Catholic Church

As Catholic Bishops Meet, the 'Francis Effect' Changes Everything

Pope Francis art by Zoltán Marton, Transylvania, Romania (Lead Pencil). Via RNS.

When the nation’s Catholic bishops gather on Monday for their annual fall meeting in Baltimore, one of their chief duties will be choosing a new slate of leaders to guide the American hierarchy for the next three years.

But the more than 200 prelates will also be looking over their heads — and maybe their shoulders — to the Vatican to gauge what Pope Francis’ dramatic new approach means for their future.

If Francis has made one thing clear in his nearly nine months on the job, it is that he wants the church to radically change its tone and style, starting at the top. The pontiff has repeatedly blasted careerism among churchmen and ripped “airport bishops” who spend more time jetting around the globe — and to Rome — rather than being pastors who go out to their flock and come back “smelling of the sheep,” as he likes to put it.

Vatican: Female Cardinals Aren't 'Even Remotely Realistic'

Cardinals enter Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica on March 12, 2013 at the Vatican. RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

The Vatican on Monday moved to quash speculation that at least two women would be among the cardinals that Pope Francis will name in February, saying such a move was “not a realistic possibility.”

Over the weekend, Irish media reported that Francis could name Linda Hogan and Mary McAleese as cardinals. Both are associated with Trinity College in Dublin: Hogan as a professor of ecumenism, and McAleese, the former president of Ireland, as a former professor.

Some Italian media that carried the story speculated that Cecile Kyenge, the Congo-born Italian minister of integration, could be a candidate as well. Kyenge is a devout Catholic and a graduate of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan.

WATCH: Boy Won't Leave Pope Francis' Side

At a speech in St. Peter's Square, Pope Francis was joined on stage by an incredibly cute young boy.

As NPR reports:

Protocol is a concept that's often lost on young children and this boy – part of a group of children invited to sit near the pontiff during a speech — didn't see any reason why he shouldn't hang out for a bit with the guy in white.

The Telegraph provides a video and this quote:

The unidentified boy refused to leave the Pope's side, clinging to his legs while two Cardinals tried to encourage him to sit back down with sweets.

Pope Francis Breathes New Life into Cardinal Bernardin’s Contested Legacy

Pope John Paul II elevated Archbishop Joseph L. Bernardin of Chicago to cardinal in a Feb. 2, 1983 consistory. RNS file photo

The election of Pope Francis in March heralded a season of surprises for the Catholic Church, but perhaps none so unexpected – and unsettling for conservatives – as the re-emergence of the late Chicago Cardinal Joseph Bernardin as a model for the American Catholic future.

While there is no indication that Francis knows the writings of Bernardin, who died in 1996, many say the pope’s remarks repeatedly evoke Bernardin’s signature teachings on the “consistent ethic of life” – the view that church doctrine champions the poor and vulnerable from womb to tomb – and on finding “common ground” to heal divisions in the church.

Baptism Rates Slide Despite High-Profile Boosts

The Rev. Frank Page baptizes Stephen Allmond in 2008, near Greenville, S.C. Photo via RNS/courtesy Rev. Frank Page.

The rite of baptism got big press as Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby christened Prince George, a future king of England on Wednesday.

Welby made it a teachable moment for a country where only one in six are baptized. In a YouTube video, he explains that by bringing their son forward for baptism, Prince William and Duchess Catherine are “bringing God into the middle of it all.”

Last month, Pope Francis gave the sacrament a boost when he called a pregnant, unmarried woman to encourage her faith and offered to baptize her baby. While his main message was anti-abortion, his call also reminded Catholics that children of unmarried parents are welcome in the church.

The Pope Francis Effect: ‘Francesco’ Now Italy’s Most Popular Baby Name

Pope Francis greets the crowd in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. Photo by Paul Haring/Catholic News Service. Via RNS.

Moved by the election of Pope Francis seven months ago, the name “Francesco” has leapfrogged to No. 1 on the list of the most popular baby names in Italy, according to a study.

The study, conducted by Enzo Caffarelli, who researches the origins of names at Rome’s Tor Vergata University, along with telephone directory publisher Seat PG Italia, also showed a trend toward re-naming streets, town squares, and parks for St. Francis of Assisi, the pontiff’s namesake.

Could Pope Francis Make Women Cardinals? A Pipe Dream, and an Opening

Cardinals enter “Pro Eligendo Pontifice” Mass, St. Peter’s Basilica, March 12, 2013, at Vatican. RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

Could a woman vote for the next pope?

Pope Francis has said repeatedly that he wants to see greater roles for women in the Catholic Church, and some argue that he could take a giant step in that direction by appointing women to the College of Cardinals – the select and (so far) all-male club of “Princes of the Church” that casts secret ballots in a conclave to elect a new pope.

Whether it’s even possible is a matter of debate. But that hasn’t stopped the feverish speculation, which was sparked last month by an article in a Spanish newspaper in which Juan Arias, a former priest who writes from Brazil, wrote that the idea “is not a joke. It’s something that Pope Francis has thought about before: naming a woman cardinal.”

Can Online Communion Be a Substitute for the Real Thing?

United Methodist leaders asked their bishops to stop the practice of online Communion. RNS file photo by Lynn Ischay.

As online worship becomes more common in some churches, leaders within the United Methodist Church are debating whether the denomination should condone online Communion.

About 30 denominational leaders met last week after Central United Methodist Church in Concord, N.C., announced plans to launch an online campus that potentially would offer online Communion. Some nondenominational churches already offer online Communion, according to United Methodist News Service, but leaders urged the denomination’s bishops to call for a moratorium on the practice and do further study of online ministries.

The majority of the leaders agreed with the statement that Communion “entails the actual tactile sharing of bread and wine in a service that involves people corporeally together in the same place.” Not everyone, however, agreed that congregants must be in the same place.

Following in the Footsteps of Francis

The Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, Italy, maurizio /

The Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, Italy, maurizio /

Ancient stones, steep stairs, and sparkling fresh air greeted me upon arrival in Assisi, Italy, a month ago. Lush olive groves, leaves iridescent in the sun, offset the city stones. “What sort of place is this, that shaped St. Francis 800 years ago?” I asked myself. Eager to deepen my understanding of the saint, I had returned to Assisi to walk in the footsteps of St. Francis.

Profligate playboy, drama king, dejected knight, young Francis lived life large. He grew up in turbulent times, with civic unrest in Assisi and war with nearby Perugia surrounding him. Returning from a year as a prisoner of war in Perugia, sick and weak, Francis drifted. When he sold his cloth merchant father’s wares to repair a church, his father chained him in punishment. Francis stripped in public, denouncing his father. Unlikely material for a saint.

Yet God shaped Francis over time, and Francis yielded. A simple saint, Francis wanted one thing. Nothing but God, he proclaimed, shedding all else. He chose a life of simplicity, serving the poor, and calling the church to reform.

Pope Francis Holds ‘Encouraging’ Reform Talks with Cardinals

Rome Papal Basilica of Saint Peter. Photo from Shutterstock, by LianeM

The special committee of eight cardinals created by Pope Francis with the goal of dramatically reforming the Vatican’s governance got off to an “encouraging” start, the Vatican’s chief spokesman said Wednesday, with a warning not to expect regular updates.

The Rev. Federico Lombardi said Francis met with the so-called Gang of Eight, or the Vatican G-8, on Tuesday and Wednesday to seek their counsel on possible reforms ranging from pastoral work with families and the role of the laity to the prickly issue of tackling the Vatican bureaucracy.