exactly what the pope said. The pope should know by now that any private conversation like this will eventually come out in some unsanctioned manner (in this instance, on the Facebook page of the woman’s husband.)

    And as one Vatican monsignor put it, why should the pope be talking to her at all? Shouldn’t he be referring her to her spiritual advisor, or asking the local bishop to follow up?

    If the gist of the pope’s call was accurately relayed – that the woman could receive Communion – that’s seen by some Vatican conservatives as crossing the Rubicon.

    In this case, the woman had been told by her pastor that she could not receive Communion unless her husband received an annulment and the two were married in the church. Didn’t the pope undercut the authority of priests everywhere with his phone call? How are priests to respond when divorced Catholics come to them and declare: “But Father, the pope said it’s OK?”

    It’s clear that Pope Francis wants the church to find a better pastoral solution to the situation of divorced and remarried Catholics, and all indications are that this fall’s Synod of Bishops will propose some changes – perhaps, as outlined by Cardinal Walter Kasper, a penitential practice that would allow divorced Catholics to receive Communion, with the understanding the church could tolerate, though not accept, second unions.

    That idea has generated much debate among bishops and cardinals, and enthusiasm among many Catholics. But it is not playing so well inside the Vatican. “If that happens, we’ve crossed the line into heresy,” one official told me.

    I think Francis has some prep work to do in his own backyard.  Read More...

  • The Vatican commission on sex abuse takes shape

    Marie Collins, an abuse survivor, named to Vatican panel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Dr. Catherine Bonnet (France)

    Mrs. Marie Collins (Ireland)

    Prof. the Baroness Sheila Hollins (United Kingdom)

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

    Prof. Claudio Papale (Italy)

    Her Excellency Hanna Suchocka (Poland)

    Rev. Humberto Miguel Yañez, SJ (Argentina)

    Rev. Hans Zollner, SJ (Germany)

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

    Brief biographies of the members can be found here.

    Comment by Father Lombardi:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • A pope who wants to be 'normal'

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

    Here are some highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • The path forward for Pope Francis and his reforms

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

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

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

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


  • Decision time on Vatican reforms? "Pazienza"

                   Pope Francis with his advisory group of cardinals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    A look at today’s appointments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    A look at today’s appointments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    A look at today’s appointments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    A look at today’s appointments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    A look at today’s appointments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Ouch. And this was a Christmas greeting.

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

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


  • Cardinal Burke dropped from key Vatican agency

                          Cardinal Raymond Burke

    Pope Francis’ plan to reform the Roman Curia is primarily a two-pronged approach: changing the bureaucratic structures and changing the members of Vatican agencies.

    Today we saw yet another sign that the new pope wants people in synch with his more pastoral vision of the church, and in particular with his views on what makes a good bishop.

    U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke has been dropped from the Congregation for Bishops, an office that wields tremendous influence in shaping the world’s hierarchy. Burke has been a kind of folk hero to conservative Catholics, in particular for his statements criticizing Catholic politicians who support legal abortion. Moreover, he has said that bishops who refuse to withhold Communion from such politicians are weakening the faith.

    It was significant that the new American named today to the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, has publicly defended his decision not to deny Communion in such situations.

    The change means that Cardinal Burke will no longer be among the approximately 30 members of the congregation who oversee the vetting process for bishops’ nominations.

    Just last week, Cardinal Burke appeared to take issue with Pope Francis’ low-key approach on some topics. The pope said earlier this year that the church cannot keep hammering only a few issues, including abortion and gay marriage. Asked about this by the Catholic network EWTN, Burke expressed some perplexity at the pope’s comments and said the church “can never talk enough” about abortion and marriage; he said abortion today is “literally a massacre of the unborn.”

    It will be interesting to see if Cardinal Burke hangs onto his job as head of the Apostolic Signature, the Vatican’s highest tribunal. The cardinal frequently gives interviews, and his Vatican position has given his statements much more resonance in the media.

    Pope Francis retired others out of the Congregation for Bishops, too, mainly for reasons of age. Dropping Cardinal Burke from the congregation was more unusual because he is a relatively young 65.  Read More...

  • Pope says he won't be naming women cardinals

    The idea that Pope Francis might appoint women cardinals was always a long shot, and now it’s officially dead in the water. In an interview with the Italian daily La Stampa, the pope was asked about the possibility and responded:

    “I don’t know where this idea sprang from. Women in the Church must be valued not 'clericalized'. Whoever thinks of women as cardinals suffers a bit from clericalism.”

    That would appear to rule out lay cardinals altogether.

    Evidently the pope is eager to take aim at clericalism in the church at some levels, but is not willing to upend tradition when it comes to the College of Cardinals. I still think he may make other significant changes when he names new cardinals in coming weeks, like expanding the College and choosing more non-Curial members.

    This interview is not as interesting as previous journalistic give-and-takes with Pope Francis. In some of his responses, the pope almost seems defensive, trying to explain some of his previous statements and deflating some expectations.

    On the issue of economic justice, he explains his critique of the current global economy in his recent document on evangelization:

    There is nothing in the Exhortation that cannot be found in the social Doctrine of the Church. I wasn’t speaking from a technical point of view, what I was trying to do was to give a picture of what is going on. The only specific quote I used was the one regarding the “trickle-down theories” which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and social inclusiveness in the world. The promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefitting the poor. But what happens instead, is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger nothing ever comes out for the poor. This was the only reference to a specific theory. I was not, I repeat, speaking from a technical point of view but according to the Church’s social doctrine. This does not mean being a Marxist.


  • Why Pope Francis is Time's "Person of the Year"

    Today Time magazine named Pope Francis “Person of the Year” for 2013.

    Why I’m not surprised:

    Francis is a truly global figure, not just because he’s the head of a global religion but because of his radically different vision of the church and the papacy. As he put it, he sees the church first of all as a “field hospital” that has the primary task of healing people’s wounds. He favors dialogue over doctrine, closeness to the people over clericalism, mercy over judgment and joyful witness over cultural warfare. All this has struck a chord among contemporary Christians and non-Christians.

    Catholics, to their surprise, have watched the pope take up the Vatican II agenda again, breathing new life into concepts of collegiality and lay participation. He’s even willing to survey Catholics when it comes to next big Vatican powwow on family issues.

    From the standpoint of the news media, Francis is a perfect “person of the year” – a great communicator, combining plain-spoken preaching with gestures that communicate volumes, whether it be washing the tattooed foot of a young woman on Holy Thursday or embracing a man with a severe facial disfigurement at his general audience.

    The pope’s attention to the world’s poor and marginalized is both personal and political. He’s visited with immigrants, refugees, prisoners and unemployed youths, and beefed up the Vatican’s own charity office, while denouncing the excesses of capitalism as a “new tyranny.” When a pope tells the world that “the culture of prosperity deadens us,” it is rightly seen as a challenge to the global economic system.

    On issues of justice and peace, Francis wants to draw renewed attention to the Catholic Church’s impressive body of social teaching. True, he is not recommending a detailed political program. But he is proposing ethical principles that have political consequences. At the same time, he’s underlined the power of prayer, leading prayer initiatives for the cessation of fighting in Syria and for an end to world hunger.

    Clearly, the pope wants to reclaim the church’s moral influence on the world stage. To do this, he knows he has to rebuild church credibility, and he’s taken that task on with energy. His council of cardinals to reform the Roman Curia, his various commissions to clean up Vatican finances and, most recently, his Vatican-level commission on clerical sexual abuse are all part of a serious effort to address chronic problems that have undermined the church’s moral voice.

    These are huge undertakings, in response to equally huge challenges.

    Finally, a big part of what makes Francis such a good choice for “person of the year” is his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. The first papal resignation in modern history set the stage for a conclave that surprised everyone – well, just about everyone – by electing someone who has set the church on a new course.

    At this point, Francis is being recognized more for the hopes he’s engendered than his accomplishments. But as the cover of Time confirms, he has definitely set important changes in motion.

    UPDATE: Here's the official Vatican reaction today from spokesman Father Federico Lombardi:

    This fact is unsurprising, considering the resonance and very widespread attention given to the election of Pope Francis and the beginning of his pontificate. It is a positive sign that one of the most prestigious acknowledgements in the field of the international press has been attributed to one who proclaims spiritual, religious and moral values in the world, and who speaks effectively in favour of peace and greater justice.
    With regard to the Pope, for his part, he does not seek fame and success, since he carries out his service for the proclamation of the Gospel and the love of God for all. If this attracts men and women and gives them hope, the Pope is content. If this nomination as "Person of the Year" means that many have understood this message, at least implicitly, he will certainly be glad.

  • Pope Francis' document delivers wake-up call on evangelization

    Over the last eight months, Pope Francis has revealed his fresh vision of the church’s role in bits and pieces – a homily here, a press conference there and an occasional conversation related by a third party.

    In a document released today titled “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel), the pope offers a much more complete look at his approach to the church’s primary mission of evangelization in the modern world.

    It is a remarkable and radical document, one that ranges widely and challenges complacency at every level. It critiques the over-centralization of church bureaucracy, poor preaching and excessive emphasis on doctrine, while encouraging pastoral creativity and openness, even calling for a much-needed “pastoral conversion” in papal ministry.

    Francis urges pastors and faithful to "abandon the complacent attitude that says: 'We have always done it this way.' I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in their respective communities."

    Along the way, the document delivers a stinging condemnation of the excesses of free-market capitalism and its “trickle-down theories” that have failed to deliver economic justice. More than ever, the pope says, the church needs to stand with the world’s poor and its peacemakers.

    Papal documents are usually tough to digest, but this one is a must-read for anyone trying to understand Pope Francis and his papal agenda. It offers real insight into a number of crucial topics, in language that is both easily understood and captivating.

    I’m still studying the 51,000-word text, but here are some highlights:

    -- Evangelization today demands an "ecclesial renewal which cannot be deferred." The pope declares: "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."

    -- On the need for joy in evangelizing: “There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter…. An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral!”

    -- On being close to the people: “An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others.”

    “A church which ‘goes forth’ is a church whose doors are open…. Often it is better simply to slow down, to put aside our eagerness in order to see and listen to others, to stop rushing from one thing to another and to remain with someone who has faltered along the way.”

    -- The role of the bishop, Pope Francis says, is to foster communion and “point the way” to the faithful, but at times to “simply be in their midst with his unassuming and merciful presence.” And that goes for the pope, too: "It is not advisable for the pope to take the place of local bishops in the discernment of every issue which arises in their territory. In this sense, I am conscious of the need to promote a sound 'decentralization.'"

    “It is my duty, as the Bishop of Rome, to be open to suggestions which can help make the exercise of my ministry more faithful to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it and to the present needs of evangelization.... The papacy and the central structure of the universal church also need to hear the call to pastoral conversion.”

    The pope notes the possibility of a greater role for bishops’ conference, saying: “Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the church’s life and her missionary outreach.”

    -- The church needs to preach salvation, not doctrine. An imbalance occurs, the pope says, when the church speaks “more about law than about grace, more about the church than about Christ, more about the pope than about God’s word.”

    Evangelization must be an invitation to respond to God’s love and to seek the good in others, he says.

    “If this invitation does not radiate forcefully and attractively, the edifice of the church’s moral teaching risks becoming a house of cards, and this is our greatest risk. It would mean that it is not the Gospel which is being preached, but certain doctrinal or moral points based on specific ideological options.”

    -- On the need to keep the doors to the sacraments open: “The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”

    “I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy which spurs us on to do our best.”

    -- The church’s internal “wars” -- the tendency to form groups of “elites,” to impose certain ideas and even to engage in “persecutions which appear as veritable witch hunts” – are all a counter-witness to evangelization. “Whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we act?”

    -- On “excessive clericalism” that keeps lay people away from decision-making in the church: “Lay people are, put simply, the vast majority of the People of God. The minority – ordained ministers – are at their service.”

    This has implications both for understanding the all-male priesthood and for respecting women’s legitimate rights in the church, the pope says: “The reservation of the priesthood to males … is not a question open to discussion, but it can prove especially divisive if sacramental power is too closely identified with power in general…. The configuration of the priest to Christ the head – namely, as the principal source of grace – does not imply an exaltation which would set him above others.”

    His other remarks about women will no doubt provoke questions about follow-through -- for example, that "we need to create still broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the church" taking into account the "feminine genius," and that "pastors and theologians" will have to study "the possible role of women in decision- making in different areas of the church’s life."

    -- “Cultural diversity is not a threat to church unity.” Pope Francis, in fact, seems to hint at greater openness to diversity, saying that European culture does not have a monopoly on liturgical and other expressions of the faith. “We cannot demand that peoples of every continent, in expressing their Christian faith, imitate modes of expression which European nations developed at a particular moment of their history, because the faith cannot be constricted to the limits of understanding and expression of any one culture.”

    -- On the church’s closeness to the poor: “In all places and circumstances, Christians, with the help of their pastors, are called to hear the cry of the poor.”

    The pope says economic injustice today requires deep structural reforms.

    “Today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? … Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape…. Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a ‘disposable’ culture which is now spreading.”

    We can no longer trust in the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market. Growth in justice requires more than economic growth, while presupposing such growth: it requires decisions, programs, mechanisms and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality. I am far from proposing an irresponsible populism, but the economy can no longer turn to remedies that are a new poison, such as attempting to increase profits by reducing the work force and thereby adding to the ranks of the excluded."

    -- The pope is not just critiquing an economic system, but its effect on the spiritual lives of the faithful: "The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience."

    -- The document strongly defends unborn children, "the most defenseless and innocent among us," and says the church cannot be expected to change its position on the question of abortion: "It is not 'progressive' to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life. On the other hand, it is also true that we have done little to adequately accompany women in very difficult situations, where abortion appears as a quick solution to their profound anguish, especially when the life developing within them is the result of rape or a situation of extreme poverty."

    -- The pope’s document lays out the contours for what the church calls “new evangelization,” but the text includes a caution about turning this into a grandiose and impractical program: “How often we dream up vast apostolic projects, meticulously planned, just like defeated generals! But this is to deny our history as a church, which is glorious precisely because it is a history of sacrifice, of hopes and daily struggles, of lives spent in service and fidelity to work…. Instead, we waste time talking about ‘what needs to be done’… We indulge in endless fantasies and we lose contact with the real lives and difficulties of our people.”

    Evangelization, he says, is primarily about reality, not ideas: “Sometimes we are tempted to be that kind of Christian who keeps the Lord’s wounds at arm’s length. Yet Jesus wants us to touch human misery, to touch the suffering flesh of others. He hopes that we will stop looking for those personal or communal niches which shelter us from the maelstrom of human misfortune and instead enter into the reality of other people’s lives and know the power of tenderness. Whenever we do so, our lives become wonderfully complicated and we experience intensely what it is to be a people, to be part of a people."

    The document is called an “apostolic exhortation” and that’s what it does: it exhorts, it lays down principles and it points to new paths – in some cases, insists on new paths – but it does not offer a detailed program of action. The pope clearly wants the whole church involved in filling in the details, which should make the coming months and years very, very interesting.  Read More...

  • New cardinals, and new opportunities for change

    Pope Francis is going to name his first batch of cardinals in a few months, a move seen as part of the slow and methodical process of reshaping the church’s hierarchy more or less in the new pope’s image.

    The Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said today that the pope will preside over a consistory to create the cardinals on Feb. 22. The consistory is expected to be preceded by a separate meeting of the College of Cardinals, presumably to discuss impending changes in the Vatican bureaucracy.

    By February, there will be at least 14 “openings” for cardinals under the age of 80, who can vote in a conclave.

    It’s always impressed me how quickly a pope can put his mark on the College of Cardinals and influence the eventual election of his successor. There are numerical reasons for this: the voting age cardinals are a small group, limited to 120 members, and at present they have an average age of 72.

    If Pope Francis remains in office as long as Pope Benedict did – eight years – that means he will have named well over half the 120 voting cardinals in the next conclave.

    But a pope doesn't have to wait eight years to reshape the College of Cardinals, and I’m hoping Francis will introduce the kind of deep reforms here that he has promised elsewhere in the church’s life.

    The College of Cardinals is a human institution, not a divinely mandated clerical Senate, and throughout its approximately 1,000-year history it has been remodeled and reformed many times. The title of “cardinal” is an honorific, not a sacramental order, and the rules about who could be named a cardinal have changed many times.

    “Lay” cardinals existed for centuries, although strictly speaking they were men who were in minor orders but without having been ordained as deacons, priests or bishops. The current code of canon law says all cardinals must be bishops, but exceptions have been made to that rule in recent years (the late Cardinal Avery Dulles, for example.)

    There’s been talk recently about naming a woman cardinal. It’s not a new idea, actually. I remember that during the 1994 Synod of Bishops, an African bishop said naming a woman cardinal would be a prophetic gesture that demonstrates the importance of women in the life of the church. It didn’t take long for the Roman Curia and others to squash the idea.

    But creating lay, and women, cardinals is only one of the possibilities open to Pope Francis:

    -- He could, and probably should, substantially increase the number of cardinals. There is really no other easy way to break the dominance of the Roman Curia cardinals (currently they represent more than one-third of voting-age members) and European cardinals (who are more than half the voting-age members.) In the age of global Catholicism, there’s no good reason why Latin America, the most populous Catholic region in the world, should have only 15 cardinals voting in a conclave, while Europe has 57.

    -- The pope can lower “red hat” expectations in many European archdioceses and, in particular, in Roman Curia offices. As part of his restructuring of the Vatican’s bureaucracy, he can rewrite the rules so that most Vatican departments no longer need to be headed by a cardinal. It’s a prestige thing in Rome, and unnecessary.

    -- Pope Francis may also want to give the College of Cardinals some real responsibility other than electing a pope. Up to now, occasional meetings of the cardinals have produced very little creative thinking or input. That could change, especially with new and younger membership.

  • Déjà vu on divorced and remarried Catholics?

                    Archbishop Gerhard Müller
    Today’s Osservatore Romano featured a lengthy article reaffirming the church’s ban on sacraments for divorced and remarried Catholics.

    Written by Archbishop Gerhard Muller, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the article reads like a pre-emptive strike on new efforts to promote pastoral flexibility on the issue.

    Given that Pope Francis has himself spoken of the need to take a new look at the situation of divorced and remarried, and has convened a Synod of Bishops for 2014 to discuss this and other issues, it’s legitimate to wonder where the church is really headed: substantial change or another dead-end debate.

    The archbishop makes several important points:

    -- He underlines that, in his view, this is not simply a pastoral question but a doctrinal issue that involves the church’s theological understanding of the sacrament of marriage. He states categorically that the Orthodox practice of allowing second or third marriages under certain circumstances “cannot be reconciled with God’s will” – which is interesting, considering that Pope Francis himself has referred to the Orthodox practice without explicitly repudiating or endorsing it.

    -- Muller pointedly rejects the argument that the individual conscience can be the final arbiter on whether a divorced and civilly remarried Catholic can receive Communion. Again, there seems to be a contrast in tone with Pope Francis’ own recent remarks on the duty to follow one’s conscience.

    -- In what appears to be a remarkably direct response to Pope Francis’ call for “mercy” as the framework for dealing with divorced and remarried Catholics, Archbishop Muller says that “an objectively false appeal to mercy also runs the risk of trivializing the image of God, by implying that God cannot do other than forgive.”

    Here is the more complete passage of the article:

    A further case for the admission of remarried divorcees to the sacraments is argued in terms of mercy. Given that Jesus himself showed solidarity with the suffering and poured out his merciful love upon them, mercy is said to be a distinctive quality of true discipleship. This is correct, but it misses the mark when adopted as an argument in the field of sacramental theology. The entire sacramental economy is a work of divine mercy and it cannot simply be swept aside by an appeal to the same. An objectively false appeal to mercy also runs the risk of trivializing the image of God, by implying that God cannot do other than forgive. The mystery of God includes not only his mercy but also his holiness and his justice. If one were to suppress these characteristics of God and refuse to take sin seriously, ultimately it would not even be possible to bring God’s mercy to man. Jesus encountered the adulteress with great compassion, but he said to her “Go and do not sin again” (Jn 8:11). God’s mercy does not dispense us from following his commandments or the rules of the Church. Rather it supplies us with the grace and strength needed to fulfill them, to pick ourselves up after a fall, and to live life in its fullness according to the image of our heavenly Father.

    In short, Archbishop Muller leaves little or no room for pastoral flexibility on re-admitting divorced Catholics to the sacraments of confession and Communion. He backs up his arguments with teachings of recent popes and with the doctrinal congregation’s own instruction on this question in 1994.

    The one area where Muller offers an opening is in suggesting that “marriages nowadays are probably invalid more often than they were previously” because Catholic couples don't really understand the sacrament or the indissoluble nature of marriage. In other words, get an annulment.

    “If remarried divorcees are subjectively convinced in their conscience that a previous marriage was invalid, this must be proven objectively by the competent marriage tribunals,” he writes.

    Pope Francis spoke about the same issue in July, saying that many people marry without realizing that it’s a life-long commitment. Francis, however, added that the legal problem of matrimonial nullity needs to be reviewed, because “ecclesiastical tribunals are not sufficient for this.”

    All of this may sound like déjà vu to anyone who’s been around the Vatican in recent decades.

    I remember that in the 1990s, bishops attending Vatican-sponsored synods suggested more flexibility on reception of sacraments by Catholics in irregular unions. They were supported by some theologians, who argued for a review of scriptural and traditional reasons for the ban on sacramental participation.

    In 1999, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the doctrinal congregation, responded in a lengthy essay, strongly defending the church’s rules. His arguments were similar to those put forward today by Archbishop Muller. The essential content of the marriage norms, Cardinal Ratzinger said, “cannot be watered down for supposed pastoral reasons, because they transmit revealed truth.”


  • Next synod will take a new look at family issues

      Francis and his advisory council discussed the synod's future

    Pope Francis has decided to devote the next Synod of Bishops to family pastoral issues, setting the stage for a far-ranging discussion that is likely to touch on questions concerning divorced and remarried Catholics, cohabitation and annulments.

    The synod will take place in October of 2014, and by then we may see other changes in the synod’s format that give its deliberations more weight.

    The Vatican announcement today was accompanied by an unusual statement by Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, that seemed to be a clear signal to German bishops to hold off on pastoral innovations for divorced Catholics until the synod is held.

    Yesterday, the German Archdiocese of Freiburg outlined a new pastoral plan, involving prayer and conversation with pastors, that could allow some divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion.

    The church’s longstanding policy is that Catholics who divorced and remarried without obtaining an annulment may not receive Communion because they are not in harmony with the indissolubility of marriage.

    Father Lombardi said today that family pastoral questions should be discussed “under the guidance of the pope and the bishops.”

    “In this context, for local persons and offices to propose particular pastoral solutions could risk generating confusion. It is good to underline the importance of conducting a journey in the full communion of the ecclesial community,” the spokesman said.

    It appears the Vatican is putting the brakes on the German bishops. And it’s not the first time. In 1994, three German bishops allowed Communion to Catholics who were divorced and remarried civilly, until the Vatican intervened to stop the practice. Following a dialogue with the bishops, the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation eventually sent a letter to the world’s bishops confirming that such Catholics may not receive the sacrament.

    I spoke today with Father Lombardi, who said it made little sense for a single archdiocese to stake out a new policy on such an important issue when the universal church was preparing to discuss it at length. He also said that after the 2014 synod, technically an "extraordinary" session, there could be a follow-up ordinary session of the synod on the same theme.

    Extraordinary synodal assemblies are called to discuss matters that require a "speedy solution." This one will take place in Rome Oct. 5-19, 2014, and the full theme will be "The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization."  Read More...

  • Francis caps a wild week with a warning against `worldliness'

       Pope Francis greets disabled children in Assisi

    It’s been a busy week at the Vatican: a date set for the canonization of two popes, a stunning new papal interview, a meeting of the pope’s “Group of 8” cardinal advisors and an important visit by the pope to the birthplace of his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi.

    When it comes to the future direction of the church and the reforms planned by Pope Francis, do we know anything more today than we did a week ago?

    Yes, we do.

    Despite Vatican cautions about expecting too much too soon from the Group of 8, we know after their first three-day meeting in Rome that they’re focusing on some key areas of reform:

    -- The Roman Curia is in for an overhaul, not a tune-up. The cardinals and the pope want a rewriting of “Pastor Bonus,” the document that regulates the Vatican bureaucracy. The emphasis will be on the Curia’s identity as a network of service instead of a central church authority. The new constitution will likely modify the role of the secretary of state, tying this office more closely to papal ministry and creating a new “moderator of the Curia” to coordinate activities of other Vatican agencies.

    -- The Synod of Bishops will likely be revamped, too. It appears Francis wants to use the periodic synods at the Vatican as a way to implement what he’s called greater collegiality and “synodality,” implying a sharing of decision-making authority. Sometime in coming days, we should be learning how the new assemblies will work, as well as the theme for the next synod (which the pope has hinted will focus on the human being and the family in the light of the Gospel.)

    -- The role of the laity in the governing of the church is going to be a major topic of thought and discussion going forward in these meetings. The cardinals made a point of this, reflecting the concerns of their own faithful, and Pope Francis seems receptive. I expect the pope will bring lay people to decision-making positions in the Vatican for the first time – which also means bringing women to these positions for the first time. (Up to now, the Vatican has insisted that the power to make legally binding decisions is tied to holy orders.)

    -- The cardinals raised some issues related to reform of Vatican financial institutions, but are awaiting the recommendations of specific advisory commissions appointed by the pope. After fresh accusations of financial impropriety this week regarding APSA, the Vatican’s investment agency, that work acquired new urgency. Meanwhile, this week saw publication of the Vatican bank's first annual report, considered a milestone on the path toward great transparency.

    We now have a clearer idea of the timeline in the reform process, too. The Group of 8 scheduled additional meetings for December and February, but the Vatican emphasized that its work was expected to be completed “quickly.” I think that by the one-year mark of Francis’ election, the pope wants to have some key changes in place. All of this shows the wisdom of appointing a panel of eight cardinals instead of a larger and more unwieldy consultative group.

    Pope Francis’ latest newspaper interview, a conversation with Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari, also shed more light on the pope’s vision of the church’s mission and his own ministry. His critique of the “Vatican-centric” view of the Roman Curia and his characterization of papal courtiers as a “leprosy” no doubt sent more shudders through the ranks of Vatican bureaucrats.

    This interview strengthened expectations that Francis will share governing authority, and that he will emphasize dialogue as the dominant means of evangelization. One of his most telling comments was that “very little was done” to implement the Second Vatican Council’s call for engagement with modern culture. Francis sees himself as the pope who will finally run with Vatican II, in a way his predecessors have not.

    Today’s visit to Assisi spotlighted Francis’ wider message to the church, warning against a “spirit of the world” that compromises Christian witness. Standing in the room where St. Francis stripped off his rich clothes and dedicated his life to poverty, the pope said, “This is a good occasion to invite the church to strip itself of worldliness.”

    “There is a danger that threatens everyone in the church, all of us. The danger of worldliness. It leads us to vanity, arrogance and pride,” he said.

    Meeting with a group of poor people served by Catholic charities, the pope said that many of them had been “stripped by this savage world, which doesn't provide work, which doesn't help, to which it makes no difference that children die of hunger.”

    Here, too, we caught a glimpse of things to come. Francis is going to have a lot to say about economic justice, and I don’t think it will simply be a rehash of previous papal encyclicals. I expect we’re going to see gestures, decisions and words that will challenge economic systems and shake individual consciences.

    This momentous week began with the decision to canonize Popes John Paul II and John XXIII next April 27. Pairing the two was an unexpected decision by Pope Francis a couple of months ago, and I think he’s setting the stage for an event designed to underline church unity. Although the two popes had different approaches and appealed in different ways to groups of Catholics, by declaring them both saints Francis will accentuate the qualities that transcend those differences.


  • In new interview, Francis takes aim at 'Vatican-centric' view

    “Heads of the Church have often been narcissists, flattered and thrilled by their courtiers. The court is the leprosy of the papacy.”

    Once again, Pope Francis has delivered a dose of candor, on topics ranging from reform of the Vatican bureaucracy to his favorite saints. And once again, he’s done it by going outside the usual (filtered) Vatican channels of communication – in this case, in a conversation with an Italian newspaper editor who happens to be a nonbeliever.

    The remark about the papal “court” will deservedly make headlines. It should be noted that Francis was not impugning the entire Roman Curia, which he said has another defect: “It is Vatican-centric. It sees and looks after the interests of the Vatican, which are still, for the most part, temporal interests.”

    “This Vatican-centric view neglects the world around us. I do not share this view and I'll do everything I can to change it. The Church is or should go back to being a community of God's people, and priests, pastors and bishops who have the care of souls, are at the service of the people of God,” he said.

    There were several other striking comments in this latest chapter of The Real Francis:

    -- The church’s evangelization must be carried out through dialogue, not proselytism, which the pope called “solemn nonsense.” This is a man unafraid of putting Christian beliefs out for critical discussion, convinced that “to get to know people, listen, expand the circle of ideas” is part of a process that will attract people and ultimately lead toward “the Good.”

    -- The church’s credibility rests in its ability to listen to the people, and understand their “needs, desires and disappointments, despair, hope.”

    “We must restore hope to young people, help the old, be open to the future, spread love. Be poor among the poor. We need to include the excluded and preach peace,” he said.

    -- The pope made it clear that the Second Vatican Council is his road map – and he recognizes that 50 years after Vatican II, not enough has been done to implement its call for dialogue.

    “Vatican II, inspired by Pope Paul VI and John, decided to look to the future with a modern spirit and to be open to modern culture. The Council Fathers knew that being open to modern culture meant religious ecumenism and dialogue with non-believers. But afterwards very little was done in that direction. I have the humility and ambition to want to do something.”

    -- As on previous occasions, Francis dropped some strong hints that he will govern in a less authoritative and more collaborative way, using synods of bishops to share governing authority. His appointment of an advisory group of eight cardinals was a step in that direction, he said.

    “This is the beginning of a Church with an organization that is not just top-down but also horizontal. When Cardinal Martini talked about focusing on the councils and synods he knew how long and difficult it would be to go in that direction. Gently, but firmly and tenaciously.”

    -- Saint Francis of Assisi, whose birthplace the pope will visit later this week, will be his model.

    “(Saint Francis) dreamed of a poor Church that would take care of others, receive material aid and use it to support others, with no concern for itself. Eight hundred years have passed since then and times have changed, but the ideal of a missionary, poor Church is still more than valid. This is still the Church that Jesus and his disciples preached about.”

    -- The pope revealed that he meditated deeply before accepting the papacy, asking the cardinals if he could spend a few minutes in the room next to the balcony that overlooked St. Peter’s Square, where tens of thousands were waiting.

    “My head was completely empty and I was seized by a great anxiety. To make it go way and relax I closed my eyes and made every thought disappear, even the thought of refusing to accept the position, as the liturgical procedure allows. I closed my eyes and I no longer had any anxiety or emotion. At a certain point I was filled with a great light. It lasted a moment, but to me it seemed very long. Then the light faded, I got up suddenly and walked into the room where the cardinals were waiting and the table on which was the act of acceptance. I signed it, the Cardinal Camerlengo countersigned it and then on the balcony there was the ‘Habemus Papam.’”

    -- Finally, in beginning a face-to-face dialogue with Eugenio Scalfari, the founder of the Rome newspaper La Repubblica, the pope made it clear that he was not simply conducting an intellectual exercise with one of Italy’s best-known atheists.

    In his own gentle way, he reached out to Scalfari, probing the journalist’s beliefs and asking him at one point: “Do you think we are very far apart?”

    The two will no doubt meet again. I think the pope will continue to conduct this very public conversation with the idea of inspiring similar bridge-building efforts throughout the church.  Read More...

  • Interview offers a 360-degree look at Pope Francis

    In a wide-ranging interview with Jesuit publications, Pope Francis said today’s church needs to “heal wounds” by proclaiming the Gospel and moving away from the “small-minded rules” that have sometimes dominated its message.

    The interview, published in the United States by America magazine, is well worth reading in its entirely. It gives a more complete picture of the Argentine pope, including his spirituality, his goals as pope and some interesting self-criticism.

    Asked what the church needs most today, the pope said it was “the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity.”

    “I see the church as a field hospital after battle.It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else,” he said.

    “The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all,” he said.

    Francis said his primary role as pope was “discernment” and promised that this would be done with consultation. This is not something he always did as a young Jesuit provincial, he said, and his authoritarian and quick manner of making decisions led to trouble.

    At the Vatican, he said, he wants to offer consistories of cardinals and synods of bishops a real chance for input, which means giving them “a less rigid form.” That’s the idea behind the “group of eight” cardinals he’s named to consult on Curia reform, he added.

    “I do not want token consultations, but real consultations,” he said. In particular, he said the Synod of Bishops in its current form is not dynamic and could learn lessons in collegiality from Orthodox brethren.

    As for the Roman Curia, the pope indicated that many problems and complaints brought to Rome’s attention can and should be dealt with by local bishops. “The Roman congregations are mediators; they are not middlemen or managers,” he said. Nor should they be “institutions of censorship,” he said.

    Pope Francis emphasized that the Catholic faithful, as the people of God, are “infallible in matters of belief.” He spoke of the “common sanctity” witnessed in daily life: “a woman who is raising children, a man who works to bring home the bread, the sick, the elderly priests who have so many wounds but have a smile on their faces because they served the Lord, the sisters who work hard and live a hidden sanctity.”

    In this sense, he said, the church is “the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people. We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity.”

    The Ignatian idea of “thinking with the church” involves a dialogue between all its members, he said. “We should not even think, therefore, that ‘thinking with the church’ means only thinking with the hierarchy of the church.”

    As he told reporters on his return flight from Brazil in July, the pope said the church “cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods.”

    “This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context,” he said.

    “The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time,” he said.

    Francis said the way the church teaches in the modern world is crucial to the success of evangelization, which must focus on the essentials.

    “The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently….We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel,” he said.

    Asked the about importance of the Second Vatican Council, the pope said its fruits have been enormous, particularly in the area of liturgy.

    He said the decision by Pope Benedict XVI to grant wider use of the Tridentine Mass was “prudent,” but added that there was a worrying risk of exploiting the old liturgy ideologically.

    All this confirms what we've seen and heard in bits and pieces over the last six months: that this pope has a new vision of papal ministry and is unafraid to put it into practice.


  • As pope meets Curia, new secretary of state makes waves

    As Pope Francis presided over a meeting of Roman Curia department heads today, his new pick for Secretary of State was making news on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Archbishop Pietro Parolin, in an interview with the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal, said among other things that the church’s tradition of priestly celibacy was not dogma and was therefore open to discussion. And he said that while the church was not a democracy, it needs to reflect the democratic spirit of the times and ad...  Read More...

  • Pope rejects pursuit of military solution in Syria as Vatican convenes diplomats

                 Archbishop Dominique Mamberti

    I'm at the Vatican this week, where Syria is the number one topic of discussion and concern.

    We just learned that in a letter sent yesterday to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pope Francis urged international leaders to “lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution” in Syria.

    It was the latest in a series of Vatican statements signaling opposition to President Obama’s planned attack on Syrian government forces and urging instead a renewed international-backed effort at diplomacy and negotiation.

    The pope wrote to Putin because the Russian leader is chairing a G20 summit that Obama is attending, but also perhaps because Russia has been a supporter of the Syrian regime headed by Bashar Hafez al-Assad, and therefore may have some influence with the Syrian leader.

    Francis condemned the “senseless massacre now unfolding” in Syria, and said the international community cannot remain indifferent to the suffering of the country’s civilian population. But he said the path to follow was dialogue, because “violence never begets peace.”

    The pope’s letter was made public today after a meeting of ambassadors summoned by the Vatican for an urgent discussion of the Syrian situation. Addressing the diplomats, the Vatican’s foreign affairs minister, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, expressed outrage at the recent chemical weapons attack in Syria that left more than 1,400 people dead and called for clarification in identifying those responsible.

    He cited Pope Francis’ recent condemnation of the attack: “There is a judgment of God and of history upon our actions which are inescapable!” The Obama administration has blamed the Syrian regime for the attack.

    Mamberti said the short-term priority in Syria is to stop the violence, and he warned of “unforeseeable consequences” if the fighting continues. He then listed several essential principles that need to be part of a just solution in Syria:

    -- Renewal of dialogue between all parties in Syria.

    -- Preservation of Syria’s unity and territorial integrity.

    -- Protection of all minorities, including Christians, in the future Syria, as well as respect for religious freedom.

    Mamberti also expressed the Vatican’s growing concern about the presence of “extremist groups” in Syria, often from other countries, and said opposition forces should keep their distance from such extremists and openly reject terrorism. This was a point also raised by several of the 71 ambassadors present for the discussion that followed, according to a Vatican spokesman.

    When it comes to the issue of a U.S. attack on Syrian government forces, there isn't much debate going on at the Vatican: everyone here seems to think it would be a very bad idea.

    The message from the pope and others is that a U.S. bombing of Syria would not bring peace any closer, would increase suffering in the country, would worsen the flow of refugees, would risk sparking a wider war and could further endanger the Christian community and other religious minorities in Syria.

    Pope Francis has called for a universal day of prayer and fasting for peace on Saturday, an appeal that’s struck a chord among other religious leaders, including Muslims in the Middle East.

    But it’s clear the pope also wants to make sure the Vatican’s diplomatic voice is heard, and thus his letter to Putin and the convocation of ambassadors.

    All this echoes 2003, when Pope John Paul II convened diplomats and strongly warned against the U.S. invasion of Iraq. There are important differences, of course – the United States is not planning an invasion of Syria – but many Vatican officials still point to Iraq as proof that military intervention often opens new chapters of suffering instead of resolving conflicts.

    When the United States and other Western powers took military action in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, there was significant support at the Vatican for international “humanitarian intervention” aimed at disarming the aggressor in the wake of ethnic cleansing and what Pope John Paul II called “crimes against humanity.”

    But Vatican sources said this week that what Obama has in mind in Syria does not fit the definition of “humanitarian intervention.” Nor is a plan for peace being put forward. And that’s why, in this moment, prayer and fasting are seen not just as a symbolic response, but as a way to promote a new vision and a new international approach to Syria. (For a perceptive treatment of this issue, see Drew Christiansen’s piece in the Washington Post yesterday.)

    Along with Middle East and U.S. bishops, several Vatican and church officials have weighed in on the Syrian question in recent days.

    Bishop Mario Toso, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said armed intervention in Syria could easily extend the fighting to other countries, a situation that “has all the ingredients to explode in a war of global dimensions.”

    Religious orders have enthusiastically supported the pope’s initiatives, and the superior general of the Jesuits, Father Alfonso Nicolas, took the unusual step of categorically rejecting the plan to attack Syria. “I have to admit, I don't understand what right the United States or France has to act against a country in a manner that will undoubtedly increase the suffering of a population that has already suffered enough,” he said.

    The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, has raised doubts about the United States’ attribution of the chemical attack to the Syrian government, saying that many find it “difficult to understand” why the Assad regime would cross the so-called “red line” of chemical weapons use when he appeared to be winning against the rebels.


  • Cruising the Mediterranean, landing in Rome

      Pope Francis among Naples Christmas creche figures

    Your blogger has been missing in action lately, but I have a good excuse. I've been lecturing on board the Prairie Home Companion 2013 Cruise from Barcelona to Venice, speaking daily about the Vatican, the new pope, life in Rome and other Italian topics on which I'm the designated house expert. (I know, it’s a tough gig, but somebody’s got to do it.)

    I'd never been on a cruise ship before, and I have to say this one was a winner. Garrison Keillor, who did two shows every evening in the main showroom, loaded the boat with so much entertainment that it was hard to know where to turn. Richard Dworsky led the Guy’s All-Star Shoe Band. Guitarists Pat Donohue and Dean Magraw, mandolinist Peter Ostroushko, the great piano player and clarinetist Butch Thompson, singer Heather Masse and another singer, Hilary Thavis – yes, our daughter – were just some of the folks on board. So was Fred Newman, a genuinely funny guy who commands an arsenal of sound effects.

    In one of the most hilarious acts, Sue Scott and Tim Russell staged an “interview” with retired Pope Benedict by an Italian talk show hostess. The idea that a retired pope could do the talk show circuit is not, of course, impossible, but the portrayal of Benedict subjecting himself to inane celebrity treatment hit my funnybone.

    One of our cruise stops was Civitavecchia, the port of Rome, and I shepherded a small group to a Sunday papal blessing. I have to say I’m used to following the pope on a TV monitor as an accredited journalist in the press room. But on this Sunday my press badge was replaced by a cruise excursion sticker. I stood in St. Peter’s Square with about 50,000 others, watching as a tiny figure in white appeared at the window of an apartment complex he has chosen not to inhabit. Listening to Pope Francis talk, one can easily understand his popular appeal. The gate may be narrow, he said, but everyone is called to salvation, especially sinners. The road to salvation is not supposed to be a torture chamber. As I told cruise passengers who didn't speak Italian, his basic message seemed to be: Live the just life, but don't beat up on yourselves when you fall short. The APHC passengers seemed fascinated by Pope Francis, which is probably why my “Vatican Decoded” talk was standing-room-only and had to be repeated twice during the cruise.

    We disembarked in Venice and now I’m in Rome for a couple of weeks, to present the Italian edition of my book, The Vatican Diaries, and to lay the groundwork for my next project. I’m hoping to bump into the pope somewhere along the way.


  • A new Vatican secretary of state

     Archbishop Pietro Parolin, new Vatican secretary of state

    As expected, Pope Francis today named Italian Archbishop Pietro Parolin as his new secretary of state. The move is important primarily because it brings diplomacy front and center to a position that for the last seven years was held by a non-diplomat.

    Archbishop Parolin, 58, is known around the Vatican as super-skilled in foreign affairs, having served in Vatican embassies (called nunciatures) in Mexico, Nigeria and, most recently, in Venezuela as apostolic nuncio. He is a graduate of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, the Vatican’s diplomatic school, where students are hand-picked.

    From 2002 to 2009, Parolin worked at the Secretariat of State’s headquarters at the Vatican, serving as the undersecretary for relations with states, a kind of deputy foreign minister. Although not a high-profile job, it was one of the most important at the Vatican; among other things, he was assigned to help untie diplomatic knots in China, Vietnam and Israel.

    When U.S. Embassy personnel needed to discuss important diplomatic affairs with the Vatican, more often than not they went to see Parolin. That included some less-than-agreeable meetings when the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, a move sharply criticized by the Vatican.

    Parolin was also helpful to journalists covering the Vatican – on background, of course. He could brief reporters on just about any global issue in about five minutes, and he seemed to understand that the media’s accuracy improved when it had more information. He was known as a realist and a pragmatist.

    Parolin replaces Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, 78, a man who was Pope Benedict’s number two at the doctrinal congregation and who came to the Secretariat of State with zero diplomatic training. Many hold Bertone responsible for the series of missteps, miscommunications and leaks that marred Benedict’s final years in office.

    Bertone, in the eyes of his critics, acted more as czar than diplomat-in-chief, in part because traditionally the secretary of state has coordinated the work of the Roman Curia and internal church affairs as well as foreign affairs. The big question mark that remains after today’s announcement is whether Pope Francis intends to maintain that dual role, or whether the position could be redefined and refocused in the Curia reform envisioned by the new pope.

    Here is the Vatican's announcement, followed by a brief statement by Archbishop Parolin, who takes office Oct. 15:


    The Holy Father has accepted, in keeping with Can. 354 of the Code of Canon Law, the resignation of His Eminence, Card. Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of State, asking him, however, to remain in office until 15 October, 2013, with all the faculties proper to the office.

    At the same time, the Holy Father has nominated Archbishop Pietro Parolin, Apostolic Nuncio to Venezuela, as the new Secretary of State. He shall take possession of his office on 15 October, 2013.

    On that occasion, His Holiness shall receive in audience Superiors and Officials of the Secretariat of State, in order publically to thank Cardinal Bertone for his faithful and generous service to the Holy See, and to introduce them to the new Secretary of State.


    At this moment, in which my appointment as Secretary of State is made public, I desire to express deep and affectionate gratitude to the Holy Father, Francis, for the unmerited trust he is showing me, and to make known to him once again my willingness and complete availability to work with him and under his guidance for the greater glory of God, the good of the Holy Church, and the progress and peace of humanity, that humanity might find reasons to live and to hope.

    I feel very strongly the grace of this call, which is yet another and the latest of God’s surprises in my life. Above all, I feel the full weight of the responsibility placed upon me: this call entrusts to me a difficult and challenging mission, before which my powers are weak and my abilities poor. For this reason, I entrust myself to the merciful love of the Lord, from whom nothing and no one can ever separate me, and to the prayers of all. I thank all those who have shown and who, starting now, will show me understanding, as well as for any and all manner of help that anyone might desire to offer me in my new undertaking.

    My thoughts go to my family and to all the persons who have been part of my life: in the parishes into which I was born and in which I served; in the dear Diocese of Vicenza; at Rome; in the countries in which I have worked – from Nigeria, to Mexico, and most recently in Venezuela, which I am sorry to leave. I think also of Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI, who ordained me bishop, I think of the Secretariat of State, which was my home for many years, of His Eminence, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, of the other Superiors, colleagues and collaborators and of the whole Roman Curia, as well as of all those who represent the Holy Father and the Holy See diplomatically around the world. I owe a great debt to them all.

    It is with trepidation that I place myself in this new service to the Gospel, to the Church and to Pope Francis, but also with trust and serenity – disposed – as the Holy Father has asked us from the beginning – to walk, to build and to profess.

    May our Lady, whom I like to invoke under her titles as Our Lady of Monte Berico, Guadalupe and Coromoto, give us, “The courage, to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Lord’s Cross; to build the Church on the Lord’s blood which was poured out on the Cross; and to profess the one glory: Christ crucified. And in this way, the Church will go forward.”

    And, as they say in Venezuela, “¡Que Dios les bendiga!”.

    Caracas, 31 agosto 2013


  • 'Who am I to judge?' marks new tone on homosexuality

    It’s amazing how five simple words – “Who am I to judge?” – can change perceptions and open doors.

    The words came from Pope Francis to reporters on his plane back to Rome following a weeklong trip to Brazil, and the topic was homosexuality.

    The pope's remarks were telling, both for what he said and what he didn't say.

    I was not on the plane, but my former colleague Cindy Wooden of Catholic News Service was on board:

    "A gay person who is seeking God, who is of good will – well, who am I to judge him?" the pope said. "The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well. It says one must not marginalize these persons, they must be integrated into society. The problem isn't this (homosexual) orientation – we must be like brothers and sisters."

    Amid the media attention that inevitably followed, it’s important to note that although the pope was responding to a question about an alleged “gay lobby” in the Vatican, his comment was not specifically about gay priests.

    Some media have portrayed the pope as saying he would not judge priests for their sexual orientation, which would seem to call into question the Vatican’s 2005 document that ruled out ordination for men with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies.” Based on the pope’s actual words, I think that’s a stretch.

    In fact, what the pope said – as he himself pointed out – is essentially affirmed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states that gay men and women “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.”

    What the pope didn't discuss with journalists was the catechism’s line that the homosexual inclination is itself “disordered.” That was the basis for the Vatican’s ban on gay priests. Francis didn’t disown that particular teaching, he just didn't mention it.

    It’s an important shift in emphasis. And Pope Francis is clearly trying to reach out to those who have been alienated by the church’s statements about homosexuality in recent years.

    Although comparison between Pope Francis and Pope Benedict is not always fair, I think in this case it’s instructive. When asked about the church’s teaching on homosexuality in a book-length interview in 2010, Pope Benedict responded that gay men and women deserve respect, but added:

    "This does not mean that homosexuality thereby becomes morally right. Rather, it remains contrary to the essence of what God originally willed.”

    Pope Benedict went on to say that homosexuality among the clergy was “one of the miseries of the church” and that “homosexuality is incompatible with the priestly vocation.”

    “Who am I to judge?” sends a very different message.

    UPDATE: Here's a translation of the relevant portion of the Q and A aboard the papal flight. The English translation was done by Father Tom Rosica of Salt + Light TV, on the basis of an Italian transcript provided by Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi:

    The Question to Pope Francis from Ilse, a journalist on the Papal flight

    Ilse: I would like to ask permission to pose a rather delicate question.  Another image that went around the world is that of Monsignor Ricca and the news about his personal life.  I would like to know, your Holiness, what will be done about this question.  How should one deal with this question and how does your Holiness wish to deal with the whole question of the gay lobby?

    The Pope’s Answer

    Regarding the matter of Monsignor Ricca, I did what Canon Law required and did the required investigation.  And from the investigation, we did not find anything corresponding to the accusations against him.  We found none of that.  That is the answer.  But I would like to add one more thing to this: I see that so many times in the Church, apart from this case and also in this case, one  looks for the "sins of youth," for example, is it not thus?, And then these things are published.  These things are not crimes.  The crimes are something else: child abuse is a crime.  But sins, if a person, or secular priest or a nun, has committed a sin and then that person experienced conversion, the Lord forgives and when the Lord forgives, the Lord forgets and this is very important for our lives.  When we go to confession and we truly say “I have sinned in this matter,” the Lord forgets and we do not have the right to not forget because we run the risk that the Lord will not forget our sins, eh?  This is a danger.  This is what is important: a theology of sin.  So many times I think of St. Peter: he committed one of the worst sins denying Christ.  And with this sin they made him Pope.  We must think about fact often.

    But returning to your question more concretely: in this case [Ricca] I did the required investigation and we found nothing.  That is the first question.  Then you spoke of the gay lobby.  Agh… so much is written about the gay lobby.  I have yet to find on a Vatican identity card the word gay.  They say there are some gay people here.  I think that when we encounter a gay person, we must make the distinction between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of a lobby, because lobbies are not good.  They are bad.  If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge that person?  The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this point beautifully but says, wait a moment, how does it say, it says, these persons must never be marginalized and “they must be integrated into society.”

    The problem is not that one has this tendency; no, we must be brothers, this is the first matter.  There is another problem, another one: the problem is to form a lobby of those who have this tendency, a lobby of the greedy people, a lobby of politicians, a lobby of Masons, so many lobbies.  This is the most serious problem for me. And thank you so much for doing this question. Thank you very much!  Read More...

  • A pope who likes to shake things up

    What to make of a pope who tells young Catholics to go back to their dioceses and “make a mess!”

    Or, allowing for ambiguity in translation, “stir up trouble!” or “shake things up!”

    However the words were rendered into English, one thing was clear: Pope Francis believes that the old ways of the church are not enough in today’s world, that it needs new approaches, a shake-up – which of course is what the pope is trying to do at the Vatican, as well.

    Here’s how the Vatican officially translated the pope’s remarks, delivered off-the-cuff to Argentinian pilgrims at World Youth Day in Brazil:

    “I want you to make yourselves heard in your dioceses, I want the noise to go out, I want the church to go out onto the streets, I want us to resist everything worldly, everything static, everything comfortable, everything to do with clericalism, everything that might make us closed in on ourselves. The parishes, the schools, the institutions are made for going out ... if they don’t, they become an NGO, and the church cannot be an NGO. May the bishops and priests forgive me if some of you create a bit of confusion afterward. That’s my advice. Thanks for whatever you can do.”

    That’s a radical message from a pope, and yet it was perfectly in line with Francis’ effort to move the church out of the sacristy and into the street, away from theological debates and toward real-life encounters with the suffering and marginalized.

    Throughout his seven days in Brazil, the pope tried to do just that. He lunched with young people and heard their confessions, prayed with inmates and visited recovering drug addicts, embraced the sick at a local hospital, chatted with a poor family in a Rio de Janeiro slum and challenged the world’s powerful to end social and economic inequality.

    The pope communicated solidarity in small ways that caught people’s attention, too: asking trash pickers to join him on the papal platform for the Stations of the Cross, for example, or arriving in a simple grey sedan instead of an armored limousine.

    His meetings and gestures humanized the church’s social teaching, making it less abstract. In one pastoral setting after another, the pope himself came across more as a figure from the Gospel than an official from Rome.

    For those and other reasons, Pope Francis can look at his first foreign trip as a success on many fronts.

    -- He critiqued what he called a “culture of selfishness and individualism,” saying that an economic model based on material gain has been unable to feed the hungry or make people truly happy. That’s a message that seemed to resonate with young people, especially when the pope took aim at the corruption and economic injustice that’s helped spawn recent protests in Brazil.

    -- The pope implicitly addressed the challenge raised by Pentecostal and evangelical communities, which have attracted many Brazilian Catholics over the last 30 years. He did so primarily by showing attention to spiritual needs of the suffering – the kind of attention many say they have not found in the Catholic Church.

    On another level, Francis’ insistence on the Gospel of the poor stood in marked contrast with the “prosperity theology” espoused by some Brazilian Christian preachers.

    And while he spoke of an “exodus” of Catholics in recent decades, the pope made clear that his evangelization strategy is not so much about restoring the Catholic Church’s numbers, but revitalizing its energy throughout Latin America and the world. As he told young people at the closing Mass, “The church needs you, your enthusiasm, your creativity and the joy that is so characteristic of you.”

    -- He gave some strong marching orders to Catholic ministers and pastoral workers, telling them to promote a “culture of encounter” with those outside the church: “We cannot keep ourselves shut up in parishes, in our communities, when so many people are waiting for the Gospel! It is not enough simply to open the door in welcome, but we must go out through that door to seek and meet the people!”

    And taking a page from his own playbook, the pope encouraged ministers to reject intellectualism and speak the language of simplicity. He spelled it out bluntly: “At times we lose people because they don’t understand what we are saying.”

    -- Francis connected with the young – but reminded them to keep in mind the elderly. It was clear that the pope sees young people in the church as part of a larger community, not as an isolated subset that needs a special “marketing” approach by the hierarchy.

    He emphasized that young people need to appreciate the experience and wisdom of elders, who are often forgotten by society. In this way, he introduced a new theme into World Youth Day: that the young and the old are sometimes victims of our modern economy, which treats both categories as disposable. "We do the elderly an injustice. We set them aside as if they had nothing to offer us," he said.

    -- In his speeches, the pope had little or nothing to say about hot button issues like abortion, birth control, gay marriage or sexual permissiveness. But at the closing Mass, he asked to personally bless a baby girl born with anencephaly, a condition in which a large part of the brain is missing. Most children with the condition do not survive or are aborted. The pope’s gesture, in the view of Vatican officials, spoke much louder than a speech about abortion.

    -- The 76-year-old pope’s high energy level during the trip, especially his enthusiasm in crowd settings, put to rest any concerns about his age or health.

    As he heads back to Rome, the success of this trip is going to segue into tough challenges. When September rolls around, he’ll go from a long honeymoon into a season of expected results on a wide variety of issues, including Curia reform, the Vatican bank, collegiality and governance.

    At some point, he’ll be expected to spell out some details behind the popular phrases like “going to the outskirts” to evangelize. Does that mean building bridges to disaffected Catholics? Opening up the sacraments for those who are divorced and remarried? Bringing more lay men and women in to decision-making positions at the highest church levels? Asking bishops and priests to give up some of the material privileges they enjoy?

    We’ll see in coming months if he takes his own advice and shakes things up at the Vatican. And we’ll see if he makes a bit of a “mess” along the way.

  • "Here there are many 'masters' of the pope"

    It's clear to everyone by now that Pope Francis likes to pick up the phone and call old friends. Argentine journalist Jorge Milia was on the receiving end of a recent call from his former teacher, Jorge Bergoglio, and Milia's report on that conversation makes for fascinating reading. (Hat tip here to my Italian colleague Lucio Brunelli.)

    Milia recounts that in their phone conversation, Pope Francis spoke endearingly about Pope Benedict, whom he calls "el viejo" -- literally, "the old man," but a term that carries with it affection and respect.

    "Today I was with el viejo, and we talked a lot. It's a pleasure for me to exchange ideas with him.... You can’t imagine the humility and wisdom of this man,” the pope told me.

    “Well, then keep him close to you,” I replied.

    “I wouldn't even consider giving up the counsel of a person like this, it would be foolish on my part!”

    Milia tells Francis that people view him as more approachable than his predecessor, and that Francis gives the impression that people can come up and speak to him. The pope replies:

    “And why not? Certainly, they should be able to do that! It’s my duty to listen to them, to pray with them, to hold their hands so they feel that they’re not alone.”

    But the pope adds that not everyone around him at the Vatican can easily accept this.

    “It’s not easy, Jorge, here there are many ‘masters’ (padroni) of the pope, and with a lot of seniority in years of service.”

    The pope went on to say that every change he’s introduced so far has cost him great effort. He said the most difficult battle was in maintaining some management of his own agenda of activities, instead of having it imposed on him. For that reason, he said, he chose not to live in the formal papal apartment, because many popes have become “prisoners” of their secretaries.

    “I am the one who decides who to see, not my secretaries…. Sometimes I cannot see who I’d like, because I need to see who asks for me.”


  • A pair of popes headed toward sainthood

    Today, the popes came in pairs.

    First, Pope Francis and retired Pope Benedict met in the Vatican Gardens, where together they blessed a new statue of St. Michael the Archangel – a project approved by Benedict and brought to conclusion under Francis.

    Next, the Vatican released what was termed Pope Francis’ “first encyclical,” Lumen Fidei (“The Light of Faith”), a text that was written primarily by Pope Benedict before his retirement. Although signed by Francis, the encyclical is clearly Benedict’s in style and substance.

    And then the Vatican confirmed canonization plans – not only for Blessed Pope John Paul II, which had been expected, but also for Blessed Pope John XXIII. It’s not yet certain that the two popes will be declared saints together, but remarks by a Vatican spokesman seemed to suggest that may happen before the end of the year.

    The action on John XXIII was unusual because it illustrated that the Vatican is willing to bend its own rules, specifically a procedural norm that calls for approval of two miracles before canonization – a first miracle before beatification and a second one before canonization.

    For Blessed Pope John Paul II, that second miracle was studied at length and given final approval today. It involved a Costa Rican woman who recovered inexplicably from a brain aneurysm after prayers to John Paul.

    But for Pope John XXIII, who was beatified in 2000, no second miracle was on the horizon. Nevertheless, the Congregation for Saints’ Causes recommended that Pope Francis proceed to canonization of John XXIII, and the pope agreed, subject to confirmation by a consistory of cardinals.

    There are several likely reasons for waiving the second miracle requirement for the canonization of Pope John XXIII, and the first is timing. The Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, noted the ongoing 50th anniversary of the 1962-65 Second Vatican Council, convened by John XXIII. The spokesman added that John XXIII was much loved throughout the church, and that “none of us has any doubts about John XXIII’s virtues.”

    It’s hard to believe that this decision does not reflect Pope Francis’ priorities, and his eagerness to revitalize the spirit of dialogue and interaction with the world that was characteristic of Vatican II and John XXIII.

    Canonizing the two popes together would also create a broad-based, unifying event for the Catholic Church at the beginning of Pope Francis’ pontificate. It would show that sainthood, like the church, has room for very different models of holiness. On a more practical level, I think dual canonization would mute some of the criticism of John Paul II, particularly by those who believe he did not do enough to counter clerical sex abuse.

    As for the Vatican breaking its own rules, there’s no doubt that Pope Francis can dispense with the second miracle requirement, just as Pope Benedict dispensed with the five-year waiting period before the beatification of John Paul II.

    But the move is bound to raise questions about how the Vatican’s saintmaking procedures are applied, especially in view of Father Lombardi’s remark that discussion will continue about the need for miracles in the canonization process. The church generally used to require four miracles before canonization. That was reduced to two under Pope John Paul II, and some are now arguing that one might be enough.


  • Is the Vatican bank irreformable?

    Paolo Cipriani, who resigned as director of the Vatican bank

    The abrupt resignations of two top officials of the Vatican bank signaled a new chapter – and a new challenge – in Vatican financial reform.

    Late Monday, the Vatican announced that the director, Paolo Cipriani, and the deputy director, Massimo Tulli, were resigning “in the best interest of the institute and the Holy See.”

    The move was remarkable because it showed the Vatican reacting in real time to a breaking scandal. Three days earlier, Italian police arrested Msgr. Nunzio Scarano, an accountant in a Vatican investment office, on suspicion of smuggling tens of millions of euros into Italy from Switzerland.

    Msgr. Scarano didn’t work at the Vatican bank, but he had at least one account there, and investigators believe he may have used the account to illegally move more than $700,000 between the Vatican and Italy. If that is true, it would appear to confirm widespread suspicions that the Vatican bank continues to be used as an offshore haven to circumvent Italian regulations – despite the Vatican’s insistence that strict controls are now in place.

    Moreover, Italian investigators say they have wiretapped recordings of conversations in which Scarano discussed the movement of funds with both Cipriani and Tulli. That doesn’t mean they were in on an illegal scheme, but at the least it raises questions about lack of oversight.

    Faced with a new wave of embarrassing headlines, rather than waiting for the waters to calm, the Vatican acted with unusual speed. That probably reflects the view from the top: Pope Francis has emphasized that there should be no room for personal gain or shady transactions in church finances. But it also may reflect the policies of the new Vatican bank president, Ernst von Freyberg, whose nomination in February was one of Pope Benedict’s last acts as pontiff.

    Von Freyberg must realize that the Vatican bank, known officially as the Institute for the Works of Religion, is fighting for its life. Pope Francis’ recent remark that “St. Paul did not have a bank account” was a signal that radical measures – including suppression of the bank – have not been ruled out.

    Last week the pope named a five-person commission to determine how, and if, the Vatican bank fits in with the church’s overall mission.

    For his part, von Freyberg has announced steps toward greater transparency, including publication of an annual financial report. Many at the Vatican maintain that the church needs an institution like the Vatican bank in order to serve the interests of missionary territories, religious orders and charity projects around the world.

    But there are others who argue that because the Vatican operates as a state surrounded by Italy, the bank and its 33,000 individual accounts will always provide opportunities for abuse – especially when most Vatican bank officials and many account holders come from Italy.

    One year ago, Cipriani hosted a two-hour presentation at the Vatican bank for some 60 journalists, an unprecedented attempt to show how the institute was working toward greater transparency in compliance with international regulations.

    Today, Cipriani’s departure is yet another sign that the Vatican bank may be irreformable.


  • Settling in for a fascinating journey

    The first 100 days of a pope are not like the first 100 days of a president or prime minister or a CEO. A pope thinks long-term, and is under less pressure to put forward a series of short-term goals or programs. Most of the issues facing a pope transcend the pragmatic and the political. They require careful thought, prayer and consultation, not a string of policy statements.

    For journalists, though, 100 days is a marker that requires evaluation and commentary. It was certainly the hot topic at the Catholic Media Conference this week in Denver, where I gave a talk this morning to several hundred Catholic communicators.

    So what do we know about Pope Francis after 100 days in office? We’ve had no important documents, few significant appointments and no earth-shaking reforms of the Roman Curia.

    But we do have a healthy dose of papal thinking and papal preaching – on everything ranging from clerical careerism to sweatshop employment. And we have a number of papal gestures that speak volumes to people inside and outside the church.

    I don't want to recap Pope Francis’ 100-day “greatest hits” here. Instead, I’d like to identify a few core characteristics and directions that seem to be emerging:

    1. Francis has relocated the papacy outside the Roman Curia.

    First, choosing to live in the less formal Vatican guesthouse instead of the papal apartments has turned out to be a crucial decision, because geography counts at the Vatican. The papal apartments are surrounded by Roman Curia offices, deep inside the Apostolic Palace, and Francis would have been much more isolated there. He is a people person, after all.

    Second, the pope has named a group of eight cardinals – now to be expanded to nine – to advise him on matters of church governance and Roman Curia reform. Only one is a member of the Roman Curia. Nothing said more clearly that Francis intends to rely less on Vatican insiders and more on the world’s bishops when it comes to governing.

    Third, much of the pope’s preaching has come in morning Masses at the Vatican guesthouse, in off-the-cuff homilies that are brief, insightful and sharply worded. The Vatican bureaucracy doesn't even consider these homilies part of the pope’s real Magisterium, and has yet to publish full texts. One reason, I think, is that unlike formal papal speeches, these extemporized talks don’t go through the usual bureaucratic machinery. They are less controlled by the Curia.

    2. Francis has begun his “reform” of the Vatican by evangelizing.

    The people who attend the pope’s morning Masses are groups of Vatican officials and employees, and his words are directed at them in a particular way. In that sense, 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 is evangelizing the Vatican. He’s laying the spiritual groundwork for reform, by preaching the Gospel in his own back yard. For him, “new evangelization” begins at home.

    3. The pope’s vision of the church’s role is less about internal identity and more about external influence.

    He wants the church to be present in people’s lives. For priests, that means getting out with their faithful and sharing their problems – as he put it in his memorable and earthy phrase, pastors should have “the odor of sheep.” For bishops, it means an end to careerism (today he told nuncios that when evaluating candidates for bishop, they should avoid ambitious prelates and choose pastors who are close to the people.)

    For lay Catholics, it means being willing to live the Gospel and proclaim it joyfully in word and deed, especially to those who are suffering. Although this takes courage, evangelization is not a burden, and shouldn't seem like one, the pope said.

    4. The pope’s social justice agenda is slowly taking center stage. 

    His sharply worded challenges to the global economic system (“We live in a world where money rules … “We need to flip things over, like a tortilla: Money is not the image and likeness of God.”) indicate that his planned encyclical, “Blessed Are the Poor,” will not be easily spun by the defenders of an unrestricted free-market economy.

    But his economic Gospel is not merely aimed at international agencies and power brokers. He wants the church to embody concern for the poor and suffering, and has cautioned priests and bishops to resist the lure of the business model. “Proclaiming the Gospel must take the road of poverty.” He understands that practicing what one preaches is the key to church credibility in the eyes of many people today.

    5. He has confidence in his own spontaneity. 

    So far, he’s willing to be unscripted in “safe” settings like the morning Mass or an audience with children, but also in “unsafe” settings like his conversation with the officials of the Latin American Conference of Religious. I’ve seen other popes go down this path (even Benedict like to extemporize at first) but top Vatican officials would pretty quickly convince them that a prepared text is better for everyone. It seems to me that Francis has decided otherwise, and I think the reason is that, for him, being a pastor is not the same as being a speechgiver.

    At 100 days, I think we’re beyond the “honeymoon” period. We’re settling into a fascinating pontificat


  • Pope Francis on corruption, 'gay lobby' in Roman Curia

    The pope with officials of Latin American Conference of Religious

    A Chilean website has published a partial account of a conversation in which Pope Francis purportedly confirms the existence of a “gay lobby” in the Vatican, warns of a “restorationist” movement in the church and frankly confesses his own disorganization when it comes to governing.

    The pope is said to have made the remarks in a conversation June 6 with top officials of the Latin American Conference of Religious. The partial text was published Sunday by the Reflexion y liberacion website, and translated today into English by the Rorate Caeli website.

    I asked Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman about the authenticity of the text, and he responded: “The meeting of the Holy Father with the presidency of CLAR was a meeting of a private nature. I therefore have no statement to make on the proceedings or on the content of the conversation.”

    It’s important to point out that the text appears to be more working notes than an actual transcript, with plenty of ellipses. That means that nuances and qualifiers may have been lost along the way.

    Nevertheless, the text appears to echo the tone of Pope Francis’ off-the-cuff comments on other occasions. And it would seem that if anything patently false were reported, the Vatican would not have passed on the opportunity to knock it down.

    Asked about his plans to reform the Roman Curia, the pope is quoted as saying:

    And, yes... it is difficult. In the Curia, there are also holy people, really, there are holy people. But there also is a stream of corruption, there is that as well, it is true... The "gay lobby" is mentioned, and it is true, it is there... We need to see what we can do...

    And later:

    Reform of the Roman Curia almost everyone asked for in general congregations: I am very disorganized, I have never been good at this. But the cardinals of the Commission will move it forward.

    The pope used the term “gay lobby” in the original Spanish, and he appeared to be referencing newspaper reports from last March, which alleged that a network of gay clerics inside the Vatican wielded great influence and was the subject of an investigation ordered by the retired Pope Benedict.

    The account of Pope Francis’ conversation with CLAR officials begins with the pope apparently referring to the Vatican’s recent investigation of U.S. sisters, and the relationship between the doctrinal congregation and religious orders:

    They will make mistakes, they will make a blunder, this will pass! Perhaps even a letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine (of the Faith) will arrive for you, telling you that you said such or such thing... But do not worry. Explain whatever you have to explain, but move forward... Open the doors, do something there where life calls for it.

    The pope identified two particular concerns. First, “restorationist groups” that would take the church backward in its practices, such as measuring spiritual value in the number of rosaries recited.

    Second, he said, a certain pantheism of an educated elite. “I heard of a superior general that prompted the sisters of her congregation to not pray in the morning, but to spiritually bathe in the cosmos, things like that.”

    UPDATE: CLAR officials apologized in a statement today for the publication of what they said was a synthesis of participants' impressions following the meeting with Pope Francis. No recording of the meeting was made, the statement said, and therefore the synthesis was not a verbatim text.

    "It is clear that, based on this, one cannot attribute to the Holy Father, with certainty, the specific expressions contained in the text, but only the general sense," it said.

    Here is the Rorate Caeli translation of the text published by Reflexion y liberacion:

    Audience with Pope Francis

    CLAR, 06.06.13

    "Open the doors... Open the doors!"

    They will make mistakes, they will make a blunder [meter la pata], this will pass! Perhaps even a letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine (of the Faith) will arrive for you, telling you that you said such or such thing... But do not worry. Explain whatever you have to explain, but move forward... Open the doors, do something there where life calls for it. I would rather have a Church that makes mistakes for doing something than one that gets sick for being closed up...

    (on his election) I did not lose my peace [of mind - no perdí la paz] at any moment, you know? And this is not from myself, I am of the kind that gets worried, that gets upset... But I did not lose my peace at any moment. This confirms to me that this comes from God...

    (upon mentioning to him the hope that his gestures at this time have brought us, he makes reference to having stayed at Santa Marta) ....these gestures... they have not come from me. They have not occurred to me. It is not as if I had brought a plan, nor that I have made one myself once elected. I do it because I felt this was what the Lord wanted. But these gestures are not mine, there is Someone else here... this gives me confidence.

    I came [to Rome] only with the necessary clothes, I washed them at night, and suddenly this... And I did not have any chance! In the London betting houses I was in 44th place, look at that, the one who bet on me won a lot, of course...! This does not come from me...

    It is necessary to shake things up [flip things over, lit. dar vuelta (a) la tortilla]. It is not news that an old man dies of cold in Ottaviano [Rorate note: referring to the surroundings of via Ottaviano and the Ottaviano Rome Metro station, near the Vatican], or that there be so many children with no education, or hungry, I think of Argentina...On the other hand, the main stock exchanges go up or down 3 points, and this is a world event. One must shake things up! This cannot be. Computers are not made in the image and likeness of God; they are an instrument, yes, but nothing more. Money is not image and likeness of God. Only the person is image and likeness of God. It is necessary to flip it over. This is the gospel.

    It is necessary to go to the causes, to the roots. Abortion is bad, but that is clear. But behind the approval of this law, what interests are behind it... they are at times the conditions posed by the great organizations to support with money, you know that? It is necessary to go to the causes, we cannot remain only in the symptoms. Do not be afraid to denounce... you will suffer, you will have problems, but do not be afraid to denounce, that is the prophecy of religious life...

    I share with you two concerns. One is the Pelagian current that there is in the Church at this moment. There are some restorationist groups. I know some, it fell upon me to receive them in Buenos Aires. And one feels as if one goes back 60 years! Before the Council... One feels in 1940... An anecdote, just to illustrate this, it is not to laugh at it, I took it with respect, but it concerns me; when I was elected, I received a letter from one of these groups, and they said: "Your Holiness, we offer you this spiritual treasure: 3,525 rosaries." Why don't they say, 'we pray for you, we ask...', but this thing of counting... And these groups return to practices and to disciplines that I lived through - not you, because you are not old - to disciplines, to things that in that moment took place, but not now, they do not exist today...

    The second [concern] is for a Gnostic current. Those Pantheisms... Both are elite currents, but this one is of a more educated elite... I heard of a superior general that prompted the sisters of her congregation to not pray in the morning, but to spiritually bathe in the cosmos, things like that... They concern me because they ignore the incarnation! And the Son of God became our flesh, the Word was made flesh, and in Latin America we have flesh abundantly [de tirar al techo]! What happens to the poor, their pains, this is our flesh...

    The gospel is not the old rule, nor this Pantheism. If you look at the periphery; the destitute... the drug addicts! The traffic of people... This is the gospel. The poor are the gospel...

    (upon mentioning the hardship of being in charge of the Roman Curia, and the commission of cardinals who will support him, etc.) And, yes... it is difficult. In the Curia, there are also holy people, really, there are holy people. But there also is a stream of corruption, there is that as well, it is true... The "gay lobby" is mentioned, and it is true, it is there... We need to see what we can do...

    The reform of the Roman Curia is something that almost all Cardinals asked for in the Congregations preceding the Conclave. I also asked for it. I cannot promote the reform myself, these matters of administration... I am very disorganized, I have never been good at this. But the cardinals of the Commission will move it forward. There is Rodríguez Maradiaga, who is Latin American, who is in front of it, there is Errázuriz, they are very organized. The one from Munich is also very organized. They will move it forward.

    Pray for me... that I make mistakes the least possible...

    Aparecida is not over. [Rorate note: the reference is to the 5th General Conference of the Latin American Episcopate, held in the Marian shrine of Aparecida, Brazil, in 2007. See our lengthy coverage of the meeting in our Aparecida Notes series.] Aparecida is not simply a document. It was an event. Aparecida was a different thing. First, because there was no working draft. There were suggesions, but not a draft. And in the end, there was no document either, but on the eve of the final day, we had 2,300 "notes"... Aparecida moved towards the continental mission. There ends Aparecida, in the push towards mission.

    What Aparecida had that was special was that it was not celebrated in a hotel, nor in a retreat house... it was celebrated in a Marian shrine. During the week, we celebrated the eucharist and there were some 250 people, because it was a regular workday. But on the weekends, it was full....! The people of God joined the Bishops, asking for the Holy Spirit...

    I saw - I name him because I see him more standoffish, more like this, he is good, but he is like that - I saw the Prefect, João [Rorate note: João Braz de Aviz, then-Archbishop of Brasilia, now Cardinal-Prefect of Religious], who went out with his miter, and people got close to him, and they brought the children near, and he greeted them, and hugged them like this... This same bishop then voted. He could not have voted the same way as if he had been in a hotel!

    We had the meeting rooms under the Shrine. So the background music were the chants, the celebrations in the Shrine... This made it very special.

    There is something that concerns me, even though I do not know now to understand it. There are religious congregations, very, very tiny groups, a few persons, very old people... They have no vocations, what do I know, the Holy Spirit do not want them to go on, perhaps they have already fulfilled their mission in the Church, I do not know... But there they are, clinging to their buildings, clinging to money... I do not know why this happens, I do not know how to understand it. But I ask you to be concerned with these groups... The management of money... is something that needs to be reflected upon.

    Enjoy this moment that we live in the Congregation for Consecrated Life... It is a moment of sunshine... Enjoy. The Prefect [Cardinal Aviz] is good. And the Secretary [Abp. Rodríguez Carballo, OFM], that was "lobbied" by you! No, really, being the president of USG [Union of Superiors General], the logical thing was that it would be him! It's better...

    Place all your effort in the dialogue with the Bishops. With CELAM [Latin American Episcopal Conference], with the national conferences... I know there are some who have a different idea of communion, but... Talk, speak with them, tell them...  Read More...

  • A medal with an illustrious past

                    The Faith and Culture Gold Medal

    This week I was in Windsor, Ontario, the guest of Assumption University, which awarded me the Faith and Culture Gold Medal for 2013. Father Tom Rosica, founder and head of the Salt + Light Television network, presented the medal and introduced a lecture I gave on the Vatican and modern communication.

    The first thing to say is that the more I learned about this award and its past recipients, the more I was humbled by joining their company. Established in 1941 to highlight the accomplishments of lay Christians, the medal has been conferred on Jacques Maritain, Dorothy Day, Marshal McLuhan, Barbara Ward, Jean Vanier, Henry Ford II and Malcolm Muggeridge, among many others.

    In the “it’s a small world” department, I also learned that over the years the medal was designed and executed by a series of five artists, including, in the 1940s, Carlos Cotton, who lived a stone’s throw from my wife’s childhood home in Collegeville, Minnesota.

    The medal depicts a hand and a mustard plant, symbolizing human cooperation expected by God for the coming of the Kingdom. (The parable of the mustard seed from the Gospel of Matthew: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the ‘birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.’”)

    The event in Windsor drew a huge crowd, perhaps reflecting the widespread interest in all things Vatican with the election of the new pope. In my talk, I outlined why I think the Vatican is at a communications crossroads today, and why I see hopeful signs that the pontificate of Pope Francis could nudge it toward greater transparency and effectiveness.

    In my book, “The Vatican Diaries,” I delve into the backstage story behind several of the Vatican’s communications miscues and missteps in recent years. One of the underlying causes has been the Vatican’s proprietary approach to information – it still believes, for example, that low-level officials of the Secretariat of State can take off-the-cuff comments by a pope and “tweak” (i.e., rewrite) them for the official record.

    As a Vatican official once told me: “There is no ‘official’ text until it appears in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis.” That’s the Vatican’s version of the Congressional Record, and it often comes out months or even years after the fact – so much for news cycles.

    With Pope Francis at the helm, I see a new attitude from the top – communication that is simpler, more direct and less officious – and I’m hopeful it will carry over into all the Roman Curia offices.

    For years, Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, has been fighting for more transparency in communications, winning some battles and losing others. During the recent papal resignation and conclave, he asked Father Rosica to join him in Rome to help deal with the 5,000 journalists who descended on the Vatican. They made an impressive team.


  • 'We live in a world ... where money worship reigns'


    According to an Italian bishop, Pope Francis intends to issue an encyclical on poverty and social justice, titled "Beati Pauperes" ("Blessed Are the Poor.")

    The theme is certainly on the new pope's mind. From today's papal talk to the Pontifical Council for Migrants:

    "In a world where there is so much talk about rights, it seems that the only thing that has rights is money. Dear brothers and sisters, we live in a world where money commands. We live in a world, in a culture, where money worship reigns."

    Bishop Luigi Martella of Molfetta wrote on his website about his recent meeting with Pope Francis, in which the pope spoke about concluding an encyclical begun by his predecessor and issuing one of his own:

    "At the end, he wanted to share a secret, almost a revelation: Benedict XVI is finishing writing the encyclical on faith that will be signed by Pope Francis. Afterward, the pope himself intends to prepare his first encyclical, on the theme of the poor: Beati pauperes! Poverty, the pope explained, not understood in an ideological or political sense, but in an evangelical sense."

    Speaking to diplomats in March, Pope Francis said that fighting poverty, "both material and spiritual," was a key challenge for the international community.

    Bishop Martella said Pope Francis also told him that while he was concerned about Pope Benedict's physical health when the two men met at Castel Gandolfo in March, "today he is doing much better."

    UPDATE: The Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, later said it was not true that Pope Benedict is still working on his unfinished encyclical on faith -- apparently the spokesman did not want to leave the impression of a tag-team document in the works, or of an ex-pope still working as a pope. It looks like Francis will simply complete what Benedict started.

  • Cardinal O'Brien to leave Scotland for period of penance, Vatican announces

                                   Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien

    The Vatican announced today that Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien, after admitting improper sexual conduct, would be leaving Scotland for several months of “spiritual renewal, prayer and penance.”

    “Any decision regarding future arrangements for His Eminence shall be agreed with the Holy See,” the Vatican statement said.

    The terse Vatican announcement provided no details about where the Scottish cardinal would be residing, but the wording appeared to indicate that Pope Francis wants close follow-up on a scandal he inherited.

    Cardinal O’Brien, 75, was recently photographed while moving his personal belongings into a church-owned cottage in Dunbar on the North Sea, where he planned to reside. With the Vatican announcement, those plans have clearly changed.

    In February, the cardinal resigned as archbishop of Edinburgh and said he would not be attending the papal conclave that began March 12. Later, he acknowledged that his sexual conduct had “fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and a cardinal.”

    At that time, he apologized to those he had offended and to the church and people of Scotland. Three priests and one former priest had alleged sexual advances by the cardinal in the 1980s.

    The Vatican’s announcement today:

    His Eminence Cardinal Keith Patrick O’Brien, Archbishop Emeritus of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, for the same reasons he decided not to participate in the last Conclave, and in agreement with the Holy Father, will be leaving Scotland for several months for the purpose of spiritual renewal, prayer and penance. Any decision regarding future arrangements for His Eminence shall be agreed with the Holy See.


  • A Vatican cardinal pulls back the curtain

                 Cardinal João Braz de Aviz

    UPDATE: The Vatican on Tuesday issued a statement saying that Cardinal Braz de Aviz and Cardinal Muller had met Monday and "reaffirmed their common commitment" to the program of changes foreseen for the LCWR.

    The statement blamed the media for its suggesting there was a divergence between the doctrinal and religious congregations at the Vatican "in their approach to the renewal of religious life."

    Whatever spin the Vatican chooses to put on this, Cardinal Braz de Aviz was clearly criticizing the process by which the LCWR review was handled. He made it equally clear that he would support the doctrinal congregation's conclusions.

    This is from the Vatican statement today:

    Recent media commentary on remarks made on Sunday May the 5th during the General Assembly of the International Union of Superiors General by Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life, has suggested a divergence between the CDF and the Congregation for Religious in their approach to the renewal of Religious Life. Such an interpretation of the Cardinal’s remarks is not justified. The Prefects of these two Congregations work closely together according to their specific responsibilities and have collaborated throughout the process of the Doctrinal Assessment of the LCWR. Archbishop Gerhard Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Cardinal Braz de Aviz met yesterday and reaffirmed their common commitment to the renewal of Religious Life, and particularly to the Doctrinal Assessment of the LCWR and the program of reform it requires, in accordance with the wishes of the Holy Father.

    My post on Monday:

    The comments Sunday by Brazilian Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, on how the Vatican's handling of the investigation of a group of U.S. Catholic sisters caused him "much pain," are stunning for several reasons.

    First, the cardinal made it clear that the decision last year to insist on reform of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the largest group of U.S. sisters, was taken without consultation with his own office, the Vatican congregation that oversees religious orders around the world.

    That opens a window on how little communication occurs between Vatican offices, even on matters that clearly require a joint approach and careful deliberation.

    It also underlines how the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which issued the assessment of LCWR last year, continues to act as if there is no need for dialogue – not even with others in the Roman Curia.

    As Cardinal Braz de Aviz said, the whole episode illustrates a power struggle dynamic at work inside the Vatican. “This struggle of who is going to win is not good,” he said, according to the report filed by the National Catholic Reporter.

    And he zeroed in on another dangerous aspect of the way the Roman Curia operates: at least in the past, access to the pope has been limited, and influence on papal decisions may depend on who gets the pope’s ear. As the cardinal put it, “the problem very often is what kind of news goes to the Holy Father.”

    What makes Cardinal Braz de Aviz’s comments all the more fascinating is that they seemed to express a personal cry of conscience. That may reflect a new freedom of expression at the Vatican under Pope Francis.

    From the NCR report:

    He also said it was the first time he was discussing the lack of consultation publicly, saying previously he "didn't have the courage to speak."

    I’m guessing that the Brazilian cardinal discussed all this with Pope Francis before speaking Sunday to a meeting of international representatives of women religious orders in Rome. I don’t think, given Braz de Aviz’s remarks about the need for consultation, that he would have blindsided the new pope on this topic.

    His comments also put a recent statement from the doctrinal congregation in a curious light. On April 15, Archbishop Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, told the LCWR that Pope Francis had “reaffirmed the findings of the assessment and the program of reform for this conference of major superiors.”

    Cardinal Braz de Aviz confirmed that the doctrinal review of the LCWR would go forward. Indeed, it would have been unusual for the new pope to undo a project that was essentially completed under his predecessor.

    But it also seems clear that the process employed – in particular, the lack of real discussion at the highest levels of the Vatican – is due for an overhaul. And it would seem to make the idea of a meeting between Pope Francis and LCWR leadership all the more necessary.


  • Benedict may have some feline company in the Vatican

           A cat stretches its legs near the Mater Ecclesiae monastery in the Vatican

    It looks like Pope Benedict will be able to enjoy the company of cats in his retirement home inside the Vatican.

    This curious photo, made available by the Vatican newspaper, shows a black-and-white spotted cat ranging through an area next to the Mater Ecclesiae monastery, where the retired pope took up lodgings today.

    The Vatican Gardens is said to have a number of stray cats roaming the grounds, and they will find a friend in the former pope. As a cardinal, he famously fed the stray cats in the Borgo neighborhood where he lived, according to Vatican officials.

    As pope, we were told he never kept a house cat, but from was rumored to have fed the cats in the Vatican Gardens. Maybe this one is an old acquaintance.


  • Vatican fresco cleaning reveals images of native Americans

               Nude figures in the background of Pinturicchio's "Resurrection"

    It hasn’t drawn much attention yet, but the Vatican has quietly announced the discovery of what it believes is the first artistic representation of native Americans.

    A detail of a fresco by the Renaissance artist Pinturicchio, discovered during restoration work in the Vatican Museums, depicts men dressed only in feathered headdresses who appear to be dancing, and another on horseback.

    The painting was completed in 1494, shortly after Christopher Columbus returned from the New World with a detailed description of natives who painted themselves, danced and gave gifts of parrots.

    For hundreds of years, the frescoed figures were hiding in plain sight – sort of. They are part of the background in a lunette fresco titled “The Resurrection,” noted for its depiction of Pope Alexander VI, the infamous Rodrigo Borgia, who was elected in 1492.

    The detail was obscured by centuries of soot and grime, and came to life only recently when the fresco underwent a careful cleaning by Museum experts.

    Vatican Museum director Antonio Paolucci announced the discovery in an article published April 27 by the Vatican newspaper. He stopped short of saying definitively that the figures depicted American Indians, but the newspaper headline was less cautious, proclaiming: “Here is the first image of the native Americans described by Columbus.”

    It’s always interesting when the Vatican makes a discovery like this, and it happens more often than you’d think. But usually the finds are made in obscure manuscripts or objects stored away on boxes – not in frescoes seen annually by millions of museum visitors.


  • New pope is planning encyclical, first foreign trip

    There's some interesting news (and some non-news) out of the Vatican today.

    First, it looks like Pope Francis will be finishing ex-Pope Benedict's encyclical on faith. The Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said he would not exclude the possibility that Francis' first encyclical would be issued later this year. The spokesman noted that before his resignation, Pope Benedict had already done initial work on an encyclical to mark the "Year of Faith."

    Father Lombardi also said Pope Francis would continue to reside in the Vatican guest house, the Domus Sanctae Marthae, instead of moving into the more formal (and much larger) papal apartments in the Apostolic Palace. The pope likes his room at the guesthouse, and apparently enjoys the relative freedom of movement it offers him.

    "At the moment, he doesn't seem to want to change his lodging, although this is not a definitive decision," Lombardi said.

    Pope Benedict, meanwhile, is still scheduled to move into a monastic building located behind the Vatican Gardens, probably sometime in early May.

    It also looks like Brazil will be the only foreign country visited by Pope Francis this year, the spokesman said. He'll travel to Rio de Janeiro in July for World Youth Day. Lombardi's remarks appeared to exclude the possibility that the Argentine-born pontiff would add a stop in his homeland.

    Pope Francis is expected to visit Assisi sometime during the year, as well.

    Meanwhile, an official said there was no substance to recent news reports that the Vatican was preparing a document on Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. The denial came from Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family.


  • A Pope Francis sampler

    As I’ve written on this blog, Pope Francis has used his morning Mass homilies to deliver eloquent, off-the-cuff reflections on a variety of interesting topics.

    Meanwhile, for more than a month we’ve also had a steady diet of the new pope’s speeches and homilies at more formal events. Gradually, some themes are taking shape and his vision of the church has come into clearer focus.

    These more “official” talks are translated into various languages, which gives people around the world an opportunity to tap into the pope’s thought.

    Here is a sampler of Pope Francis in his own words, on topics ranging from safeguarding the environment to warding off the devil. Below each extract is a link to the original complete text.

    On professing Christ as the foundation of faith:

    We can walk as much as we want, we can build many things, but if we do not profess Jesus Christ, things go wrong. We may become a charitable NGO, but not the Church, the Bride of the Lord. When we are not walking, we stop moving. When we are not building on the stones, what happens? The same thing that happens to children on the beach when they build sandcastles: everything is swept away, there is no solidity. When we do not profess Jesus Christ, the saying of Léon Bloy comes to mind: "Anyone who does not pray to the Lord prays to the devil." When we do not profess Jesus Christ, we profess the worldliness of the devil, a demonic worldliness.

    On choosing the name Francis, and the “church of the poor”:

    Some people wanted to know why the Bishop of Rome wished to be called Francis. Some thought of Francis Xavier, Francis De Sales, and also Francis of Assisi. I will tell you the story. During the election, I was seated next to the Archbishop Emeritus of São Paolo and Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Claudio Hummes: a good friend, a good friend! When things were looking dangerous, he encouraged me. And when the votes reached two thirds, there was the usual applause, because the Pope had been elected. And he gave me a hug and a kiss, and said: “Don't forget the poor!” And those words came to me: the poor, the poor. Then, right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi. Then I thought of all the wars, as the votes were still being counted, till the end. Francis is also the man of peace. That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation; these days we do not have a very good relationship with creation, do we? He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man … How I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor!

    On mercy and how it “changes everything”:

    In the past few days I have been reading a book by a Cardinal — Cardinal Kasper, a clever theologian, a good theologian — on mercy. And that book did me a lot of good, but do not think I am promoting my cardinals’ books! Not at all! Yet it has done me so much good, so much good... Cardinal Kasper said that feeling mercy, that this word changes everything. This is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. We need to understand properly this mercy of God, this merciful Father who is so patient.

    On protecting Creation:

    The vocation of being a “protector”, however, is not just something involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone. It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Francis of Assisi showed us. It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about. It means caring for one another in our families: husbands and wives first protect one another, and then, as parents, they care for their children, and children themselves, in time, protect their parents.

    The church’s duty to keep alive a thirst for the absolute:

    The Church is likewise conscious of the responsibility which all of us have for our world, for the whole of creation, which we must love and protect. There is much that we can do to benefit the poor, the needy and those who suffer, and to favor justice, promote reconciliation and build peace. But before all else we need to


  • Pope Francis on the risk of a 'babysitter' church

       Pope Francis at Mass with Vatican bank employees

    When Pope Francis said Mass this morning for Vatican bank employees, some might have expected a homily on financial ethics.

    Instead, he delivered a brief and insightful reflection on the strength of baptism. Essentially, the pope argued that unless lay Catholics are willing to courageously live and proclaim their faith, the church risks turning into a “babysitter” for sleeping children.

    Pope Francis was speaking to the mostly lay employees of the Vatican bank in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where his morning Masses have become daily teaching moments.

    He referred to the day’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles on the evangelizing efforts of the earliest Christians, who traveled from place to place proclaiming the Gospel.

    “They were a simple faithful, baptized just a year or so before – but they had the courage to go and proclaim,” he said.

    “I think of us, the baptized: do we really have this strength – and I wonder – do we really believe in this? Is baptism enough? Is it sufficient for evangelization? Or do we rather ‘hope’ that the priest should speak, that the bishop might speak ... and what of us? Then, the grace of baptism is somewhat closed, and we are locked in our thoughts, in our concerns. Or sometimes think: ‘No, we are Christians, I was baptized, I made Confirmation, First Communion ... I have my identity card all right. And now, go to sleep quietly, you are a Christian.’ But where is this power of the Spirit that carries us forward?”

    The pope said Christians today need to “be faithful to the Spirit, to proclaim Jesus with our lives, through our witness and our words.”

    “When we do this, the church becomes a mother church that produces children…. But when we do not, the church is not the mother, but the babysitter, that takes care of the baby – to put the baby to sleep. It is a church dormant. Let us reflect on our baptism, on the responsibility of our baptism.”

    This was a favorite theme of Pope Francis when he was an archbishop in Buenos Aires, and I think we can expect to hear more on the topic in coming weeks and months.

    In a revealing interview in 2011 with the news agency AICA, then-Cardinal Bergoglio was asked about the Catholic laity in Argentina, and he answered with these words:

    “We priests tend to clericalize the laity.We do not realize it, but it is as if we infect them with our own disease.And the laity — not all, but many — ask us on their knees to clericalize them, because it is more comfortable to be an altar server than the protagonist of a lay path. We cannot fall into that trap —it is a sinful complicity.”  Read More...

  • Pope Francis passes a curious milestone

                          Pope John Paul I

    Pope Francis is passing a strange milestone today, one that is more on some people’s minds than I would have guessed: his 34th day in office.

    In 1978, Pope John Paul I died 34 days after his election, one of the briefest reigns in church history. His death shocked the world and launched conspiracy theories that the “smiling pope” was murdered by enemies inside the Vatican.

    I was in Rome at the time, and based on what I have learned over the years I remain unconvinced of any supposed plot to remove the reform-minded John Paul I. He had serious health problems, and there’s no good reason to doubt that he died of a massive heart attack.

    But in the popular imagination, the modern Vatican has never completely shed its Borgia-era image. The idea that powerful prelates will stop at nothing to advance their hidden agendas is still very much alive.

    That’s been brought home to me in recent days, as I’ve spoken to various groups on my book-promotion tour on the West Coast. I don't want to make too much of this, but at every stop so far, someone has asked about Pope Francis’ “safety” – as if the pope’s reform plans might inevitably produce an internal, and perhaps fatal, backlash inside the Vatican.

    Sometimes this is asked in a tone of black humor, but I’ve been surprised at how often the questioner is quite serious. I’ve tried to reassure my audiences that, for both practical and moral reasons, they don’t really have to worry about that scenario.

    One reason the question is asked is that Pope Francis reminds many people of Pope John Paul I – in his simplicity, humility and willingness to do things differently at the Vatican. Both popes were elected at a time when many were calling for financial reforms in the Vatican, particularly reform of the Vatican bank.

    Pope Francis has a long road ahead of him when it comes to transforming the Vatican bureaucracy. As he showed over the weekend, when he appointed an eight-cardinal advisory panel on church governance, he knows he’s embarked on a delicate process that will take some time to implement. Clearly, he’s looking well beyond 34 days.  Read More...

  • Advisory group is first big step toward real reform at Vatican

    The new advisory group of eight cardinals established today by Pope Francis marks a giant step toward reforming the Roman Curia and cleaning up the missteps and power struggles that have embarrassed the Vatican in recent years.

    The Vatican’s brief announcement made it clear that the pope wants to take a new look not only at specific reforms of Roman Curia offices but also at general governance of the universal church.

    In establishing the group, the Vatican said, the pope was “taking up a suggestion that emerged during the General Congregations preceding the conclave.”

    Several aspects here are noteworthy:

    -- The group includes only one Roman Curia official and seven residential archbishops from outside Italy. That means that instead of turning to the usual suspects when it comes to Curia reform (insiders who “know the terrain”), Pope Francis is branching out and making this a project of the universal church. The group includes at least one cardinal from every continent.

    -- By forming such a group, the pope has signaled that he wants to look at bigger issues of governance and organization at the Vatican, and not merely make cosmetic changes. Instead of shifting the pieces around the chessboard, Pope Francis may choose to redesign the board completely.

    Already, rumors are percolating through Rome about how a revamped Secretariat of State might work. Others have suggested that major Vatican offices could be combined.

    -- The group is small enough to work. A larger group would have been unwieldy, but eight cardinals (and one secretary) can convene and reach consensus more easily. Their first official meeting is scheduled for Oct. 1-3, but the Vatican statement hinted that their work has already begun when it said the pope has already been in contact with the cardinals.

    -- The decision demonstrates collegiality in action. Pope Francis has shown that when it comes to such an important project, he recognizes he’s going to need help from fellow bishops.

    Speaking to reporters, the Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, underlined that the new group was consultative, not decision-making, and that it did not diminish the role of the Roman Curia. That remark seemed designed to reassure Curia cardinals, who probably recognize that on the issue of Vatican reform, Pope Francis is planning an overhaul not a tune-up.

    Here are the members of the advisory group as announced by the Vatican:

    Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, president of the Governorate of Vatican City State;
    Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa, archbishop emeritus of Santiago de Chile, Chile;
    Cardinal Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Bombay, India;
    Cardinal Reinhard Marx, archbishop of Munich and Freising, Germany;
    Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, archbishop of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo;
    Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley O.F.M., archbishop of Boston, USA;
    Cardinal George Pell, archbishop of Sydney, Australia;
    Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, S.D.B., archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in the role of coordinator; and
    Bishop Marcello Semeraro of Albano, Italy, in the role of secretary.


  • 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.


  • 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...

  • A prominent convert leaves the church

                  Magdi Allam

    A prominent Muslim-born journalist baptized by Pope Benedict XVI, Magdi Allam, has announced he’s leaving the church because it is too “weak with Islam.”

    Allam, writing on his Web site, said the “euphoria over Pope Francis” and the rapid way Pope Benedict was set aside was “the straw that broke the camel’s back” and convinced him to abandon his conversion to Christianity.

    Benedict baptized Allam in 2008 during an Easter vigil service at the Vatican, saying he wanted to inspire other former Muslims to practice Christianity openly. At the time, some of the Vatican’s Muslim dialogue partners said the high profile given to the conversion was a deliberate provocation.

    Allam said that what drove him away from the church most of all was “religious relativism, in particular the legitimization of Islam as a true religion, of Allah as the true God, of Mohammed as a true prophet, of the Koran as a sacred text and of mosques as places of worship.”

    He said it was “authentic suicidal folly” that Benedict had prayed in a mosque in Istanbul, and that Pope Francis, in one of his first speeches, said that Muslims “worship the one, living and merciful God.”

    Allam said he considers Islam an “intrinsically violent ideology.”

    His very public departure from the church must be an embarrassment to Archbishop Rino Fisichella, who personally accompanied Allam on his path to Christianity. Fisichella was later named head of the Vatican’s new Pontifical Council for New Evangelization – presumably the council is using a more productive model of evangelizing than highly politicized “conversions” from other religions.


  • '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...

  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • The pope's first Sunday: A multitude and close encounters

             U.S. pilgrims at the pope's first Sunday blessing

    When Pope Francis looked out his apartment window at noon today, he got a glimpse of what kind of excitement he’s generated in his first four days as pontiff. Well over 150,000 people filled St. Peter’s Square and the main streets running from the Vatican to the Tiber River.

    I haven’t seen a cheering, flag-waving multitude like that in Rome since Pope John Paul II’s beatification.

    The pope’s brief talk focused on God’s mercy, which has already become a theme of his pontificate. He said the Gospel’s account of Jesus and the woman taken in adultery (“Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her”) illustrates that the church’s role is not to condemn, but to forgive.

    “Don’t forget this: the Lord never tires of forgiving. It is we who tire of asking forgiveness,” he said, to applause from the crowd.

    Mercy, the pope said "is the best word we can hear: it changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just."

    He gave a nice shout-out to German Cardinal Walter Kasper – “a very capable theologian” – and said he’d been reading a book Kasper wrote about mercy and how “it changes everything” for the person who experiences it.

    The pope joked, “Don’t think I do publicity for books of my cardinals!”

    Before ducking back into his apartment, he wished the crowd “buon pranzo” – Have a nice lunch! – not exactly a religious message, but one that resonated with every Italian.

    A parish pastor

    Pope Francis’ first Sunday Mass was not celebrated in St. Peter’s Basilica, but in the tiny St. Anne’s Church – the parish church of Vatican City residents and workers.

    Here, too, he spoke about mercy, and seemed to suggest that Christians today, like the people of the Gospel, have trouble living up to the teachings about forgiveness.

    “We too, I think, are this people who, on one hand want to listen to Jesus, but on the other, sometimes we like to beat up on others, condemn the others,” he said.

    “The message of Jesus is mercy. For me, and I say this with humility, mercy is the strongest message of the Lord,” he said.

    The new pope looked every bit the parish pastor, delivering his sermon without notes and, at the end of the Mass, greeting every parishioner one by one as he stood outside the church doors in his liturgical garb.

    It was clear that, although Pope Francis has a reputation of being camera-shy and reserved, he is a people person. He seemed to relish every one of the mini-encounters with the men, women and children in the parish, giving them each a few words, a kiss or a caress on the cheek.

    Then he walked out to the street on the Vatican City border and delighted a crowd of cheering Romans, as his security staff scrambled to control the situation.

    Hermeneutic of the Holy Spirit

    The word “hermeneutic” is not on the tip of every Catholic’s tongue, but it was a significant term during the eight years of Pope Benedict’s pontificate. The word refers to an interpretive key, or a way of reading a text or event.

    For the German pope, the church was divided by the way it implemented the Second Vatican Council, what he called “an unacceptable hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture” vs. “a hermeneutic of continuity and reform.”

    The word became almost emblematic of Benedict’s pontificate. So it was interesting to see Pope Francis use it – in a much different way – in his encounter with journalists Saturday. The “hermeneutic” of his pontificate, he seemed to be saying, is the action of the Holy Spirit.

    “In everything that has occurred, the principal agent has been, in the final analysis, the Holy Spirit. He prompted the decision of Benedict XVI for the good of the Church; he guided the Cardinals in prayer and in the election,” he said.

    “It is important, dear friends, to take into due account this way of looking at things, this hermeneutic, in order to bring into proper focus what really happened in these days.”

    During the conclave, I noticed that none of the cardinal electors – including Cardinal Bergoglio, the new pope – had participated in Vatican II. I suspect that Pope Francis will be much less likely to use the council to frame the issues of church debate.

    First tweet

    Pope Francis has begun using the @Pontifex Twitter account, asking for people's prayers today. 


  • Changes ahead in the Roman Curia?

    A two-sentence communiqué from the Vatican today contained an important signal about Pope Francis’ intentions regarding the Roman Curia. As is normal, the new pope has confirmed that Vatican officials will continue in their various positions donec aliter provideatur – “until otherwise provided.” What was different this time around was the line that followed: “The Holy Father, in fact, wants to take a certain time for reflection, prayer and dialogue before making any definitive appointments or co...  Read More...

  • 'How I would like a church that is poor, and for the poor'

          Journalists greeted Pope Francis today at the Vatican

    Pope Francis held his first meeting with the press today, and impressed them with what has become characteristic low-key charm.

    Addressing several thousand journalists in the Vatican audience hall, he set his prepared text aside and told the story about how he chose his papal name.

    As the vote moved increasingly toward the “dangerous” two-thirds majority, he said, he received encouragement from his old friend, Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, who sat next to him in the Sistine Chapel.

    When he went over the two-thirds mark of 77 votes, Cardinal Hummes hugged him, kissed him and said simply, “Don’t forget the poor.”

    Those first words to the new pope have remained on his mind, Pope Francis said. Looking out at the journalists, the new pope declared with emphasis: “Ah, how I would like a church that is poor, and for the poor.”

    As the ballot-counting continued in the Sistine, he said, he thought of St. Francis as the saint of the poor, as the man of goodness and peace, as a man who “loved and protected creation,” the same created world that modern society has a hard time protecting.

    And so he chose Saint Francis of Assisi as his new namesake. He added that other names were suggested to him – Adrian, after a famous reforming pope, for example. He said someone even jokingly suggested taking the name Pope Clement XV, to get even with Pope Clement XIV, who suppressed the Jesuit order in the 1800s. (Pope Francis is a Jesuit.)

    He had a couple of other thoughts for journalists, too. Reporting on the church is different from other contemporary matters, he said, because the church is essentially a spiritual organization that does “not fit into worldly categories.”

    “The church does not have a political nature,” he said. That, too, was pronounced deliberately – no doubt the pope read all about the presumed political jockeying in the Italian newspapers during the run-up to the conclave.

    He urged reporters to remember what he called a “trinity of communication” in their work: truth, goodness and beauty.

    The pope’s blessing to journalists was unusual, to say the least. Saying that he realized there were non-Catholics and non-believers present in the hall, he would “give this blessing in silence, from my heart, to each of you, respecting the conscience of each person, but knowing that each one of you is a child of God.”

    Then, instead of the usual formal blessing – standard practice at papal audiences – he said quietly, “God bless you,” and walked off the stage.

    That left some immensely pleased at the pope’s sensitivity, and others complaining loudly: “What kind of a blessing was that?”

    Well, it was the kind of blessing Pope Francis wanted to give. And more and more, I’m getting the impression that this is a man who is not simply “getting used to being pope,” but who is coming into the office with clear, and very different, ideas.

    As a postscript, when Pope Francis walked out of the audience hall, the papal limousine was waiting for him. But the pope waved it off and kept walking, happy to go by foot to his Vatican residence a short distance away.

  • First the gestures, now the words

         Pope Francis speaking during his Mass with cardinals

    A new pontificate is judged chiefly on gestures, words and decisions.

    Through his gestures, Pope Francis has already won the hearts of many inside and outside the church. Wearing his old black shoes, riding the bus and paying his pensione bill immediately announced a new and simpler style of papacy.

    In a world that communicates largely in images, this is no small matter. “Jesus was born in a manger” is sometimes heard sarcastically by visitors to the Vatican’s rather opulent chambers, and a pope who dials down the extravagance will have a positive reception.

    On Thursday, we heard some of the first words from Pope Francis, in a homily to the cardinals who elected him the 266th pontiff. The words were challenging, and gave a clue to the kind of “reforms” Francis may have in mind. (It was interesting that the pope set aside a draft text prepared in advance for this occasion, and preferred to speak off-the-cuff.)

    His basic point was that a church that doesn’t remain true to the message of “Christ on the cross” risks drifting into a worldly way of thinking that ultimately leads nowhere.

    A church that builds structures without the firm foundation of faith, he said, is like “children on the beach when they build sandcastles: everything is swept away.” Without professing Christ, the church would become merely a “charitable NGO.”

    He then quoted Léon Bloy, a French agnostic who converted to Catholicism: “Anyone who does not pray to the Lord prays to the devil.”

    “When we do not profess Jesus Christ, we profess the worldliness of the devil, a demonic worldliness,” the pope said.

    And more: “When we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord, we are worldly: we may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord.”

    These are words – the devil! – that may strike listeners as severe. Some may even see an implication that anything outside the church is beyond salvation.

    I think what the pope was signaling was something different. I think he was speaking above all to the cardinals in the room, and letting them know that the church reforms he has in mind are not going to be coming out of a management manual, but will be motivated by the most radical demands of the Gospel.

    ‘We are brothers’

    Today the pope gave a very different kind of talk, when he met with cardinals – both electors in the conclave and those over the age of 80. He had a text but departed from it often, speaking in a conversational style.

    He kept emphasizing that “we are brothers” and a “community of friends” – perhaps a signal of how he views collegiality.

    And he talked frankly about the fact that this was, after all, a gathering of a pretty elderly group.

    “Dear brothers, maybe half of us are in old age. Old age is the seat of the wisdom of life. We have the wisdom of having walked through life like Simeon and Anna at the temple. Let us give this wisdom to the youth, like good wine, that with age becomes even better.”

    Pope Francis also acknowledged the generally sympathetic international reaction to his election.

    “I felt the affection of the universal church,” and even from people who do not share the Catholic faith, he said. “From every corner of the earth I felt prayers for the new pope.”

    He indicated he would try to build on that affection, and he encouraged the cardinals to do the same. “Let’s never give to pessimism, to that bitterness that the devil offers us every day.” (Yes, “the devil.”)

    Neither of these first two talks was exactly a “state of the church” address, or an outline of what he sees as his priorities. Maybe we’ll get that at his installation Mass next week, maybe not. Pope Francis appears to be a man of few words, and as someone told me today, he likes short liturgies.

    Waiting for first appointments

    The new pope’s first major decisions will probably be his appointments, in particular that of secretary of state. He clearly needs someone in that position who knows the Roman Curia well enough to navigate its tricky currents, and make reforms without too much collateral damage.


  • Pope Francis' first 24 hours: Doing it his way

         Pope Francis on his way to pray at a Rome church

    One of the first things a new pope hears is, “Holy Father, it’s always done this way.”

    In his first 24 hours in office, Pope Francis has already given indications that he may not be intimidated by those words, as he creates his own style of being pope.

    That was clear from the moment he put on his papal robes, donning the simple white cassock but declining to wear the ermine-trimmed red cape known as the mozzetta, which was left hanging on the wardrobe in the Room of Tears.

    To Vatican officials who offered him an elaborate gold pectoral cross to wear around the neck, he said he’d prefer to keep his very simple cross that he’s worn as a bishop. He accepted the congratulations of cardinals not seated on a traditional throne-like chair, but standing up and greeting them one by one.

    After his blessing last night to the crowd in St. Peter’s Square and to the world, Vatican aides told the pope a limousine was waiting to take him to his temporary quarters in the Vatican’s residence building. The new pope said he’d rather take the bus back with the cardinals – and he did.

    This morning, the pope’s first act was to leave the Vatican for an impromptu visit to the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in central Rome. No doubt someone told him: “But Holy Father, we need time to plan these visits very carefully.” He wisely didn’t listen. Yes, his presence snarled traffic and caused a major stir, but the Romans loved it.

    Instead of taking the main car in the papal fleet, a Mercedes with the “SCV 1” license plate, he rode in a more modest sedan.

    On the way inside the basilica, he stopped to wave to high school students across the street. After praying before a popular icon of Mary, he told confessors at the church to “be merciful, the souls of the faithful need your mercy.”

    Then he stopped personally at a clerical guest house where he had been staying in recent days, a few steps from Piazza Navona, to pick up his suitcases and “pay his bill,” as he told cardinals the night before. One can presume his Vatican handlers offered to send someone else on this humdrum task, but Pope Francis did it his way.


  • 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


  • A "Hall of Humility" in the Vatican?

                      The "Donation of Charlemagne"

    As the cardinals walk toward the Sistine Chapel to vote for a new pope, they pass through the Sala Regia, literally the “royal room” where popes once received emperors, kings and princes.

    The room is one of the most ornate in the Vatican, and its art works illustrate the church’s temporal influence through the centuries. If the cardinals glance at the frescoes, they have to be thinking: How times have changed.

    The paintings celebrate the pope as a worldly power. Kings are depicted presenting territories to ruling pontiffs, while the “Donation of Charlemagne” commemorates the medieval gift that launched the papal states.

    Today, of course, the pope’s territorial holdings have shrunk to the 110-acre Vatican city state. His worldly power is limited to moral pronouncements that may, or may not, be taken to heart.

    And now we have a pope who has willingly set aside the office of the papacy – a gesture reflecting the human limitations on a pope, and the need to adapt this age-old institution to the demands of the modern world.

    I wonder if we’ll ever see a Vatican hallway decorated with less-than-triumphal scenes from the modern papacy. A pope who resigns. A pope who meets with sex abuse victims. A pope who apologizes to groups the church may have offended in the past.

    They could call it the “Hall of Humility.” It could be a project for the next pope.


  • 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.


  • Gag order on the cardinals

      Cardinals DiNardo and O'Malley brief reporters

    I guess it was too good to continue.

    U.S. cardinals abruptly canceled their planned briefing today, and no further briefings were scheduled.

    Sister Mary Ann Walsh, who had coordinated the U.S. press encounters, said in an email: “Concern was expressed in the General Congregation about leaks of confidential proceedings reportedin Italian newspapers. As a precaution, the cardinals have agreed not to do interviews.”

    In other words, because some anonymous cardinals fed Italian reporters a few details about their discussions, a gag order now applies to all the cardinals.

    The U.S. briefings, which typically featured two American cardinals fielding questions in 30-minute sessions, had become a welcome daily ritual for journalists in Rome who are trying to cover the pre-conclave meetings that began this week.

    It should be noted that the U.S. cardinals, like all the rest, have taken an oath to maintain secrecy regarding conclave matters. But they have given reporters at least an outline of the discussions, if not precise content, and have been willing to answer general questions on issues not directly related to the conclave.

    It’s more than a little ironic that the Americans, who have been candid about the limits on what they could say even as they met the press, are now forced to retreat behind a wall of silence.


  • 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.


  • U.S. cardinals reflect on first day of cardinals' meetings

    After participating in the first "general congregation" of cardinals to prepare for the conclave, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago made some interesting points in a briefing for reporters. First, he said, the cardinals are in no hurry to begin the conclave. “Someone quoted St.   Read More...

  • 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.


  • A Canadian brings some English to the press office

           Father Tom Rosica talks with Vatican reporters

    In these pre-conclave days of more questions than answers, a welcome addition to the Vatican press office has been Father Tom Rosica, a media-savvy Canadian who’s been giving English-language (and some French-language) briefings.

    Father Rosica, a member of the Basilian religious order who runs the Salt + Light Television network (an excellent resource for the papal transition), knows what journalists need from the Vatican and has been doing his best to deliver it: clear, succinct information in several languages.

    Rosica has been taking his cues from Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, who also brought in a Spanish-speaking priest for the papal transition.

    Things should get more interesting next week when the briefers will be asked about the cardinals’ twice-daily meetings in the run-up to the conclave. During synods of bishops, briefing officers in various languages have some leeway in how much information they can provide. We’ll see if that’s also true when the cardinals hold their discussions.


  • Networks claim prime roofscape territory

      A TV set perched above the Augustinian college

    The roofscape around St. Peter’s Square has been sprouting TV platforms like mushrooms after a rainstorm.

    The idea is to give cameras an unimpeded view of the Vatican and, above all, the Sistine Chapel smokestack, to the right of St. Peter’s dome.

    The networks learned the last time around that these rooftops and terraces quickly become prime real estate in Rome, so most have had contracts signed well in advance.

    Their hosts are often religious orders, which gain much-needed income (enough to pay the utility bills for years, one would guess) but have to put up with hundreds of TV people traipsing through the premises.

    One problem for the networks is that a clear view from one rooftop may quite suddenly be obscured by a new TV studio on a nearby building. So far, there have been squabbles but no wars.

    Many of these TV sets are perched above sets of steep, winding stairs. The other day I followed a cardinal up to one of these aeries and had to admire his climbing skills.


  • 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.


  • A step toward transparency

    Good news today from the Vatican press office: the powers-that-be have decided to brief reporters during the cardinals' daily pre-conclave meetings, which will probably begin March 4. As I argued in my post yesterday (below), a news blackout on the cardinals' meetings, called "general congregations," would have simply fed the spiraling journalistic speculation about the coming conclave. The conclave remains a secret process, of course, but there was room for flexibility in the run-up meetings, w...  Read More...

  • Scottish cardinal resigns in wake of allegations of sexual impropriety

    UPDATE: In the wake of accusations of inappropriate sexual behavior, Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien resigned today as archbishop Edinburgh, and said he does not plan to come to Rome for the March conclave to avoid creating a media diversion during the election of a new pope. The Vatican said yesterday that Pope Benedict has been informed about allegations that the cardinal had engaged in inappropriate sexual acts, and was deciding what to do about it. The allegations, which date to the 1980s, c...  Read More...

  • From Germany with love

       Germans were among those saying goodbye to the pope

    Among the more than 100,000 people who filled St. Peter's Square to say goodbye to Pope Benedict today were pilgrims from Germany, including these two women who flew down to Rome for the day with a homemade banner reading: "Holy Father, we love you."

    Birgit Marschall, a 49-year-old Catholic, said she made the banner as a token of appreciation.

    "I just want to say goodbye and thank him, and assure him of our prayers. I'm thankful for every word he gave us," she said. She arrived in the square early and unfurled her banner right below the pope's window.

    Speaking in German at his noon blessing, the pope seemed to be on the same wavelength. "I thank you all for the signs of closeness and affection, and especially for your prayers," he said.

    Appearing at his final Sunday blessing, Pope Benedict referred indirectly to his retirement Feb. 28 and said he felt God was summoning him to a different kind of service in the church.

    "God is calling me to `climb the mountain' and dedicate myself even more to prayer and meditation. But this doesn't mean abandoning the church. On the contrary, if God is asking this of me it's precisely because I can continue to serve the church with the same dedication and love as always, but in a way more fitting to my age and my energy," he said.


  • Tears and whispers

                  Philippine Cardinal Luis Tagle

    Is crying in public a deal-breaker for a papabile?

    It’s enough of an issue that veteran Vatican-watcher Andrea Tornielli of La Stampa mentioned it in an article about the whispering campaigns aimed at torpedoing a candidate’s chances in the next conclave.

    He listed Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet and Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schonborn as two papabili who have teared up in front of reporters from time to time.

    But perhaps the most televised tears by a papal candidate were shed by Philippine Cardinal Luis Tagle when he received his red hat from Pope Benedict last November.

    Asked about it at the time, Tagle said candidly, “I cry easily.”

    In an interview yesterday with the Rome daily La Repubblica, Tagle recalled the episode and said he had personally apologized to Pope Benedict the day after his display of emotions.

    “Pope Benedict answered with some significant words: ‘No, you don’t need to apologize. We need heart in the church!” the 55-year-old cardinal said.

  • The Vatican fires back at journalists

                       Father Federico Lombardi

    In the wake of Italian press reports about Roman Curia score-settling, financial feuds and a “gay lobby” inside the Vatican, the Vatican opened fire on the media today.

    A statement from the Vatican Secretariat of State, read to reporters by spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, said much of the pre-conclave coverage was “completely false” and appeared designed to influence the outcome of the papal election.

    “If in the past, the so-called powers, that is states, exerted pressures on the election of the pope, today there is an attempt to do this in the public opinion, often based on judgments that do not typically capture the spiritual aspect of the moment the church is living,” the statement said.

    “It is deplorable that as we draw nearer to the beginning of the conclave, and the cardinal electors will he held, in conscience and before God, to express their choice, that there be a widespread distribution of often unverified, or unverifiable, or completely false news stories, that cause serious damage to persons and institutions.”

    Italian reporting since Pope Benedict announced his resignation has been marked by a rash of conspiracy theories and speculation about “hidden” motives for the pope’s decision, almost all of it unsourced.

    This week, the Rome newspaper La Repubblica ran a series of articles alleging that a secret report by three elderly cardinals, commissioned by the pope last year, included revelations of sexual impropriety among Vatican officials and the existence of a "gay lobby" that wields undue influence inside the Vatican. The newspaper suggested the cardinals' report was a key reason the pope decided to resign.


  • Cardinal O'Brien's salvo on celibacy

    Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien has raised the possibility of a change in the priestly celibacy rule, saying many priests struggle because they are unable to marry and unable to have children. In an interview with the BBC, O'Brien said that while he had never considered marriage, "I would be very happy if others had the opportunity of considering whether or not they could or should get married." He noted that some branches of the Catholic Church already allowed married clergy. "It is a free worl...  Read More...

  • A 'young' pope?

    One of the generally accepted assumptions about the next conclave is that cardinals will be looking for a relatively young and energetic candidate. So it’s worth examining what passes for “young” in the College of Cardinals. The average age of the world’s 209 cardinals is 78.   Read More...