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Pope meets with abuse victims, promises accountability for those who failed to protect minors

After meeting with five sex abuse victims in Philadelphia, Pope Francis told international bishops that the church owes them a debt of gratitude for bringing to light shameful crimes. “I am profoundly sorry. God weeps,” the pope said of sexual abuse. He called abuse victims “true heralds of hope and ministers of mercy.” The five were not all Catholic, and not all of them were victims of sexual abuse by priests. Some had been abused by a teacher or family member, the Vatican said. A spokesman later said that while previous such encounters had been with victims of abuse by clerics or other church personnel, this meeting had a “larger perspective.” UPDATE: Here is the text of the pope’s remarks

At final U.S. Mass, pope preaches openness and tender mercies

Pope Francis wound up his U.S. visit with a defense of the family as a place of “little miracles,” where gestures of compassion and tenderness often reflect true holiness. The pope also said the church needs to recognize that the Holy Spirit works in many settings and among many people, sometimes bypassing “officialdom and inner circles.” “To raise doubts about the working of the Spirit, to give the impression that it cannot take place in those who are not ‘part of our group’, who are not ‘like us’, is a dangerous temptation. Not only does it block conversion to the faith; it is a perversion of faith!” the pope said. The pope spoke at a Mass celebrated on a Philadelphia parkway before severa

Pope to bishops: Families need our support, not complaints and criticism

It’s become increasingly clear during his U.S. trip that Pope Francis is trying to get bishops on board in his quest for a church that is more merciful, less judgmental and closer to its people. That was the sub-theme at this morning’s encounter with international bishops attending the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. The topic was the modern family, which usually prompts a litany of problems from church leaders. Pope Francis began his talk by stating that the “foremost pastoral challenge” facing the bishops is to recognize the family as a gift. “For all the obstacles we see before us, gratitude and appreciation should prevail over concerns and complaints,” he said. The pope did ad

Pope Francis’ somewhat different take on religious liberty

Well, that was interesting. At the official “religious freedom” event during his U.S. visit, Pope Francis never mentioned the U.S. bishops’ “Fortnight for Freedom” campaigns, nor their battles over alleged religious discrimination on Obamacare provisions and conscience protection issues. The bishops have certainly made this a priority. Here was Archbishop William E. Lori last June asking the faithful to support their efforts: “Religious institutions in the United States are in danger of losing their freedom to hire for mission and their freedom to defend the family…. Endangered is the freedom of church ministries to provide employee benefits and to provide adoptions and refugee services in a

In Philadelphia, pope pays tribute to a native saint

Pope Francis today paid tribute to Philadelphia’s own Saint Katharine Drexel, who as a young heiress used her fortune to build missions and schools for the poor. Celebrating Mass in the Philadelphia cathedral shortly after his arrival in the city on Saturday, the pope said the story of Katharine Drexel held a lesson for the way the church should challenge people. While touring Europe in 1887, Drexel met with Pope Leo XIII and asked for more missionaries to Native Americans. Pope Leo responded pointedly, “What about you? What are you going to do?” Later that year Drexel made an extended visit to Indian missions in the western United States. She eventually founded an order of sisters, using he

At the United Nations, the pope ‘makes it personal’ on war, economics and the environmen

In the middle of his address to the United Nations today, Pope Francis called international leaders to an “examination of conscience.” In every situation of conflict, he said, “real human beings take precedence over partisan interests, however legitimate the latter may be.” “In wars and conflicts there are individual persons, our brothers and sisters, men and women, young and old, boys and girls who weep, suffer and die. Human beings who are easily discarded when our only response is to draw up lists of problems, strategies and disagreements,” he said. These few lines encapsulate the pope’s entire outlook, whether in international affairs or in the way the church conducts its mission. It is

In Congress, papal challenges on weapons, immigration, death penalty and the role of politics

There were plenty of specific challenges in Pope Francis’ speech to Congress today: denunciation of the weapons industry and its profits that are “drenched in blood,” an appeal to abolish the death penalty, condemnation of fundamentalist violence, a call to redirect economic wealth toward those trapped in poverty, encouragement to welcome immigrants and a call to conscience on environmental protection. But above all, the pope expressed a vision of politics that goes beyond the partisan yelling we’ve been treated to in recent months. As he put it, political life is essentially about “the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good” that seeks, in particular, to help the most vulnerable

Climate change, call for pastoral dialogue are pope’s focus in DC

The takeaway from Pope Francis’ meeting with President Obama at the White House this morning: — The pope offered a generic endorsement of the U.S. bishops’ campaign for “religious liberty.” Without getting into specifics, the pope seemed to indicate that he had the bishops’ backs on issues of disagreement with the Obama administration, including alleged discrimination over some health care provisions and gender policies. — The pope weighed in on the challenge of climate change, and in the process endorsed Obama’s recently proposed “Clean Power Plan,” which has drawn criticism from political opponents. –The pope applauded, indirectly, the recent U.S.-Cuban diplomatic agreement, saying we need

At final Mass in Cuba, pope calls for ‘revolution of tenderness’

On the final day of his visit to Cuba, Pope Francis continued to promote his vision of a church that gets out of the sacristy and into people’s lives. Celebrating Mass today at Cuba’s popular Shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre in Santiago, the pope said Mary offered a perfect example of faith in action, a response to God’s call to move out of one’s comfort zone. “God’s presence in our lives never leaves us tranquil: it always pushes to do something. When God comes, he always calls us out of our house,” the pope said. “We are asked to live the revolution of tenderness as Mary, our Mother of Charity, did. We are invited to ‘leave home’ and to open our eyes and hearts to others,” he said

Poverty and mercy: key themes in Cuba

In Cuba, Pope Francis has not said much about church-state political questions. Instead he is diving deeply into his call for a church that is poor, merciful and forgiving. His talks Sunday and Monday have been fascinating, and at times pure Francis – his off-the-cuff riff on “poverty” in an encounter with church ministry personnel was classic. But if the pope uses the same language when he comes to the United States, he’s likely to need an official explainer. I’m not sure most people will understand what he means by evangelical poverty and the idea that “wealth makes people poor.” “How many souls have been destroyed! Generous souls … that began well and then became attached to that rich wor

"We do not serve ideas, we serve people."

Celebrating his first Mass in Cuba, Pope Francis delivered an interesting homily today that highlighted a couple of key themes of his pontificate. He focused first on service to others as the fundamental expression of Christianity. This service is never about self-promotion and never merely about setting up programs, the pope said, but involves encountering real people in their suffering. “Service always looks to their faces, touches their flesh,” he said. “Service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve people.” He was speaking about the Christian approach to life, and his words carried wider meaning in a country that recently began “restructuring” its socialist policies.

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 im

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