Who Runs the Vatican After the Pope Steps Down?

The dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City. Photo by Rene Shaw.

The dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City. Photo by Rene Shaw.

VATICAN CITY — As of 8 p.m. on Feb. 28, Pope Benedict XVI will no longer be pope and the Vatican will go into “sede vacante” mode — a Latin expression that means that the seat of St. Peter is vacant.

So who’s in charge until a new pope is chosen? The “interregnum” between two popes is governed by ancient rituals and by institutions half forgotten even within the Vatican.

But it is also the only time that the Catholic Church comes close to vaguely resembling a democracy, with the College of Cardinals acting somewhat like a Parliament with limited powers as it prepares to choose the new pontiff in a closed-doors conclave.

Activists Mobilize Around White House’s Catholic ‘Hate Group’ Petition

We The People petition

We The People petition

The White House’s novel online system for allowing citizens to petition the administration on any number of causes has led to various unintended consequences: petitions to secede from the U.S. following President Obama’s re-election; a petition for Vice President Joe Biden to star in a reality show; and a petition for the government to disclose its secret archives on extraterrestrials.

Now there is a petition to designate the Roman Catholic Church as a hate group for its opposition to gay rights, and it may wind up generating almost as many press releases as signatures.

The “We the People” petition was filed on Christmas Day and was prompted by Pope Benedict XVI’s Dec. 21 year-end address to Vatican administrators in which he denounced gay marriage as a threat to Western civilization.

Catholic Intensity Fades as Evangelical Devotion Surges

RNS photo by Sally Morrow

Parishioners hold hands while praying the “Our Father’ during Catholic mass. RNS photo by Sally Morrow

After November’s presidential vote, Catholics could cite ample evidence for their renewed political relevance while dispirited evangelicals were left wondering if they are destined to be yesterday’s election news. Yet their roles in American spiritual life may be reversed.

New research shows that Catholics now report the lowest proportion of "strongly affiliated" followers among major American religious traditions, while the data indicates that evangelicals are increasingly devout and committed to their faith.

According to Philip Schwadel, a sociologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, in the 1970s there was only a five-point difference between how strongly Catholics and evangelicals felt about their religion.

By 2010, he said, that “intensity gap” had grown to around 20 points, with some 56 percent of evangelicals describing themselves as “strongly affiliated” with their religion compared with 35 percent of Catholics. Even mainline Protestants reported a higher level of religious intensity than Catholics, at 39 percent.

Romero's Glasses

Alex Bowie/Getty Images

Archbishop Oscar Romero (1917 - 1980) at home in San Salvador, 20th November 1979. Alex Bowie/Getty Images

Editor's Note: The following is a poem written by Trevor Scott Barton following reading The Violence of Love by Archbiship Oscar Romero, who was assassinated in El Salvador in 1980.

longing for a hero,
living love, peace and hope,
protecting ordinary people from extraordinary hatred and violence,
peaceful hero,
dying for the cause but not killing for it,
denying guns and bombs their power,
risking the violence of love.
Conserving tradition at first for the greatest,
seeing through your glasses at last for the least,
feeling the hunger of underpaid workers,
knowing the poverty of farmers,
hearing the warning, "Here's what happens to priests who get involved in politics,
holding tears of the disappeared.
calling all to view the liberating body of a slain priest,
serving the poor,
using words to build up humanity and tear down injustice,
"In the name of God, stop killing ..."
offering crucifixion,
discovering resurrection.

Maryknoll Priest Expelled Over Support for Women’s Ordination

Photo by John Blanding/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Father Roy Bourgeois, Photo by John Blanding/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

A long-running struggle between Catholic authorities and the Rev. Roy Bourgeois over his support for ordaining women has ended with Bourgeois’ dismissal from the priesthood and his religious order, the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers.

A statement from Maryknoll on Monday confirmed that the Vatican’s office for orthodoxy, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, laicized Bourgeois last month.

The move stems from Bourgeois’ participation in an August 2008 ordination rite in Lexington, Ky., for Janice Sevre-Duszynska. The ceremony was not recognized by the Vatican and took place under the auspices of a group called Roman Catholic Womanpriests, which rejects the church teaching on the all-male priesthood.

Catholic Bishops Warn Congress Not to Throw Poor Off ‘Fiscal Cliff’

Capitol Building, Brandon Bourdages /

Capitol Building, Brandon Bourdages /

BALTIMORE — As Congress embarks on high-stakes budget negotiations to avoid the “fiscal cliff,” leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are warning elected officials not to target programs for the poor and instead raise taxes and reduce defense spending.

“In developing frameworks for future budgets, Congress should not rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons,” Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., and Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, wrote in a Nov. 13 letter to the House and Senate.

Blaire and Pates chair the bishops' committees on domestic and international issues, and the letter asks that “poverty-focused international assistance programs” also be spared because they are a small slice of the budget pie, are effective and enjoy bipartisan support.

What Does Communion Mean Without Atonement?

Communion wine, Dale Wagler /

Communion wine, Dale Wagler /

I’m known for holding an alternative view on salvation than many Christians – even Disciples — maintain, in that I do not adhere to the doctrine that Jesus died for our sins. I know there are lots of scriptures to back this position, and one can also use scripture to justify other explanations for Jesus’ death. As many of us have seen, the Bible can be, and has been, used to justify nearly any position we care to use it to support. As for me, I’ve done years of searching, praying, discussing, and reading, and my conclusion is that it is the love of God as manifest by Jesus that is redemptive, and not Jesus’ blood.

I know some folks will likely stop here, discrediting anything else I have to say because of this perspective, which is unfortunate, but which I also understand. But a family member recently asked me about my take on communion if, in fact, I don’t ascribe to the idea that Jesus was saying “this is my body broken and my blood poured out for the remission of your sins.”

Liberal Catholics use Election Results to Battle Bishops

CNN reports:

Emboldened by the re-election of President Barack Obama, a cadre of liberal Catholic activists and groups is waging a campaign alleging that America's Catholic bishops are out of touch with Catholic laypeople.

The Catholic bishops, who are in Baltimore this week for a quarterly meeting, spoke out against the Obama administration during the election cycle over what they said were White House violations of religious freedom.

Some bishops also spoke out against legalized gay marriage and abortion rights, positions embraced by many Republicans.

A Sunday opinion piece in the National Catholic Reporter by Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest at Georgetown University, hammered the bishops for their public proclamations during the campaign, saying the church leaders' “political strategy … is not working.”

Read more here:

How the VP Debate Emphasized ‘Single-Issue’ Catholicism

Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages

Vice President Joe Biden and candidate Paul Ryan at the VP Debate. Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages

Catholicism’s social justice teachings have often been called the church’s “best-kept secret,” and after the Oct. 11 vice-presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan – the first such showdown between the first two Catholics to oppose each other on a national ticket – that may still be the case.

While moderator Martha Raddatz earned kudos for her performance, her only question about the candidates’ shared Catholic faith came near the end of the 90-minute debate, and she framed it solely as a question of how their faith affects their policies on abortion rights.

That was seen as a victory for Catholic conservatives and Republicans who want to reinforce the image of the church as a “single-issue” religion – that issue being abortion – and a setback for liberal Democrats and others who have struggled to highlight the church’s teachings on the common good as central to Catholicism’s witness in the public square.

“What a lost opportunity!” wrote Michael O’Loughlin at the blog of America magazine, a national Jesuit weekly. “If the moderator planned to discuss faith, and I’m glad she did, why limit the discussion to one issue, however important, when the full spectrum of Catholic social teaching is ripe for an expansive and thought provoking conversation?”