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Pope Francis Tells Atheists to ‘Obey Their Conscience’
Once again breaking with traditional Vatican protocol, Pope Francis on Wednesday penned a long letter to the Italian liberal daily La Repubblica to affirm that an “open dialogue free of prejudices” between Christians and atheists is “necessary and precious.”
Francis’ front-page letter was a response to two open letters published in previous months by Eugenio Scalfari, the founder of La Repubblica and an avowed atheist.
The pope’s letter is especially notable for its open and honest assessment of the spiritual state of nonbelievers. And for an institution that long claimed sole jurisdiction on matters of salvation, Francis seems to open the door to the idea that notions of sin, conscience and forgiveness are not the exclusive domain of the Catholic Church.
Pope Kicks Off Reform Mission in Meeting with Vatican Department Heads
Pope Francis met for three hours with the heads of all Vatican departments on Tuesday, Sept. 10, signaling his desire to introduce more collaboration and transparency in the traditionally secretive and top-heavy governance style of the Catholic Church.
About 30 people attended, including the heads of the Vatican’s eight congregations and 12 councils, as well as top officials from the church’s tribunals and from the administration of Vatican state.
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s outgoing secretary of state, also participated, in one of his last official engagements before his successor, Archbishop Pietro Parolin, takes over on Oct. 15.
Liberation Theology Finds New Welcome in Pope Francis’ Vatican
A progressive theological current that emphasizes the Catholic Church’s closeness to the poor and the marginalized but was subject to decades of hostility and censure is now finding increasing favor in the Vatican under Pope Francis.
Francis, who has called for “a poor church for the poor,” will meet in the next few days with the Rev. Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian theologian and scholar who is considered the founder of liberation theology.
The meeting was announced on Sunday, Sept. 8, by Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog, during the launch of a book he co-authored with Gutierrez.
The ‘Cold-Call Pope’ Reaches Out and Touches a Lot of People
VATICAN CITY — Of all the novelties that Pope Francis has brought to the Vatican, few have endeared him to the public — and unsettled his aides — as much as his penchant for picking up the phone and calling someone out of the blue.
The pontiff with the pastor’s touch has phoned his cobbler in Argentina to inquire about a shoe repair, called to cancel his newspaper subscription, and phoned a woman who was raped by a local police officer to counsel her.
Just this week, Francis phoned a pregnant Italian woman whose fiancé had pushed her to have an abortion.
Anna Romano instead dumped the guy, wrote to the pope about her problems, and on Sept. 3 received a surprise call from the Holy Father, who offered encouragement and even said he would baptize the baby if she couldn’t find a willing priest.
Pope Francis: Military Intervention in Syria 'Futile'
Pope Francis on Thursday told world leaders gathered in Russia for the G-20 summit that a military intervention in Syria would be “futile,” urging them to focus instead on dialogue and reconciliation to bring peace to the war-torn country.
The Argentine pontiff’s first major foray onto the global stage comes as the U.S. Congress prepares to vote on a military strike against Syria in response to a reported chemical weapons attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21.
For Francis, just six months on the job, the Syria question will test his ability to summon the power of his global bully pulpit and could play a major role in shaping the global image of a man who’s drawn more attention for his down-to-earth pastoral appeal.
Pope Francis, Jordan King Say Dialogue is ‘Only Option’ in Syria Conflict
Pope Francis and Jordan’s King Abdullah II reaffirmed that dialogue is the “only option” to end the conflict in Syria, just as the United States and its European allies consider launching a military strike against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
The two leaders met for the first time on Thursday at the Vatican. The pontiff and the king, accompanied by his wife Queen Rania, talked in private for 20 minutes.
According to an official Vatican statement, during the meeting “special attention” was given to Syria’s “tragic situation.”
Pope Francis Celebrates Mass with Wafers Made by Argentine Inmate
VATICAN CITY — Since mid-July, Pope Francis has been using Communion wafers made by an Argentine prisoner in the daily Mass he celebrates at the Vatican’s Santa Marta residence.
The hosts are made by Gabriela Caballero, a 38-year-old woman who is serving a seven-year jail term in the San Martin Penitentiary outside Buenos Aires.
Her story was revealed by the Argentine news agency NOVA and picked up by Il Sismografo, a blog with close connections to the Vatican.
Caballero gave the hosts, together with a long letter to the pope, to Bishop Oscar Ojea of San Isidro, who regularly visits the prison. Ojea, in turn, delivered the hosts to the pope on July 16 during a visit to the Vatican.
Francis began using the hosts on July 18; the day after he wrote back to Caballero, thanking her for the gift.
Benedict XVI: ‘God Told Me’ to Resign
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI resigned from the papacy because “God told me” to, according to a report by a Catholic news agency.
The Zenit news agency reported on Monday that Benedict decided to step back as a result of what he described as a “mystical experience” that shouldn’t be confused with a vision.
That experience sparked an “absolute desire” to dedicate his life exclusively to prayer, in a solitary relationship with God, Benedict reportedly said.
Pope Pens Personal Message to Muslims at Ramadan’s End
In message published on Friday, Pope Francis took the rare step of personally expressing his “esteem and friendship” to the world’s Muslims as they prepare to celebrate the end of the Ramadan fast.
While it is a long-established Vatican practice to send messages to the world’s religious leaders on their major holy days, those greetings are usually signed by the Vatican’s department for interfaith dialogue.
In his message, Francis explains that in the first year of his papacy he wanted to personally greet Muslims, “especially those who are religious leaders.”
Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, had fraught relations with Muslims. In a 2006 speech he quoted a Byzantine emperor who said Muhammad had only brought “evil and inhuman” things to the world, sparking a worldwide crisis in Christian-Muslim relations.
Missing Jesuit Priest in Syria Presumed Kidnapped
A prominent Italian Jesuit who is an outspoken supporter of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad went missing in Syria Monday, fueling speculation that he has been kidnapped by an Islamist group.
Did Pope Francis Change Church Teaching on Homosexuality?
With his open and easygoing manner, Pope Francis charmed the media as much as the faithful during his successful visit to Brazil, the first international pilgrimage of his pontificate.
But it was the pope’s remarks about gay priests, made during a free-wheeling press conference on the return trip to Rome, that drew the most headlines, raising questions about whether the pontiff was signaling a change in the church’s approach to this volatile issue.
When asked by reporters about rumors of a “gay lobby” of clergy in the Vatican who were exposing the Holy See to blackmail schemes and scandal, Francis at first joked that while there’s a lot of talk about such a lobby, “I have yet to find on a Vatican identity card the word ‘gay.’”
Then, in a more serious vein, he added:
“I think that when we encounter a gay person, we must make the distinction between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of a lobby, because lobbies are not good. … If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge that person?”
Pope Francis to Encounter a Church in Crisis in Brazil
Six years ago, then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires attended a gathering of Latin American bishops at the Marian shrine of Aparecida in Rio de Janeiro and called for the Roman Catholic Church to go toward the “outskirts, not only geographically but … existentially.”
Two years after the 2005 papal conclave where Bergoglio was the runner-up to Pope Benedict XVI, the speech helped raise his profile as a man to watch.
Next week, Bergoglio will return to Aparecida and Rio, this time as Pope Francis. Though he won’t visit his native Argentina, the visit will draw attention to Latin America’s first pope and his appeal for a poor church that eschews worldly power.
Are Miracles Really Needed to Become a Saint?
When the Vatican announced this month that Pope Francis would formally elevate Popes John Paul II and John XXIII to sainthood, two things stood out.
For John Paul, it was the record speed that he reached sainthood, just eight years after his death. The only other saint to be canonized so quickly in modern times was Opus Dei founder Josemaria Escriva, whose sainthood bid took 27 years.
But for John XXIII, Francis decided to waive the church law that requires a second miracle in order to be named a saint. Asked how John XXIII could be named a saint without the required second miracle, the Vatican’s chief spokesman said “no one doubts his virtues.”
Vatican’s New Legal Guide Adds Offenses for Abuse, Leaking Documents
Pope Francis on Thursday approved a major overhaul of the Vatican’s criminal laws, introducing specific offenses for child sexual abuse and leaking confidential documents.
Vatican laws against money laundering, corruption, and the financing of terrorism were updated to respond to the recommendations of the European financial transparency watchdog Moneyval. The Vatican submitted to Moneyval oversight as part of its bid to use the euro as its currency.
Under the new norms, which will go into effect on Sept. 1, the Vatican also abolished life imprisonment, substituting a maximum jail term of 30 to 35 years.
UN Panel Questions Vatican Record on Child Sex Abuse
VATICAN CITY — The Vatican has been called to give detailed information on its record on child sexual abuse to a United Nations panel, a move that will show how Pope Francis wants to handle an issue that has deeply scarred the Catholic Church’s image in the past decade.
The Geneva-based U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child has asked the Vatican to “provide detailed information on all cases of child sexual abuse committed by members of the clergy, brothers and nuns.”
The request comes ahead of the Vatican’s scheduled appearance in front of the committee in January 2014.
Pope Francis Decries ‘Globalization of Indifference’
In his first official trip outside Rome since his election, Pope Francis visited the tiny island of Lampedusa off the coast of Sicily on Monday, hoping to show solidarity to African migrants who risk their lives trying to immigrate to Europe.
Set only 70 miles from Tunisia, the Italian island of Lampedusa is the first port of safety for the thousands of undocumented migrants and asylum seekers who risk their lives every summer trying to reach Europe on small, rickety boats.
Francis said the frequent news reports on the deaths of the people who were trying to make the crossing had been like “a thorn in the heart” for him, and called on society to overcome what he called “the globalization of indifference.”
Pope Francis Proclaims John Paul II, John XXIII as New Saints
Pope Francis declared on Friday that Popes John Paul II and John XXIII will be made saints, elevating the two most decisive popes of the 20th century to the pantheon of Catholic life and worship.
In a sign of the worldwide devotion for John XXIII, known as “Good Pope John,” Francis waived the requirement for a second miracle credited to John XXIII’s intercession, with the Vatican’s spokesman saying, “no one doubts his virtues.”
Francis signed off on a decree recognizing the second miracle attributed to the Polish-born John Paul II, who reigned from 1978 to 2005 , and is credited with globalizing the papacy and playing a key role in the downfall of the communist regimes of Eastern Europe.
Pope Francis Cleans House at the Vatican Bank
Two top managers of the Vatican Bank resigned on Monday, just five days after Pope Francis appointed an independent commission to conduct a top-to-bottom review of the scandal-plagued bank.
The surprise resignation of the bank’s director general, Paolo Cipriani, and of his deputy, Massimo Tulli, follows the arrest of a senior Vatican official with close ties to the bank who was charged on Friday with attempting to smuggle 20 million euros into Italy from Switzerland.
Cipriani, 58, served as the bank’s director general since 2007 and will be replaced on an interim basis by the bank’s president, German financier Ernst von Freyberg, who was appointed last February in one of Pope Benedict XVI’s last official acts.
Pope Francis: Christianity is Incompatible with Anti-Semitism
In his first official meeting with a Jewish delegation, Pope Francis on Monday reaffirmed the Catholic Church’s condemnation of anti-Semitism and vowed to further deepen Catholic-Jewish relations.
“Due to our common roots, a Christian cannot be anti-Semitic!” he told a delegation of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, the Vatican’s official partner for interfaith dialogue with the world’s Jews.
In his speech, Francis stated that the church condemns “hate, persecution, and all manifestations of antisemitism.”
Sicily Bishop Forbids Church Funerals for Mobsters
A bishop in Sicily has issued an unprecedented decree that says convicted mobsters will be denied a church funeral.
The measure was announced on Saturday by Bishop Antonino Raspanti, during a meeting with Italy’s justice minister, Anna Maria Cancellieri.
Churches in the Diocese of Acireale will refuse to celebrate funerals for mobsters who have been convicted with a final sentence in Italy’s three-tier court system, and who have shown no sign of repentance before death, according to the decree.