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Pope Paul VI Is Almost a Saint: Here Are 4 of His Biggest Legacies

Pope Paul VI, date unknown. Photo via RNS.

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:

Conscience vs. Authority at Pope Francis’ Synod on the Family

The Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy of Catholic News Service/RNS.

A midpoint report from this month’s Synod of Bishops reveals that Catholic leaders are considering more conciliatory language toward gays and lesbians, divorced and remarried Catholics, and couples who live together before getting married.

Meeting with nearly 200 senior prelates and several dozen lay experts and observers at the Vatican, Pope Francis has deliberately engineered a lively discussion of issues concerning marriage and family life. This assembly, and a follow-up summit in 2015, will help shape the pontiff’s legacy.

Reporters and commentators are producing a flurry of analysis mostly centered on the question of whether the synod portends a change in substance or merely a change in tone. Such is the abiding question of Francis’ papacy.

Yet through these lively debates in Catholic life runs a theme that is as old as the Reformation: the role of individual conscience.

Vatican Shifts to Tone of Greater Openness Toward Gays and Lesbians

The dome of the palace of the Vatican. Photo via dade72/shutterstock.

The world’s Catholic bishops on Oct. 13 signaled a move toward greater tolerance of gays and lesbians, an about-face so unexpected that leaders of the church’s right wing called it a “betrayal.”

Noting that gays and lesbians have “gifts and qualities” to offer the church, the mid-point assessment reflected the impact that Pope Francis seems to be having on the two-week Synod on the Family as he pushes for a more open, less doctrinaire approach.

“Are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing them a fraternal space in our communities?” said the communique from the nearly 200 bishops and lay delegates. “Often they wish to encounter a church that offers them a welcoming home.

“Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?”

Conference Explores Whether the 'Shroud of Turin' Could Be the Burial Cloth of Jesus

The 14-foot-long stretch of cloth that could be Jesus’ burial shroud. Photo courtesy of St. Louis Shroud Conference 2014/RNS.

A 14-foot-long stretch of cloth mysteriously imprinted with a faint, brownish image of a naked man and wounds that mirror those of a crucifixion has inspired decades of debate over whether it could be Jesus’ burial shroud.

This weekend, that debate will take center stage in St. Louis.

Forty experts, scientists and enthusiasts are introducing the latest research surrounding the so-called burial cloth of Jesus at an international four-day conference, opening Oct. 9.

Russ Breault, who first became interested in the Shroud of Turin when he wrote about it for his college paper, will deliver the opening talk that will focus on how the pattern of wounds seen on the shroud — markings consistent with a crown of thorns, a pierced wrist and what appear to be blood stains — correlate with what the Gospels say happened to Jesus.

For Breault, the question — “Could this be the burial cloth of Jesus?” — is one worthy of rigorous pursuit.

Will Pope Francis Win the Nobel Peace Prize?

Pope Francis during a homily he delivered in Sibari, Italy, on June 21, 2014. Creative Commons image by Christoph Wagener/RNS.

Pope Francis is tipped to win this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, according to some of the world’s leading bookmakers.

The Argentinian pope is currently the 5-2 favorite to win the award, which will be announced by the Nobel Institute in Oslo, Norway, on Oct. 10, according to British bookmaker William Hill. Irish bookmaker Paddy Power also considers him a leading contender.

The pontiff’s odds have fallen from 11-4 in a sign of his worldwide popularity.

“When the odds get shorter, that’s when you sit up and pay attention,” said Jon Ivan-Duke, spokesman for William Hill. “Maybe there’s some divine inspiration at work.”

Nevertheless, Francis is facing stiff competition from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

Pope Francis Wanted Open Debate. With Clashing Cardinals, He’s Got It

Cardinal Walter Kasper (Left) and Cardinal Raymond Burke. Photos via Trace Murphy and David Gibson/RNS.

Leading up to a Vatican summit on family life that Pope Francis opens on Oct. 5, high-ranking churchmen have fiercely debated church teaching — and criticized each other — in sharp exchanges that offer a ringside seat to the kind of battles that Rome used to keep under wraps.

But amid all this verbal sparring, the opposing camps have found one point of consensus: Airing their differences is good for the Roman Catholic Church.

“Everybody is free to express his opinion. That is not a problem for me,” Cardinal Walter Kasper, a German theologian who has emerged as the point man for the reformists, said in an interview published Sept. 29 in America magazine.

“The pope wanted an open debate, and I think that is something new because up to now often there was not such an open debate. I think that’s healthy and it helps the church very much.”

A day later, Cardinal Raymond Burke, an American who heads the Vatican’s highest court and a vocal exponent of the conservative camp opposing Kasper, spoke to reporters to toss back a few barbs. But he, too, praised the frankness of the exchanges.

US Cardinal Raymond Burke Mounts Defense on Catholic Teaching on Divorce

Cardinal Raymond Burke, former archbishop of St. Louis, has been an influential player in Rome. Photo via David Gibson/RNS.

Public disagreements over whether the Roman Catholic Church can change its teachings on Communion for remarried Catholics are growing sharper on the eve of a major Vatican summit, with conservatives led by U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke making another push against loosening the rules.

In a conference call with reporters on Sept. 30, Burke, who currently heads the Vatican’s high court, singled out the leading proponent of reforms, German Cardinal Walter Kasper, and his claims that critics of his proposals are really attacking Pope Francis.

Kasper has said that the pope supports his efforts to find ways to fully reintegrate divorced and remarried Catholics into church life. The proposals have become a prime focus of the upcoming Vatican meeting, called a synod, which will convene on Oct. 5 for two weeks to consider changes in family life in the modern world.

“I find it amazing that the cardinal claims to speak for the pope,” said Burke, the former archbishop of St. Louis, speaking from Rome. “The pope doesn’t have laryngitis. The pope is not mute. He can speak for himself. If this is what he wants, he will say so.”

Pope Francis Orders Accused Envoy Jozef Wesolowski Put Under House Arrest

Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski during a 2011 ceremony in Santo Domingo. Photo via Orlando Barria/CNS/RNS.

Pope Francis had ordered the arrest of a former Polish archbishop accused of child sex abuse in the Dominican Republic because the case was “so serious,” the Vatican said Sept. 23.

Jozef Wesolowski, who was defrocked by a Vatican tribunal earlier this year, is under house arrest inside Vatican City due to the “express desire” of Pope Francis, the Vatican said in a statement.

“The seriousness of the allegations has prompted the official investigation to impose a restrictive measure that … consists of house arrest, with its related limitations, in a location within the Vatican City State,” the Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said.

Wesolowski was removed from his position in the Dominican Republic and recalled to the Vatican in August 2013 amid claims that he had abused boys in Santo Domingo.

The former archbishop is awaiting trial on criminal charges at the Vatican and could eventually face charges in the Dominican Republic and in his native Poland.

Chicago Meets Its New Archbishop as the ‘Pope Francis Effect’ Sets In

Bishop Blase Cupich during an evening community meeting at Gonzaga University. Photo courtesy of Fast 4 Families via Flickr/RNS.

When Spokane Bishop Blase Cupich got a call 10 days ago with the news that Pope Francis had chosen him to be the next archbishop of Chicago — the pontiff’s most important U.S. appointment to date — he was so taken aback that he couldn’t speak for a few moments.

“To say that I was surprised doesn’t come close to the word I would use,” Cupich said Sept. 20 at a news conference in Chicago introducing him as the successor to Cardinal Francis George, who is 77 and battling cancer.

Asked by reporters how long it took for the reality of his appointment to sink in, Cupich smiled and said, “It’s still sinking in.”

A lot of other Catholics are trying to absorb the news as well, just as surprised that Francis picked the 65-year-old Cupich, who had been considered a long shot by many Vatican handicappers. They were also pleased, or concerned, that the pope had evidently chosen a bishop who shared his own emphasis on listening to the flock and caring for the poor.

“I think that he” — Francis — “sent a pastor, not a message,” Cupich told reporters.

Vatican: Pope Francis Not Under Threat from Islamic State Militants

Pope Francis is scheduled to travel to Tirana, Albania. Creative Commons image by Catholic Church England and Wales/RNS.

Pope Francis faces no specific threat from Islamic State militants and will not be adding extra security measures on his one-day trip to Albania next week, the Vatican said Sept 15.

The Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said despite recent “worrying” events that had shocked the world, there was no specific threat to the 77-year-old pontiff as he prepared for his official visit to the majority Muslim country on Sept. 21.

Lombardi said Francis would use the same open-topped vehicle he uses to greet crowds in St. Peter’s Square when he travels to the Albanian capital, Tirana.

“There is no reason to change the pope’s itinerary,” Lombardi said. “We are obviously paying attention but there is no need for concern or a change to his program in Albania.”

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