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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 margina

Pope Francis has found cardinals who share his vision of the church

Most of the 20 new cardinals created today by Pope Francis never thought they’d be wearing the cardinal’s red hat. Most of them never wanted to be a cardinal. And that, perhaps, is the most important defining quality of the pope’s choices, as he shifts the College of Cardinals away from careerists and toward pastors who, as true shepherds, “live with the smell of the sheep.” Sure, geography is part of the pope’s plan. By choosing cardinals from such far-flung places as Tonga, Myanmar and Cape Verde, he is expanding the global mix in an institution that has been dominated for centuries by Europe. The pope is also choosing prelates from small dioceses, places that have never had a cardinal bef

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 ha

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

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

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), est

‘Bishop of Bling’ getting a job at the Vatican

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 ano

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 close

Pope’s sex abuse commission zeroes in on bishop’s accountability

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 he

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 Prot

A Latin American pope, a Latin American martyr

“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.

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 ye

Vatican conference to examine new approaches to women’s issues

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 som

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 event

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