The Common Good

Blog Posts By David Gibson

Posted by David Gibson 3 days 19 hours ago
President Obama will welcome Pope Francis to the White House during the pontiff’s U.S. visit in September to “continue the dialogue … on their shared values and commitments on a wide range of issues,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said March 26.The meeting with the president and first lady will take place on Sept. 23, apparently near the start of a visit — the first to the U.S. by the Argentine pope — that will take Francis from the U.S. Capitol to New York and the United Nations and will conclude with a huge outdoor Mass in Philadelphia.“During the visit, the President and the Pope will continue the dialogue, which they began during the President’s visit to the Vatican in March 2014, on their shared values and commitments on a wide range of issues,” Earnest said in a statement.Those issues, he said, include “caring for the marginalized and the poor; advancing economic opportunity for all; serving as good stewards of the environment; protecting religious minorities and promoting religious freedom around the world; and welcoming and integrating immigrants and refugees into our communities.”
Posted by David Gibson 4 days 14 hours ago
Pope Francis appears more popular than ever among American Catholics, and he hasn’t even visited the U.S. yet, a trip that is planned for September and could well boost his visibility — and appeal — even further.But will Francis find American Catholics filling the pews? Or just loving the pope from afar? That’s one of the big — and so far unanswered — questions about his remarkable papacy.Now, one researcher may have found some signs, albeit tentative, of an incipient “Francis effect.”Mark Gray of Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate crunched the Catholic numbers from the 2014 General Social Survey, the go-to resource for sociologists. The GSS began in 1972 and is conducted every two years using face-to-face interviews with a national random sample of adults.Gray noted that when asked to characterize the strength of their religious affiliation, 34 percent of Catholics said it was “strong,” up from 27 percent in 2012, the year before Francis was elected.That 7-point rise was a “significant bounce,” Gray said.
Posted by David Gibson 5 days 19 hours ago
On March 20, Pope Francis issued his most forceful call yet to abolish the death penalty, one that seemed to go even beyond current church teaching. Francis’ latest moves could signal a further development in Catholic teaching against capital punishment — and in his relationship with some U.S. Catholics.“Today the death penalty is inadmissible, no matter how serious the crime committed,” Francis wrote in a detailed argument to the president of the International Commission against the Death Penalty, based in Madrid.The pope said capital punishment “contradicts God’s plan for man and society” and “does not render justice to the victims, but rather fosters vengeance.”Francis added that executing a prisoner can no longer be justified by a society’s need to defend itself. He addressed two issues prominent in the American context: He declared that the death penalty “loses all legitimacy” because of the possibility of judicial error, and he said “there is no humane way of killing another person.”Several recent botched executions have given anti-death penalty advocates more ammunition for their arguments.In his letter, the pontiff also repeated his view, expressed last October, that keeping inmates isolated in maximum security prisons is “a form of torture” and that life sentences are “a hidden death penalty” that should be abolished along with capital punishment.These are unusually categorical and expansive statements, and they come on the heels of a campaign to abolish the death penalty worldwide, which gained Vatican support at a United Nations meeting in Geneva earlier this month.In addition, four national Catholic journals from across the ideological spectrum — the National Catholic Reporter; America; Our Sunday Visitor; and the National Catholic Register — earlier this month published an unprecedented joint editorial calling for an end to the death penalty in the U.S. in the wake of those botched executions and increasing doubts about the fairness of the justice system.
Posted by David Gibson 1 week 2 days ago
Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who was accused of sexually harassing several men in a scandal that exploded on the eve of the 2013 conclave that elected Pope Francis, has renounced the “rights and privileges” of his office but may keep his prestigious title, the Vatican announced March 20.O’Brien did not take part in the March 2013 conclave and now he will be barred from any future conclaves. At age 77, he would have lost his voting eligibility at age 80.Francis had been under pressure to take some action against O’Brien since one of his victims revealed that an internal church report on O’Brien had been sent to Rome and was “hot enough to burn the varnish” off the pope’s desk.At least five men — three priests, a former priest, and a former seminarian — accused O’Brien of either sexually harassing them or pressuring them into sex, in allegations that went back to the 1980s. O’Brien was accused of being sexually active up through at least 2009.Those were also the years in which O’Brien became increasingly outspoken in his denunciation of homosexuality and gay rights; he called to homosexuality a “moral degradation” that was “demonstrably harmful” to gay people. In response, the gay rights group Stonewall crowned O’Brien “bigot of the year.”When Pope Benedict XVI accepted O’Brien’s resignation as one of his last official acts before retiring, O’Brien admitted “there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal.”Adding to the urgency for Francis to take further action were recent reports that the Archdiocese of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, which O’Brien headed until he resigned in the wake of the initial revelations, had spent nearly $300,000 on a retirement home for O’Brien in northern England.
Posted by David Gibson 1 week 3 days ago
When Pope Francis pays a visit to Naples March 21 he will have lunch with some 90 inmates at a local prison, a contingent that will reportedly include 10 from a section reserved for gay and transgendered prisoners, and those infected with the virus that causes AIDS.The stopover at the Giuseppe Salvia Detention Center in Poggioreale, near Naples, was originally not scheduled to include lunch, according to a report from Tv2000, an Italian television network operated by the country’s Catholic bishops.But the pope insisted on the meal, which will be prepared by the prisoners, some of whom will come from two other detention centers. The 90 were chosen by lottery from among 1,900 inmates, according to the Vatican Insider website .Among the many innovations Francis has made since his election two years ago this month has been a new tone and approach to gay and transgender people.
Posted by David Gibson 1 week 5 days ago
In a wide-ranging interview he gave March 13 for the second anniversary of his election, Pope Francis touched on a variety of topics, from his concern about bad homilies to his upcoming U.S. visit to his one real wish: to go out for a pizza without being recognized.But leading most of the news coverage were his remarks suggesting that he expects his papacy to be short, perhaps lasting no more than another year or two.“I have the feeling that my pontificate will be brief: four or five years; I do not know, even two or three. Two have already passed,” he told a Mexican television station.“Say it ain’t so, Pope!” as the lead on the New York Daily News’ story on Francis’ “shocking comments” put it.“I just want him to be around for as long as possible,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan told the tabloid.“I need him. We need him. The church needs him.”To be sure, the prospect of Francis’ imminent retirement — or demise — would be dismal news for Francis’ many fans, and perhaps a rare lift for his opponents.In fact, Francis has suggested on several other occasions that he did not expect his papacy to be too long, and one can understand why he would say that:He is 78 years old, and while he is amazingly active and productive, he suffers from various pains and potentially more serious health issues. His aides worry about the pace he keeps, and he repeatedly ignores their pleas for him to slow down.In recent decades both Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II were targets of assassination attempts (a shooter in St. Peter’s Square critically wounded John Paul) and in a world reeling with terrorist attacks and religious strife, Francis knows he is a potential target.John Paul reigned for 26 years, the third-longest papacy in history, so compared with that even a decade-long pontificate would seem short.John Paul’s successor, Benedict XVI, opened a new option — which Francis has praised — when in 2013 he became the first pontiff in six centuries to retire, and after just eight years, at the age of 85.But a closer reading of Francis’ remarks, and analysis from those who know the pope, say that’s not what he meant, at all.
Posted by David Gibson 1 week 6 days ago
St. Patrick’s Day is associated as much with Roman Catholicism as it is with Irish-Americans, but this year some of the faithful aren’t happy with the inclusion of gays and lesbians marching under their own banner for the first time in parades in Boston and New York.The Knights of Columbus of Massachusetts and a local Catholic school declined to take part in the Boston parade on March 15 after two LGBT groups — the military veterans service group OutVets and Boston Pride — were invited following decades of lobbying and court battles.“The saint’s venerable name should not be cheaply misappropriated by nominally Catholic politicians and anti-Catholic organizations with a same sex agenda,” said Catholic Action League head C.J. Doyle, a leader of the opposition.The New York parade marches down Fifth Avenue on March 17, the saint’s feast day, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan is facing renewed calls from conservative Catholics to step down as grand marshal because an openly LGBT group is taking part for the first time.When it was first announced last September that an organization of LGBT employees at NBC — the network that broadcasts the popular event — would be marching, Dolan voiced support for the parade organizers and prayed “that the parade would continue to be a source of unity for all of us.”Critics ripped Dolan for his stance, and they ramped up their efforts as the day approached.“Now there can be no doubt — Timothy Cardinal Dolan has been played for a sucker by the organizers of the 2015 New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade. He must step down as Grand Marshal,” Matthew Hennessey wrote at the website of Crisis magazine, a conservative Catholic media outlet.“(B)y personally leading the procession, he blesses the whole shameful affair,” he concluded.
Posted by David Gibson 2 weeks 2 days ago
The “Pope of the Interview” strikes again: Pope Francis has given a lengthy — and fascinating — interview to a Mexican television station, which broadcast it on March 13 to mark the second anniversary of his election.Speaking to the program “Noticieros Televisa,” Francis displays his usual candor, dishing details about the secret conclave that elected him, talking about how he senses his papacy will be short, how the church must get tough on sexual abuse, and how all he really wants “is to go out one day, without being recognized, and go to a pizzeria for a pizza.”Here are some of the highlights based on Vatican Radio’s English translation and the original Spanish:On whether he likes being pope:“I do not mind!”
Posted by David Gibson 2 weeks 4 days ago
Can the Roman Catholic Church change? And if so, how? And what’s on the table — traditions, rites, doctrine, none of the above?Such fundamental questions go to the heart of Catholic identity, and they’re the same questions Pope Francis has raised almost since the moment he was elected two years ago this March 13, a dark horse candidate who became the first pontiff from Latin America.When he shunned the apostolic palace for a modest apartment, or cold-called people who wrote to him with problems, Francis’ humble approach endeared him to the masses. Yet he also surprised — maybe stunned — Catholics by encouraging open debate, especially about church teachings and practices that had long been considered out of bounds.“A basic general condition is this: to speak clearly. No one must say: ‘This can’t be said; he will think of me this way or that,’” Francis told bishops from around the world last summer at a high-level Vatican summit on issues facing the modern family.“It is necessary to say everything that is felt” with candor.
Posted by David Gibson 2 weeks 5 days ago
One reason the cardinals gathered in the Sistine Chapel elected Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope Francis two years ago on March 13 was a brief but powerful speech the Argentine cardinal made shortly before the conclave in which he denounced the “theological narcissism” of the Roman Catholic Church.The church, Francis declared, was “sick” because it was closed in on itself and needed to go out “to the peripheries” and risk all by accompanying the shunned and marginalized.In these past two years, Francis’ efforts to do just that have captivated the public’s imagination and inspired a wide swath of the Catholic spectrum with visions of a newly resurgent faith unshackled from years of scandal and stagnation.But there was another big reason the cardinals voted for Bergoglio: They thought the Jesuit archbishop of Buenos Aires was the one man with the administrative chops to finally rein in the dysfunctional papal bureaucracy, known as the Roman Curia, that was often at the root of the Catholic crisis.
Posted by David Gibson 3 weeks 2 days ago
All presidents beseech God to bless the United States of America. Many pray for divine aid for themselves or their policies. Some can only wonder at the inscrutable ways of the Almighty.Then there’s Frank Underwood, who spits in God’s face.Underwood is fictional, of course, the power-grabbing president and central character in the hit Netflix series House of Cards. And Underwood is a notoriously amoral — criminal, actually — practitioner of a realpolitik so brutal that nothing he does should be surprising.Indeed, in the show’s first season, a frustrated Underwood stopped by a church and looked heavenward to speak to God, then down to address Satan. Finding no satisfying answer from either, he concluded:“There is no solace above or below. Only us, small, solitary, striving, battling one another. I pray to myself, for myself.”Still, it is almost jarring when, in the third and most recent season of the political thriller, Underwood — again stymied in his schemes — meets with a bishop late at night in a darkened sanctuary and engages in an extended debate on divine justice, power and love.
Posted by David Gibson, Michael McKinley 4 weeks 2 days ago
Why are we so fascinated with any historical artifact — relics, as some call them — associated with Jesus?Even the most suspect claim of a “lost” gospel or an “explosive” archaeological find that purports to shed light on the man from Galilee can generate a media frenzy, and gives believers — or skeptics — fresh evidence to try to finally win their argument while leaving their foes on the defensive.Think of the recent “gospel” that seemed to show Jesus had a wife — and she was, of all people, the scandalous Mary Magdalene. Or the discovery a few years ago of an ancient papyrus that depicted Judas as the hero of the gospel story, not the great betrayer. Or, a few years before that, the revelation of a bone box with “brother of Jesus” inscribed on the top.The argument in these purported blockbuster discoveries is that everything we’ve ever known about Christianity is probably false and that there has been a massive, millennia-long cover-up to hide the real truth. Remember The Da Vinci Code? There’s a reason that fiction sounded like fact to a lot of people.Yet in spite of the overblown claims and dodgy artifacts floating around out there, genuine artifacts and solid historical research still provide the best window into that long-ago world and the best chance to figure out who Jesus really was, and what he meant.
Posted by David Gibson 4 weeks 6 days ago
San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone has rejected criticism from state lawmakers over the use of morality clauses for Catholic schoolteachers, asking whether they would “hire a campaign manager who advocates policies contrary to those you stand for?”The archdiocese sparked protests earlier this month when it unveiled morality clauses for four Catholic high school handbooks as well as for teacher labor contracts.The handbooks single out church teaching against homosexual relations, same-sex marriage, abortion, artificial birth control and “reproductive technology,” women’s ordination, pornography, masturbation and human cloning, according to the National Catholic Reporter.The language says that “administrators, faculty, and staff of any faith or no faith are expected to arrange and conduct their lives so as not to visibly contradict, undermine or deny” church doctrine and practice on those topics.Five members of the state Assembly and three state senators sent Cordileone a letter urging him to remove the clauses, which they said were discriminatory and divisive.
Posted by David Gibson 5 weeks 5 days ago
ROME — On its 15 previous pilgrimages, the Catholic gay rights group New Ways Ministry drew maybe two-dozen people to visit holy sites in places like Assisi and Rome.This year, the number of pilgrims unexpectedly doubled to 50.Chalk it up to the so-called Francis Effect, where the pope’s open-arms acceptance is giving new hope to gay and lesbian Catholics who have felt alienated from their church for decades.What’s been even more surprising is that both New Ways and a similar Catholic LGBT organization in Britain are finding support from the Catholic hierarchy in their efforts to meet the pontiff when they both visit the Vatican on Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, the period of penance and fasting preceding Easter.For example, Archbishop Georg Ganswein, head of the papal household and the top aide to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, responded to New Ways’ request for a papal meet-and-greet by reserving tickets for the group at Francis’ weekly public audience in St. Peter’s Square. It’s not a private meeting — which is tough for anyone to get — but it’s not nothing. 
Posted by David Gibson 5 weeks 6 days ago
Pope Francis on Feb. 16 denounced the brutal slayings of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya by militants linked to the Islamic State, saying “they were assassinated just for being Christian.”“The blood of our Christian brothers is a witness that cries out,” Francis said in off-the-cuff remarks during an audience with an ecumenical delegation from the Church of Scotland.The pope, switching to his native Spanish, noted that those killed only said “Jesus help me.”“Be they Catholic, Orthodox, Copts, Lutherans, it doesn’t matter: They’re Christian! The blood is the same: It is the blood which confesses Christ,” Francis said.He said their deaths bore witness to “an ecumenism of blood” that should unite Christians, a phrase he has used repeatedly as the Islamic State continues its bloody march.
Posted by David Gibson 6 weeks 18 hours ago
In a powerful sermon that signaled his desire to push ahead with historic reforms, Pope Francis on Sunday said the Roman Catholic Church must be open and welcoming, whatever the costs.He also warned the hierarchy not to be “a closed caste” but to lead in reaching out to all who are rejected by society and the church.“There are two ways of thinking and of having faith: we can fear to lose the saved and we can want to save the lost,” Francis told hundreds of cardinals and bishops arrayed before him in St. Peter’s Basilica at a Mass centered on the story of Jesus healing a leper rather than rejecting him.“Even today it can happen that we stand at the crossroads of these two ways of thinking,” the pope said as he outlined the current debate in the church between those seen as doctrinal legalists and those, like Francis, who want a more pastoral approach.“Jesus responds immediately to the leper’s plea, without waiting to study the situation and all its possible consequences,” Francis declared. “For Jesus, what matters above all is reaching out to save those far off, healing the wounds of the sick, restoring everyone to God’s family. And this is scandalous to some people!”
Posted by David Gibson 6 weeks 2 days ago
Pope Francis’ new cardinals, who will be formally installed on Feb. 14, represent everything the pope says he wants for the future of Catholicism: a church that reaches out to the periphery and the margins, and one that represents those frontiers more than the central administration in Rome.That’s why he picked cardinals for the first time ever from countries like Myanmar and Cape Verde, as well as one from the Pacific archipelago of Tonga, which has just 15,000 Catholics out of a population of 100,000 spread across 176 islands.The 15 new cardinals who are of voting age — five new “honorary” cardinals are over 80 and ineligible to vote for the next pope — come from 14 countries and include prelates from Ethiopia, Panama, Thailand, and Vietnam, and from places in Europe far removed from the traditional power dioceses of Old World Catholicism.In fact, only one new cardinal comes from the Roman Curia, the Italian-dominated papal bureaucracy that Francis is struggling to tame in the wake of a series of scandals that revealed a deep dysfunction at Catholicism’s home office.But will diversifying the College of Cardinals make it look more like the church’s global flock of 1.2 billion members? Or will it leave the electors so fragmented by geography, language and viewpoints that they won’t be able to serve as a counterweight to career churchmen in Rome?
Posted by David Gibson 6 weeks 3 days ago
Pope Francis called for a Vatican that operates with “absolute transparency” as he gathered more than 165 cardinals in Rome for high-level meetings aimed at tackling one of the toughest challenges of his reformist papacy: overhauling the dysfunctional bureaucracy of the Roman Curia.The goal, Francis told a lecture hall filled with the scarlet-clad “princes of the church, is to foster “greater harmony” among the different church offices in a bid to foster “absolute transparency that builds authentic … collegiality.”“Reform is not an end in itself, but a means of bearing a powerful Christian witness,” Francis said.That was a nod to the scandals that overshadowed the waning years of Benedict XVI’s papacy and undermined the Vatican’s credibility with the public and the dismayed churchmen who had to deal with the fallout.The two-day gathering with the cardinals – including the 20 new appointees who the pope will officially elevate on Feb. 14– comes almost two years to the day after Benedict stunned the world by announcing that he would become the first pope in nearly 600 years to resign from office.
Posted by David Gibson 6 weeks 4 days ago
Less than a month after saying Catholics don’t have to multiply “like rabbits,” Pope Francis on Feb. 11 once again praised big families, telling a gathering in St. Peter’s Square that having more children is not “an irresponsible choice.”He also said that opting not to have children at all is “a selfish choice.”A society that “views children above all as a worry, a burden, a risk, is a depressed society,” Francis said.Citing European countries where the fertility rate is especially low, the pope said “they are depressed societies because they don’t want children. They don’t have children. The birth rate doesn’t even reach 1 percent.”He once again praised the 1968 encyclical of Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, that reiterated the ban against artificial contraception while enjoining Catholics to practice “responsible parenthood” by spacing out births as necessary.Francis added, however, that having more children “cannot automatically become an irresponsible choice.”“Not to have children is a selfish choice,” he said. “Life rejuvenates and acquires energy when it multiplies: It is enriched, not impoverished!”
Posted by David Gibson 6 weeks 5 days ago
The German churchman christened the “Bishop of Bling” by the media for lavish expenditures he made on his residence and church offices has quietly been given a low-level post at the Vatican, nearly a year after Pope Francis ousted him from the Limburg diocese.Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst may already be in Rome, according to church sources and media reports, and next month will begin work as a “delegate” at the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, an office in the Roman Curia.While the Vatican has so far declined to comment, Tebartz-van Elst will reportedly help prepare catechetical materials – his area of expertise – for various national bishops conferences. But he won’t have his name attached to any documents, according to Archbishop Rino Fisichella, head of the council.The post was created for Tebartz-van Elst and has the hallmarks of a “make-work” job because the Vatican couldn’t figure out what else to do with the prelate.Controversy over Tebartz-van Elst’s outlays in Limburg erupted in October 2013 when it was revealed that costs to renovate the diocesan center and the bishops’ home ran several times over the initial estimate, to some $40 million.
Posted by David Gibson 6 weeks 6 days ago
If you are a Christian, protecting the environment is part of your identity, not an ideological option, Pope Francis said Feb. 9.“When we hear that people have meetings about how to preserve creation, we can say: ‘No, they are the greens!’” Francis said in his homily at morning Mass, using a common name for environmental activists.“No, they are not the greens! This is the Christian!” he said.“A Christian who does not protect creation, who does not let it grow, is a Christian who does not care about the work of God; that work that was born from the love of God for us,” Francis continued. “And this is the first response to the first creation: protect creation, make it grow.”The pope — who took his name from St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of the environment — has made care for the environment a hallmark of his papacy since he was elected nearly two years ago.
Posted by David Gibson 6 weeks 6 days ago
A papal commission on clergy sex abuse is close to giving Pope Francis recommendations on how to punish bishops who shield priests suspected of misconduct, one of several moves announced Feb. 7 that are encouraging the two victims on the panel.But the two victims also said the Vatican has a year or two at most to implement policies with teeth, otherwise they will leave.Peter Saunders of Great Britain, who was sexually assaulted as a boy by priests at his Catholic school, told a crowded news conference at the Vatican press office that he came to the meeting “with a fair degree of trepidation” that anything significant would result.But after the initial two days with what he called a “group of quite remarkable and determined people,” including Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, head of the commission, he said “the trepidation has kind of disappeared.”“I’m actually very, very hopeful that there are going to be some very significant things happening,” especially on disciplining bishops, said Saunders, who heads the London-based National Association for People Abused in Childhood.But he warned that “if in a year or two there isn’t some firm action on those matters then I don’t think I’ll be sitting here talking to you.”
Posted by David Gibson 6 weeks 6 days ago
Whether women can, or should, “have it all” —  both work and family — has been one of the most contentious cultural debates of the modern age and one any secular or religious figure engages at his or her peril.But Pope Francis is nothing if not intrepid, and on Feb. 7 he plunged in by arguing that the Catholic Church should help “guarantee the freedom of choice” for women to take up leading posts in the church and in public life while also maintaining their “irreplaceable role” as mothers at home.In his remarks to the Vatican’s Council for Culture, which has been holding meetings on the role of women in modern life, Francis sought to carve out a “new paradigm” in the gender wars.He said Western societies have left behind the old model of the “subordination” of women to men, though he said the “negative effects” of that tradition continue.At the same time, he said, the world has moved beyond a model of “pure and simple parity, applied mechanically, of absolute equivalence” between men and women.
Posted by David Gibson 7 weeks 4 days ago
Pope Francis on Feb. 3 officially declared that Archbishop Oscar Romero, assassinated by a right-wing death squad in 1980 while celebrating Mass in El Salvador, was a martyr for the faith, clearing the way for his beatification.The move ends decades of fierce debate over Romero’s legacy, but it was not a complete surprise: Francis, the first Latin American pope, has often said he thought Romero was a martyr worthy of consideration for sainthood.But his view contrasts with the conservative papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, which viewed Romero as an icon of the theological left who was killed for political reasons because he spoke out against poverty and human rights abuses.As a result, Romero’s cause for canonization languished in the Vatican’s bureaucratic limbo despite his great popularity elsewhere.That is set to change. the Feb. 3 declaration by Francis stated that Romero was “killed in hatred of the faith.” On Feb. 4, the Vatican is scheduled to hold a news conference with Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, a Vatican official who is promoting Romero’s cause for canonization.
Posted by David Gibson 7 weeks 5 days ago
When Pope Francis unexpectedly announced last month that he would canonize the Rev. Junipero Serra during his visit to the U.S. in September, he thrilled the many fans of the legendary 18th-century Spanish Franciscan who spread the Catholic faith across what is now California.But the pontiff who has decried the “ideological colonization” of the developing world by the secular West is now facing criticism from those who say Serra — called “the Columbus of California” — abused Native Americans and pressured them to convert, aiding in the devastation of the indigenous culture on behalf of the Spanish crown.“Serra was no saint to us,” Ron Andrade, executive director of the Los Angeles City/County Native American Indian Commission, told the Los Angeles Times.Some of Serra’s sharpest critics say he was part of an imperial conquest that beat and enslaved Native Americans, raped their women, and destroyed their culture by forcing them to abandon their traditional language, diet, dress and other customs and rites.Add in the diseases introduced by these Old World invaders, and the original indigenous population of perhaps 300,000 was decimated by as much as 90 percent.“If (Serra) is elevated to sainthood,” Nicole Lim, the executive director of the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center in Santa Rosa, told The New York Times, “then (Serra) should be held responsible for the brutal and deadly treatment of native people.”
Posted by David Gibson 8 weeks 4 days ago
A high-profile group of conservative Catholics and evangelical Protestants is set to issue a sweeping manifesto against gay marriage that calls same-sex unions “a graver threat” than divorce or cohabitation, one that will lead to a moral dystopia in America and the “persecution” of traditional believers.“If the truth about marriage can be displaced by social and political pressure operating through the law, other truths can be set aside as well,” say the nearly 50 signers of the statement, which is to be published in the March edition of the conservative journal First Things.“And that displacement can lead, in due course, to the coercion and persecution of those who refuse to acknowledge the state’s redefinition of marriage, which is beyond the state’s competence,” they say.The declaration adds that some people “are already being censured and others have lost their jobs because of their public commitment to marriage as the union of a man and a woman.”
Posted by David Gibson 8 weeks 4 days ago
A Catholic priest who recently took charge of a San Francisco parish has said only boys can be altar servers, a move that is sparking both criticism and praise and comes amid a wider debate over conservative concerns that the Catholic Church has become too “feminized.”As media coverage of the controversy at Star of the Sea Roman Catholic Church began to build in recent days, the Rev. Joseph Illo defended his decision in a statement issued Jan. 26, saying he decided to make the change in November, a few months after he became pastor. Illo cited two main reasons for the switch.The first, he said, is that “boys usually end up losing interest (in altar service) because girls generally do a better job.”The second and more important reason, Illo said, is that “altar service is intrinsically tied to the priesthood and serve as feeder programs for the seminary.”“If the Catholic Church ordained women, altar girls would make sense, but the Catholic priesthood is a male charism,” he said. “Nothing awakens a desire for the priesthood like service at the altar among the brotherhood of young men. At the risk of generalizing, I suspect young men serving with young women might just distract them from the sacrifice of the Mass, and perhaps even from a priestly vocation.”
Posted by David Gibson 8 weeks 6 days ago
The Rev. Richard McBrien, a renowned Catholic theologian at the University of Notre Dame who wrote comprehensive works on church history and delivered punchy sound bites from a liberal perspective, died Jan. 25. He was 78 and had been in poor health for several years.McBrien joined Notre Dame in 1980 and quickly became not only a standout for the theology department but also an outspoken liberal commentator just as Pope John Paul II, who was elected in 1978, was pushing the Catholic Church in a more conservative direction.In his media punditry and in a weekly column that ran in some diocesan newspapers — and was increasingly barred in others — McBrien argued for the ordination of women as priests, optional celibacy, and birth control, among other things. That made him a hero to progressives and the bane of conservatives, who often lobbied the hierarchy to discipline him.Despite courting controversy, he always remained a priest in good standing.
Posted by David Gibson 9 weeks 3 days ago
Borg, a prominent liberal theologian and Bible scholar who for a generation helped shaped the intense debates about the historical Jesus and the veracity and meaning of the New Testament, died on Jan. 21. He was 72 and had been suffering from a prolonged illness, friends said.Borg emerged as a major voice in biblical studies in the 1980s just as academics and theologians were bringing new energy to the so-called “quest for the historical Jesus,” the centuries-old effort to disentangle fact from myth in the Gospels.Alongside scholars such as John Domonic Crossan, Borg was a leader in the Jesus Seminar, which brought a skeptical eye to the Scriptures and in particular to supernatural claims about Jesus’ miracles and his resurrection from the dead.Like many of those critical scholars, Borg tended to view Jesus as a Jewish prophet and teacher, like many figures who emerged from the religious ferment of first-century Judaism.
Posted by David Gibson 9 weeks 4 days ago
More than 100 Roman Catholic leaders are using this week’s annual march against legal abortion to press anti-abortion House members to pass immigration reform, saying they should see it as another “pro-life” issue.“As brothers and sisters in faith, we urge these elected officials and all Catholics to defend the sanctity of human lives at all stages. We recognize the image of God in the migrant at the border, in the prisoner on death row, in the pregnant woman and in the hungry child,” the signers say in a letter sent Jan. 21 to two dozen Catholic members of the House of Representatives who are vocal abortion opponents.The letter, organized by the Washington-based progressive advocacy group Faith in Public Life, is expected to be published as a full-page ad in Politico on Jan. 22.That’s the day tens of thousands of demonstrators — including some of the House members the statement addresses — are expected to gather in Washington to protest the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, an annual display of passionate anti-abortion sentiment and political muscle.The statement pointedly cites Pope Francis’ views that immigration woes and economic inequality are threats to life along with abortion, and it appears to be another example of the so-called Francis effect that is recasting the nation’s culture war by shifting the debates onto a broader terrain.
Posted by David Gibson 10 weeks 4 days ago
Catholic environmental groups from around the world on Jan. 14 announced a new global network to battle climate change just as many Catholic conservatives are sharply criticizing Pope Francis’ campaign to put environmental protection high on the church’s agenda.“We are certain that anthropogenic (human-made) climate change endangers God’s creation and us all, particularly the poor, whose voices have already spoken of the impacts of an altered climate,” the new Global Catholic Climate Movement says in its mission statement.“Climate change is about our responsibility as God’s children and people of faith to care for human life, especially future generations, by caring for all of God’s wondrous creation,” the statement continues.The GCCM said it intends to push for international treaties to battle global warming but said it is approaching the issue from a moral and biblical perspective and hopes to “encourage the conversion of hardened hearts.”That could be a tall order in light of current arguments over climate change in U.S. politics and in the American church.
Posted by David Gibson 12 weeks 2 days ago
To much of the country, Cardinal Timothy Dolan has been the conservative face of the American hierarchy, the happy warrior with a big pulpit who led the American bishops during their toughest battles with the Obama administration over contraception policies and gay rights.But in his own backyard, the current archbishop of New York is much more of a mediating figure, seen as a community leader as well as a churchman. In recent weeks, he’s increasingly stepped up to help ease the festering racial and political tensions between the police and the people, and even between the police and Mayor Bill de Blasio."Historically, the archbishop of New York has been an important civic figure," said Paul Moses, a journalism professor at Brooklyn College and Catholic writer whose latest book is "An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York’s Irish and Italians."After a decade in which Dolan’s predecessor, Cardinal Edward Egan, focused on church administration and avoided the political spotlight, Dolan’s 2009 appointment was aimed at "restoring that role," Moses said. 
Posted by David Gibson 14 weeks 5 days ago
The moment was more “Kumbaya” than “Come to Jesus” on Dec. 16 as the Vatican released the much-anticipated results of an investigation of women’s religious communities in the U.S., the first of two controversial investigations of American nuns by the Roman Curia.The 5,200-word report was largely positive, and participants at a Vatican news conference were even more effusive in their praise for each other, the process, the outcome, and prospects for future collaboration to meet serious challenges. That was a big change from how things started six years ago.So what did we learn from this whole saga? Here are three takeaways:1. Rome’s “War on Women” is over“It is not a truce,” Sister Sharon Holland of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the main network of U.S. nuns, told reporters in Rome. “We are not at war.”
Posted by David Gibson 14 weeks 5 days ago
In the latest clash between the Catholic hierarchy and one of the church’s leading anti-abortion crusaders, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan accused the Rev. Frank Pavone of continuing to stonewall on financial reforms, and Dolan said he is cutting ties with his group, Priests for Life.In a Nov. 20 letter to other U.S. bishops, Dolan said he did not know if the Vatican would now step in to take action against the New York-based priest, who for years has angered various bishops by rejecting oversight of the organization by church authorities and for refusing to sort out his group’s troubled finances.“My requests of Father Pavone were clear and simple: one, that Priests for Life undergo a forensic audit; two, that a new, independent board be established to provide oversight and accountability,” Dolan wrote in the letter, which was first reported by Catholic World News.“Although Father Pavone initially assured me of his support, he did not cooperate. Frequent requests that he do so went unheeded. I finally asked him to comply by October 1st. He did not,” Dolan wrote.Dolan, who had been asked by the Vatican to help Pavone restructure Priests for Life, said in the letter that he has informed Rome that “I am unable to fulfill their mandate, and want nothing further to do with the organization.”
Posted by David Gibson 15 weeks 2 days ago
The Vatican announced Dec. 11 that Pope Francis will name a new batch of cardinals in February, adding to the select group of churchmen who will someday gather to elect his successor.Rome won’t reveal the names until next month, but could an American be among them?There are a number of factors that will govern the choices, and thus the predictions:First, there are 208 cardinals in the College of Cardinals, but at the age of 80 a cardinal is no longer allowed to vote in a conclave. That leaves 112 cardinals under the age of 80, as of now, though two more will age out in February and another two in March and April.The customary ceiling on the number of electors today is 120 (it has changed many times over the centuries). That means that Francis could give a so-called red hat to 10 or 12 bishops.The pope could also raise the ceiling, or ignore it, as Saint John Paul II often did during his long reign.
Posted by David Gibson 15 weeks 3 days ago
When Pope Francis this month wanted to highlight his appointment of several women to a blue-ribbon theological commission, he called the female theologians “strawberries on the cake.”Yikes.Two weeks earlier, when the pontiff gave a speech to the European Parliament, he used another lady-based analogy, this time underscoring the continent’s demographic decline and cultural crisis by comparing Europe to a grandmother who is “no longer fertile and vibrant.”Ouch.Yes, Francis is a veritable quote machine, tossing off-the-cuff bon mots that the public finds enormously appealing in large part because they are coming from a Roman pontiff — not an office known for its improv routines.But when he speaks about women, Francis can sound a lot like the (almost) 78-year-old Argentine churchman that he is, using analogies that sound alternately condescending and impolitic, even if well-intentioned.
Posted by David Gibson 16 weeks 2 days ago
Was there a secret plot to elect Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio at the papal conclave last year?Did Bergoglio — who became Pope Francis at that conclave — give the go-ahead to such a plan?And does that campaign call his election, and his papacy, into question?Such questions might sound like plot twists to a new Vatican thriller by Dan Brown, but they are actually the latest talking points promoted by some Catholic conservatives upset with the direction that Francis is leading the church.The furor stems from a behind-the-scenes account of the March 2013 conclave, presented in a new book about Francis titled “The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope.”In the last chapter of the biography, which focuses on Bergoglio’s early life in Argentina and career as a Jesuit, author Austen Ivereigh delivers an insider account of how a group of cardinals who wanted a reformer pope quietly sought to rally support for Bergoglio in the days leading up to the conclave.
Posted by David Gibson 18 weeks 3 days ago
Following up on remarks to “60 Minutes” about the clergy sex abuse crisis and other controversial topics, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley has stressed that the Catholic Church needs a system to hold bishops accountable and must “avoid crowd-based condemnations.”“We are all aware that Catholics want their leaders to be held accountable for the safety of children, but the accountability has been sporadic,” O’Malley wrote in a column posted Nov. 19 at the website of the archdiocesan newspaper. “We need clear protocols that will replace the improvisation and inertia that has often been the response in these matters.”“Bishops also deserve due process that allows them to have an opportunity for a fair hearing,” he added.O’Malley’s column was responding to both praise and criticism of his CBS interview broadcast Nov. 16 in which he said the Vatican needs to respond “urgently” to cases like that of Missouri Bishop Robert Finn, who remains in office despite a conviction in 2012 for failure to report concerns about a priest, the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, who was later convicted of federal child pornography charges.The cardinal said Francis, who recently sent a Canadian archbishop to Finn’s diocese to investigate, was personally aware of the situation.In the “60 Minutes” interview, O’Malley also called the Vatican’s investigation of American nuns a “disaster” and said if he were starting a church “I’d love to have women priests,” but he added that’s not what Jesus did. Both comments sparked strong reactions.
Posted by David Gibson 18 weeks 3 days ago
Another day, another stunning blockbuster report that … Jesus was married! And to Mary Magdalene!The latest version of this meme comes from Simcha Jacobovici, an author and filmmaker who is famous for promoting stunning theories about Jesus that on further review often turn out to be dubious.Jacobovici’s new claim that he has decoded an old text that reveals Jesus and the Magdalene were married and had two kids (and she was a “co-deity” with her husband) came out this month and has also been widely dismissed.But as happened earlier this year with the so-called “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” — a suspect papyrus that receives a further debunking in the latest edition of the Atlantic — people find Jesus’ sex life endlessly fascinating, and plausible.Why is that? Here are five reasons.
Posted by David Gibson 19 weeks 4 days ago
The nation’s Catholic bishops are jumping into the increasingly contentious battle over immigration reform by backing President Obama’s pledge to act on his own to fix what one bishop called “this broken and immoral system” before Republicans assume control of Capitol Hill in January.In an unscheduled address Nov. 11 at the hierarchy’s annual meeting, Seattle Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, chairman of the migration committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the USCCB would continue to work with both parties to pass comprehensive immigration reform.But, Elizondo said, given the urgency of the immigration crisis and the electoral gains by Republicans who have thwarted earlier reform efforts, “it would be derelict not to support administrative actions … which would provide immigrants and their families legal protection.”“We are not guided by the latest headlines but by the human tragedies that we see every day in our parishes and programs, where families are torn apart by enforcement actions especially,” he said.During the summer, the president was moving toward unilateral action on immigration, despite warnings that such moves could exceed his constitutional authority or would turn voters against reform.Then in early September, Obama said he would delay acting on his own, a move that was seen as a way to protect vulnerable Democrats from any backlash in midterm elections. On Sunday, Obama told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that he was now “going to do what I can do through executive action.”“It’s not going to be everything that needs to get done. And it will take time to put that in place,” he said.
Posted by David Gibson 19 weeks 5 days ago
With a controversial Vatican summit on family life just concluded and a papal visit to the U.S. expected in less than a year, the nation’s Catholic bishops on Nov. 10 began taking steps to adapt their agenda to the priorities Pope Francis set out — an emphasis on social justice and on creating a more welcoming church.That change in focus has unsettled a number of American bishops who have been used to a hierarchy oriented more toward hot-button culture war issues like fighting abortion, gay marriage and the Obama administration’s contraception mandate.The new shift was underscored by last month’s summit, called a synod, where many churchmen used unusually positive language in referring to gay people and cohabiting couples and others who do not always follow church teachings on family life.In addition, the announcement Nov. 8  that Francis moved U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke, a vocal conservative and critic of the pope’s approach, out of his curial post, combined with the pope’s surprise choice of low-profile prelate Blase Cupich as archbishop of Chicago have upended long-standing assumptions about how the church operates.The bishops “still haven’t fully processed what’s taking place right now,” said Rocco Palmo, who runs a popular Catholic website, Whispers in the Loggia.
Posted by David Gibson 20 weeks 5 days ago
Many conservative Catholics have long viewed Pope Francis with suspicion thanks to his effort to shift the church’s focus away from a culture war agenda and toward a more welcoming approach and a greater emphasis on serving the poor.But last month’s controversial Vatican summit on the modern family, with the push by Francis and his allies to translate that inclusive view into concrete policies on gays and divorced and remarried Catholics, for example, seems to have marked a tipping point, with some on the right raising the specter of a schism — a formal split that is viewed as the “nuclear option” for dissenters.New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, a Catholic and a conservative, crystallized the peril in an Oct. 25 column warning the pope not to “break the church” to promote his goals, saying that if Francis continues to alienate conservative Catholics it could lead to “a real schism.”Douthat had raised the possibility of “an outright schism” earlier this year, as well, and his warnings have been echoed by a number of other church leaders and commentators. The anxiety on the right has also drawn increasing media speculation about the possibility of conservatives splintering off.So is a schism, with its echoes of medieval debates and heretics burning at the stake, a realistic possibility? And can an independent Catholic church be successful in the modern world?
Posted by David Gibson 21 weeks 3 days ago
This Nov. 2, on what is known as All Souls’ Day, Roman Catholics around the world will be praying for loved ones who have died and for all those who have passed from this life to the next. They will be joined by Jerry Walls.“I got no problem praying for the dead,” Walls says without hesitation — which is unusual for a United Methodist who attends an Anglican church and teaches Christian philosophy at Houston Baptist University.Most Protestant traditions forcefully rejected the “Romish doctrine” of purgatory after the Reformation nearly 500 years ago. The Protestant discomfort with purgatory hasn’t eased much since: You still can’t find the word in the Bible, critics say, and the idea that you can pray anyone who has died into paradise smacks of salvation by good works.The dead are either in heaven or hell, they say. There’s no middle ground, and certainly nothing the living can do to change it.Many Catholics don’t seem to take purgatory as seriously as they once did, either, viewing it as fodder for jokes or as the “anteroom of heaven,” an unpleasant way station that is only marginally more appealing than hell.But Walls is a leading exponent of an effort to convince Protestants — and maybe a few Catholics — that purgatory is a teaching they can, and should, embrace. And he’s having a degree of success, even among some evangelicals, that hasn’t been seen in, well, centuries.
Posted by David Gibson, Josephine McKenna 22 weeks 2 days ago
Pope Francis said Oct. 23 that keeping inmates isolated in maximum security prisons is “a form of torture,” and called life sentences “a hidden death penalty” that should be abolished along with capital punishment.“All Christians and people of good will are called today to struggle not only for abolition of the death penalty, whether legal or illegal, and in all its forms, but also to improve prison conditions, out of respect for the human dignity of persons deprived of their liberty,” the pope told delegates from the International Association of Penal Law.“And this I connect with life imprisonment,” he continued. “Life imprisonment is a hidden death penalty.”The pope noted that the Vatican recently eliminated life imprisonment from its own penal code, though that move was largely symbolic.In the wide-ranging address, Francis denounced practices that are widespread in many regions of the world, such as extrajudicial executions and detentions without trial, which he said account for more than half of all detentions in some countries.Francis also denounced corruption in penal systems, calling it “an evil greater than sin.”
Posted by David Gibson 22 weeks 5 days ago
Pope Francis and senior Catholic leaders wrapped up their two-week Vatican summit on the challenges of modern family life on Oct. 19 without reaching a consensus on a number of hot-button topics. So where does that leave Francis’ papacy? And the church?Here are seven takeaways:1. Hard-liners won the battleA midpoint status report on the debate among some 190 cardinals and bishops was described as a “pastoral earthquake” because of its unprecedented (for Catholic churchmen) language of welcome of and appreciation for gay people, as well as divorced-and-remarried Catholics and cohabiting couples.The media tsunami over that apparent breakthrough panicked conservatives, who waged an intense public and private campaign to make sure none of that language — apparently favored by Francis himself — made it into the synod’s final report. They succeeded, and even the few watered-down paragraphs on gays and remarried Catholics did not reach the two-thirds threshold needed for formal passage.Hard-liners claimed victory, and headlines spoke of Vatican “backtrack” and a “resounding defeat” for Francis that left his papacy “weakened.”
Posted by David Gibson 23 weeks 3 days ago
As he wraps up a Vatican meeting marked by sharp debates over sex and morality, Pope Francis on Oct. 19 will honor one of his most controversial predecessors by beatifying Pope Paul VI, who is most famous for reaffirming the Catholic Church’s ban on artificial contraception.Beatification puts Paul one step shy of formal sainthood. The move might seem out of step with Francis’ pastoral approach given that Paul’s birth control ruling, in the 1968 encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” set the stage for the culture wars that overtook Catholicism after Paul died in 1978.A wide swath of Catholics, especially in the U.S. and Europe, were furious over Paul’s decision. They were convinced that the ban would be lifted and that Paul was shutting down the reforms that had begun a few years earlier with momentous changes adopted by the Second Vatican Council.Many conservatives, on the other hand, hailed “Humanae Vitae” for reasserting traditional doctrine, and the division foreshadowed the deep splits that have played out even in this month’s high-level synod in Rome — a polarization that Francis says he wants to overcome.Yet Francis is trying to accomplish that goal by focusing not so much on “Humanae Vitae” but on Paul VI’s many other groundbreaking, though often overlooked, contributions:
Posted by David Gibson 25 weeks 3 days ago
Leading up to a Vatican summit on family life that Pope Francis opens on Oct. 5, high-ranking churchmen have fiercely debated church teaching — and criticized each other — in sharp exchanges that offer a ringside seat to the kind of battles that Rome used to keep under wraps.But amid all this verbal sparring, the opposing camps have found one point of consensus: Airing their differences is good for the Roman Catholic Church.“Everybody is free to express his opinion. That is not a problem for me,” Cardinal Walter Kasper, a German theologian who has emerged as the point man for the reformists, said in an interview published Sept. 29 in America magazine.“The pope wanted an open debate, and I think that is something new because up to now often there was not such an open debate. I think that’s healthy and it helps the church very much.”A day later, Cardinal Raymond Burke, an American who heads the Vatican’s highest court and a vocal exponent of the conservative camp opposing Kasper, spoke to reporters to toss back a few barbs. But he, too, praised the frankness of the exchanges.
Posted by David Gibson 25 weeks 4 days ago
Public disagreements over whether the Roman Catholic Church can change its teachings on Communion for remarried Catholics are growing sharper on the eve of a major Vatican summit, with conservatives led by U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke making another push against loosening the rules.In a conference call with reporters on Sept. 30, Burke, who currently heads the Vatican’s high court, singled out the leading proponent of reforms, German Cardinal Walter Kasper, and his claims that critics of his proposals are really attacking Pope Francis.Kasper has said that the pope supports his efforts to find ways to fully reintegrate divorced and remarried Catholics into church life. The proposals have become a prime focus of the upcoming Vatican meeting, called a synod, which will convene on Oct. 5 for two weeks to consider changes in family life in the modern world.“I find it amazing that the cardinal claims to speak for the pope,” said Burke, the former archbishop of St. Louis, speaking from Rome. “The pope doesn’t have laryngitis. The pope is not mute. He can speak for himself. If this is what he wants, he will say so.”
Posted by David Gibson 25 weeks 5 days ago
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush were not invited to a major gathering of social conservatives in Washington last weekend in what was viewed as a serious snub of two men considered prominent Republican presidential contenders for 2016.“They were not invited this year because they just weren’t on the top of the list in terms of what they are doing right now and whether or not it was relevant to the values voters and who they want to hear from,” said Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council and chief organizer of the Values Voter Summit, which opened on Friday and ended Sept. 28.“They shouldn’t take it the wrong way,” Perkins told David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network in an interview taped on Friday.But in his report, Brody said the two men had been “snubbed” and that’s not good news for any presidential aspirations they may harbor.The Values Voter Summit is the pre-eminent venue for GOP candidates who hope to showcase their bona fides to the crucial conservative Christian bloc, and Christie and Bush — the elder brother of former President George W. Bush — are seen as Republicans who could appeal to the center of the electorate but who have not won the hearts of social conservatives.
Posted by David Gibson 26 weeks 6 days ago
When Spokane Bishop Blase Cupich got a call 10 days ago with the news that Pope Francis had chosen him to be the next archbishop of Chicago — the pontiff’s most important U.S. appointment to date — he was so taken aback that he couldn’t speak for a few moments.“To say that I was surprised doesn’t come close to the word I would use,” Cupich said Sept. 20 at a news conference in Chicago introducing him as the successor to Cardinal Francis George, who is 77 and battling cancer.Asked by reporters how long it took for the reality of his appointment to sink in, Cupich smiled and said, “It’s still sinking in.”A lot of other Catholics are trying to absorb the news as well, just as surprised that Francis picked the 65-year-old Cupich, who had been considered a long shot by many Vatican handicappers. They were also pleased, or concerned, that the pope had evidently chosen a bishop who shared his own emphasis on listening to the flock and caring for the poor.“I think that he” — Francis — “sent a pastor, not a message,” Cupich told reporters.