A few months before Robert W. Finn became bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, I interviewed him for The Kansas City Star about the challenges he might face when he replaced the much-loved Bishop Raymond Boland. Of course, neither Finn nor I had any way of knowing that a decade-plus later he would resign in disgrace, having been convicted of the misdemeanor crime of failing to notify law enforcement authorities about a suspected child-abusing priest in the diocese — a priest who now spends his time in prison.
Pope Francis has fascinated the public in large part because of how willingly he upends long-standing traditions and promotes a “revolution of tenderness” to set the Catholic Church on a new, more pastoral course for a new, more merciful era. To help fulfill this vision, Francis is also relying on an old-fashioned ritual — indulgences. They are a way of winning remission from penance — in this life or in Purgatory.
Paul Bhatti, a Roman Catholic, worked as a surgeon in his home country of Pakistan and in Europe, while his brother, Shahbaz, went into politics and became Pakistan’s only Christian Cabinet member as the country’s first minister of minority affairs. Then, on March 2, 2011, Shahbaz was cut down in a hail of bullets in an attack by a militant group that called him “a blasphemer.”
Pope Francis has called on European leaders not to turn their back on refugees and migrants despite the cultural and security challenges associated with the arrival of 1 million people this past year. Francis has made concern for migrants a centerpiece of his papacy, and on Jan. 11 in his annual address to diplomats accredited to the Holy See he again urged governments to “overcome the inevitable fears associated with this massive and formidable phenomenon.”
A government plan to regulate religious groups is shaping into a bitter fight, with Christian and Muslim leaders protesting that it tramples over religious freedom. The government published a set of rules this month that require religious leaders to have theological degrees and religious groups to submit a statement of faith.
Pope Francis’ visit to Mexico next month is supposed to be more of a pilgrimage than a spring break, but a viral video of the pontiff joking about tequila with a Mexican man in St. Peter’s Square captures the voluble enthusiasm that is likely to greet the first Latin American pontiff.
In the video, Francis can be seen walking around St. Peter’s Square, flanked by his security detail as he greets the faithful, when a man shouts from the crowd, catching the pontiff’s attention.
“Pope! We’ll be waiting for you in Mexico! Mexico, Pope!” the man yells above the din.
“Welcome to Mexico in February!”
“With tequila?” responds the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.
In a blistering critique of what he describes as congressional kowtowing to the “gun lobby,” the Roman Catholic bishop of Dallas is praising President Obama’s new actions on gun control and ripping the “cowboy mentality” that allows “open carry” laws like one that just went into effect in Texas.
“Thank God that someone finally has the courage to close the loopholes in our pitiful gun control laws to reduce the number of mass shootings, suicides and killings that have become a plague in our country,” Bishop Kevin Farrell wrote in a column, posted on his website on Tuesday.
A year after he delivered a blistering diagnosis of 15 “diseases” plaguing the Roman Curia, including “spiritual Alzheimer’s,” Pope Francis on Dec. 21 listed a 12-point “catalog of needed virtues” that the bishops and cardinals who run the Holy See should seek to follow.
A Vatican envoy urged the World Trade Organization to keep promises made to the poor, amid concerns that its tariff-cutting efforts are disproportionately benefiting rich countries. The appeal came as the WTO, a Geneva-based organization that regulates international trade, was holding a four-day meeting ending Dec. 18 in the Kenyan capital.
Pope Francis has given final clearance for Mother Teresa — called “the saint of the gutters” for her work with the poor in India — to become an official saint, a move welcomed by the archbishop of Calcutta as “a real Christmas gift” from the pontiff.
Francis took the step by signing a decree declaring that the inexplicable 2008 recovery of a Brazilian man who suddenly woke from a coma caused by a viral brain infection was due to the intercession of the Albanian nun, who died in 1997.
Pope Francis is warning Catholics about con artists demanding money to pass through a holy door, such as the one opened in St. Peter’s Basilica and other churches for the Vatican’s jubilee year, telling them salvation cannot be bought.
“Be careful that there’s not someone a bit quick and too cunning that tells you that you must pay. No! You don’t pay for salvation. You don’t buy salvation. The door is Jesus, and Jesus is free!” the pope told crowds gathered Dec. 16 for his weekly audience in St. Peter’s Square.
Holy doors are being opened in cathedrals around the world as part of the jubilee year, which opened on Dec. 8 and runs until Nov. 20, 2016. The Catholic Church teaches that in making a pilgrimage through one such door, they evoke the passage from sin to grace.
A European financial crimes watchdog on Dec. 15 called on the Vatican to prosecute those caught money laundering, stating the Holy See must act to ensure the success of its financial reforms.
“There is a need now for the anti-money laundering and counter terrorist financing system, to deliver effective results in terms of prosecutions, convictions and confiscation,” said the report by the Council of Europe’s Moneyval oversight agency.
Although the Holy See has adopted new legislation in recent years to tackle money laundering within the city-state, there have been no indictments or prosecutions as a result of the new rules.
Without mentioning Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump by name, Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron has blasted proposals like Trump’s that would specifically bar Muslims from the U.S., saying the idea “fractures the very foundation of morality on which we stand.”
Vigneron’s denunciation, in a letter he sent on Dec. 10 to his priests, is significant because Catholic leaders have been strong defenders of religious freedom in recent years but have been largely quiet in the wake of Trump’s controversial pitch earlier this week to bar all Muslims from the U.S.
“While the Catholic Church refrains from weighing in for or against individual candidates for a particular political office, the Church does and should speak to the morality of this important and far-reaching issue of religious liberty,” Vigneron wrote in the letter, which he also sent to imams in his state.
Pope Francis launched the jubilee of mercy on Dec. 8 with the opening of the Vatican’s holy door, joined by his predecessor Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square, surrounded by heavy security.
“This extraordinary year is itself a gift of grace,” Francis told the faithful gathered at the Vatican.
“To pass through the holy door means to rediscover the infinite mercy of the Father who welcomes everyone and goes out personally to encounter each of them.”
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Duluth announced on Dec. 7 that it had filed for bankruptcy protection following a jury verdict last month that held the Minnesota diocese responsible for more than half of an $8.1 million judgment on behalf of a victim of sex abuse by a priest.
The Chapter 11 filing makes Duluth the 13th of nearly 200 U.S. Catholic dioceses to file for bankruptcy since 2004 because of the clergy sex abuse scandals. Regional organizations of two religious orders have also sought bankruptcy protection.
The Duluth award was one of the highest single monetary compensations for a survivor of clergy abuse, experts said. It was made possible thanks to a Minnesota law that lifted the statute of limitations on civil claims for sex abuse.
In the Catholic Church, a jubilee — or a holy year — is a religious event that involves the forgiveness of sins, as well as reconciliation. But the idea of a jubilee dates back to the Bible: “And you shall sanctify the fiftieth year, and proclaim freedom throughout the land for all who live on it,” Leviticus 25:10. For the ancient Israelites, the jubilee was a time properties were returned to their original owners or legal heirs, slaves were set free, and creditors were barred from collecting debts.
Pope Boniface VIII in 1300 declared the first Christian jubilee, beginning with the opening of the Holy Door, an entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica, usually blocked, through which pilgrims can enter. Other holy doors are also opened for this jubilee in Rome and around the world for the first time; the year ends when they are closed.
On Nov. 29 Pope Francis opened a door at the cathedral in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, as a symbolic start to the Holy Year.
Pope Francis wrapped up his six-day trip to Africa in the war-torn Central Africa Republic on Nov. 30 by warning that religious conflicts are spawning civil war, terrorism, and suffering throughout the continent.
“Together we must say no to hatred, to revenge and to violence, especially violence perpetrated in the name of a religion or of God himself,” the pope said in Bangui, the capital.
“Together, we must say no to hatred, to revenge and to violence, particularly that violence which is perpetrated in the name of a religion or of God himself. God is peace, ‘salaam,’ ” the pope said, using the Arabic word for peace.
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.”