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US Must 'Destroy' Islamic State, Say Religious Conservatives

Robert P. George, chairman of U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Religion News Service photo by Lauren Markoe.

A coalition of more than 50 religious leaders, led by mostly conservative Catholic, evangelical, and Jewish activists, is calling on President Obama to sharply escalate military action against Islamic extremists in Iraq. They say “nothing short of the destruction” of the Islamic State can protect Christians and religious minorities now being subjected to “a campaign of genocide.”

“We represent various religious traditions and shades of belief,” the petition reads. “None of us glorifies war or underestimates the risks entailed by the use of military force.”

But they say the situation is so dire that relief for these religious communities “cannot be achieved apart from the use of military force to degrade and disable” the Islamic State forces.

The petition was organized by Robert P. George, a prominent Catholic conservative and Republican activist, and he was joined by a range of other leaders, many of whom are known for their hawkish views on foreign policy.

On Iraq Pope Francis' Message of Peace Meets Realities of War

Creative Commons image by Catholic Church England and Wales

Creative Commons image by Catholic Church England and Wales

VATICAN CITY — As he dispatches a top aide to war-torn Iraq this week, Pope Francis made his most impassioned plea yet for the world to halt the “slaughter” of Christians and other religious minorities by Islamic extremists.

“The news coming from Iraq leaves us incredulous and appalled,” Francis told pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, as he cataloged the brutal “violence of every kind” that has driven hundreds of thousands of people from their homes and left women and children dead and dying.

“All this seriously offends God and seriously offends humanity,” the pontiff declared. “You cannot bring hatred in the name of God. You cannot make war in the name of God!”

Yet even as Francis called on the international community to find “an efficient political solution that can stop these crimes,” the Vatican also tried to make peace with the idea that U.S. military strikes that began last week were necessary and working.

Meriam Ibrahim, Finally Freed from Sudan, Meets with Pope Francis

Meriam Ibrahim and her daughter, Maya, meet Pope Francis at the Vatican. Photo courtesy L'Osservatore Romano/RNS

Pope Francis met Meriam Ibrahim, the Christian woman spared a death sentence for apostasy in Sudan, at the Vatican on Thursday after she was flown to Rome by the Italian government following a vigorous international campaign to free her.

Ibrahim, 27, was accompanied by her husband Daniel Wani and two young children when she met Francis for nearly half an hour at his Santa Marta residence.

The audience was arranged only hours after she disembarked at Rome’s Ciampino Airport with her family on an official Italian aircraft. She was smiling as she carried baby Maya, who was born just two months ago as Ibrahim was shackled in prison.

The pope thanked her for her courage and loyalty to her Christian faith despite facing threats of execution in an ordeal that lasted nearly a year.

The Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Francis wanted Thursday’s meeting to be a “gesture of support for all those who suffer for their faith, or living in situations of difficulty or restraint.”

Pope Francis Apologizes for Persecution of Pentecostals

Pope Francis talks with Giovanni Traettino on July 28, 2014. CNS photo/ L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters.

Pope Francis sought forgiveness for decades of persecution of Italian Pentecostals when he met with around 300 evangelicals from the U.S., Argentina, and Italy in the southern town of Caserta on Monday.

The pope made his second visit in as many days to the Mafia stronghold near Naples, this time to meet evangelical pastor Giovanni Traettino, whom he befriended while he was archbishop of Buenos Aires.

During the visit, Francis apologized for the persecution suffered by Pentecostals under Italy’s fascist regime in the 1920s and 1930s and urged Christians to celebrate their diversity and unity.

“Catholics were among those who persecuted and denounced the Pentecostals, almost as if they were crazy,” Francis said.

“I am the shepherd of the Catholics and I ask you to forgive my Catholic brothers and sisters who did not understand and were tempted by the devil.”

Since his election last year, the pope has been reaching out to other faiths and has held talks with Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim leaders. On Monday, he went even further by apologizing for what Catholics had done.

Why Is Pope Francis Spending so Much Time Going after the Mafia?

Pope Francis will make a second trip into Mafia territory on July 26. Creative Commons image:Catholic Church England and Wales.

It began with the murder of an innocent 3-year-old boy who burned to death in his grandfather’s car in a Mafia ambush in January. Pope Francis was so shaken by the death of Nicola “Coco” Campolongo that he spoke out against the ferocity of the crime and those behind it.

But he didn’t stop there. In June, the outspoken pontiff traveled to the southern Italian town where the murder took place and accused Mafia members of pursuing the “adoration of evil.” Then he went one step further.

“They are not with God,” Francis said during his visit to the nearby town of Sibari in the region of Calabria where the global crime syndicate ‘Ndrangheta is based. “They are excommunicated!”

Pope Francis Appeals for Peace with Shimon Peres, Mahmoud Abbas

Pope Francis with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on May 25, 2014. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy of Catholic News Service.

As Israel continued its ground offensive into the Gaza Strip, Pope Francis urged Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to end the spiraling conflict.

The pontiff telephoned the two leaders on Friday to express “his very serious concerns” only six weeks after both me joined him at the Vatican for an historic prayer meeting.

Francis said he was concerned about the “climate of growing hostility, hatred, and suffering” that was claiming many victims, resulting in “a serious humanitarian emergency”, the Vatican said in a statement.

Pope Francis Raises Eyebrows by Saying Pedophile Priests Include 'Bishops and Cardinals'

Vatican's media spokesman disputes accuracy of a statement attributed to Pope Francis. Image: Stefano Rellandini/CreativeCommons

Pope Francis has provoked a debate within the Catholic Church after being quoted as saying that one in 50 Catholic clerics is a pedophile.

In the latest example of his get-tough stance against sex abuse — and his signature style of frank answers to tough questions — the pope told the Italian daily La Repubblica that the sexual abuse of children was like “leprosy” in the church and he pledged to “confront it with the severity it requires.”

But the exclusive interview with 90-year-old veteran journalist Eugenio Scalfari published Sunday drew an immediate reaction from the Vatican that disputed the accuracy of the pontiff’s quotes.

Pope Francis' Promised Reforms Start to Take Shape with New Leaders for Vatican Bank

The Vatican on July 9, 2014 announced reforms to its bank. Creative Commons image by @Doug88888.

Pope Francis’ promised reforms of the Vatican bureaucracy are starting to take shape, with new leaders appointed to oversee the troubled Vatican bank and plans to overhaul the Catholic Church’s approach to global communications.

French businessman Jean-Baptiste de Franssu on Wednesday was named new president of the bank, formally known as the Institute for Works of Religion, replacing Ernst Von Freyberg, a German who has run the bank since February 2013.

Six new lay members, including Mary Ann Glendon, a former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See and Harvard law professor, will join the bank’s board.

Vatican Bank Profits Tumble as Pope Francis Orders an Overhaul

The Vatican bank is housed in the Bastion of Nicholas V in Vatican City. Photo courtesy IOR.

Profits plunged by more than $100 million at the Vatican bank last year after thousands of accounts were shut down in a radical overhaul of the scandal-scarred institution.

In its 2013 annual report released Tuesday, the bank, officially known as the Institute for Religious Works, said its net profit totaled 2.9 million euros ($3.9 million) last year, a dramatic drop from the 86.6 million euros ($117.8 million) it reported in 2012.

The bank said the slump was due to extraordinary expenses, losses related to externally managed investment funds and fluctuations in the price of gold.

Losses included a controversial $20.5 million loan granted to a production company owned by a friend of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the former Vatican secretary of state who has faced criticism for mismanagement as the church’s No. 2 official under retired Pope Benedict XVI.

Pope Francis' Meeting with Abuse Victims Wasn't a PR Stunt, Vatican Says

Pope Francis met with clerical sex abuse victims at the Vatican on July 7, 2014. Creative Commons image: Catholic Church England

Pope Francis on Monday held his first meeting with victims of clergy sex abuse, begging for forgiveness and promising to hold “accountable” the bishops who were complicit in covering up for predatory priests.

Francis held a private Mass with three male and three female victims from the U.K., Ireland and Germany before meeting them individually for around 30 minutes. In total, the first-ever meetings spanned more than three hours.

“Before God and his people I express my sorrow for the sins and grave crimes of clerical sexual abuse committed against you. And I humbly ask forgiveness,” the pope said, according to a Vatican transcript of his morning homily.

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