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.
On July 21 and 22, the Vatican hosts two conferences on human trafficking and climate change, bringing the mayors of major cities — including several in the U.S. — to Rome for the events. What do human trafficking and climate change have to do with each other? And what does Catholicism have to do with them? Let us explain.
Q: Why is the Vatican concerned with human trafficking and climate change?
A: If Pope Francis has two pet issues, they are human trafficking and climate change. Since the first year of his papacy he has spoken against human trafficking, calling it “a crime against humanity” and lamenting it as modern slavery. It’s an even bet that when the pope addresses the United Nations in late September he will hammer it as one of the crucial issues of our time. Ditto on climate change. In June, the pontiff published his encyclical — the highest teaching of the church — on climate change.
“Our home is being ruined and that hurts everyone, especially the poorest among us,” Francis said just before the publication of the encyclical.
The Vatican is calling on bishops globally to act on the pope’s groundbreaking environmental encyclical, Cardinal Peter Turkson said in an interview.
Last week, bishops’ conferences across the world were sent a message urging them to speak up about the message of the papal letter, which called for greater action on the environment, said Turkson, who is president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
The Vatican on June 30 released details of Pope Francis’ itinerary for his Sept. 22-27 U.S. visit, his first, and it shows how this “pope of the people” wants to avoid becoming a prisoner of the East Coast “power corridor” during his five days in Washington, New York, and Philadelphia.
For example, organizers have added visits to a Catholic Charities food program in downtown Washington, a Catholic school in Harlem that serves largely Latino immigrant children, and a prison in Philadelphia to meet with inmates and some of their families.
In an unprecedented move, the Vatican on June 15 announced its former ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Jozef Wesolowski, would stand trial on charges he paid for sex with children.
Wesolowski, 66, who had the title archbishop during his five-year post in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic capital, was recalled to the Vatican in 2013. He was later the first person to be arrested inside the Vatican on child abuse charges.
He also faces charges of possessing child pornography during his stay at the Holy See and ahead of his arrest in September 2014, the Vatican said in a statement.
People must change their lifestyles and attitudes to help defeat hunger, Pope Francis said June 11, a hint of what may be coming in his much-anticipated environmental encyclical next week.
“We must begin with our daily lives if we want to change lifestyles, aware that our small gestures can guarantee sustainability and the future of the human family,” said Francis, addressing delegates at a conference hosted by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.
Pope Francis has approved the first-ever system for judging, and possibly deposing, bishops who fail to protect children from abusive clerics, a major step in responding to Catholics who have been furious that guilty priests have been defrocked while bishops have largely escaped punishment.
The five-point plan on accountability for bishops originated with the special sex abuse commission that Francis set up to deal with the ongoing crisis, and after some modifications, his nine–member Council of Cardinals signed off on it and Francis gave his final blessing to it on June 10.
The Vatican has released a new Arabic-language guidebook, the first of its kind, which aims to bring the culture of the Catholic Church to a new audience.
Titled The Vatican, its Significance and its Monuments, the guidebook hit bookstores around the Holy See late last month and goes beyond sightseeing tips.
The book’s author, Edmond Farhat, said he was compelled to write the guide after a lengthy diplomatic career representing the Vatican across North Africa.
Pope Francis has decried the “filth” of online pornography and warned people against wasting time on their computers.
Speaking aboard the papal plane after his visit on June 6 to Bosnia-Herzegovina’s capital of Sarajevo, the pontiff took a two-pronged approach to modern technology.
“There are two different elements here: method and content,” he said, according to Vatican Radio.
“Regarding the method or way of doing things, there is one that is bad for the soul, and that is being too attached to the computer.”
Pope Francis on June 5 met Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, while outside in St. Peter’s Square anti-abortion protesters drew attention to one of the most controversial topics up for discussion between the two leaders.
The meeting centered around “issues of common interest” such as education and “social peace,” as a Vatican statement put it. But the most contentious topic in play was “the protection of human life,” a nod to the traditionally Catholic country’s strict abortion law, which Bachelet is trying to modify.
Earlier this year, the Chilean leader proposed changes to allow abortions in cases of rape or if a woman’s life was in danger.
A new report mapping the Catholic Church’s more than 1.2 billion souls — on track to reach 1.64 billion by 2050 — holds some surprises.
And not all bode well for the church’s future as it faces major demographic and social shifts.
“Global Catholicism: Trends & Forecasts,” released June 1 by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, looks at seven regions of the world. It wraps the United States, Mexico, and Canada in with Central and South America as simply the Americas.
Pope Francis wants to treat the children of Italian prisoners to a train ride within the Vatican walls, a gesture intended to draw Catholics’ attention to Jesus’ command to minister to prisoners and the poor.
On May 30, Vatican guards will open a great iron gate to the “Children’s Train,” which will travel along the city-state’s only branch line for an appointment with the pope.
The chosen passengers are the prisoners’ children from Rome, Latina, Bari, and Trani.
They will have a midday meeting with Francis and will be given colored kites.
The Vatican is dragging its media machine into the 21st century, promising to promote social media and streamline its fragmented services with the help of a former BBC executive.
Lord Christopher Patten, former chairman of the BBC Trust, on May 27 outlined reform plans nearly a year after being appointed chief of the pope’s media committee.
Addressing journalists at St. Patrick’s church in central London, Patten highlighted “wasteful” duplications of media services at the Vatican and said modernization was imperative.
More than 55,000 people have signed a petition calling for Cardinal George Pell to return to his native Australia and face a government commission on child sex abuse, after allegations that he tried to bribe the victim of a pedophile priest.
Addressed to Pope Francis, the Change.org petition calls for Pell — the Vatican’s financial chief and former archbishop of Sydney — to answer questions from Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
The controversial Vatican probe of American nuns that abruptly ended last month looked from the outside like a tense standoff between Rome and the U.S. sisters, punctuated by occasional public jousts that appeared to signal even tougher negotiations behind closed doors.
Not so, say the sisters, now freed to talk after both sides agreed to a month-long media blackout that ended May 15.
Those involved in the talks said that after a rocky start, the talks settled into a constructive dialogue that cleared up many misunderstandings that Vatican officials had about the sisters.
Caritas Internationalis, the global Catholic charitable organization, has elected Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle as its new president, just months after the up-and-coming prelate welcomed Pope Francis to the Philippines.
Tagle, sometimes dubbed “the Asian Francis,” was elected on May 14 by delegates attending Caritas’ general assembly in Rome. He is the first Asian president of the organization and takes over from Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, another Francis confidant, who served two terms as Caritas chief.
The Vatican’s decision to recognize Palestine as a sovereign state on May 13 angered Israeli officials.
The move comes four days before the first-ever canonization of two Palestinian nuns and it solidifies the standing of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is scheduled to meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Saturday.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon told The Times of Israel that the government is “disappointed by the decision. We believe that such a decision is not conducive to bringing the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.”
The Vatican announced it will recognize the state of Palestine in a treaty concluded May 13.
The treaty is awaiting formal approval and signing, but it is already being recognized as a major statement of support for a Palestian state in the historically contested region.
The pope has long signaled his support of a state. The language of the treaty, while not yet signed, has alarmed Israelis but invigorated the Palestinian case for statehood, The New York Times reports.
For the past year, the Vatican had informally referred to the country as “state of Palestine,” in its yearbook as well as in its program for Francis’ 2014 visit to the Holy Land.
Formal recognition of a Palestinian state by the Vatican, which has deep religious interests in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories that include Christian holy sites, lends a powerful signal of legitimacy to the efforts by the Palestinian Authority’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, to achieve statehood despite the long paralyzed Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Read more from The New York Times here.
The Rev. Martin Schlag is a trained economist as well as a Catholic moral theologian, and when he first read some of Pope Francis’ powerful critiques of the current free market system he had the same thought a lot of Americans did: “Just horrible.”
But at a meeting on May 11 at the Harvard Club, Schlag, an Austrian-born priest who teaches economics at an Opus Dei-run university in Rome, reassured a group of Catholics, many from the world of business and finance, that Francis’ views on capitalism aren’t actually as bad as he feared.
The Vatican’s semiofficial newspaper blasted a series of cartoons of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad as “blasphemous” but also condemned the “mad and bloodthirsty” extremists who opened fire at a Texas exhibit of the cartoons.
The front page article in L’Osservatore Romano likened the exhibit in Garland, Texas, to pouring “gasoline on the fire” of religious sensitivities and was critical of its sponsors, the American Freedom Defense Initiative, and professional provocateur Pamela Geller.