Catholic Church

Some African Catholics Call on Pope to Let Priests Marry

Image via Tonny Onyulo / RNS

Throngs of Roman Catholics are expected to greet Pope Francis when he visits East Africa this week.

But the Rev. Anthony Musaala won’t be a part of the official welcoming delegation.

Two years ago, Ugandan Archbishop Cyprian Lwanga suspended Musaala indefinitely — barring him from administering the sacraments — when Musaala wrote an open letter that challenged his priestly vows of celibacy, condemned sexual abusers among the clergy, and criticized priests who father children and abandon them.

Lwanga said the letter “damages the good morals of the Catholic believers and faults the church’s teaching.”

Sister Cristina Steps Into New Role — Acting

Suor Cristina with Pope Francis. Image via CNS photo / L'Osservatore Romano / REUTERS / RNS

An Italian nun who shot to global fame by winning The Voice of Italy talent show is set to star in a stage production of the musical Sister Act, which opens here in time for Christmas.

Cristina Scuccia, better known as “Suor Cristina” (“Sister Cristina”), wowed judges and audiences last year with her soulful renditions of pop classics by artists such as Alicia Keys. Appearing on stage in her habit, silver cross swinging as she swayed, Scuccia became the unlikely winner of the Italian version of The Voice and signed a record deal with Universal.

The 27-year-old is now set to take the next step in her career. The stage production of the 1992 movie, in which Whoopi Goldberg played a singer hiding out in a convent after witnessing a murder, will open on Dec. 10 at Rome’s Brancaccio Theater.

'Francis Effect' Only Goes So Far With Bishops' Revised Voter Guide

Image via David Gibson / RNS

The nation’s Catholic bishops on Nov. 17 passed an updated guide for Catholic voters ahead of next year’s elections, but only after airing unusually sharp disagreements on how much they can, and should, adjust their priorities to match those of Pope Francis.

More than any other item on the agenda of the bishops’ annual meeting here, the debate over the lengthy voter guide, called “Faithful Citizenship,” revealed deep divides among the bishops and provided a snapshot of the extent of the “Francis effect” on the U.S. hierarchy.

In the most impassioned objection to the voter guide, San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy took the floor to argue that the document — which was a reworking of an 84-page treatise first written in 2007 — should be scrapped because it did not reflect the way that Francis has elevated the battle against poverty and for the environment as central concerns for the Catholic Church since his election in 2013.

'Spotlight' and the Value of Truth-telling

Spotlight cast

Spotlight cast, via Open Road Films

Early in the film Spotlight, about the Boston Globe investigative reporting team that exposed the decades-long cover-up of sex abuse by Catholic church leaders, a Globe reporter is shown at Mass with her grandmother. The priest, launching his homily, says, “Knowledge is one thing. Faith is another.”

In a simplistic film, this binary statement might set the tone for a black-and-white portrait of journalists as pure heroes and people of faith as solely hypocrites and worse. But Spotlight works with characters not caricatures; not one-dimensional heroes and villains, but real people who sometimes choose expediency and sometimes courage. No one is shown to be flawless, not even the reporters and editors who do great good in bringing to light systemic crimes.

But the movie does illustrate quite clearly one tension between knowledge and faith: The guardians of institutions, including churches, can fear knowledge to the point of pathology. 

Pope Francis to Italian Bishops: Don't Be Obsessed With Power

Image via Stefano Rellandini / REUTERS / RNS

Pope Francis made a whirlwind trip to Tuscany on Nov. 10, during which he addressed immigrant workers, called on Italian bishops to shun power, and celebrated Mass with thousands of followers in Florence’s soccer stadium.

Francis started his packed, daylong schedule with a helicopter flight to Prato, known for its textile industry and large Chinese community. Crowds waving the Vatican’s yellow and white flag met him on his arrival.

The pope called for an end to labor exploitation, addressing the deaths of seven Chinese workers in a nighttime factory fire in 2013.

“It is a tragedy of exploitation and of inhumane conditions of life. And this is not undignified work,” he said.

Pope Francis Expected to Visit U.S.-Mexico Border in February, Adviser Says

Pope St. John Paul II during Mass in Mexico City in 1999. Image via REUTERS / RNS

A Honduran cardinal who is a top adviser to Pope Francis said he expects the pontiff to travel to Mexico’s border with the U.S. when he visits that country in February.

“I think it’s almost sure he will go to the border. I don’t know which cities,” said Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, who heads a special council of nine cardinals that Francis set up in 2013 to advise him on reforming the Vatican.

“Knowing him, he will go … I don’t know yet where,” Rodriguez said in an interview on Nov. 3 before taking part in a Fordham University panel on “Laudato Si’,” the pope’s groundbreaking encyclical on the moral duty to protect the environment.

Secret 'Catacombs Pact' Emerges After 50 Years, and Pope Francis Gives It New Life

Image via Grant Gallicho / RNS

The document would become known as the Pact of the Catacombs, and the signers hoped it would mark a turning point in church history.

Instead, the Pact of the Catacombs disappeared, for all intents and purposes.

It is barely mentioned in the extensive histories of Vatican II, and while copies of the text are in circulation, no one knows what happened to the original document. In addition, the exact number and names of the original signers is in dispute, though it is believed that only one still survives: Luigi Bettazzi, nearly 92 years old now, bishop emeritus of the Italian diocese of Ivrea.

Pope Francis' Trip to Africa Draws Excitement, Trepidation in Kenya

Image via Joe Penney / REUTERS / RNS 

Pope Francis’ visit to the Kenyan capital of Nairobi Nov. 25–27 will bring healing and reconciliation to the East African nation that has suffered key setbacks in the recent past, senior bishops here say.

Kenya, a country with 14 million Catholics, recently announced the theme of the papal visit: “Stand firm and be strong.” Organizers expect nearly 1.5 million people to attend the papal Mass on Nov. 26 in Nairobi; there are nearly 4 million Catholics in the Archdiocese of Nairobi.

The pope’s Nov. 25-30 pilgrimage to Africa, also includes travel to Uganda and the Central African Republic. But in remarks Sunday to a crowd of faithful in St. Peter’s Square, Francis raised the possibility that security risks could cause the Central African Republic leg of his trip to change or even be scrapped.

Obamacare's 'Contraceptive Mandate' Faces New Challenge in Supreme Court

Image via Adelle M. Banks / RNS 

Sixteen months after ruling narrowly that companies with religious objections cannot be forced to pay for employees’ contraceptives, the court faces a chorus of cries from religious charities, schools, and hospitals seeking to get out of the birth control business altogether.

The justices are scheduled to review several petitions Friday asking them to overturn federal appeals court decisions that would force the non-profit groups to opt out of the “contraceptive mandate” included in the Affordable Care Act, rather than receiving the blanket exclusion granted churches and other solely religious institutions.

If they agree to hear one or more of the cases, it will mark the fourth time in five years that President Obama’s prized health care law has come before the high court. And it will put the battle between religious freedom and reproductive rights front-and-center in next year’s presidential race.

Pope Francis Announces His Personal Follow Up to Vatican Synod

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The Vatican announced Oct. 28 that Pope Francis will issue a document about the family as a follow up to the recently-concluded Synod on the Family, according to America magazine.

The Synod on the Family, a meeting of 270 bishops which discussed, among other things, communion for divorced and remarried Catholics and pastoral approaches to the LGBT population, lasted three weeks and ended Oct. 25. Pope Francis will release an “apostolic exhortation,” a type of papal document commonly released after a synod, which is one step down in authority from an authoritative papal encyclical. “Laudato Si,” Pope Francis’ recent writing on the environment, was an encyclical.