Catholic Church

Protesters in front of the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis on June 11, 2014. Photo courtesy Barb Dorris, via SNAP.

When victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests first organized into a small band of volunteer activists in the late 1980s, reports of clergy molesting children were still new and relatively few. Most were minimized as anomalies or dismissed altogether — much the way the victims were.

But today, as the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, marks its 25th anniversary at a conference in Chicago, its members can take satisfaction in seeing that its claims have been validated, and a few (though hardly all) of its recommendations have been implemented by the church hierarchy.

And instead of facing constant verbal attacks and the occasional angry parishioner spitting on them at a protest, SNAP’s members today are far more likely to receive a handshake and a word of thanks, and maybe even a donation.

SNAP’s advocacy on the Catholic scandal also helped push the reality of sexual abuse into the public consciousness to the point that victims can regularly win in courts and get a hearing in the media, and they are much more likely to come forward to tell their stories, whether they were abused by clergy or by athletic coaches or Boy Scout leaders.

Yet that success is also presenting SNAP with a daunting new challenge as it looks to the future: how to respond to a flood of new inquiries from victims from other faiths and institutions, and how to push for changes beyond the familiar precincts of the Catholic Church.

Juliet Vedral 07-22-2014
Map of San Antonio. Image courtesy Pontus Edenberg/

Map of San Antonio. Image courtesy Pontus Edenberg/

Today leaders from the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention will join the Catholic Bishop of Brownsville in Texas to visit two facilities for migrant children. This is not the first time evangelical and Catholic leaders have worked together on this particular issue—the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops held a joint press call with the Evangelical Immigration Table earlier this year and then together met with members of Congress in March

Brian Truitt 07-17-2014

World’s top exorcists form a supergroup in “The Devilers.” Image courtesy Matt Triano/Dynamite Entertainment

There’s never a better time for a bunch of holy avengers than when all hell actually breaks loose.

The Dynamite Entertainment series The Devilers debuts Wednesday as an action-packed supernatural comic book full of demonic beasties, big-picture philosophies, and heroes that have to put religious differences aside in order to save Vatican City – and the world – from being turned into brimstone.

“When suddenly it’s ‘Oh that is a giant hellmouth that opened up in front of me,’ that changes your beliefs,” said series writer Joshua Hale Fialkov (The Bunker, The Life After), who’s doing the The Devilers alongside artist Matt Triano.

John Nienstedt is the archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Photo courtesy Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis/RNS.

A Roman Catholic archbishop in Minnesota who had been one of the hierarchy’s most vocal opponents of gay rights is the target of an investigation into allegations that he had a series of sexual relationships with priests, seminarians, and other men.

The investigation of Twin Cities Archbishop John Nienstedt is being conducted by a prominent Minneapolis law firm hired by the archdiocese after church officials received an allegation against Nienstedt.

The archdiocese confirmed the investigation, which was first reported by Commonweal, a Catholic magazine based in New York.

Brian Doyle 06-03-2014

A testament of irrational fath and quiet, gracious miracles.

Fernando Alcantar could be the latest Pew Research report come to life. Photo: Andrew Sutton, courtesy Fernando Alcantar.

A new report on the “Shifting Religious Identity of Latinos” reads very much like a biography of Fernando Alcantar.

Like six in 10 Hispanic Catholics in the U.S., he was born in Mexico, where “you are Catholic as much as you are Mexican. You like jalapenos and worship the Virgin of Guadalupe,” he said.

But once he moved to California after high school, his faith journey diverged — and derailed. Today, Alcantar, 36 calls himself a humanist.

The Pew survey report released Wednesday is subtitled: “Nearly One in Four Latinos are former Catholics.” And Alcantar is one of them.

Pope Francis greets a crowd on his way to a meeting with cardinals at the Vatican on Feb. 21, 2014. RNS photo by David Gibson.

Pope Francis likes to say that he prefers to raise questions rather than issue edicts or change doctrine, and he has certainly generated plenty of debate with his off-the-cuff remarks about gays and his cold-call chats on topics like divorce and Communion, as happened recently with a woman in Argentina.

Now a recent conversation between the pope and a bishop from Brazil about the priest shortage may be moving the issue of married clergy onto the pontiff’s agenda.

It began when Bishop Erwin Krautler, an Austrian-born bishop who heads a sprawling diocese in the Brazilian rain forest, had a private audience with Francis on April 4 in the Vatican.

During the meeting, Krautler and Francis compared notes on how much the priest shortage affects the church, especially in the Southern Hemisphere. Krautler’s diocese, geographically the largest in Brazil, has just 27 priests for 700,000 Catholics, most of whom might attend Mass a couple of times a year.

Couples gathered in St. Peter’s Square received a blessing from Pope Francis on Feb. 14. RNS photo: Eyal Baruch (

So what’s it like to come to work every day when your boss is the pope?

At the one-year mark of Pope Francis’ election, the answer probably depends on whether you are an old-timer or a relative newcomer, and whether you agree with his reforms of the Vatican bureaucracy or you pine for the old ways of the papal court.

Much also depends on whether you are one of the approximately 3,500 (mostly Italian) lay people in the Vatican’s workforce or one of the 1,100 or so cardinals, bishops, priests, or religious brothers and sisters who tend to occupy decision-making positions and are deeply invested in the policies that Francis adopts.

That second group, often defined by their ideologies and rivalries, tends to draw the most attention, given the high stakes and fierce passions involved.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan. RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz

Cardinal Timothy Dolan said Sunday that Pope Francis is asking the Catholic Church to look at the possibility of recognizing civil unions for gay couples, although the archbishop of New York said that he would be “uncomfortable” if the church embraced that position.

The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera last week published an interview with the pope in which Francis reiterated the church’s teaching that marriage “is between a man and a woman” while acknowledging that governments want to adopt civil unions for gay couples and others to allow for economic and health benefits, for example.

Francis said the churches in various countries must account for those reasons when formulating public policy positions. “We must consider different cases and evaluate each particular case,” he said.

Pope Francis greets the crowd at his general audience in St. Peter's Square. Photo by Paul Haring/Catholic News Service

As Pope Francis approaches the one-year mark of his papacy, his global flock and a fascinated public are starting to measure the changes he is making against the sky-high hopes for transforming an institution many thought impervious to change.

Every personnel move and every new proposal is being scrutinized for what it might indicate about the direction of the church, what it might augur about possible adjustments to church teaching and whether the aspirations of so many will be fulfilled — or frustrated.

But as important as such structural and policy moves can be, church leaders and Vatican insiders say the 77-year-old Francis is really focused on a more ambitious (and perhaps more difficult) goal: overhauling and upending the institutional culture of Catholicism.

Francis, they say, is bent on converting the church, as it were, so that the faith is positioned to flourish in the future no matter who follows him to the throne of St. Peter.

Pope Francis passes a crucifix. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy Catholic New Service/RNS

High-level debates over Catholic teachings on marriage and divorce and other hot-button issues heated up on Wednesday as a highly anticipated effort to overhaul the Vatican bureaucracy slogged through the devilish details of financial reform.

The multitrack talks launched months ago by Pope Francis ramped up this week as some 185 cardinals converged on Rome to watch the pontiff add 19 new members to their select ranks this weekend, part of what some called “the most critical week” of Francis’ year-old papacy.

Anticipation is mounting for a series of closed-door discussions on Thursday and Friday, when the cardinals will hold what are expected to be frank talks about issues such as contraception, cohabitation, gay marriage, and whether divorced and remarried Catholics can receive Communion.

Pope Francis. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy of Catholic New Service. Via RNS.

No doubt about it, Pope Francis is generating the kind of Internet buzz and sky-high Q Scores that brand managers can only dream of. But is the pontiff becoming a victim of his own good press?

The Vatican once again had to dispel media reports that went well beyond what Francis actually said, as his spokesman formally denied that the pope had signaled an openness to same-sex unions in a recently published conversation with leaders of religious orders.

During the November discussion with leaders of the Jesuits, Franciscans and others, Francis said they needed to engage “complex” situations of modern life, such as the prevalence of broken homes and the growth in gay couples rearing children.

Eric J. Lyman 12-17-2013

Pope Francis passes a crucifix in St. Peter's Square. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy of Catholic News Service. Via RNS

As part of Pope Francis’ pastoral reforms, all 44 senior members of the Roman Curia, or governing body, must take turns hearing confession at a church near the Vatican.

There is even speculation that Francis himself could hear confessions at the Church of the Santo Spirito in Sassia, just outside the Vatican walls, where his bishops and cardinals have been directed to perform the sacrament of penance and reconciliation.

“I think it’s likely the pope will discreetly hear confessions at some point,” said Giacomo Galeazzi, a veteran Vatican watcher from Italy’s La Stampa newspaper. “The pope has long been an advocate of the pastoral aspects of the ministry and now the Curia will as well.”

Cardinal Raymond Burke, an influential American conservative. RNS photo by David Gibson.

In private conversations, Pope Francis often acknowledges that reforming the Vatican will be a difficult task opposed by powerful interests in the church. Developments on Monday showed both the progress he has made and the challenges that remain.

Case in point: Cardinal Raymond Burke, an influential American conservative who has worked in the Roman Curia since 2008, lost one key post on Monday when he was left off the Vatican body that vets bishops for the pope to appoint. Those appointments are seen as the key to securing Francis’ legacy.

But in an interview a few days earlier, Burke — who remains head of the Vatican equivalent of the Supreme Court — also publicly raised doubts about Francis’ plans to make wholesale changes in a papal bureaucracy in keeping with the pontiff’s vision of a more open, pastoral church.

Eric J. Lyman 12-06-2013

A model of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. Photo court. Santiago Calatrava, via RNS

At the heart of the Vatican’s new “Metamorphosis of Space” exhibit featuring the works of Spanish architect and artist Santiago Calatrava is the first-ever public display for the model of New York’s St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church.

The exhibit’s curator, Micol Forti, said the relationship between the project and the Vatican is casual — “It’s not even a Catholic Church,” she said of St. Nicholas — yet the magnetism of the model is immediately apparent.

“This exhibit is part of a dialogue with contemporary culture, and this particular piece is a large part of it,” Forti said. She pointed out an adjacent series of watercolor paintings Calatrava made to show a kind of evolution between the design of the church and a classic portrait of the Madonna and Child.

Reprinted with permission of the Pew Research Center, “U.S. Catholics Happy with Selection of Pope Francis,” © 2013. Via RNS.

Pope Francis is creating a special commission to deal with the clergy sexual abuse crisis on a global scale, a step that comes amid growing criticism that Francis had not given sufficient attention to the scandal.

Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley made the announcement on Thursday in the Vatican where he was meeting this week with Francis and the other members of the so-called “Gang of Eight” cardinals that the pope chose to help him reform the Roman Curia.

O’Malley, who is the U.S. bishop with perhaps the most credibility on the abuse issue, listed a range of programmatic ideas for the commission, whose members are expected to include lay people, mental health professionals, and other experts in the field as well as leading churchmen.

Eric J. Lyman 11-26-2013

Pope Francis carries his crosier after celebrating Mass in Assisi, Italy. Photo by Paul Haring/Catholic News Service. Via RNS

Laying out a blueprint for the issues that are likely to define his papacy, Pope Francis on Tuesday issued a biting critique of capitalism, calling on world leaders to fight against poverty and for the rich to share their wealth, and urging the media to adjust its priorities.

“How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” Francis asked in an 84-page “apostolic exhortation” that is widely seen as a road map for his papacy akin to a presidential State of the Union address.

“How can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving?” he asked. “Today, everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without possibilities, without any means of escape.”

Eric J. Lyman 11-11-2013

Pope Francis greets people during a meeting with UNITALSI. Photo via RNS/by Alessia Giuliani, courtesy Catholic News Service

First, the name “Francesco” leapfrogged to No. 1 on the list of the most popular baby names in Italy.

Then, the city of Rome reported a tourism boom, mostly from Latin America.

Now, there’s word Roman Catholic Church attendance is climbing throughout Italy.

Blame it on “the Francis effect.”

Italy’s Center for Studies on New Religions reported Sunday that around half of the 250 priests it surveyed reported a significant rise in church attendance since Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope Francis in March.

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.

Eric J. Lyman 11-04-2013

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.