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.”

Philip Pullella 01-30-2015
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.

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.

Photo via neneo /

Photo via neneo /

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.

Katharine Lackey 01-05-2015
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.

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.

giulio napolitano /

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

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.

Margaret Benefiel 12-22-2014
Diego Cervo/

Diego Cervo/

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.

the Web Editors 12-19-2014

1. Hero mom calls into C-SPAN to berate her arguing pundit sons 
Whether or not your family expects heated political debate over the holidays, you''ll appreciate the way this mom quiets her sons.

2. 14 Women of Color Who Rocked 2014 
From the creators of #BlackLivesMatter to the founder of an organization focused on women with incarcerated loved ones, meet the women of color at the forefront of the fight for justice.

3. The Myth of Crying Rape
From Jim Wallis and Sandi Villarreal: "The reality is, these survivors are often re-victimized by a system that interrogates rather than advocates and then fails to deliver justice in a vast majority of cases ... Failure to recognize the sins of power and domination that influence the acts of violence against half of God’s creatures is simply bad theology."

4. Citing Health Risks, Cuomo Bans Fracking in New York State
A win for environmentalists that could set an important precedent.

Photo via Francis X. Rocca / RNS

The Clericus Cup, a competition between Roman Colleges, took place at the Vatican in 2007. Photo via Francis X. Rocca / RNS

Major sporting events could be held at the Vatican if Rome wins its bid to host the Summer Olympics in 2024.

Pope Francis, a keen soccer fan, is reported to be enthusiastic about the idea. He is expected to meet the head of Italy’s National Olympic Committee, Giovanni Malago, and other officials at the Vatican on Dec. 19 after a Mass to commemorate the committee’s 100th anniversary

Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, former head of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, said he believed Francis would back plans to hold events such as archery in the Vatican gardens.

He told the Florence daily La Nazione that events could also be staged at the pope’s summer palace at Castel Gandolfo outside Rome.

“It seems like a good idea, I think the pope will approve,” Saraiva Martins said.

Photo courtesy of Leadership Conference of Women Religious / RNS

Sister Sharon Holland, IHM, LCWR President-Elect. Photo courtesy of Leadership Conference of Women Religious / RNS

The moment was more “Kumbaya” than “Come to Jesus” on Dec. 16 as the Vatican released the much-anticipated results of an investigation of women’s religious communities in the U.S., the first of two controversial investigations of American nuns by the Roman Curia.

The 5,200-word report was largely positive, and participants at a Vatican news conference were even more effusive in their praise for each other, the process, the outcome, and prospects for future collaboration to meet serious challenges. That was a big change from how things started six years ago.

So what did we learn from this whole saga? Here are three takeaways:

1. Rome’s “War on Women” is over

“It is not a truce,” Sister Sharon Holland of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the main network of U.S. nuns, told reporters in Rome. “We are not at war.”

Elaina Ramsey 12-16-2014

Nuns listen during a Dec. 16 Vatican press conference of the final report. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The much anticipated final report of a Vatican-ordered investigation of U.S. nuns was released today without controversy. The report ends a process launched six years ago under Pope Benedict XVI through the leadership of Cardinal Franc Rodé, the former head of the Vatican office of religious life, who raised concerns of “secular mentality" and a "feminist spirit" among U.S. women religious communities. 

Photo via Adelle M. Banks / RNS

Rev. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life, left, leads a prayer in front of the Supreme Court. Photo via Adelle M. Banks / RNS

In the latest clash between the Catholic hierarchy and one of the church’s leading anti-abortion crusaders, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan accused the Rev. Frank Pavone of continuing to stonewall on financial reforms, and Dolan said he is cutting ties with his group, Priests for Life.

In a Nov. 20 letter to other U.S. bishops, Dolan said he did not know if the Vatican would now step in to take action against the New York-based priest, who for years has angered various bishops by rejecting oversight of the organization by church authorities and for refusing to sort out his group’s troubled finances.

“My requests of Father Pavone were clear and simple: one, that Priests for Life undergo a forensic audit; two, that a new, independent board be established to provide oversight and accountability,” Dolan wrote in the letter, which was first reported by Catholic World News.

“Although Father Pavone initially assured me of his support, he did not cooperate. Frequent requests that he do so went unheeded. I finally asked him to comply by October 1st. He did not,” Dolan wrote.

Dolan, who had been asked by the Vatican to help Pavone restructure Priests for Life, said in the letter that he has informed Rome that “I am unable to fulfill their mandate, and want nothing further to do with the organization.”

the Web Editors 12-12-2014

1. Read the Torture Report
While its 525 pages — and disturbing subject matter — may cause you to opt for the news coverage and analysis, you can actually read the entire Torture Report yourself — even before Melville House Books ensures it’s on the shelves your local bookstore. Download now.

2. WATCH: John McCain’s Floor Speech on Torture
In case you do need some context on the importance of releasing this report, watch this floor statement by Arizona Sen. McCain, quite an authority on the matter. “I know the use of torture compromises that which most distinguishes us from our enemies, our belief that all people, even captured enemies, possess basic human rights, which are protected by international conventions the U.S. not only joined, but for the most part authored.”

3. Two Years Since Newtown: WATCH This Father’s Story
Sunday marks the two-year anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in which 20 children and six faculty and staff were killed. Mark Barden, the father of Daniel, 7, who was killed in the tragedy, tells his powerful story in this video. 

4. What MSU Protesters Are Really Fighting For
With all of the “controversy” over the Rolling Stone UVA rape story, it might be tempting to think that college campus sexual assault — and the mishandling of cases by college administrators — is not quite on the epidemic scale the piece made it out to be. (Y’know, kind of like when it’s cold outside and people say, “So much for ‘global warming!’” *facepalm*) But it’s not just one person’s story, and it’s not just UVA. Check out this piece to see what’s happening on another college campus.  


Cardinal Seán O’Malley and fellow cardinals pose for a formal photo. Photo via G

Cardinal Seán O’Malley and fellow cardinals pose for a formal photo. Photo via George Martell / The Pilot Media Group / RNS.

The Vatican announced Dec. 11 that Pope Francis will name a new batch of cardinals in February, adding to the select group of churchmen who will someday gather to elect his successor.

Rome won’t reveal the names until next month, but could an American be among them?

There are a number of factors that will govern the choices, and thus the predictions:

First, there are 208 cardinals in the College of Cardinals, but at the age of 80 a cardinal is no longer allowed to vote in a conclave. That leaves 112 cardinals under the age of 80, as of now, though two more will age out in February and another two in March and April.

The customary ceiling on the number of electors today is 120 (it has changed many times over the centuries). That means that Francis could give a so-called red hat to 10 or 12 bishops.

The pope could also raise the ceiling, or ignore it, as Saint John Paul II often did during his long reign.

The Dalai Lama speaks to supporters in Berlin. Image courtesy vipflash/shutterst

The Dalai Lama speaks to supporters in Berlin. Image courtesy vipflash/

The Dalai Lama said Dec. 11 that he would not meet Pope Francis while in Rome for a summit of Nobel Peace Prize winners.

“The Vatican administration says it is not possible because it could cause problems,” the Dalai Lama said, hinting that the Vatican may be unwilling to irk China, a country with which it wants to engage and perhaps re-establish diplomatic relations.

But the Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, declined to say whether the pope had personally turned down a request for a meeting with the spiritual leader of the Tibetan Buddhists.

“Pope Francis obviously holds the Dalai Lama in very high regard, but he will not be meeting any of the Nobel laureates,” Lombardi told journalists.

Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy of Catholic News Service / RNS.

Pope Francis during the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy of Catholic News Service / RNS.

When Pope Francis this month wanted to highlight his appointment of several women to a blue-ribbon theological commission, he called the female theologians “strawberries on the cake.”


Two weeks earlier, when the pontiff gave a speech to the European Parliament, he used another lady-based analogy, this time underscoring the continent’s demographic decline and cultural crisis by comparing Europe to a grandmother who is “no longer fertile and vibrant.”


Yes, Francis is a veritable quote machine, tossing off-the-cuff bon mots that the public finds enormously appealing in large part because they are coming from a Roman pontiff — not an office known for its improv routines.

But when he speaks about women, Francis can sound a lot like the (almost) 78-year-old Argentine churchman that he is, using analogies that sound alternately condescending and impolitic, even if well-intentioned.

Jim Rice 12-08-2014
The Vatican has urged abolition of the world's 17,000 nuclear weapons. Image cou

The Vatican has urged abolition of the world's 17,000 nuclear weapons. Image courtesy Oleksiy Mark/

This week, at a conference in Vienna, Austria on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, Pope Francis issued a statement declaring that "nuclear deterrence cannot be the basis for peaceful coexistence between states."

A Vatican official told Sojourners in Vienna that the Holy See is seriously discussing whether the possession of nuclear weapons can be morally justified in our current multipolar world. The official quoted Pope John XXIII, who said "Nuclear weapons should be banned," and said that the time has come to embrace nuclear abolition.  

The Vatican statement, titled "Nuclear Disarmament: Time for Abolition," argued that "the structure of nuclear deterrence is less stable and more worrisome than at the height of the Cold War," and said that "the very possession of nuclear weapons, even for purposes of deterrence, is morally problematic."  

Since the beginning of the Cold War in the aftermath of World War II, the fundamental moral rationale for the possession of nuclear weapons has been the concept of deterrence. Simply put, the threat of massive annihilation rendered these weapons unusable — the very threat of such unacceptable destruction would, in theory, deter their use.  

The cover of The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope,” by A

The cover of The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope,” by Austen Ivereigh. Photo via Henry Holt / RNS.

Was there a secret plot to elect Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio at the papal conclave last year?

Did Bergoglio — who became Pope Francis at that conclave — give the go-ahead to such a plan?

And does that campaign call his election, and his papacy, into question?

Such questions might sound like plot twists to a new Vatican thriller by Dan Brown, but they are actually the latest talking points promoted by some Catholic conservatives upset with the direction that Francis is leading the church.

The furor stems from a behind-the-scenes account of the March 2013 conclave, presented in a new book about Francis titled “The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope.”

In the last chapter of the biography, which focuses on Bergoglio’s early life in Argentina and career as a Jesuit, author Austen Ivereigh delivers an insider account of how a group of cardinals who wanted a reformer pope quietly sought to rally support for Bergoglio in the days leading up to the conclave.

Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. Photo via Paul Haring / Catholic News Service / RNS.

Never mind that Turkey is overwhelmingly Muslim. The most enduring image of Pope Francis’ three-day visit to Turkey was the moment when he bowed his head and asked for the blessing of the leader of Eastern Orthodoxy, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.

Since his election last year, Francis and Bartholomew have forged a strong alliance culminating in their joint pledge in Istanbul on Nov. 30 to work to bridge a 1,000-year divide between their churches.

The task takes on new urgency as Christians — Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox — face a wave of violent persecution in Syria and Iraq.

The 77-year-old Argentinian pope represents 1.2 billion Roman Catholics and the Turkish-born Bartholomew leads about 250 million Eastern Orthodox Christians.