The Blog

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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 C

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 spi

Courage, creativity urged as cardinals begin talks on family issues

Pope Francis this morning opened a two-day discussion of cardinals on the family, saying the church’s pastoral response to modern problems must be marked by intelligence, courage and love. Here’s the key quote from the pope’s talk to about 150 cardinals gathered at the Vatican: Our reflections must keep before us the beauty of the family and marriage, the greatness of this human reality which is so simple and yet so rich, consisting of joys and hopes, of struggles and sufferings, as is the whole of life. We will seek to deepen the theology of the family and discern the pastoral practices which our present situation requires. May we do so thoughtfully and without falling into “casuistry”, bec

Two more Roman Curia heads confirmed in their jobs

On Wednesday, we saw another sign that there’s a new “normal” at the Vatican these days. The Vatican announced that Pope Francis has confirmed two top Roman Curia department heads in their current jobs: Cardinal Leonardo Sandri as prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches and Cardinal Kurt Koch as president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Journalists weren’t quite sure what that meant. Were they confirmed for new five-year terms? Or for the time being – until Pope Francis’ Curia reform is introduced? Or “until otherwise provided,” to use the classic term of Vatican vagueness? They asked the Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi. He didn’t know either, at

Decision time on Vatican reforms? "Pazienza"

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 net

One year later: How Benedict’s decision changed the church

One year ago, Pope Benedict announced his resignation. I had just returned to Rome ahead of the publication of my book, and some of my journalistic colleagues thought I’d been tipped off. Not exactly. I had been emailing some of those same colleagues in previous weeks, wondering whether the pope might be preparing to resign. But when it actually happened, I was as shocked as anyone. Looking back, I think Benedict’s decision stands out for its courage and humility. I was among those who foresaw potential problems with “two popes” — one retired, one active — but experience has proved me wrong on that. The church has not suffered divided allegiances. On the other hand, there has been heightened

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