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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Following up on remarks to “60 Minutes” about the clergy sex abuse crisis and other controversial topics, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley has stressed that the Catholic Church needs a system to hold bishops accountable and must “avoid crowd-based condemnations.”
“We are all aware that Catholics want their leaders to be held accountable for the safety of children, but the accountability has been sporadic,” O’Malley wrote in a column posted Nov. 19 at the website of the archdiocesan newspaper. “We need clear protocols that will replace the improvisation and inertia that has often been the response in these matters.”
“Bishops also deserve due process that allows them to have an opportunity for a fair hearing,” he added.
O’Malley’s column was responding to both praise and criticism of his CBS interview broadcast Nov. 16 in which he said the Vatican needs to respond “urgently” to cases like that of Missouri Bishop Robert Finn, who remains in office despite a conviction in 2012 for failure to report concerns about a priest, the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, who was later convicted of federal child pornography charges.
The cardinal said Francis, who recently sent a Canadian archbishop to Finn’s diocese to investigate, was personally aware of the situation.
In the “60 Minutes” interview, O’Malley also called the Vatican’s investigation of American nuns a “disaster” and said if he were starting a church “I’d love to have women priests,” but he added that’s not what Jesus did. Both comments sparked strong reactions.
Prominent U.S. evangelicals Russell Moore and Rick Warren blasted the sexual revolution at a Vatican conference Nov. 18 and said it is destroying the institution of marriage.
Moore, the public face of the Southern Baptist Convention, said sexual liberation had created “a culture obsessed with sex” that had simply led to a “boredom of sex shorn of mystery.”
“Western culture now celebrates casual sexuality, cohabitation, no-fault divorce, family redefinition and abortion right as part of a sexual revolution that can tear down old patriarchal systems,” Moore told a global gathering of leaders from Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and other faiths as part of the “Complementarity of Man and Woman” conference convened by Pope Francis.
The Southern Baptist ethicist said the sexual revolution appeared to have imposed a new patriarchy that enabled men to “pursue a Darwinian fantasy of the predatory alpha male” for the pursuit of “power, prestige, and personal pleasure.”
“Does anyone really believe these things will empower women and children?” he asked. “We see the wreckage of sexuality as self-expression all around us, and we will see more yet.”
In his latest bid to ease the suffering of the poor — and upend the expectations of the papacy — Pope Francis plans to build showers for the homeless under the sweeping white colonnade of St. Peter’s Square.
Three showers are to be built into refurbished public restrooms provided for Catholic pilgrims along the marble columns leading into the historic basilica, which was completed in 1626.
The Vatican’s deputy spokesman, the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, said Nov. 13 that the project was a joint initiative of the pope and Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner who distributes charity on the pope’s behalf. Construction is due to begin Nov. 17.
It’s an unconventional move, even for a pope who constantly preaches that more should be done to help the poor. It also could rankle traditionalists as the homeless line up to wash beneath the extravagant apostolic apartments that Francis shunned after his election.
“I think it’s a good thing,” said Adrian Sztrajt, a 27-year-old homeless man from the Polish city of Chelm. “I would like to go for showers there.”
Sztrajt and his companion Grzegorz Bialas, also from Poland, sleep with half a dozen others under the porticoes in front of the Vatican press office beside St. Peter’s Square.
Bialas said he’s a fan of the pope but thinks the showers are “a bad idea” since they could attract hundreds of homeless to the Vatican. He also said it was possible for the homeless to get a shower elsewhere in Rome.
The nation’s Catholic bishops are jumping into the increasingly contentious battle over immigration reform by backing President Obama’s pledge to act on his own to fix what one bishop called “this broken and immoral system” before Republicans assume control of Capitol Hill in January.
In an unscheduled address Nov. 11 at the hierarchy’s annual meeting, Seattle Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, chairman of the migration committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the USCCB would continue to work with both parties to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
But, Elizondo said, given the urgency of the immigration crisis and the electoral gains by Republicans who have thwarted earlier reform efforts, “it would be derelict not to support administrative actions … which would provide immigrants and their families legal protection.”
“We are not guided by the latest headlines but by the human tragedies that we see every day in our parishes and programs, where families are torn apart by enforcement actions especially,” he said.
During the summer, the president was moving toward unilateral action on immigration, despite warnings that such moves could exceed his constitutional authority or would turn voters against reform.
Then in early September, Obama said he would delay acting on his own, a move that was seen as a way to protect vulnerable Democrats from any backlash in midterm elections. On Sunday, Obama told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that he was now “going to do what I can do through executive action.”
“It’s not going to be everything that needs to get done. And it will take time to put that in place,” he said.
Pope Francis on Nov. 11 created a new Vatican body to deal with the most serious cases of child sexual abuse and to streamline complaints against the clergy.
The Vatican said the pope would nominate seven cardinals or bishops to consider appeals from clergy accused of abusing minors in a bid to speed up the judicial process of clergy who have received an initial assessment by local bishops.
The members of the panel, or “college,” may come from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which currently handles cases, or elsewhere in the church. Members will also be asked to deal with serious abuses of penance in the confessional.
The Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, called the pope’s proposal a “good solution” to help alleviate a backlog of cases.
Bishops accused of sexually abusing minors will still have their appeals handled by a session of CDF members at their monthly meetings.
“This is a good sign Francis is giving: He is basically saying that the CDF remains competent, and gives them an extra instrument to promptly deal with a specific type of appeals against decisions, namely recourses against administrative decrees,” said Kurt Martens, a canon law expert at Catholic University in Washington.
The immediate changes were outlined in a papal rescript, or “Rescriptum,” signed by the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and printed in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s official newspaper.
The pope has adopted a hard line on clerical sex abuse and at times asked for forgiveness while lambasting church leaders more than once for protecting abusers.
With a controversial Vatican summit on family life just concluded and a papal visit to the U.S. expected in less than a year, the nation’s Catholic bishops on Nov. 10 began taking steps to adapt their agenda to the priorities Pope Francis set out — an emphasis on social justice and on creating a more welcoming church.
That change in focus has unsettled a number of American bishops who have been used to a hierarchy oriented more toward hot-button culture war issues like fighting abortion, gay marriage and the Obama administration’s contraception mandate.
The new shift was underscored by last month’s summit, called a synod, where many churchmen used unusually positive language in referring to gay people and cohabiting couples and others who do not always follow church teachings on family life.
In addition, the announcement Nov. 8 that Francis moved U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke, a vocal conservative and critic of the pope’s approach, out of his curial post, combined with the pope’s surprise choice of low-profile prelate Blase Cupich as archbishop of Chicago have upended long-standing assumptions about how the church operates.
The bishops “still haven’t fully processed what’s taking place right now,” said Rocco Palmo, who runs a popular Catholic website, Whispers in the Loggia.
In demoting American Cardinal Raymond Burke from his powerful perch at the Vatican, Pope Francis has sidelined an outspoken conservative agitator – for now.
The pope moved the feisty former archbishop of St. Louis from his role as head of the Vatican’s highest court to the largely ceremonial position of patron of the Knights of Malta on Nov. 8.
Francis has effectively exiled one of his loudest critics, but Burke’s supporters – and his opponents – warn that his position at the Catholic charity may actually give him more freedom to exercise greater influence and even rally opposition to papal reforms.
In other words, the stunning demotion may remake Burke into St. Raymond the Martyr, the patron saint of Catholic conservatives.
“His position as patron of the Knights of Malta is Rome-based and mostly ceremonial,” wrote Edward Pentin for the conservative National Catholic Register.
“He is nevertheless likely to continue and perhaps even step up his defense of the Church’s teaching in the face of continued efforts to radically alter pastoral practice in the run-up to next year’s second synod on the family.”
Burke is well-known for his uncompromising stance on abortion, homosexuality and the sanctity of marriage, and his passion for doctrine is matched only by his passion for the elegant finery of his office.
Pope Francis raised the prospect of no-cost marriage annulments on Nov. 5 after revealing he had dismissed a church official for selling annulments for thousands of dollars, which he called a “public scandal.”
The pontiff made the shocking disclosure as he was addressing canon lawyers at the Vatican for a course on marriage dissolution conducted by the Roman Rota, the church’s highest court.
“We have to be careful that the procedure does not become some kind of business,” the pope said. “There have been public scandals.”
“I had to dismiss a person from a tribunal some time ago who said: ‘Give me $10,000 and I’ll take care of both the civil and ecclesiastical procedures.’ Please, not this!”
Francis did not provide any more details about where or when the sacking occurred. He stressed the need for the church’s annulment procedures to be easier, faster and cheaper. He even suggested fees could be waived.
“When you attach economic interests to spiritual interests, it is not about God,” he said.
Many conservative Catholics have long viewed Pope Francis with suspicion thanks to his effort to shift the church’s focus away from a culture war agenda and toward a more welcoming approach and a greater emphasis on serving the poor.
But last month’s controversial Vatican summit on the modern family, with the push by Francis and his allies to translate that inclusive view into concrete policies on gays and divorced and remarried Catholics, for example, seems to have marked a tipping point, with some on the right raising the specter of a schism — a formal split that is viewed as the “nuclear option” for dissenters.
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, a Catholic and a conservative, crystallized the peril in an Oct. 25 column warning the pope not to “break the church” to promote his goals, saying that if Francis continues to alienate conservative Catholics it could lead to “a real schism.”
Douthat had raised the possibility of “an outright schism” earlier this year, as well, and his warnings have been echoed by a number of other church leaders and commentators. The anxiety on the right has also drawn increasing media speculation about the possibility of conservatives splintering off.
So is a schism, with its echoes of medieval debates and heretics burning at the stake, a realistic possibility? And can an independent Catholic church be successful in the modern world?
American Cardinal Raymond Burke, the feisty former archbishop of St. Louis who has emerged as the face of the opposition to Pope Francis’ reformist agenda, likened the Roman Catholic Church to “a ship without a rudder” in a fresh attack on the pope’s leadership.
In an interview with the Spanish Catholic weekly Vida Nueva, published Oct. 30, Burke insisted he was not speaking out against the pope personally but raising concern about his leadership.
“Many have expressed their concerns to me. At this very critical moment, there is a strong sense that the church is like a ship without a rudder,” Burke said.
“Now, it is more important than ever to examine our faith, have a healthy spiritual leader and give powerful witness to the faith.”
Burke is the current head of the Vatican’s highest court known as the Apostolic Signatura, but he said recently he is about to be demoted. There is speculation he will be made patron of the Order of Malta, a largely ceremonial post.
“I have all the respect for the Petrine ministry and I do not want to seem like I am speaking out against the pope,” he said in the interview. “I would like to be a master of the faith, with all my weaknesses, telling a truth that many currently perceive.”
“They are feeling a bit seasick because they feel the church’s ship has lost its way,” he added.
They say you can feast like a king, and now you can eat like a pope after a young chef from the Vatican’s Swiss Guards published a cookbook featuring the favorite recipes of Pope Francis and his predecessors.
David Geisser, 24, who joined the elite Vatican security corps only a month ago, released his book, titled “Buon Appetito,” in Rome on Oct. 21.
The cookbook includes recipes for Francis’ favorite dishes, such as empanadas; roast sirloin, known as “colita de cuadril”; and “dulce de leche,” a milk-based Argentinian dessert that began appearing on Vatican dining tables when the archbishop of Buenos Aires was elected pope last year.
But it also features one of St. John Paul II’s favorite dishes, Polish pierogi, or stuffed dumplings, and Bavarian delicacies favored by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
Pope Francis and senior Catholic leaders wrapped up their two-week Vatican summit on the challenges of modern family life on Oct. 19 without reaching a consensus on a number of hot-button topics. So where does that leave Francis’ papacy? And the church?
Here are seven takeaways:
1. Hard-liners won the battle
A midpoint status report on the debate among some 190 cardinals and bishops was described as a “pastoral earthquake” because of its unprecedented (for Catholic churchmen) language of welcome of and appreciation for gay people, as well as divorced-and-remarried Catholics and cohabiting couples.
The media tsunami over that apparent breakthrough panicked conservatives, who waged an intense public and private campaign to make sure none of that language — apparently favored by Francis himself — made it into the synod’s final report. They succeeded, and even the few watered-down paragraphs on gays and remarried Catholics did not reach the two-thirds threshold needed for formal passage.
Hard-liners claimed victory, and headlines spoke of Vatican “backtrack” and a “resounding defeat” for Francis that left his papacy “weakened.”
The tug-of-war at the Vatican over calls for the Catholic Church to be more open to gays and cohabiting couples intensified Oct. 16 as conservative bishops sought to rein in or renounce draft language they feared might condone lifestyles not in accord with church teachings.
The lobbying at the two-week summit of church leaders — a synod on family life that is set to wrap up Saturday with a final report — was epitomized by the retranslation of a headline from “welcoming homosexual persons” to “providing for homosexual persons.”
In the text, the line “Are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities?” was changed to, “Are we capable of providing for these people, guaranteeing … them … a place of fellowship in our communities?”
The change in the English version was not made in the Italian original, where the term “accogliere,” which means “to welcome,” was kept.
The Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the first document was only a “transitory text” and suggested there were errors in translation.
As he wraps up a Vatican meeting marked by sharp debates over sex and morality, Pope Francis on Oct. 19 will honor one of his most controversial predecessors by beatifying Pope Paul VI, who is most famous for reaffirming the Catholic Church’s ban on artificial contraception.
Beatification puts Paul one step shy of formal sainthood. The move might seem out of step with Francis’ pastoral approach given that Paul’s birth control ruling, in the 1968 encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” set the stage for the culture wars that overtook Catholicism after Paul died in 1978.
A wide swath of Catholics, especially in the U.S. and Europe, were furious over Paul’s decision. They were convinced that the ban would be lifted and that Paul was shutting down the reforms that had begun a few years earlier with momentous changes adopted by the Second Vatican Council.
Many conservatives, on the other hand, hailed “Humanae Vitae” for reasserting traditional doctrine, and the division foreshadowed the deep splits that have played out even in this month’s high-level synod in Rome — a polarization that Francis says he wants to overcome.
Yet Francis is trying to accomplish that goal by focusing not so much on “Humanae Vitae” but on Paul VI’s many other groundbreaking, though often overlooked, contributions: