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Catholic leaders made a rare appeal to the world’s politicians on Oct. 26, urging them to take strong action at the highly-anticipated U.N. climate change summit later this year.

Nine cardinals, patriarchs, and bishops representing the Catholic Church across five continents signed a document, presented at the Vatican on Oct. 26 by clergy from Belgium, Colombia, India, and Papua New Guinea.

The document presents a 10-point policy proposal calling for “a fair, legally binding, and truly transformational climate agreement.”

Image via Alessandro Bianchi / REUTERS / RNS

The most significant and contested gathering of Roman Catholic bishops in the last 50 years formally ended on Oct. 25 after three weeks of debate and dispute, but the arguments over who “won” and who “lost” are only beginning.

The synod of 270 cardinals and bishops from around the world was the second in a year called by Pope Francis to address how and whether Catholicism could adapt its teachings to the changing realities of modern family life. Traditionalists had taken a hard line against any openings, especially after last October’s meeting seemed to point toward possible reforms.

While the delegates made hundreds of suggestions on a host of issues, two took center stage, in part because they represented a barometer for the whole question of change: Could the church be more welcoming to gays, and was there a way divorced and remarried Catholics could receive Communion without an annulment?

Image via Alessandro Bianchi / REUTERS / RNS

The overriding interest in the global meeting of Roman Catholic bishops that finishes here on Oct. 25 has centered on whether the churchmen will actually do anything in the end — as in vote to make changes in church doctrines or policies — or leave well enough alone.

In reality, the gathering of 270 bishops from around the world, called a synod, has no authority to legislate doctrinal or other changes, and wasn’t expected to try anything that bold anyway.

Its real purpose — thanks to reforms instituted by Pope Francis — is to discuss issues openly and frankly, and to advise the pontiff about what they think the church ought to do about the challenges facing families today, or, as is likely the case for this divided synod, to kick the hard questions upstairs for him to decide.

Image via Max Rossi / REUTERS / RNS

The rows of seats in the synod hall, where Catholic bishops are meeting to discuss family issues, are filled with bishops and cardinals — all male. To find any women, look to the back of the room.

The women’s distance from the heart of the synod hall reflects fears raised by women’s groups that their participation is a mere token on the Vatican’s part.

There are 270 bishops and cardinals participating in the synod and voting on its outcome. A number of other participants, including lay couples and representatives from other churches, have been invited to give their opinions but will not be able to make decisions on the final text. That includes more than two dozen women who have been called to present their views.

Archbishop Mark Coleridge. Image via David Gibson / RNS

Barrels of ink, digital and real, have been spilled by journalists trying to convey the gravity of the high-stakes debate on church teaching in Rome this month, as the melodrama that a closed-door Vatican gathering of some 270 churchmen almost guarantees.

The synod, as it’s called, has it all: steady leaks to the press, rumors of lavish dinners and reports of intense lobbying, plus open disagreements over doctrine. It’s a steady diet of soap opera and theology, and almost too much for any reporter to keep up with.

Which is why, if you want to know what it’s like to be a player in such an event, and in the extracurricular socializing where much of the work is done, you have to read the blog of Australian Archbishop Mark Coleridge.

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Francis’ visit was said to have delighted around 30 homeless men hosted at the dormitory, who spoke to the pope, recounted their stories and asked to be blessed. The pontiff’s visit lasted around 20 minutes, Vatican Radio reported.

He was accompanied by his almoner (distributor of alms or charity), Archbishop Konrad Krajewski; the Jesuit superior general, the Rev. Adolfo Nicolas; and three nuns who work at the residence.

The “Gift of Mercy” (“Dono di Misericordia”) homeless shelter was inaugurated earlier this month and can host 34 people each night. The building, a former travel agency, was converted by Jesuits as a response to Francis’ call for more to be done to help poor people.

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Pope Francis on Oct. 14 asked forgiveness for a series of scandals that have befallen the Vatican and Rome.

Francis did not specify the scandalous events to which he was referring, although the departure of a gay cleric earlier this month may well have been on the pontiff’s mind.

“I ask you for forgiveness for the scandals that have occurred recently either in Rome or in the Vatican,” the pope said during his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square.

Archbishop Charles G. Palmer-Buckle of Accra. Image via Nancy Wiechec / Catholic News Service / RNS

Ghanaian Archbishop Charles Palmer-Buckle on Oct. 8 defended African bishops’ role in the Vatican’s meeting on family issues, stating they were not in Rome to block progress but to present their own views.

As bishops get to work discussing key issues affecting family life at the meeting, known as a synod, they have broken into small language-based groups. Palmer-Buckle was responding to a question at a press conference suggesting that African bishops were trying to stop “progress.”

“If someone thinks Africa is blocking something, it’s only proposing what we feel,” he told journalists at the Vatican.

“We’re not here to block anybody.”

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The most controversial proposal floated so far at the high-level, high-stakes Vatican summit on church teachings on the family had nothing to do with gays or divorce, but instead ordaining women — not as priests, but as deacons.

Still, even that suggestion — made by a Canadian archbishop on Oct. 6, near the start of the closely watched, three-week synod called by Pope Francis — was considered eye-popping.

That’s because if the trial balloon floated by Quebec Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher flies, it would represent a historic breakthrough for the Catholic Church, and Catholic women, by giving them access to the kinds of offices that only priests and bishops can hold.

Cathleen Falsani 10-07-2015

Image via Cathleen Falsani / Sojourners

“We do not remember days,” the Italian poet Cesare Pavese said, “we remember moments.”

Pavese’s words have come to mind often as I’ve thought about Pope Francis’ historic visit to the United States, particularly when people have asked me what the “best part” of covering the papal visit was for me.

My answer is always the same: hands down the best part was watching people see (and sometimes meet) Pope Francis in person for the first time.

Image via Max Rossi / REUTERS / RNS

The Vatican’s high-level meeting on the family continued Oct. 6, with bishops emphasizing the need for open discussion on divorced and remarried Catholics.

The 62 bishops who have so far spoken at the gathering, called a synod, appeared to push back strongly against remarks Monday by Hungary’s Cardinal Peter Erdo, who defended the church’s exclusion of divorced and remarried couples from receiving Communion unless they’ve been granted an annulment and remarried in the church.

Speaking to journalists on Tuesday, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, said there would be an open discussion on the topic.

“The synod has a wide vision … of the universal church,” Celli said.

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The Vatican is downplaying Pope Francis’ controversial meeting with Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk jailed for refusing to grant marriage licenses to gay couples, saying their encounter “should not be considered a form of support of her position.”

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, also said in a statement issued Oct. 2 that Davis was one of “several dozen” people Francis met at the Vatican Embassy in Washington on Sept. 24 as he prepared to leave for New York, the second-leg of his U.S. trip.

“Such brief greetings occur on all papal visits and are due to the pope’s characteristic kindness and availability,” the statement said. It added that the “only real audience granted by the pope” at the embassy that day “was with one of his former students and his family.”

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Fifty inmates from a Rome jail were given a private tour of the Vatican Museums on Sept. 13, setting the tone for Pope Francis’ visit to a U.S. prison later this month and emphasizing his concern for people on the margins.

The group from the Rebibbia prison visited the Vatican Gardens and St. Peter’s Basilica, before being given a private tour through the Vatican Museums by Museums Director Antonio Paolucci.

Once the inmates reached the Sistine Chapel, best known for its world-famous Michelangelo’s fresco, the Vatican allowed the prisoners to listen in to the pope’s midday Angelus prayer.

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Pope Francis on Sept. 2 told his followers to clamber down from their lofty skyscrapers, reclaim public spaces, and rejoin communities.

Speaking at his weekly public audience at the Vatican, the pope said it was up to families to rejuvenate cities.

There may be a lot of ways to spend one’s free time in a city, but love is missing, Francis said.

REUTERS / Alessandro Bianchi / RNS

Pope Francis leads the “Via Crucis” (Way of the Cross) procession, which commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, at the Colosseum in Rome on April 3, 2015. Photo via REUTERS / Alessandro Bianchi / RNS

Despite Luther being thrown out of the Catholic Church during his lifetime, the Vatican reacted positively to news of the square’s upcoming inauguration.

“It’s a decision taken by Rome city hall which is favorable to Catholics in that it’s in line with the path of dialogue started with the ecumenical council,” said the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, deputy director of the Vatican press office, referring to a gathering of churchmen to rule on faith matters.

Network / RNS

Sister Simone Campbell speaks during 2012 “Nuns on the Bus” tour. Photo via Network / RNS

Over the course of two weeks, starting on Sept. 10 in St. Louis, Campbell and nearly a dozen nuns will travel some 2,000 miles through seven states — Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia — that are marked by sharp political divides.

“The route is not to our base,” she said, contrasting this trip with previous ones that often stopped in cities and towns with communities receptive to the Catholic social justice message.

“We’re going to places where there are differences of opinion, to nourish conversations about the serious work of governance.”

Screenshot of the Patrum app. Image via RNS/iTunes

The free English-language Patrum app showcases a selection of works at the Vatican Museums, featuring everything from an Etruscan tomb to 13th-century Chinese scrolls. The brief descriptions are accompanied by other articles detailing daily life at the Vatican Museums. App users are invited to join the conversation through the comment and chat sections.

Art lovers can also tailor their own profiles by picking out their favorite works, allowing them to receive specific updates and chat with others who express interest in the same pieces. While there are other apps that serve as virtual tour guides to Vatican treasures, that is not Patrum’s intent — its layout does not correspond to the museums’ vast network of corridors.

Philip Chidell / Shutterstock.com

Pope Francis. Photo via Philip Chidell / Shutterstock.com

Speaking out on one of the most contentious issues of his papacy, Pope Francis on Aug. 5 issued a powerful call for the church to embrace Catholics who have divorced and remarried, telling a gathering at the Vatican that such couples “are not excommunicated, and they absolutely must not be treated that way!”

“The church is called to be always the open house of the Father … no closed doors! No closed doors!” Francis told the crowd at his weekly public audience, which resumed after a month-long summer break.

REUTERS / Wolfgang Rattay/ RNS

Photo via REUTERS / Wolfgang Rattay/ RNS

A German Catholic diocese wants to take episcopal responsibility to a new level by making its disgraced former “bishop of bling” responsible for the 3.9 million euros ($4.9 million) in losses incurred during the luxury makeover of his residence and office.

Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst earned the “bling” label in 2013 when aides revealed he had spent 31 million euros ($34 million) — over six times the original estimate — on the stately complex opposite the Romanesque cathedral in Limburg, north of Frankfurt.

The Vatican banished him from the diocese several months later and, subsequently, quietly reassigned him to a low-profile post in the Roman Curia. He seemed to be going the way of other failed bishops, such as the few punished in the clerical sexual abuse scandals by being removed from their dioceses

neneo / Shutterstock

Photo via neneo / Shutterstock

Growing conservative disaffection with Pope Francis appears to be taking a toll on his once teflon-grade popularity in the U.S., with a new Gallup poll showing the pontiff’s favorability rating among all Americans dropping to 59 percent from a 76 percent peak early last year.

Among conservatives the dropoff has been especially sharp: just 45 percent view Francis favorably today as opposed to 72 percent a year ago.

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