roman catholic church

Madi Alexander / RNS

At the World Meeting of Families, Ron Belgau, center, and his mother Beverley Belgau, right, described to a packed room what it was like for them dealing with Ron’s same-sex attraction. Photo by Madi Alexander / RNS

Just as the single session on homosexuality at this Vatican-approved meeting of Catholic families was to begin on Sept. 24, a conference official took the stage in the main hall, capable of seating at least 10,000, and announced the location had been moved.

Thousands of people got up and made their way up one floor to another room capable of seating only about 1,000. Hundreds of others were turned away, the doors shut on them by convention center officials citing fire code regulations.

Image via RNS.

Italy reacted with disgust last week to the lavish funeral procession held for alleged Mafia boss Vittorio Casamonica, including a gilded horse-drawn carriage procession, rose petals dropped from a helicopter, and the “Godfather” movie soundtrack.

Now the Roman Catholic Church is grappling with its role in the extravagant funeral as it wrestles with how it might continue to offer the sacraments to members of crime syndicates without appearing to condone their lifestyles.

During the Aug. 20 funeral, the walls of Rome’s San Giovanni Bosco Catholic Church were adorned with posters, reading “King of Rome” and “You have conquered Rome, now you will conquer heaven.”

Renee Gadoua 08-11-2015
Philip Scott Andrews / RNS

Sister Monica, shown outside her home, has spent her career ministering to transgender people. Photo via Philip Scott Andrews / RNS

Sister Monica lives alone in a small house at the edge of a Roman Catholic college run by a community of nuns.

She doesn’t want to reveal the name of the town where she lives, the name of her Catholic order, or her real name.

Sister Monica lives in hiding, so that others may live in plain sight.

Now in her early 70s and semiretired because of health problems, she remains committed to her singular calling for the past 16 years: ministering to transgender people and helping them come out of the shadows.

Photo via REUTERS / Cathal McNaughton / RNS

A poster supporting the Yes vote is displayed in Dublin on May 19, 2015. Photo via REUTERS / Cathal McNaughton / RNS

“In Ireland,” says a character in a 1904 George Bernard Shaw play, “the people is the Church, and the Church is the people.”

But not so much anymore.

On May 22, voters in this once deeply Roman Catholic country will decide whether the country’s constitution should be amended to allow for gay marriage. If the amendment passes, Ireland will become the first country to legalize same-sex civil marriage by popular vote.

Photo via REUTERS / Siegfried Modola / RNS

A Kenyan soldier looks at a cow that is dying from hunger. Photo via REUTERS / Siegfried Modola / RNS

Drying livestock carcasses and anguished faces of hungry women and children have become a common feature here as droughts increase due to climate change.

But now, in an effort to fight hunger, the Roman Catholic Church is making 3,000 acres of church-owned land available for commercial farming.

“We want to produce food, create employment, and improve quality of life for the people,” said the Rev. Celestino Bundi, Kenya’s national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies.

This is the first time the church has entered into large-scale farming, though it owns massive tracts of land across the country, most of which is idle and in the hands of dioceses, parishes, missionaries, and congregations.

“We have the will and the support of the community and government,” said Bundi. 

“I think time has come for Kenya to feed herself.”

Photo via Paul Haring / Catholic News Service / RNS

Pope Francis during the feast of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8, 2014. Photo via Paul Haring / Catholic News Service / RNS

One reason the cardinals gathered in the Sistine Chapel elected Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope Francis two years ago on March 13 was a brief but powerful speech the Argentine cardinal made shortly before the conclave in which he denounced the “theological narcissism” of the Roman Catholic Church.

The church, Francis declared, was “sick” because it was closed in on itself and needed to go out “to the peripheries” and risk all by accompanying the shunned and marginalized.

In these past two years, Francis’ efforts to do just that have captivated the public’s imagination and inspired a wide swath of the Catholic spectrum with visions of a newly resurgent faith unshackled from years of scandal and stagnation.

But there was another big reason the cardinals voted for Bergoglio: They thought the Jesuit archbishop of Buenos Aires was the one man with the administrative chops to finally rein in the dysfunctional papal bureaucracy, known as the Roman Curia, that was often at the root of the Catholic crisis.

Rick Hampson 03-03-2015
Photo via Robert Deutsch / USA Today / RNS

St. Thomas More church in New York City. Photo via Robert Deutsch / USA Today / RNS

Our Lady of Vilnius Church, built by families of immigrant Lithuanian longshoremen, started out a century ago as a beloved worship space. Now, it’s a coveted real estate asset.

In 2013, six years after the church was closed, it was sold for $13 million to one of the city’s biggest developers. The following year, that company flipped it like a pancake to another developer for $18.4 million.

Now the yellow brick church near the entrance to the Holland Tunnel awaits demolition to make way for an 18-story luxury apartment house.

“It makes you cynical,” says Christina Nakraseive, a former parishioner who supported the legal case against the church closing until it was rejected by the state’s highest court. “It seems like it’s all about real estate.”

The issue has taken on added significance since the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, citing declining attendance, rising costs, and a looming priest shortage, announced plans to merge scores of parishes and close dozens of churches this year.

Francis of Rome and Francis of Assisi: A New Springtime for the Church. Orbis Book. 

Photo via Cathy Lynn Grossman/RNS

In demoting American Cardinal Raymond Burke from his powerful perch at the Vatican, Pope Francis has sidelined an outspoken conservative agitator – for now.

The pope moved the feisty former archbishop of St. Louis from his role as head of the Vatican’s highest court to the largely ceremonial position of patron of the Knights of Malta on Nov. 8.

Francis has effectively exiled one of his loudest critics, but Burke’s supporters – and his opponents – warn that his position at the Catholic charity may actually give him more freedom to exercise greater influence and even rally opposition to papal reforms.

In other words, the stunning demotion may remake Burke into St. Raymond the Martyr, the patron saint of Catholic conservatives.

“His position as patron of the Knights of Malta is Rome-based and mostly ceremonial,” wrote Edward Pentin for the conservative National Catholic Register.

“He is nevertheless likely to continue and perhaps even step up his defense of the Church’s teaching in the face of continued efforts to radically alter pastoral practice in the run-up to next year’s second synod on the family.”

Burke is well-known for his uncompromising stance on abortion, homosexuality and the sanctity of marriage, and his passion for doctrine is matched only by his passion for the elegant finery of his office.

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Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan prays during a Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz/RNS.

The Archdiocese of New York, with the second-largest Catholic population in the country and an unparalleled place in U.S. church history, is shrinking: Cardinal Timothy Dolan on Nov. 2 announced that nearly a third of the archdiocese’s 368 parishes would be merging, and some would close.

“This time of transition in the history of the archdiocese will undoubtedly be difficult for people who live in parishes that will merge,” Dolan said in a statement. “There will be many who are hurt and upset as they experience what will be a change in their spiritual lives, and I will be one of them.”

The reorganization was years in the making and some downsizing appeared inevitable, as happened in the last round of cutbacks, in 2007. While the sprawling archdiocese is still home to 2.8 million Catholics, fewer of them are attending Mass or Catholic schools, and costs are rising. The archdiocese said it is spending $40 million a year to prop up failing or redundant parishes.

Still, the extent of the changes, the largest in the more than 200-year history of the archdiocese, upset many Catholics, especially in neighborhoods where waves of immigration had built and revived parishes across the decades.

“I feel very sad; I was baptized here,” Sonia Cintron, 75, a member of the Church of the Holy Rosary in East Harlem, told The New York Times. “Here we’re family; we loved each other.”

Some parishioners have vowed to try to keep their churches open through petitions and protests.

Margaret Benefiel 04-29-2014

Pope Francis greets a crowd in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on Sept. 11, 2013. Photo by Paul Haring/Catholic News Service.

This weekend, more than 800,000 spectators crowded the St. Peter’s Square area while 500,000 more watched on giant screens around Rome as Pope Francis canonized Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II. The first time a pope has sainted two popes at the same time, this historic event has been called a savvy political move by the media, since Pope Francis recognized both the more liberal John XXIII and the more conservative John Paul II, thus satisfying two opposing wings of the Roman Catholic church. While Pope Francis did indeed display political savvy at this canonization, this event holds far more significance than that (even leaving aside the spiritual question of discerning sainthood).

A statue of St. Peter in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. RNS photo by David Gibson

When Pope Francis canonizes Popes John XXIII and John Paul II on Sunday, Catholics across the spectrum will have reason to cheer: Liberals credit John with opening the church to the modern world in the 1960s, and conservatives hail John Paul as reasserting orthodoxy after too many innovations.

But the unprecedented double-barreled canonization also raises a question that might give both sides pause: Why is Rome making saints of almost every modern pontiff after nearly a millennium when almost no popes were canonized?

In the first 500 years of Christianity, the Apostle Peter (considered the first pope by tradition) and 47 of his 48 papal successors were viewed as saints, mainly because so many of them were martyred, which is the simplest route to canonization. Another 30 popes were named saints in the next 500 years, largely based on their reputation for sanctity.

Pope Benedict XVI leaves Christmas Eve Mass in 2012. RNS photo by Paul Haring/Catholic News Service

As the anniversary of his surprising resignation approaches, Pope Benedict XVI has rejected as “simply absurd” the speculation that he was forced to step down, and he said he still wears the distinctive white papal cassock for “purely practical reasons.”

“At the moment of my resignation there were no other clothes available,” Benedict wrote in a brief letter to an Italian journalist that was published on Wednesday.

The emeritus pope also said that he kept the name Benedict, rather than reverting to his birth name of Joseph Ratzinger, because it was a simple solution.

Salva Kiir Mayardit, President of the Government of Southern Sudan. Photo courtesy of Jenny Rockett, via Wikimedia Commons / RNS

African church leaders are urging parties in the South Sudanese conflict to respect places of worship, after rebels attacked and looted church compounds in the town of Malakal.

The Roman Catholic Cathedral of Malakal was looted at gunpoint, forcing priests, and civilians to flee, a regional church leader said.

Catholic and Presbyterian churches, a hospital and an orphanage have become safe havens for refugees escaping the fighting in the city.

“I came to know myself what it means to be asked for something under the threat of a gun when a group in uniform stopped me on the way from the hospital to the church,” said one Catholic priest, who did not give his name because he fears for his safety. “They blocked me and took my watch and a key.”

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.

Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, head of the German Bishops’ Conference. Photo via RNS/Court. Andreas Gerhard/Bishopric of Freiburg.

The $20,000 bathtub and $482,000 walk-in closets ordered by “Bishop Bling-Bling” — the moniker of Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, the now-suspended bishop of Limburg — have scandalized the German public.

But Tebartz-van Elst, 52, is only the latest German clergyman to run into trouble since Pope Francis took the helm of the Roman Catholic Church. Francis temporarily suspended the bishop on Wednesday while a church commission investigates the expenditures on the $42 million residence complex.

As the new pontiff tries to reform the way the church does business, German dioceses, which reportedly include the world’s wealthiest in Cologne, are chafing under the new direction as membership numbers continue to dwindle.

Rev. Peter Njogu, a former Roman Catholic priest, is now bishop of Restored Univ

Rev. Peter Njogu, a former Roman Catholic priest, is now bishop of Restored Universal Apostolic Church (RUAC). Photo via RNS.

Schismatic Roman Catholic priests, who left the church to claim their right to marry, are now asking for an “African pope” to lead them.

The priests say they regret their former church is “allergic” to change. They believe priestly celibacy is neither rooted in the teachings of Jesus nor in the work of his apostles, who were married. And they insist celibacy does not work in an African context.

Former Zambian Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo who married a Korean acupuncturist in a 2001 celebration sponsored by the Unification Church and presided by its late founder, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, serves as “African patriarch” of a number of church groups affiliated with his movement.

Photo courtesy RNS.

Queen Elizabeth II on May 8, 2007. Photo courtesy RNS.

England and Wales became the 16th and 17th countries in the world to recognize gay marriage after Queen Elizabeth II gave “royal assent” to a same-sex marriage bill.

Under the new law, gay men and women will be able to join together in civil ceremonies or in church services — although no religious denomination will be forced to carry out such services.

Cheers, laughter, and clapping broke out in the House of Commons when Speaker John Bercow announced the bill had been approved.

Kevin McDermott 06-26-2013
Photo courtesy RNS/Flickr.

Former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy RNS/Flickr.

It’s not the message you might expect to hear from Rick Santorum, the Christian-conservative former presidential candidate: Faith-based films tend to be lousy, and Christians should quit trying to lock modern popular culture out of their lives.

Instead, Santorum says, Christian conservatives should acknowledge that modern popular culture is here to stay, and use that platform to produce Christian-themed films that will also have quality and popular appeal. It’s a strategy he says he intends to pursue in his new role as CEO of a ground-breaking faith-based film studio.

In an interview here, Santorum also stood by his strong views against same-sex marriage, citing the necessity to adhere to religious teachings — but then disputed his own religion’s leaders on the issue of immigration.

Photo courtesy RNS.

Ross Murray – Director of Religion, Faith & Values at GLAAD. Photo courtesy RNS.

Gay Americans are much less religious than the general U.S. population, and about 3-in-10 of them say they have felt unwelcome in a house of worship, a new study shows.

The Pew Research Center’s study, released Thursday, details how gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Americans view many of the country’s prominent faiths: in a word, unfriendly.

The vast majority said Islam (84 percent); the Mormon church (83 percent); the Roman Catholic Church (79 percent); and evangelical churches (73 percent) were unfriendly. Jews and nonevangelical Protestants drew a more mixed reaction, with more than 40 percent considering them either unfriendly or neutral about gays and lesbians.

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