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Cardinal George Pell. Public domain image

Australian Cardinal George Pell, now a top adviser to Pope Francis, testified in a landmark clergy sex abuse inquiry that the Catholic Church made “enormous mistakes” in trying to deal with the scandal. Speaking to an Australian commission investigating the church’s response to abuse, Pell — who had previously been archbishop in Sydney — also said that during the 1970s he was “very strongly inclined to accept the denial” of a priest accused of abuse.

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Christian Ventisette was stopped at Madrid airport after an international arrest warrant was issued for the French-Italian businessman, Italy’s financial police said Feb. 24. Ventisette is accused of scamming more than 250 investors out of around 30 million euros ($33 million) in an international operation involving an Argentine priest. The retired cleric, the Rev. Patrizio Benvenuti, was put under house arrest in Italy earlier this month. He previously worked at a Vatican tribunal and currently has residency in the Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago off the west coast of Africa.

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The Vatican commission on clerical sexual abuse has wrapped up a turbulent week-long meeting during which one of two victims on the panel was effectively ousted and Chilean Catholics upset that Pope Francis has not sacked a controversial bishop delivered protest letters. But a statement released on Feb. 8 at the end of the biannual meeting of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors made no mention of its decision on Feb. 6 that Peter Saunders, a clerical abuse victim from Britain, would take a “leave of absence.”

Image via Josephine McKenna/RNS

Pope Francis’ outreach to the homeless with showers, shelters, and other services may have its youngest beneficiary — an infant born on a street near St. Peter’s Square. A homeless woman gave birth on a cardboard box mere yards from the Vatican on Jan. 20 in near-freezing temperatures, according to Reuters.

Sister Helen Prejean. Image via Rosie Scammell/RNS

Two decades after her anti-death penalty work was transformed into an Oscar-winning movie, Dead Man Walking, Sister Helen Prejean’s campaign continues with the backing of Pope Francis. Prejean met with the pope on Jan. 21 to deliver a thank-you letter from Richard Glossip, whose execution in the U.S. was halted in September after intervention from the pontiff.

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.

Cardinal Wuerl with Pope Francis. Image via Paul Fetters / Archdiocese of Washington / RNS

Cardinal Donald Wuerl is an eminently approachable churchman, and unfailingly polite, yet the archbishop of Washington is hardly the type to wear his emotions on his sleeve.

Image via REUTERS / Alberto Pizzoli / Pool / RNS

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.

Image via Noor Khamis / Reuters / RNS

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.

Image via REUTERS / Tony Gentile / RNS

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.

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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.

Image via REUTERS / Andrew Medichini / Pool / RNS

The Vatican has said that Catholics should witness to their faith but not undertake organized efforts to convert Jews, a significant step forward in the once tense relations between the two faiths.

The document released on Dec. 10 by the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews also pushed for greater efforts to fight anti-Semitism.

In its most explicit commentary on evangelization regarding Jews, the document said Catholics should take a different approach to Judaism than to other religions.

Screenshot via vatican / Youtube

An extraordinary illuminated projection of images of the natural world onto St. Peter’s Basilica on the evening of Dec. 8 drew thousands of awed spectators to the Vatican and delighted untold numbers more watching online and via widespread media coverage of the three-hour show.

But not everyone was happy with the spectacle, not by a long shot, as social media and conservative Catholic sites erupted with indignation.

“This has gone beyond ridiculous,” fumed a conservative blogger, the Rev. John Zuhlsdorf, who called it “irreverent” to use a sacred space for a secular purpose.

“Why not rent out the Sistine chapel too, while they’re at it?”

Image via Osservatore Romano / Handout via Reuters / RNS

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.”

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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.

Emiliano Fittipaldi. Image via Rosie Scammell / RNS

An Italian investigative journalist on Nov. 17 spoke out against what he called a “medieval” Vatican law that might result in a jail sentence of up to eight years for publishing confidential Holy See documents.

Emiliano Fittipaldi, whose new book Avarice reveals the struggle for financial reform at the Vatican, is under investigation for publishing secret documents leaked from the Holy See. A fellow Italian journalist, Gianluigi Nuzzi, is also being investigated for revelations made in his book, Merchants in the Temple.

While describing the investigation as “a terrible moment,” Fittipaldi remained defiant:

“From my point of view they are crazy charges, in the sense that in no democratic state, in no Western democracy, are there such restrictive laws on press freedom and expression.”

Image via Sally Morrow / RNS

Pope Francis on Nov. 11 urged Catholics to continue the tradition of a family meal, leaving smartphones aside, and switching off the TV to enjoy the “fundamental experience” of sharing food.

“The sharing of a meal — and therefore, other than of food, also of affections, of stories, of events — is a fundamental experience,” Francis said during his weekly audience in St. Peter’s Square.

Sitting around the table helps measure the health of relationships, the pontiff said: “If in a family there’s something that doesn’t work, or a hidden wound, at the table it’s understood immediately.”

Image via Stefano Rellandini / REUTERS / RNS

Pope Francis made a whirlwind trip to Tuscany on Nov. 10, during which he addressed immigrant workers, called on Italian bishops to shun power, and celebrated Mass with thousands of followers in Florence’s soccer stadium.

Francis started his packed, daylong schedule with a helicopter flight to Prato, known for its textile industry and large Chinese community. Crowds waving the Vatican’s yellow and white flag met him on his arrival.

The pope called for an end to labor exploitation, addressing the deaths of seven Chinese workers in a nighttime factory fire in 2013.

“It is a tragedy of exploitation and of inhumane conditions of life. And this is not undignified work,” he said.

Image via Alessandro Bianchi / REUTERS / RNS

Pope Francis on Nov. 8 broke his silence over the leaking of confidential Vatican documents, which he described as a “deplorable act” that will not stand in the way of his ambitious reform agenda.

Speaking to followers in St. Peter’s Square, the pontiff criticized revelations made in two books published last week that explore Francis’ efforts to overhaul financial mismanagement within the Vatican walls.

“Stealing those documents was a crime. It’s a deplorable act that does not help,” the pope said, adding that the leaked information was based on a study he had personally requested.

Image via Grant Gallicho / RNS

The document would become known as the Pact of the Catacombs, and the signers hoped it would mark a turning point in church history.

Instead, the Pact of the Catacombs disappeared, for all intents and purposes.

It is barely mentioned in the extensive histories of Vatican II, and while copies of the text are in circulation, no one knows what happened to the original document. In addition, the exact number and names of the original signers is in dispute, though it is believed that only one still survives: Luigi Bettazzi, nearly 92 years old now, bishop emeritus of the Italian diocese of Ivrea.

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