Pope Francis Throws the Weight of His Office Behind Tackling Climate Change

Photo via REUTERS / Alessandro Bianchi / RNS

Pope Francis waves in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on April 15, 2015. Photo via REUTERS / Alessandro Bianchi / RNS

The Vatican is set to host a major conference on climate change this month that will feature leading researchers on global warming and an opening address by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The meeting, which the Vatican detailed on its website late on April 14, is another sign of Pope Francis’ “green agenda” and another potential red flag for conservatives who are already alarmed over an expected papal teaching document on the environment that is scheduled for release this summer.

The one-day summit on April 28 will also include participants from major world religions and aims to “elevate the debate on the moral dimensions of protecting the environment in advance of the papal encyclical,” as the papal document is known.

Another goal, says a statement on a Vatican website, is to highlight “the intrinsic connection between respect for the environment and respect for people — especially the poor, the excluded, victims of human trafficking and modern slavery, children, and future generations.”

Cardinal Walter Kasper, ‘the Pope’s Theologian,’ Reveals the Brains Behind Francis’ Heart

Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Tony Gentile / RNS

Cardinal Walter Kasper. Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Tony Gentile / RNS

Pope Francis has repeatedly said he expects his papacy to be a brief one, but Cardinal Walter Kasper is working to ensure that the pontiff’s legacy endures long after this pope leaves the scene.

From the first days of his pontificate two years ago, Francis singled out Kasper for high praise; ever since, the retired German cardinal is frequently known as “the pope’s theologian.”

It’s a moniker the churchman shrugs off with a smile, yet it’s also a label he’s doing nothing to shake, especially in light of Kasper’s most recent book, published last month — a short work that basically describes Francis as a theologian in his own right whose pastoral approach is setting Catholicism on a new course.

The title of the book, from the U.S. Catholic publishing house Paulist Press, says it all: Pope Francis’ Revolution of Tenderness and Love.

But the title also sums up the two-pronged challenge for those, like Kasper, who hope that Francis’ papacy represents lasting change.

The ‘Pope Francis Effect?' Some Early Data Suggest It Could Be Real

Photo via REUTERS / Max Rossi / RNS

Pope Francis waves as he arrives to lead the general audience in St. Peter’s Square. Photo via REUTERS / Max Rossi / RNS

Pope Francis appears more popular than ever among American Catholics, and he hasn’t even visited the U.S. yet, a trip that is planned for September and could well boost his visibility — and appeal — even further.

But will Francis find American Catholics filling the pews? Or just loving the pope from afar? That’s one of the big — and so far unanswered — questions about his remarkable papacy.

Now, one researcher may have found some signs, albeit tentative, of an incipient “Francis effect.”

Mark Gray of Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate crunched the Catholic numbers from the 2014 General Social Survey, the go-to resource for sociologists. The GSS began in 1972 and is conducted every two years using face-to-face interviews with a national random sample of adults.

Gray noted that when asked to characterize the strength of their religious affiliation, 34 percent of Catholics said it was “strong,” up from 27 percent in 2012, the year before Francis was elected.

That 7-point rise was a “significant bounce,” Gray said.

Gay and Transgender Inmates Invited to Lunch with Pope Francis During Prison Visit

Photo via giulio napolitano /

Photo via giulio napolitano /

When Pope Francis pays a visit to Naples March 21 he will have lunch with some 90 inmates at a local prison, a contingent that will reportedly include 10 from a section reserved for gay and transgendered prisoners, and those infected with the virus that causes AIDS.

The stopover at the Giuseppe Salvia Detention Center in Poggioreale, near Naples, was originally not scheduled to include lunch, according to a report from Tv2000, an Italian television network operated by the country’s Catholic bishops.

But the pope insisted on the meal, which will be prepared by the prisoners, some of whom will come from two other detention centers. The 90 were chosen by lottery from among 1,900 inmates, according to the Vatican Insider website .

Among the many innovations Francis has made since his election two years ago this month has been a new tone and approach to gay and transgender people.

Vatican Drops Image of Bound Woman after Complaints

Photo via dade72 /

Detail of the Palace of the Vatican. Photo via dade72 /

Following complaints, the Vatican’s cultural office has removed an image of a naked female torso bound in ropes that was used to advertise a women’s conference.

The Pontifical Council for Culture had chosen a photograph of the 1936 “Venus Restored” sculpture, by the late American artist Man Ray, as befitting for its Feb. 4-7 conference titled “Women’s Cultures: Equality and Difference.”

But the choice of a sculpture bound in ropes to discuss women’s emancipation was deemed inappropriate in some quarters. The Pontifical Council’s president, Italian Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, initially defended the choice. Ravasi was seen as a contender going into the conclave that elected Pope Francis two years ago.

“Cardinal Ravasi has chosen not to remove the image as it speaks clearly for one of the central points of the document: many women, alas, are still struggling for freedom (bound with rope), their voices and intellect often unheard (headless), their actions unappreciated (limbless),” according to a statement that appeared alongside the controversial image.

Pope Francis: ‘All I Want Is to Go Out for a Pizza!’

Photo via Andrea Sabbadini / RNS

Pope Francis appears on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica on March 13, 2013 in Vatican City. Photo via Andrea Sabbadini / RNS

The “Pope of the Interview” strikes again: Pope Francis has given a lengthy — and fascinating — interview to a Mexican television station, which broadcast it on March 13 to mark the second anniversary of his election.

Speaking to the program “Noticieros Televisa,” Francis displays his usual candor, dishing details about the secret conclave that elected him, talking about how he senses his papacy will be short, how the church must get tough on sexual abuse, and how all he really wants “is to go out one day, without being recognized, and go to a pizzeria for a pizza.”

Here are some of the highlights based on Vatican Radio’s English translation and the original Spanish:

On whether he likes being pope:

“I do not mind!”

Vatican Knew about Theft of Michelangelo Letters, Refused Ransom Demand

Photo via Jacopino del Conte / Wikimedia Commons / RNS

Michelangelo portrait circa 1535 by Jacopino del Conte. Photo via Jacopino del Conte / Wikimedia Commons / RNS

The Vatican on March 9 said it has received a ransom demand to recover letters signed by Michelangelo, stolen from the Holy See nearly 20 years ago.

Two letters signed by Michelangelo, one written in its entirety by the Renaissance artist, were stolen from the Vatican’s Fabbrica di San Pietro archive in 1997.

The thefts were kept secret until Sunday, when the Italian daily Il Messaggero revealed that the documents had been put up for ransom.

Responding to the news on Monday, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said a nun had long since reported the theft.

“More recently Cardinal Comastri, the actual president (of the archive), received a proposal to recover, at a certain price, such documents,” Lombardi told Vatican Radio.

Two Years In, Pope Francis Faces Headwinds in Reforming the Vatican. Here’s How He Can Prevail

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.

Italy and Vatican On Guard after Threat from Islamic State

Photo via Jimmy Harris / Flickr / RNS

View down Via della Conciliazione to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Photo via Jimmy Harris / Flickr / RNS

The Italian government is on high alert after threats from the Islamic State called Italy “the nation signed with the blood of the cross.”

Italy is one of a handful of major Western counties that has not been victim of a large-scale terror assault since the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S.

Italian officials fear extremists could enter the country amid the growing tide of refugees arriving by boat from North Africa. About 500 extra troops have been stationed to guard symbolic targets in Rome and monitor the streets of the capital for suspicious activity.

The video threat, released with images of 21 Coptic Christians from Egypt who were beheaded this month, warned that Islamic State forces were “south of Rome,” in Libya. At its closest point, Libya is little more than 100 miles from the Italian islands of Sicily and Sardinia.

This comes four months after the Islamic State’s propaganda magazine Dabiq ran a cover photo of the militant group’s flag flying above the obelisk in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican with the headline: “The failed crusade.”

Cardinal O’Malley: The Catholic Sex Abuse Scandal Is Far from Over

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Irish abuse victim Marie Collins, left, looks at Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley. Photo via REUTERS / Alessandro Bianchi / RNS

The U.S. cardinal who heads the Vatican’s commission on sexual abuse of children by clergy warned his fellow Roman Catholic bishops on Feb. 16 not to behave as if the problem had passed.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston told a conference at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University that some prelates were still reluctant to deal with the problem openly.

“It would be perilous for us, as leaders of the Church, to consider that the scandal of clergy sexual abuse is for the most part a matter of history and not a pressing concern here and now,” said O’Malley, whose commission advises Pope Francis on how to root out the abuse that has shamed the Church.

“Its not a pleasant topic. It’s easier just to ignore it and hope it will go away (but) when we are defensive and secretive, the results are disastrous,” he said in his speech.