The Vatican vs. the Nuns: 3 Takeaways from the Vatican's Investigation of Women's Religious Communities
Posted by David Gibson 1 week 1 day 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 1 week 1 day 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 1 week 5 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 1 week 6 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 2 weeks 5 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 4 weeks 6 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 4 weeks 6 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 6 weeks 15 hours 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 6 weeks 1 day 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 7 weeks 1 day 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 7 weeks 6 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 8 weeks 5 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 9 weeks 1 day 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 9 weeks 6 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 11 weeks 6 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 12 weeks 22 hours 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 12 weeks 1 day 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 13 weeks 2 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.
Posted by David Gibson 14 weeks 2 days ago
New Jersey is often dismissed as a cultural wasteland of traffic jams and suburban sprawl, mobster graveyards and lost dreams — source material for native son rockers like Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi.But soon the state may also be known as home of the latest American saint, a Bayonne-born nun who is to be beatified in Newark next month.The beatification of Sister Miriam Teresa Demjanovich, who died in 1927 at the age of 26, puts her one step away from formal canonization.If Demjanovich does make the final hurdle, she would become just the second person born in the U.S. ever to be named a saint, and it would give New Jersey something to brag about — albeit humbly, no doubt.
Posted by David Gibson 14 weeks 5 days ago
After organizers agreed to allow a gay and lesbian group to march, William Donohue of the Catholic League announced that his organization would not take part in next year’s popular celebration of Irish-American culture, New York’s St. Patrick’s Day parade.Donohue said the parade organizers had “betrayed” him by promising that an anti-abortion group would be allowed to participate if a gay group were given a permit. But he claimed the committee later reversed itself and said abortion opponents would not be marching next year.“They not only told me one thing, and did another, they decided to include a gay group that is neither Catholic nor Irish while stiffing pro-life Catholics,” Donohue said in a statement issued Sept. 11. “This is as stunning as it is indefensible.”The parade organizers had sent mixed signals about whether an anti-abortion group would be marching in the parade.
Posted by David Gibson 15 weeks 16 hours ago
Eight years ago this Sept. 12, Pope Benedict XVI delivered a lecture at the University of Regensburg in Bavaria in which he seemed to diagnose Islam as a religion inherently flawed by fanaticism.It was an undiplomatic assertion, to say the least — especially coming a day after the 9/11 anniversary — and it sparked an enormous outcry among Muslims and came to be seen as one of a series of missteps that would plague Benedict’s papacy until he resigned last year.Now, with the Islamic State on the march in the Middle East, leaving a trail of horrifying brutality and bloodshed that has shocked the world, some of Benedict’s allies on the Catholic right are saying, in effect, “He told you so.”“Regensburg was not so much the work of a professor or even a pope,” wrote the Rev. Raymond de Souza in a column for the National Catholic Register, a conservative publication. “It was the work of a prophet.”
Posted by David Gibson 15 weeks 1 day ago
This time it’s the Catholic sisters versus the Koch brothers.That’s one way to look at the upcoming “Nuns on the Bus” tour, which hits the road Sept. 17 for the third time in three years, a monthlong trip though 10 key U.S. Senate battleground states to campaign against the influence of outside money on politics.The issue has come to be identified with the wealthy industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch, whose huge contributions to conservative political causes have raised concerns about the role of “dark money” on elections.The spigot for such undisclosed donations, which can be made by unions as well as corporations, was opened by the controversial 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision. That was followed by another 5-4 ruling in April of this year, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission.
Posted by David Gibson 15 weeks 2 days ago
Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s positive reaction to this week’s decision by organizers of New York’s annual St. Patrick’s Day parade to allow gay groups to march under their own banners initially drew charitable responses in many Catholic Church circles.But it didn’t take long for conservative church critics to turn.After initially signaling his grudging acceptance, William Donohue of the Catholic League came back with a revised view when he realized that more than one gay group could be allowed to march in the future.“The goal of these activists, supported by the corporate elite, is to neuter the religious element of the parade,” Donohue said. “This is an Irish-Catholic parade, and if what comes after the hyphen is cut, so will the parade’s support, beginning with the Catholic League.”
Posted by David Gibson 16 weeks 18 hours ago
After years of strong resistance, organizers of New York’s St. Patrick’s Day parade on September 3 said that gays and lesbians will be allowed to march under their own banner for the first time, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan—the parade’s grand marshal next March—has welcomed the move.The decision is another sign of how quickly changing public attitudes toward gay people have pushed changes in state laws, government policies, and the practices of private entities.Dolan’s positive response may also point to a shifting dynamic within the Catholic Church on gays and lesbians since the election of Pope Francis last year. Francis has made it clear he wants church leaders to highlight Catholicism’s outreach to the poor and vulnerable rather than always fighting culture war issues on gay marriage and the like.The church’s teachings on gays lesbians have not changed, as was evident this week when two teachers at a Catholic high school in St. Louis were fired when administrators learned the women were married, and a teacher at a Catholic high school in suburban Detroit who is a lesbian said she was fired when she became pregnant.But the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, which is not run by the church, allows for some wiggle room. Dolan said Wednesday that the parade committee that operates the annual event “continues to have my confidence and support.”“Neither my predecessors as Archbishop of New York nor I have ever determined who would or would not march in this parade … but have always appreciated the cooperation of parade organizers in keeping the parade close to its Catholic heritage,” he continued.Dolan concluded by praying “that the parade would continue to be a source of unity for all of us.”
Posted by David Gibson 16 weeks 6 days ago
From the moment news broke that U.S. journalist James Foley had been beheaded by Islamic State extremists in the Middle East, many Christians, especially Foley’s fellow Catholics, began calling him a martyr, with some even saying he should be considered a saint.Yet that characterization has left others uneasy, and the discussion is raising larger questions about what constitutes martyrdom.Foley’s parents seemed to validate the martyrdom label when his father, John, spoke at an emotional news conference outside the family’s New Hampshire home and said he and his wife “believe he was a martyr.” Foley’s mother, Diane, added that her son “reminds us of Jesus. Jesus was goodness, love — and Jim was becoming more and more that.”In an interview two days later with Katie Couric, Foley’s younger brother, Michael, recounted how Pope Francis had called the family to console them and in their conversation “referred to Jim’s act as, really, martyrdom.”Numerous commentators had already picked up on that idea, holding Foley up not only as a witness to the Christian faith but as a spur for believers in the West to take more seriously the plight of Christians in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East who are being persecuted to a degree that some say is comparable to genocide.But in the Catholic Church, determining whether someone is a martyr is not so easy. Historically, two conditions must be met.
Posted by David Gibson 19 weeks 18 hours ago
A coalition of more than 50 religious leaders, led by mostly conservative Catholic, evangelical, and Jewish activists, is calling on President Obama to sharply escalate military action against Islamic extremists in Iraq. They say “nothing short of the destruction” of the Islamic State can protect Christians and religious minorities now being subjected to “a campaign of genocide.”“We represent various religious traditions and shades of belief,” the petition reads. “None of us glorifies war or underestimates the risks entailed by the use of military force.”But they say the situation is so dire that relief for these religious communities “cannot be achieved apart from the use of military force to degrade and disable” the Islamic State forces.The petition was organized by Robert P. George, a prominent Catholic conservative and Republican activist, and he was joined by a range of other leaders, many of whom are known for their hawkish views on foreign policy.
Posted by Josephine McKenna, David Gibson 19 weeks 2 days ago
VATICAN CITY — As he dispatches a top aide to war-torn Iraq this week, Pope Francis made his most impassioned plea yet for the world to halt the “slaughter” of Christians and other religious minorities by Islamic extremists.“The news coming from Iraq leaves us incredulous and appalled,” Francis told pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, as he cataloged the brutal “violence of every kind” that has driven hundreds of thousands of people from their homes and left women and children dead and dying.“All this seriously offends God and seriously offends humanity,” the pontiff declared. “You cannot bring hatred in the name of God. You cannot make war in the name of God!”Yet even as Francis called on the international community to find “an efficient political solution that can stop these crimes,” the Vatican also tried to make peace with the idea that U.S. military strikes that began last week were necessary and working.
Posted by David Gibson 20 weeks 2 days ago
How partisan and unproductive is the current Congress?The epitome of its dysfunction may have arrived with last week’s wrap-up before a five-week summer recess, as House Republicans failed to pass their own scaled-back bill on the border children crisis on Thursday. Realizing how bad that looked, lawmakers returned on Friday to pass an even more severe bill that had no chance of going anywhere.But a better gauge of the problem may be the fact that despite the almost universal popularity of Pope Francis, the House of Representatives was unable to muster enough bipartisan support to pass a resolution lauding Francis’ election — nearly 18 months ago.The bill, H.Res. 440, seems straightforward, as it aims to congratulate Francis on his March 2013 election and recognize “his inspirational statements and actions.”
Posted by David Gibson 20 weeks 2 days ago
American Jesuits are pushing members of Congress who were educated at the Catholic order’s schools to pass aid for thousands of refugee children who have surged across the border in Texas in recent months, calling proposals to swiftly deport them “inhumane and an insult to American values.”“I ask you, as a leader, a parent, and a Catholic, to uphold an American tradition of which we are all proud,” the Rev. Thomas Smolich, head of the U.S. Jesuit conference, wrote to House Speaker John Boehner and 42 other House members who graduated from Jesuit high schools and colleges.“We must welcome the refugee, the victim of trafficking, the child who has been abused or abandoned,” Smolich wrote in the July 29 letter. “Let us follow in the footsteps of Jesus when he said, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’”Since last fall, more than 57,000 unaccompanied minors have flooded across the U.S.-Mexico border, mainly in south Texas, most of them from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.The migrants are often driven out by endemic violence in their home countries and drawn to the U.S. by prospects of better economic opportunities or the chance to reunite with their families.But the influx has created a humanitarian crisis that has become a political wedge issue.
Posted by David Gibson 21 weeks 1 day ago
When victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests first organized into a small band of volunteer activists in the late 1980s, reports of clergy molesting children were still new and relatively few. Most were minimized as anomalies or dismissed altogether — much the way the victims were.But today, as the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, marks its 25th anniversary at a conference in Chicago, its members can take satisfaction in seeing that its claims have been validated, and a few (though hardly all) of its recommendations have been implemented by the church hierarchy.And instead of facing constant verbal attacks and the occasional angry parishioner spitting on them at a protest, SNAP’s members today are far more likely to receive a handshake and a word of thanks, and maybe even a donation.SNAP’s advocacy on the Catholic scandal also helped push the reality of sexual abuse into the public consciousness to the point that victims can regularly win in courts and get a hearing in the media, and they are much more likely to come forward to tell their stories, whether they were abused by clergy or by athletic coaches or Boy Scout leaders.Yet that success is also presenting SNAP with a daunting new challenge as it looks to the future: how to respond to a flood of new inquiries from victims from other faiths and institutions, and how to push for changes beyond the familiar precincts of the Catholic Church.
Posted by David Gibson 22 weeks 1 day ago
One of the toughest political calculations in Washington is balancing competing claims of gay rights with the traditional prerogatives of religious freedom. After a number of setbacks on that front, President Obama may have finally found a small patch of middle ground with Monday’s move to bar federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.Obama’s executive order shields gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees from discrimination by companies that do work for the federal government by adding sexual orientation and gender identity to long-standing protections from bias based on “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”Yet Monday’s action also leaves in place a 2002 order signed by President George W. Bush that gives religious groups with federal contracts some leeway by allowing them to use religious beliefs as a criterion in making hiring and firing decisions; as a candidate in 2008 Obama pledged to overturn that exemption.At the same time, Obama did not expand the exemption to explicitly allow religious groups that receive federal funds to use sexual orientation as grounds for hiring and firing, as some demanded.
Posted by David Gibson 24 weeks 2 days ago
“How many of you have ever studied a parish budget?” the Rev. David Couturier asked the 11 Catholic priests-in-training seated before him. After a few beats, just one hand went up, tentatively.“That’s not unusual,” Couturier told them. “Just unfortunate.”It’s also why these seminarians were in a classroom at Villanova University in the leafy Philadelphia suburbs, part of a first-of-its-kind program that aims to provide some real-world grounding to the theological studies that dominate their course work.It’s a bit of “operative theology” to complement the “abstract theology,” as Couturier put it.
Posted by David Gibson 25 weeks 21 hours ago
A Roman Catholic archbishop in Minnesota who had been one of the hierarchy’s most vocal opponents of gay rights is the target of an investigation into allegations that he had a series of sexual relationships with priests, seminarians, and other men.The investigation of Twin Cities Archbishop John Nienstedt is being conducted by a prominent Minneapolis law firm hired by the archdiocese after church officials received an allegation against Nienstedt.The archdiocese confirmed the investigation, which was first reported by Commonweal, a Catholic magazine based in New York.
Posted by David Gibson 25 weeks 1 day ago
When the Supreme Court on Monday issued a split decision narrowly backing the right of for-profit corporations to deny contraception coverage to their employees for religious reasons, many assumed that faith-based nonprofits would have it easy when their own cases eventually reach the high court.“The death knell is sounding for the HHS mandate,” said Lori Windham, an attorney at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of nuns, as well as other religious groups that object to the Health and Human Services Department policy requiring birth control coverage.Windham noted that in two rulings by lower courts on Monday, several of Becket’s faith-based clients received last-minute relief to shield them from complying with the mandate, which takes effect today.
Posted by David Gibson 25 weeks 5 days ago
The Republican National Committee on Friday launched its first web-based effort to rally conservative believers behind the party, a sign of how crucial voter turnout will be in this fall’s close-fought midterm elections and an indication that the GOP cannot take its evangelical Christian base for granted.“This shouldn’t be outreach, this should be who we are — it is who we are,” said Chad Connelly, director of faith engagement for the Republican National Committee and the force behind this new initiative, GOPfaith.com.Evangelicals, Connelly said, “are our biggest, most reliable voting bloc.”The problem, however, is that even though evangelicals identify more closely than ever with the GOP, they have not been turning out at the polls in sufficient numbers to carry Republican candidates to victory.
Posted by David Gibson 25 weeks 6 days ago
Despite numerous controversies over dismissing gay Catholics from church posts and the U.S. hierarchy’s campaign against same-sex marriage, Catholic leaders have carefully, if quietly, avoided doing anything to block gay couples from having their children baptized.But a move by a bishop in Wisconsin to route all such decisions through his office is raising questions about whether that neutral zone will now become another battleground, and whether the growing acceptance of gay parents will inevitably draw more attention to this practice and force church leaders to establish clearer rules.The default position for most bishops — reiterated in a major Vatican document released on Thursday — is that if the parents pledge to raise the child Catholic, then no girl or boy should be refused baptism.
Posted by David Gibson 27 weeks 2 days ago
The day before a newly-elected Pope Francis was to be formally installed at the Vatican in 2013, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was celebrating Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica when he passed out at the altar and had to be rushed to the hospital.It was a scary moment, and especially odd to see McCarrick stricken; even at 82, the energetic former archbishop of Washington always had a reputation as one of the most peripatetic churchmen in the Catholic hierarchy.Doctors in Rome quickly diagnosed a heart problem – McCarrick would eventually get a pacemaker – and the cardinal was soon back at his guest room in the U.S. seminary in Rome when the phone rang. It was Francis. The two men had known each other for years, back when the Argentine pope was Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires. McCarrick assured Francis that he was doing fine.“I guess the Lord isn’t done with me yet,” he told the pope.“Or the devil doesn’t have your accommodations ready!” Francis shot back with a laugh.
Posted by David Gibson 28 weeks 2 days ago
Top Catholic and Orthodox church officials in North America are calling on the Vatican to let married men become priests in Eastern rite Catholic churches, another sign that optional celibacy could become a front-burner issue under Pope Francis.Eastern rite Catholic churches have a look and feel similar to Eastern Orthodox churches but are loyal to Rome and fall under the pope’s jurisdiction.Like Eastern Orthodox churches, Eastern rite Catholics tend to have more local autonomy than their Roman Catholic counterparts, and they have particular liturgies and customs that date back to their origins in the Middle East and Eastern Europe.One of those customs is optional celibacy. While Eastern rite Catholic bishops cannot be married, the priesthood is open to married men.
Posted by David Gibson 28 weeks 5 days ago
Pope Francis has been working nonstop since his election more than a year ago, and he has shown remarkable resilience for a 77-year-old confronted with an array of church crises. But he is also fatigued at times and his advisers are hoping that he will take a break this summer.“We have been asking him to have holidays this year,” Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras told reporters during a visit to Washington this week. “Because last year he didn’t and sometimes he’s very tired.”“So I think that during August he’s going to retire to rest,” said Maradiaga, who heads a kitchen cabinet of eight cardinals from around the world that Francis established as his top advisers.
Posted by David Gibson 29 weeks 1 day ago
Taking direct aim at libertarian policies promoted by many American conservatives, the Honduran cardinal who is one of Pope Francis’ top advisers said Tuesday that today’s free market system is “a new idol” that is increasing inequality and excluding the poor.“This economy kills,” said Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, quoting Francis frequently in a speech delivered at a conference on Catholicism and libertarianism held a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol.The pope, Maradiaga said, grew up in Argentina and “has a profound knowledge of the life of the poor.” That is why, he said, Francis continues to insist that “the elimination of the structural causes for poverty is a matter of urgency that can no longer be postponed.”“The hungry or sick child of the poor cannot wait,” the cardinal said.
Posted by David Gibson 29 weeks 6 days ago
Pope Francis’ announcement this week that he would meet with victims of sexual abuse by priests is dividing victim advocates, with some dismissing the move as “meaningless” and others endorsing it as a positive step, albeit taken belatedly and under pressure.“A welcome and overdue change,” said Anne Barrett Doyle of BishopAccountability.org, a prominent activist pushing the Catholic Church to overhaul its policies and practices on clergy abuse.“Good to hear Pope Francis speak out and meet survivors,” tweeted Marie Collins, an abuse victim whom Francis named to a Vatican commission to promote reforms, on hearing that the pope compared clergy abuse to a priest celebrating a black Mass.But others said Francis’ first-ever encounter with victims — and his pledge for “zero tolerance” for abusive clerics of any rank — was simply stagecraft aimed at distracting the public from what they say are the pope’s larger failures to address the abuse crisis.
Posted by David Gibson 32 weeks 5 days ago
The American nuns who were publicly scolded by the Vatican’s top doctrinal official for disobedience and promoting unorthodox beliefs have rejected the criticisms, and say their “attempts to clarify misperceptions have led to deeper misunderstandings” between Rome and the organization representing most of the 50,000 sisters in the U.S.But the leaders of the umbrella group, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, also said in a statement that the April 30 conversation with Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, who leads Rome’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “was constructive in its frankness and lack of ambiguity.”“It was not an easy discussion, but its openness and spirit of inquiry created a space for authentic dialogue and discernment,” the four sisters representing the LCWR said late Thursday.“This work is fraught with tension and misunderstanding,” they said. “Yet, this is the work of leaders in all walks of life in these times of massive change in the world.”
Posted by David Gibson 33 weeks 2 days ago
Catholic nuns in the U.S. have been thumbing their nose at Rome’s demands to toe the doctrinal line and they need to obey or face serious consequences, the Vatican’s enforcer of orthodoxy said in a surprisingly tough talk to women representing most American sisters.“The Holy See believes that the charismatic vitality of religious life can only flourish within the ecclesial faith of the church,” Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, told four members of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.Mueller said the LCWR — which represents about 80 percent of the more than 50,000 Catholic nuns in the U.S. – is dependent on the Vatican for its bona fides as a church body. He indicated that the group’s status, and the Catholic faith of the sisters, was at risk if they did not heed Rome’s directives.
Posted by David Gibson 34 weeks 5 days ago
Pope Francis likes to say that he prefers to raise questions rather than issue edicts or change doctrine, and he has certainly generated plenty of debate with his off-the-cuff remarks about gays and his cold-call chats on topics like divorce and Communion, as happened recently with a woman in Argentina.Now a recent conversation between the pope and a bishop from Brazil about the priest shortage may be moving the issue of married clergy onto the pontiff’s agenda.It began when Bishop Erwin Krautler, an Austrian-born bishop who heads a sprawling diocese in the Brazilian rain forest, had a private audience with Francis on April 4 in the Vatican.During the meeting, Krautler and Francis compared notes on how much the priest shortage affects the church, especially in the Southern Hemisphere. Krautler’s diocese, geographically the largest in Brazil, has just 27 priests for 700,000 Catholics, most of whom might attend Mass a couple of times a year.
Posted by David Gibson 35 weeks 17 hours ago
When Pope Francis canonizes Popes John XXIII and John Paul II on Sunday, Catholics across the spectrum will have reason to cheer: Liberals credit John with opening the church to the modern world in the 1960s, and conservatives hail John Paul as reasserting orthodoxy after too many innovations.But the unprecedented double-barreled canonization also raises a question that might give both sides pause: Why is Rome making saints of almost every modern pontiff after nearly a millennium when almost no popes were canonized?In the first 500 years of Christianity, the Apostle Peter (considered the first pope by tradition) and 47 of his 48 papal successors were viewed as saints, mainly because so many of them were martyred, which is the simplest route to canonization. Another 30 popes were named saints in the next 500 years, largely based on their reputation for sanctity.
Posted by David Gibson 36 weeks 1 day ago
On Thursday evening, in a familiar reprise of an ancient rite, Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Wis., will wash the feet of 12 men, all seminarians — a re-creation of Jesus’ action at the Last Supper when he washed the feet of his disciples and, according to Catholic doctrine, formally instituted the priesthood.That same evening, thousands of miles away, Pope Francis will also observe the Holy Thursday rite, though not in a cathedral like Morlino but at a center for people with disabilities. There he will wash the feet of a number of residents, all lay people and perhaps some of them women and even non-Christians or nonbelievers.Francis did something similar last year, shortly after his election, when he stunned church observers by traveling to a juvenile detention center outside Rome and washing the feet of 12 young people, two of them women and two of them Muslims.
Posted by David Gibson 36 weeks 5 days ago
In his strongest personal remarks yet on the clergy sex abuse scandal, Pope Francis on Friday asked forgiveness “for the damage” that abusive priests have inflicted on children and pledged that the Catholic Church “will not take one step backward” in efforts to address the crisis.“I feel compelled to personally take on all the evil that some priests — quite a few in number, though not compared to the total number — and to ask for forgiveness for the damage they have done by sexually abusing children,” Francis said.“The church is aware of this damage,” he said. “It is personal and moral damage, but carried out by men of the church. And we do not want to take one step backward in dealing with this problem and the sanctions that must be imposed. On the contrary, I believe that we have to be very firm. Because you cannot take chances with children!”
Posted by David Gibson 39 weeks 16 hours ago
The news that Pope Francis fired — or “accepted the resignation of” — the German churchman known as “Bishop Bling” because of his big-spending ways has touched off speculation among Catholics that other dismissals could be in the offing.Here’s the answer in four words: Perhaps, but probably not.Recent history shows why: Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City, Mo., remains in office 18 months after his conviction – and $1.4 million spent on his defense — for failing to report a priest suspected of abuse. Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony enjoys a high-profile retirement in spite of the disapproval of his own successor over Mahony’s abuse record. Similarly, Cardinal Bernard Law, formerly of Boston, is still living a gilded existence in Rome years after he was plucked from the U.S. amid the clergy abuse scandal.
Posted by David Gibson 39 weeks 2 days ago
When President Obama and Pope Francis sit down at the Vatican on Thursday, the meeting may well offer a vision of what could have been for Democrats and the Catholic Church over the last six years: a leader of the state and a leader of the church working on the many issues where they agree while working through the issues where they don’t.Of course, that’s not exactly how it’s gone for Obama and the U.S. hierarchy, even though Obama and the church both stress economic justice and the priority of the common good, universal health care, robust government support for the needy and comprehensive immigration reform.The potential for a robust alliance fizzled almost from the start of Obama’s candidacy in 2007, and a relationship that began badly went downhill when he was elected.
Posted by David Gibson 39 weeks 6 days ago
President Obama is to meet Pope Francis for the first time next week as Obama wraps up a European tour, a high-profile encounter between two major world leaders that appears to carry especially high stakes from the U.S. perspective.The White House and the American bishops have been at loggerheads for years on a range of culture war issues, and on Tuesday, just two days before the Vatican meeting, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the contraception mandate that has sparked fierce opposition from the U.S. hierarchy.But American and Vatican officials say the talks may disappoint those hoping for fireworks, and that the summit is going to focus on collaboration much more than conflict.