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Can Women Have It All? Pope Francis Says They Need 'Freedom to Choose'

Photo via Catholic News Service / RNS

Pope Francis greets auditors of the Synod on the Family. Photo via Catholic News Service / RNS

Whether women can, or should, “have it all” —  both work and family — has been one of the most contentious cultural debates of the modern age and one any secular or religious figure engages at his or her peril.

But Pope Francis is nothing if not intrepid, and on Feb. 7 he plunged in by arguing that the Catholic Church should help “guarantee the freedom of choice” for women to take up leading posts in the church and in public life while also maintaining their “irreplaceable role” as mothers at home.

In his remarks to the Vatican’s Council for Culture, which has been holding meetings on the role of women in modern life, Francis sought to carve out a “new paradigm” in the gender wars.

He said Western societies have left behind the old model of the “subordination” of women to men, though he said the “negative effects” of that tradition continue.

At the same time, he said, the world has moved beyond a model of “pure and simple parity, applied mechanically, of absolute equivalence” between men and women.

End of an Inquisition?

THE VATICAN REPORT on the three-year investigation of U.S. Catholic sisters landed softly in the national media in December, as major stories combined with Christmas to fill the news cycle. Good timing, if the intent was to bury it. But the story isn’t over.

Some years ago, two Vatican offices, under the leadership of Pope Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, launched separate investigations of U.S. women religious, first of the individual orders and later of their leaders’ membership organization.

Why? The general consensus seems to be that high-ranking conservative U.S. bishops were angry at sisters who had generally served as obedient poorly paid minions to do their bidding, but who now were infected with a certain “feminist” outlook on life.

A September 2008 conference on religious life, held at Massachusetts’ Stonehill College, gathered conservative voices critical of how U.S. sisters had “modernized” following the Second Vatican Council. Within a few months, a Vatican office (the “Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life”) announced it would survey every group of “active” (vs. contemplative) U.S. Catholic sisters.

In addition, in January 2009, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the church’s doctrinal watchdog, announced it would conduct a “doctrinal assessment” of the U.S. sisters’ major leadership organization, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious—claiming that LCWR diverged from church teaching on homosexuality, women’s ordination, and the centrality of Jesus in belief. The as-yet-unreported investigation of the 1,500-member LCWR entailed a review of publications and speakers’ texts and significant back-and-forth between LCWR and Vatican representatives.

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Some See Junipero Serra, Pope Francis’ Next American Saint, as Less Than Holy

Photo via Wikimedia Commons / RNS

Oil painting of Father Junípero Serra from the 1700s. Photo via Wikimedia Commons / RNS

When Pope Francis unexpectedly announced last month that he would canonize the Rev. Junipero Serra during his visit to the U.S. in September, he thrilled the many fans of the legendary 18th-century Spanish Franciscan who spread the Catholic faith across what is now California.

But the pontiff who has decried the “ideological colonization” of the developing world by the secular West is now facing criticism from those who say Serra — called “the Columbus of California” — abused Native Americans and pressured them to convert, aiding in the devastation of the indigenous culture on behalf of the Spanish crown.

“Serra was no saint to us,” Ron Andrade, executive director of the Los Angeles City/County Native American Indian Commission, told the Los Angeles Times.

Some of Serra’s sharpest critics say he was part of an imperial conquest that beat and enslaved Native Americans, raped their women, and destroyed their culture by forcing them to abandon their traditional language, diet, dress and other customs and rites.

Add in the diseases introduced by these Old World invaders, and the original indigenous population of perhaps 300,000 was decimated by as much as 90 percent.

“If (Serra) is elevated to sainthood,” Nicole Lim, the executive director of the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center in Santa Rosa, told The New York Times, “then (Serra) should be held responsible for the brutal and deadly treatment of native people.”

Vatican to Offer Haircuts, Shaves as well as Showers to Rome’s Homeless

Photo via Josephine McKenna / RNS

A homeless man sits in St. Peter’s square at the Vatican. Photo via Josephine McKenna / RNS

The Vatican will offer homeless people in Rome not only showers but also haircuts and shaves when new facilities open next month, the head of Pope Francis’ charity office said.

The Vatican announced last year that it would provide shower facilities in St Peter’s Square for homeless people.

Bishop Konrad Krajewski told the Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire on Jan. 29 that it would also offer haircuts and shaves when the services start on Feb. 16 in an area under the colonnade of the square.

Krajewski, whose official title is the pope’s almoner, said barbers and hairdressers would volunteer their services on Mondays, the day their shops are traditionally closed in Italy.

Oscar Romero Declared a Martyr as Vatican Inches Him Toward Sainthood

Photo of mural via Franco Folini / Flickr / RNS

Mural of slain Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero by Juana Alicia. Photo of mural via Franco Folini / Flickr / RNS

Archbishop Oscar Romero, the hero of the Catholic left who was assassinated in 1980 while celebrating Mass in El Salvador, is inching one step closer to sainthood after his case languished in bureaucratic limbo for decades.

According to the Italian Catholic bishops daily, Avvenire, a panel of theologians at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints has ruled unanimously that Romero should be considered a martyr, or murdered “in odium fidei” (Latin for “hatred of faith”).

The paper reported the ruling was made on Jan. 7. The move is considered a decisive step on Romero’s path to sainthood.

Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador, was shot dead by right-wing death squads while celebrating Mass in March 1980. His murder came a day after he delivered a homily calling for soldiers to lay down their guns and end government repression in the country’s bloody civil war.

Want to See Pope Francis’ Vision for the Church? Look at His New Cardinals

Photo via neneo / Shutterstock.com

Photo via neneo / Shutterstock.com

Pope Francis reinforced his radical reshaping of the Catholic Church by naming 20 new cardinals from countries as far afield as Ethiopia, Tonga, Thailand, and Panama.

The clerics – who come from 18 different countries – include 15 who are eligible to vote for the pope’s successor in a future conclave, and five retired bishops and archbishops “distinguished for their pastoral charity” who are over age 80 and ineligible to select the next pontiff.

Dissatisfied with the slow pace of change in Rome, Francis’ appointments reflect his desire for “pastors on the front line of difficult situations,” one Vatican observer said, who can bring a new perspective from the often overlooked outposts of global Christianity.

The Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the choices showed the pope’s most important criteria was “universality,” and indicated he was not “chained to tradition” as he moves the balance of power at the highest levels of the church closer to the developing world.

It is the first time ever that cardinals have been selected from Tonga, Myanmar, and Cape Verde to become “princes of the church.” There are only five Europeans included among the 15 new electors – two from Italy and three others from Corsica, Spain, and Portugal. The United States was shut out for the second time in a row.

Pope Francis Names New Cardinals From Around the Globe, None From U.S.

Photo via Andrea Sabbadini / RNS

Photo via Andrea Sabbadini / RNS

Pope Francis nominated 15 new cardinals Jan. 4 from 14 different nations but leaving several leading U.S. archbishops off the list.

Speaking to a crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square, the pontiff named each cardinal, noting they came from every continent and “show the indelible tie with the church of Rome to churches in the world.”  At least three are from nations that have never had a church member in the role.

Five of the cardinals come from Europe, three from Asia, three from Latin America, and two each from Africa and Oceania. 

The nations of Cape Verde, Tonga, and Myanmar received their first cardinals ever, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi said in a statement.

Would-Be Papal Assassin Mehmet Ali Agca Expelled From Italy

A scan of a negative of Pope John Paul II meeting his would-be assassin, Mehmet

A scan of a negative of Pope John Paul II meeting his would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca. Image via RNS.

Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turkish man who tried to assassinate St. John Paul II in 1981, was expelled from Italy on December 29 after paying a visit to the tomb of the Polish pontiff.

An Italian judge on Monday approved the expulsion of the former terrorist — he was scheduled to be sent back to Istanbul on a Turkish Airlines flight from Rome Monday night, police sources told the Italian news agency, ANSA.

Agca’s expulsion came two days after he placed flowers on the late pope’s tomb in St. Peter’s Basilica on Saturday.

Agca, 56, served 19 years for his crime in Italy, where John Paul famously visited him in prison. He was then deported to his native Turkey, where he served further time for the murder of left-wing journalist Abdi Ipekci, who was killed in 1979.

Pope Blasts Vatican Administration, Accuses Some of Spiritual ‘Alzheimer’s’

giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com

Pope Francis greets his general audience on Sept. 10. giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis launched a blistering attack on the Vatican bureaucracy on Monday, outlining a “catalog of illnesses” that plague the church’s central administration, including “spiritual Alzheimer’s” and gossipy cliques.

The pope’s traditional Christmas greeting to the cardinals, bishops and priests who run the Holy See was more “Bah! Humbug!” than holiday cheer as he ticked off a laundry list of “ailments of the Curia” that he wants to cure.

In a critique that left many of the assembled clerics clearly uncomfortable, the 15 ailments in Francis’ “catalog of illnesses” reflected the take-no-prisoners approach he promised when he was elected nearly two years ago as an outsider with little direct experience in Rome.

“The Curia is called upon to improve itself, always improve itself and grow in communion, holiness and knowledge to fully realize its mission,” the pope said.

“Yet like every body, like every human body, it is exposed to illnesses, malfunctioning, infirmity. They are illnesses and temptations that weaken our service to God.”

In a separate address to Vatican staff later, Francis begged pardon for the “shortcomings” of senior church leaders, as well as the “several scandals” that had “caused so much harm,” without specifying which scandals he had in mind.

American Nuns: Grounded Leadership in Conflict

Diego Cervo/ Shutterstock.com

Diego Cervo/ Shutterstock.com

Last week the Vatican released the final report on its unprecedented investigation of Roman Catholic sisters in the United States. Six years ago, when the Vatican announced the apostolic visitation (its formal name), many of the sisters whom the investigation affected responded with hurt and anger. Now, thanks largely to competent, spiritually grounded leadership on the part of American sisters, the spirit is conciliatory.

When the Vatican launched the investigation in 2008, under Pope Benedict, to “look into the quality of life of religious women in the United States,” the announcement was met with suspicion and apprehension. Since the Vatican had previously only ordered an apostolic visitation when a group had gone astray, sisters wondered what the Vatican wanted to investigate and why. Some congregations reported that their elder sisters felt that their whole lives had been judged and found wanting," remembers Sr. Sharon Holland, president of the Leadership Council of Women Religious, which represents about 80 percent of the 57,000 nuns in the U. S. When Sr. Sandra Schneiders, professor emerita of New Testament and spirituality at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, Calif., learned of the visitation, she warned sisters to be cautious, treating the visitors as “uninvited guests who should be received in the parlor, not given the run of the house.”

In a situation that could have escalated badly, American sisters rose to the occasion.

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