Catholic Church

Pope Francis' Words on Abuse Vary by His Audience

Image via Dado Ruvic / Reuters / RNS

On his first full day of the visit, Francis praised U.S. bishops for their “courage” in facing the difficult moments of the explosive clergy abuse scandal “without fear of self-criticism and at the cost of mortification and great sacrifice.”

Listeners, however, were shocked, mindful that the church has spent hundreds of millions in settlement payouts — often after years of protracted legal fights — to compensate for decades of bishops who protected, even promoted, abusive priests.

He sounded “tone-deaf,” said Vatican expert the Rev. Thomas Reese.

Kelly Gissendaner Executed Despite Papal Appeal, 11th-Hour Clemency Bid

Image via REUTERS / Georgia Department of Corrections / Handout via Reuters / RNS

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Tuesday that the pope, back in Rome after a six-day visit to the United States, sent a letter through a representative, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano.

“While not wishing to minimize the gravity of the crime for which Ms. Gissendander has been convicted, and while sympathizing with the victims, I nonetheless implore you, in consideration of the reasons that have been expressed to your board, to commute the sentence to one that would better express both justice and mercy,” Vigano wrote.

“In reaching its decision, the Board thoroughly reviewed all information and documents pertaining to the case, including the latest information presented by Gissendaner’s representatives,” a release sent from board chairman Terry Barnard said. No other explanation of the decision was given.

Pope Francis to Bishops: Reject 'Harsh and Divisive' Battles, Be Open to Others

Image via Mary F. Calvert/REUTERS/RNS

In a deeply personal talk that blended poetry and a new set of marching orders for the U.S. hierarchy, Pope Francis on Sept. 23 told U.S. bishops to reject “harsh and divisive language” and to reach out to the world, especially those in need.

The bishops, he said, should embrace an approach “which attracts men and women through the attractive light and warmth of love.”

Their mission, Francis told some 300 bishops gathered for noonday prayer in St. Matthew’s Cathedral, “is not about preaching complicated doctrines, but joyfully proclaiming Christ, who died and rose for our sake.”

“I cannot ever tire of encouraging you to dialogue fearlessly,” Francis told them, repeatedly stressing the word “dialogue” and urging them to be “promoters of the culture of encounter.”

Will Pope Francis' Annulment Reforms Impact U.S. Catholics?

Image via Tiffany McCallen/RNS

The streamlined marriage annulment procedures unveiled by the Vatican are aimed at simplifying what is often a tedious gauntlet of red tape. But it’s not clear how much effect the reforms ordered by Pope Francis will have in the U.S., where about half of all annulments are granted even though American Catholics are just 6 percent of the global church.

That’s largely because in recent decades American dioceses have taken a number of steps to make the process less cumbersome and time-consuming, some of which were reflected in the new procedures announced Sept. 8 in Rome.

The new rules, the most sweeping reform in centuries, eliminate an automatic review of any “decree of nullity” by a second panel of church judges, and they provide for what is being called a fast-track option that allows for an annulment to be granted by the local bishop within 45 days if both spouses request an annulment or don’t oppose it.

It’s an issue that potentially affects millions of people: in the U.S., 25 percent of Catholics have been divorced; 26 percent of them say they sought annulment, according to Pew Research.

Majority of U.S. Catholics Accept 'Non-Traditional' Families

new survey released from Pew Research Center, conducted in the lead-up to the pontiff’s visit, examined U.S. Catholics’ attitudes on family, marriage, and sexuality, as well as on issues close to the pope’s heart — concern for the poor, care for the environment, and forgiveness of sins. The results found Catholics “remarkably accepting of a wide variety of non-traditional families.”

This is not to say longstanding church teaching on marriage has changed — the church very much still upholds lifelong heterosexual monogamous marriage with children as the divine plan for coupleship, and nine-in-ten U.S. Catholics say this is the ideal arrangement. But large majorities now say other familial arrangements are acceptable, too.  

According to the survey of U.S. Catholics, 85 percent say it is acceptable for a man and woman to live together as a couple outside of marriage, and 84 percent say it is acceptable for raise children in this arrangement. Two-thirds say it is acceptable for same-sex couples to raise children. And 70 percent say married couples who choose to not have children are choosing a lifestyle that is just as good as any other.

Did You Hear the One About the Pope?

Image via Mario Anzuoni / Reuters / RNS

“The California drought is so bad, people in Napa are asking the pope to change the wine into water.”

That joke, courtesy of late-night TV host Conan O’Brien, is the warmup to a new “Joke with the Pope” digital campaign, encouraging people to “donate” a joke to support one of three causes ahead of Pope Francis’ historic U.S. visit.

The campaign, which begins Sept. 8, is being launched by the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States and precedes the release of its new mobile app, Missio. The mission societies work to spread the Catholic faith overseas, especially in poor and remote areas.

Pope Francis Asks Priests to Forgive the Sin of Abortion

Image via Paul Haring/Catholic New Service/RNS

Pope Francis on Sept. 1 told priests to forgive repentant women who had had an abortion, specifically during the yearlong jubilee celebration of Catholic faith, which begins in December.

In a letter to the president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, the pontiff urges priests to express “words of genuine welcome” to repentant women who have undergone abortions, “combined with a reflection that explains the gravity of the sin committed.”

Pope Francis’ Approval Ratings Slump Sharply in U.S.

neneo / Shutterstock
Photo via neneo / Shutterstock

Growing conservative disaffection with Pope Francis appears to be taking a toll on his once teflon-grade popularity in the U.S., with a new Gallup poll showing the pontiff’s favorability rating among all Americans dropping to 59 percent from a 76 percent peak early last year.

Among conservatives the dropoff has been especially sharp: just 45 percent view Francis favorably today as opposed to 72 percent a year ago.

Pope Francis Will Try to Break Out of 'The Bubble' on His U.S. Trip, Details Show

REUTERS / Giorgio Perottino / RNS
Pope Francis waves as he leaves at the end of a two-day pastoral visit in Turin, Italy, on June 22, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Giorgio Perottino / RNS

The Vatican on June 30 released details of Pope Francis’ itinerary for his Sept. 22-27 U.S. visit, his first, and it shows how this “pope of the people” wants to avoid becoming a prisoner of the East Coast “power corridor” during his five days in Washington, New York, and Philadelphia.

For example, organizers have added visits to a Catholic Charities food program in downtown Washington, a Catholic school in Harlem that serves largely Latino immigrant children, and a prison in Philadelphia to meet with inmates and some of their families.

Inspiring an Ecological Conversion

Pope Francis
Pope Francis, giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com

Pope Francis writes, “All of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements, and talents.” And it is the combination of our talents that can alter the path of destruction we have traveled down for far too long.

Pope Francis paints the picture of this path all too well.

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