Reports: Security Upped at Vatican over Attack Fears
by Naharnet Newsdesk
20 September 2014, 11:11
Security has been tightened in Saint Peter's Square after intelligence services intercepted a possible plan to attack the Vatican, Italian media reported Saturday, increasing fears Pope Francis could be in danger.
A foreign security service alerted Italy this week after intercepting a conversation between two Arab speakers which referred to "a demonstrative act, Wednesday, at the Vatican," Il Messaggero daily reported.
Wednesday is the day the pope holds his weekly general audience in the square in front of Saint Peter's Basilica.
Checks by Italy's anti-terrorism unit revealed that one of the speakers passed through the country eight months ago, heightening concerns the threat may be real.
Earlier warnings that the Islamic State extremists may be plotting to attack the pope have been shrugged off by the Vatican, but security has nonetheless been increased for his Wednesday and Sunday audiences, the paper said.
The Repubblica daily said plain clothes special operations officers with sniffer dogs trained in seeking out explosives were helping Vatican police vet tourists, while hotels in the area were also being kept under surveillance.
The news came a day before Francis's trip to Albania, where the pontiff is expected to mingle with the crowds as usual despite reports of possible danger from new IS recruits returning from the Middle East to the mostly-Muslim country.
Some worry the pope has made himself a target by speaking out against the Islamic State group and having the Holy See voice support for U.S. air strikes in Iraq.
In an interview with Italy's La Nazione daily this week, Iraq's ambassador to the Holy See, Habib Al Sadr, said "what has been declared by the self-declared Islamic State is clear. They want to kill the pope. The threats against the pope are credible."
The Vatican played down the warning, saying security measures for the trip would remain unchanged.
Source: Agence France Presse
Albania Tightens Security Ahead of Pope Visit
by Naharnet Newsdesk
20 September 2014, 16:50
Albania upped security on Saturday as it prepared to host Pope Francis amid warnings that the Islamic State jihadists could be planning an attack on the pontiff in the mainly-Muslim country.
Plainclothes police were out on the streets of the capital Tirana, with some 2,500 officers due to be deployed for the pope's visit on Sunday, his first to a European country.
Iraq's ambassador to the Holy See had warned ahead of the visit that the 77-year-old pontiff could be in danger from the group after the Holy See voiced support for U.S. air strikes targeting the jihadists in Iraq, in a rare exception to its policy of peaceful conflict resolution.
The Vatican has up to now shrugged off the warning, saying that security measures in Albania would remain unchanged for the pontiff, who regularly throws caution to the wind to mingle with the crowds.
Francis will use the same open-topped vehicle he uses in Saint Peter's Square at a mass in Tirana, the capital of one of Europe's poorest countries, it said.
The pope will travel a day after Italian media reported that security had been tightened in Saint Peter's Square after intelligence services intercepted a possible plan to attack the Vatican.
The report comes days after Iraq's ambassador to the Holy See, Habib Al Sadr, said in an interview with Italian media that "what has been declared by the self-declared Islamic State is clear. They want to kill the pope. The threats against the pope are credible."
And the Corriere della Sera daily cited a unidentified source in Tirana as saying: "The jihadists have always claimed that their final objective was Rome. But if Rome comes to Tirana, even for a few hours, that objective becomes even simpler."
On Saturday, the Vatican and Albanian flags were placed along some ten-kilometer (six-mile) long road leading from Tirana's Mother Teresa airport, where the pope was to arrive, to the city centre.
In Tirana, municipal employees were busy on Saturday cleaning the streets and planting flowers on the pope's planned itinerary.
Throughout the city, giant billboards have been put up showing the smiling pontiff with a raised arm and message: "I say to all the peoples: it's possible to work together."
For the visit, traders were offering souvenirs and the Albanian post has issued a stamp with the pope's image.
The pope's visit is aimed at showcasing peace between religions as the pontiff pays tribute to those who suffered under Communism and praises a political system under which religions unite.
The Communist regime of Enver Hoxha in 1967 declared Albania the first atheist country in the world.
Between 1945 and 1985, 111 priests, 10 seminarians and seven bishops died in detention or were executed while scores of churches and mosques were destroyed.
About two-thirds of Albania's population of some three million are Muslim. They are followed by Catholics -- accounting for 15 percent of the population, and the Orthodox making 11 percent, with the communities living peacefully.
Source: Agence France Presse
Pope Says Religion Cannot be Used to Justify Violence
by Naharnet Newsdesk
21 September 2014, 11:43
Pope Francis warned during a visit to Albania on Sunday that religion can never be used to justify violence, making apparent reference to the bloodshed wreaked by the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.
"Let no one consider themselves to be the 'armor' of God while planning and carrying out acts of violence and oppression," the pontiff said in speech at the presidential palace in Tirana in front of Albania's leaders.
"May no one use religion as a pretext for actions against human dignity and against fundamental rights," he said.
The 77-year-old spiritual leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics made the declaration at the start of a packed one-day visit to majority-Muslim Albania, which he held up as an "inspiring example" of religious harmony.
Authorities in the country stepped up security to its highest level after warnings from Iraq that the IS jihadists could be planning an attack on the pope.
His reception by the general public was enthusiastic, however, with hundreds of thousands of Christians and Muslims thronging the Albanian capital to greet him.
Francis in his speech praised the "respect and mutual trust between Catholics, Orthodox (Christians) and Muslims" in Albania, which he called "a precious gift to the country".
He stressed that such coexistence was especially important "in these times where an authentic religious spirit is being perverted and where religious differences are being distorted and instrumentalized".
In a seeming reference to the Islamic State organization, which espouses a radical and brutal interpretation of Islam to pursue a dream of reviving a caliphate in Syria and Iraq, the pope said the twisting of faith "created dangerous circumstances which led to conflict and violence".
His packed 11-hour trip to Albania comes at a sensitive time amid turmoil in the Middle East and rising intolerance in Europe.
The Vatican has voiced unusual support for U.S. air strikes in Iraq to defend persecuted Christians there.
At the same time, though, the pope is spreading his message of interfaith tolerance around the world -- and doing what he can to attract more devotees to his church.
The Holy See hopes Albania -- a country with one of the youngest populations in Europe -- will be a vibrant source for converts in a continent gripped by secularism.
It is the second papal visit to Albania in modern times. Pope John Paul II traveled there the year after the collapse of its communist regime in 1992.
Yellow-and-white Vatican flags flew alongside Albanian ones in the main streets of the capital while vast portraits of Catholic priests and nuns persecuted under communism -- when Albania became the world's first atheist state -- were strung across roads.
Huge crowds of Albanians gathered along Tirana's main boulevard and the central Mother Teresa Square where the pope was to later celebrate Mass.
Some waved welcome banners while others chanted: "Papa Francesco! Papa Francesco!"
The Argentine pontiff, who loves to mingle with the crowds, traveled in the same open-topped vehicle he uses in Saint Peter's Square. He stopped on several occasions along the boulevard to shake hands with believers or to take children in his arms.
Hysen Doli, an 85-year-old Muslim who had come to the square with 10 members of his family, told AFP: "We belong to another religion but have come here out of respect to get the pope's blessing."
- 'We can all work together!' -
In August, Francis said that his presence in Albania "will be a way of saying to everyone, 'See, we can all work together!'"
He was scheduled to meet the heads of the country's other religious communities including Muslim, Orthodox, Bektashi, Jewish and Protestant leaders, and to visit orphans.
The pontiff also wanted to honor those who suffered under former communist dictator Enver Hoxha, during whose rule priests and imams were persecuted and many churches and mosques razed.
Between 1945 and 1985, dozens of priests, seminarians and bishops died in detention or were executed.
Nearly 2,000 Orthodox and Catholic churches were destroyed or transformed into cinemas, theaters and dance halls, according to Francis, who said the successful rebirth of the Catholic faith after such persecution made Albania a place where "I felt like I should go".
The revival of Catholicism is due in part to the popularity of Mother Teresa, an ethnic Albanian born in neighboring Macedonia.
Yet only about 15 percent of the population is Catholic, with Muslims in the majority with 56 percent, and the Orthodox making up 11 percent.
- Heightened security -
The Vatican has insisted it has not increased security for the trip, but Albania's interior ministry said police have set up 29 checkpoints in downtown Tirana, where most of the pope's activities were planned.
Some Vatican watchers feared Francis had made himself a target by speaking out against the Islamic State organization.
Albania last month began sending weapons and ammunition to Kurdish forces fighting IS militants in Iraq, and security sources in the country have dismissed fears that home-grown militants might be planning an attack.
Source: Agence France Presse
Pope Says 'Mere Tolerance' Towards Migrants not Enough
by Naharnet Newsdesk
23 September 2014, 15:07
Pope Francis on Tuesday said "mere tolerance" toward migrants and asylum seekers is not enough and he called for a "globalization of charity" towards those fleeing warzones and poverty.
"It is necessary to respond to the globalization of migration with the globalization of charity and cooperation, in such a way as to make the conditions of migrants more humane," the pontiff said in a message to mark the World Day of Migrants and Refugees next January.
"Large numbers of people are leaving their homelands, with a suitcase full of fears and desires, to undertake a hopeful and dangerous trip in search of more humane living conditions," he said in the text of an address he will give January 18.
"Often, however, such migration gives rise to suspicion and hostility, even in ecclesiastical communities, prior to any knowledge of the migrants’ lives or their stories of persecution and destitution," he said.
The Argentine-born pontiff, who has vowed to make protecting the poor and marginalized a cornerstone of his papacy, said "achieving mere tolerance that respects diversity and ways of sharing between different backgrounds and cultures is not sufficient."
He called for the creation of "a universal network of cooperation" to fight trafficking and enslavement, and reminded the international community that "no country can single-handedly face the difficulties associated with this phenomenon", as Italy struggles to deal with thousands of new boat migrant arrivals and deadly shipwrecks.
Earlier this month, 500 migrants and asylum seekers were feared drowned after their boat sank off Malta, leaving just 10 survivors, who said the traffickers in charge of organizing the dangerous crossing from North Africa had intentionally sunk their boat.
Source: Agence France Presse
Vatican arrests former ambassador on child sex abuse charges
Józef Wesołowski could face 12 years’ jail as he become first senior Catholic official to be accused of paedophilia by Holy See
Chris Johnston and agencies
The Guardian, Wednesday 24 September 2014
A former Vatican ambassador has been placed under house arrest and will face a criminal trial on child sex charges, the Holy See said on Tuesday night.
The action against Józef Wesołowski, 66, is the first time that the Vatican has charged a high-ranking official with paedophilia. If found guilty he could face up to 12 years in prison.
The Polish-born cleric was recalled from the Dominican Republic in August 2013 after the archbishop of Santo Domingo told Pope Francis about rumours that Wesołowski had sexually abused teenage boys in the Caribbean country. Prosecutors there say he allegedly paid boys as young as 13 to masturbate.
In June a Vatican tribunal found Wesołowski guilty of abuse and imposed its toughest penalty under church law: laicisation, or returning to life as a layman.
Being defrocked meant that he lost his diplomatic immunity and the Dominican Republic has opened an investigation into accusations that he paid boys to perform sexual acts.
The Vatican had been criticised for protecting Wesołowski from legal action by the Dominican authorities by recalling him last year.
The case has also been a test of whether Francis is willing to prosecute a crime that the Vatican has long sought to blame on priests, rather than direct representatives of the pope himself.
The Vatican said the arrest reflected the wishes of the Pope that “such a grave and delicate case be handled without delay, with the just and necessary rigour”.
Francis has said that no Catholic clerics who sexually abused children would escape punishment and has described paedophilia as an “ugly crime” and likened it to a “satanic mass”.
Wesołowski is the most prominent church figure to be arrested since Paolo Gabriele, a former papal butler convicted in 2012 of stealing and leaking private papers of the former pope Benedict XVI.
The Pole was granted house arrest in a Vatican apartment on medical grounds rather than being detained in its prison - a small number of rooms attached to a courthouse.
It is unclear whether Wesołowski would be jailed inside the Vatican, or in an Italian prison, if convicted.
Pope orders envoys to visit problem priest’s Paraguay diocese
BOULDER, Colorado — Pope Francis will send a delegation this month to a city in Paraguay that’s been rocked by a priest scandal detailed in a recent GlobalPost investigative story.
The news of the trip comes two weeks after Paraguay’s chief prosecutor for youth launched an investigation into Carlos Urrutigoity, the problem priest featured in this site’s article.
Urrutigoity, who was accused of molesting young men in Pennsylvania in the early 2000s, has risen to a position of significant power since moving to the eastern Paraguayan city of Ciudad del Este.
GlobalPost’s ground reporting there last month unleashed a flood of controversy over the priest’s continued work at the Paraguayan diocese and led local activists to call for Urrutigoity’s suspension.
He has denied ever molesting anyone. He said in a face-to-face interview with GlobalPost that he is a victim of a smear campaign.
“Had everyone stayed silent, this wouldn’t be happening.”
~SNAP director David Clohessy
Still, the purpose of the July 21 to 26 papal envoys' visit is not immediately clear.
A Vatican diplomat in Paraguay announced the visit during a news conference Wednesday in the South American country’s capital of Asuncion, local media reported. News reports quoted him as saying it would be “a pastoral visit to find out some things.”
Paraguay’s Ultima Hora newspaper described one of the envoys being sent to Paraguay, Cardinal Santos Abril y Castello, as a “strong man of the Vatican.” It said the other will be Bishop Milton Troccoli, the auxiliary bishop of Montevideo, Uruguay.
Paraguay’s Catholic Church has been in quite a tizzy since the revelations against Urrutigoity.
The scandal triggered old animosities between the bishop of Ciudad del Este, Rogelio Livieres Plano, and Archbishop of Asuncion Monsignor Pastor Cuquejo.
Cuquejo has said that a new investigation should be opened into Urrutigoity in Paraguay. That incensed Livieres Plano, who shot back at the archbishop, accusing him of being gay and “a bad person,” while virulently defending Urrutigoity.
Things haven’t calmed down much since then.
ABC Color, the country’s largest media group, has published more than 20 stories since GlobalPost’s investigation broke on June 3, and the feud between the country’s top two bishops has been front-page news in Paraguay for weeks.
In its latest story, ABC Color quoted Livieres Plano as saying the papal dignitaries’ visit was a “coincidence” and was unrelated to the recent scandal. Livieres Plano told the outlet he’d requested a visit from the Vatican two years ago.
At the news conference Wednesday, local reporters asked a Vatican diplomat if the papal envoys’ visit was related to the Urrutigoity scandal. Eliseo Arioti, the diplomat who made the announcement, said the visit is “to find out not only what has happened lately, but also to see what’s going on in the house of Ciudad del Este.”
On June 10, Paraguay’s chief public prosecutor for children and adolescents, Maria Graciela, told ABC Color that her office was launching an investigation into whether there are victims of Priest Urrutigoity in Paraguay.
The US-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests or SNAP has reacted positively to the news of the delegation’s visit to Ciudad del Este.
“Had everyone stayed silent, this wouldn’t be happening,” SNAP director David Clohessy told GlobalPost by phone Thursday. “This is more proof that only when victims, witnesses, whistleblowers and journalists expose wrongdoing, only then do church officials take action.”
Urrutigoity has a long history of accusations of molesting young men.
The priest, who is Argentine, was asked to leave a seminary in Argentina in the late ’90s, but was given a “second chance” at a seminary in Winona, Minnesota, according to a 1999 letter by Urrutigoity’s superior at the time.
In Minnesota, Urrutigoity was again accused of making unwanted sexual advances toward a young seminarian, according to the 1999 letter. The Argentine priest then moved on to the Diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania.
In 2002, he was named in a civil lawsuit, along with another priest. The two men were accused of molesting young men and creating a cult-like atmosphere at a boys’ school in Pennsylvania. The lawsuit was settled in 2004 for more than $450,000.
Urrutigoity, who was never criminally charged, left the United States and reappeared in Paraguay in 2008. After a brief controversy, he rose to become the second in command of the Diocese of Ciudad del Este.
Local activists there have been repeatedly calling on the Vatican to investigate the diocese, which one former church volunteer described as “a refuge for delinquents.”
Beatification Brings Opus Dei Into the Open
By RAPHAEL MINDER and ELISABETTA POVOLEDO
SEPT. 26, 2014
MADRID — Beyond reverence, there is always a hint of mystery, even politics, at play whenever the Roman Catholic Church decides to advance someone toward sainthood. But when that step involves one of the more revolutionizing popes of recent history advancing a figure from one of the most powerful and discreet of Catholic movements, the mysteries and politics seem to run even deeper.
On Saturday, the Catholic Church will beatify Msgr. Álvaro del Portillo, a Spanish priest who led Opus Dei and died 20 years ago. It will not be the first time that a leading figure from Opus Dei has been so honored — the group’s founder, José María Escrivá de Balaguer, was canonized by John Paul II in 2002 — and Monsignor del Portillo’s process toward sainthood was already well underway before Pope Francis was elected to the papacy a year and a half ago.
But the rite is nonetheless seen as telling coming under Pope Francis, an Argentine who belongs to the Jesuit religious order, which is viewed as liberal and emphasizes ministering to the poor and the dispossessed. Opus Dei runs many charitable efforts that serve the poor, but it is best known for cultivating the highly educated and elite professionals who can spread Opus Dei’s ardent brand of Catholic spirituality to ever-wider and more powerful circles.
As many as 200,000 people are expected to gather on the outskirts of Madrid for the beatification Mass, the third of four steps toward sainthood, in what will be an unusually public show of force for Opus Dei, a movement that consolidated itself as a prelature under the papacy of John Paul II. The movement then seemed to be less visible at the Vatican under Pope Benedict XVI, and Francis’ ascent seemed to portend little better.
Opus Dei “perhaps thought that they’d be sidelined by Francis,” said Carlo Marroni, a Vatican journalist for the newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore. “But the opposite has been true,” despite Francis’ removal this week of a controversial Opus Dei bishop from Paraguay.
The beatification is a result of “indefatigable lobbying” by Opus Dei within the Vatican, according to Marco Politi, a Vatican journalist with Il Fatto Quotidiano, an Italian newspaper. He suggested that the speed of the beatification, coming just 12 years after the canonization of Father Escrivá, was “a record for a religious organization.”
Within Spain, where Opus Dei was founded in 1928, the movement still holds exceptional sway, not only within the church but also as what is regarded as a force behind an array of political and financial institutions.
The movement’s founder, Father Escrivá, was a Spanish priest who urged Catholics to sanctify God through their regular work and hence named his institution using the Latin for “work of God.”
Father Escrivá also highlighted the importance of education, including through the media, and founded Spain’s first faculty of journalism, within the University of Navarra. That university also runs IESE, which ranks among Europe’s best business schools. That educational network, in turn, has made Opus Dei a wellspring of elite talent that has gone on to fill positions of power.
Monsignor del Portillo was born in Madrid and spent most of his life in Rome, working alongside Father Escrivá before succeeding him at the helm of Opus Dei. His beatification was justified by the miraculous recovery from heart failure of a Chilean baby, whose mother put an image of Monsignor del Portillo above his cradle.
In Spain, where Opus Dei now has a third of its 90,000 official members, the movement’s image has suffered from its past links to the Franco dictatorship, during which some members were ministers.
“Many people still see us as the strongest supporters of the Franco regime, but Opus Dei tells members to have a socially responsible role and left each one to choose whether this was best done within the regime or not,” said Antonio Argandoña, an economics professor at IESE, who is also among the numeraries of Opus Dei, devotees who are celibate and usually live in Opus Dei centers.
Antonio del Moral, a Spanish judge, said Opus Dei “never influenced the content of my decisions, but perhaps their external shape, in that Opus Dei taught me to put a lot of effort into working well and being a good professional.”
His membership in Opus Dei is “not something I try to hide but neither something I go around publicizing,” the judge said. “It’s not like telling people you’re a fan of Real Madrid,” the soccer club.
Similarly, José Antonio Ruíz San Román, professor of sociology at the Complutense University in Madrid, said Opus Dei used “disorganized influence, transmitting its thinking to small groups of people,” rather than trying to mobilize the public and organize street protests against decisions like that of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to withdraw a controversial draft bill to restrict access to abortion.
The movement has been especially discreet about its finances. Katinka van Cranenburgh, a Dutch visiting professor at Esade, a Spanish business school, said that she had been researching the finances of religious groups since 2010, but that Opus Dei was among those that never responded to her queries. “I’ve not seen them even start to be transparent about where they invest their money,” she said.
Its assets were estimated to be at least $2.8 billion by John Allen, a journalist who wrote a book about Opus Dei after the publication in 2003 of “The Da Vinci Code,” the best-selling work of fiction by Dan Brown that portrayed the movement as a secretive criminal organization.
Followers dismissed such characterizations as fantasy. Membership is “like going to the gym, but to stay spiritually fit every day,” said Javier Cremades, chairman of Cremades & Calvo-Sotelo, a Spanish law firm.
Maintaining some discipline, he explained, helps him focus his faith: “If you’re not tied to Opus Dei or some other movement, being a Catholic today isn’t easy in a world that has become much more materialistic.”
The Opus Dei office in Madrid said it had received sponsorship from about 20 corporations to cover the costs of organizing Saturday’s beatification Mass, which will be led by Cardinal Angelo Amato.
About 3,000 Madrid residents are also hosting visitors during the weekend. The celebration events then continue until next Thursday in Rome and include a general audience with Francis in St. Peter’s Square.
Raquel Rodríguez, assistant director of the Madrid office, said the beatification was never planned as a public relations event, but she acknowledged that it should serve to highlight the contributions of Monsignor del Portillo and Opus Dei to society.
“Many of the misinterpretations of Opus Dei are due to people’s lack of knowledge and ignorance,” Ms. Rodríguez said.
Pope revisits 'punishing' rules on Catholic divorce
Millions of devotees remain banned from receiving communion – but meeting of bishops raises hopes of ban being loosened
The Observer, Saturday 27 September 2014 20.15 BST
Elio Cirimbelli, a 66-year-old family counsellor from Bolzano in north-eastern Italy, goes to church most Sundays. He is a devout Roman Catholic but when he attends mass he cannot receive holy communion and must stay in the pew while the rest of the congregation goes up to receive the sacramental bread and wine. "It's very hard, let's put it that way," Cirimbelli says. "We have a church that can be a mother, but sometimes it is a mother which not does embrace but which punishes."
Millions of Catholics around the world are similarly affected by the church's ban on communion for those who have divorced – as Cirimbelli did in 1987 – and then remarried.
In a global community divided by headline-grabbing issues such as abortion, contraception and gay sex, divorce is far from the most inflammatory topic of conversation. But for a huge number of ordinary people it is a regular and painful reminder that their church considers them ineligible for a right it grants to almost all other Catholics – murderers included.
True to his image as the pontiff who listens to the people and wants to build a less hectoring and more inclusive church, Pope Francis now wants to start talking about it.
Before a meeting of international bishops in Rome next Sunday, hopes are high that the pope might decide to set in motion a loosening of the ban which would finally allow Cirimbelli, who married his second wife in 1991, to take holy communion after 23 long years.
"I met Pope Francis in 2013 and I said, 'We are what the Catholic church considers an irregular family, but we entrust our sufferings – and the sufferings of many people I meet as part of my work – to your hands'," said Cirimbelli, a father of three. "But we hope and believe in a merciful church.' The pope embraced me and said, 'No, the church will not abandon you'."
As the director of a support centre for separated and divorced people in Bolzano, this year Cirimbelli also met Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the synod of bishops. "I can't tell you everything he said, but I can say that they believe the pope this time – unlike other times when he was not pope – does not want the discussion to become solely academic. The pope believes, and they believe, that the time has come for concrete responses."
What Cirimbelli would like to see is the adoption of an idea put forward most prominently by a German cardinal, Walter Kasper, according to which Rome would look to the Eastern Orthodox church for a way forward and allow some people who had remarried civilly to do a period of penance that would eventually lift their ban on holy communion. He is keen to stress that his proposed reform would leave the indissolubility of marriage intact and would merely involve taking a more accepting, tolerant attitude towards the person's second – civil – marriage.
A theologian whose views used to bring him into conflict with Vatican hierarchy, Kasper is a man whose time has, perhaps, now come: praised for his pragmatic and merciful approach by Francis in his first Sunday blessing last year, he was chosen by the pope to make the introductory address to the synod in February this year and, while the pope is being careful about what he says, many believe they are on the same page.
Tina Beattie, a liberal Catholic theologian, believes that the stage has been set for a change, but also for "an epochal, defining struggle".
"The ground has been well-prepared for a shift on the readmission of divorced and remarried Catholics to the sacraments," she said. "I don't think this will involve any change in doctrine. It will be a pragmatic shift which will put pastoral practice before doctrinal rigidity."
But not everyone wants this, and opponents of the proposal are not willing to go down without a fight. In the weeks leading up to the extraordinary synod on the family, due to run from 5-19 October, the conservative chorus has been growing louder among the so-called princes of the church, with six cardinals coming out publicly against Kasper and a collection of "anti" essays being published in five different countries on Wednesday. Among the critics are Gerhard Ludwig Müller, head of the powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and George Pell, the Australian picked by Francis to run the Vatican's new secretariat for the economy.
Robert Dodaro, Rome-based professor of theology and editor of the essays, said the Kasper model advocates a form of "pseudo-mercy" which would, in effect, lead the church to treat remarried divorcees as though they were in a "second-class marriage".
"How would you feel if you were told: well, your second marriage – we're tolerating it but we're not accepting it?" he said. "The Catholic church doesn't recognise divorce, so those individuals are still married … in the eyes of Christ. They are still married to their original spouses." The second marriage is a contradiction in terms because as long as that original spouse remains alive that bond is still in effect."
At least one of the cardinals writing in the book advocates the hiring of more canon lawyers to marriage tribunals to enable the streamlining of the marriage annulment process.
And some observers believe that, rather than Kasper's suggestion, this could be the area of eventual compromise. Last Saturday, the Vatican announced a new commission that seemed to be heading in that direction. A statement said its aim would be to reform the annulment-granting process, "with the objective of simplifying its procedure, making it more streamlined, and safeguarding the principle of the indissolubility of matrimony".
But for a reformist who has built his papacy on reaching out to the margins and who constantly repeats the need for the church to be less obsessed with rules and more concerned with real people, the stakes in the coming months – big decisions are not expected to be made until another synod next year – are high. "This is in my view an epochal-defining struggle," says Beattie, professor of Catholic studies at Roehampton University. "Will the church emerge from this as a church more in the image of Vatican II and Francis, or will Francis be defeated by very powerful conservative forces so that we might see the emergence of an even more doctrinally rigid and unyielding ethos?"
For Cirimbelli, the stakes are also high, and the conservatives clearly make him angry. "I can say that it [their book] made me come out in a rash," he says. "The thing that hurts me is that these illustrious cardinals, these illustrious eminencies, talk too much theory. If you'll allow me a provocation, they should maybe spend a bit less time behind their desks and more time among the people. Which is what the pope has done. Francis is not a pope, priest, bishop, cardinal of the curial palaces. He is the pope, priest, bishop and cardinal of the streets."
Only time will tell whether the people's pope will disappoint him or give him reason to cheer.
As Catholic Church Seeks Proof, Venezuela Sees a Saint
By WILLIAM NEUMAN
SEPT. 29, 2014
ISNOTÚ, Venezuela — Venezuela needs a miracle. Preferably two. But this is not about finding a way to reconcile the country’s bitterly divided politics or fix its crippled economy. It is about something more spiritual.
The Roman Catholic Church here is on a mission to document a miracle that can be attributed to one of the country’s most popular folk heroes: José Gregorio Hernández.
Born in this small town in the foothills of the Andes on Oct. 26, 1864, Dr. Hernández spent much of his life in Caracas, the capital, where he studied and practiced medicine and became known as “the doctor of the poor” because he routinely treated needy patients for free.
He died in 1919, run over by a car at a time when only a few hundred automobiles traveled the streets of Caracas. He was so beloved that newspaper accounts at the time reported that the city was left practically denuded of flowers to make the floral wreaths and bouquets for his funeral.
Tens of thousands of people filled the streets outside the cathedral where the ceremony was conducted, the accounts said, and when the coffin was about to be placed in a hearse a cry went up: “Dr. Hernández is ours!” In a spontaneous display of popular mourning, the coffin was carried to the cemetery on the shoulders of the capital’s citizens.
Over the years, his legend grew. The sick or the injured prayed to him to be cured, and many believed he was responsible for miracles. He was also embraced by the followers of two popular religions that combine elements of Roman Catholicism with African and indigenous beliefs — María Lionza, which is native to Venezuela, and Santería, which spread here from Cuba.
Today Dr. Hernández’s image is ubiquitous in Venezuela, perhaps even more so than pictures of Hugo Chávez, the former president who died last year but is still widely portrayed on posters, on billboards and in graffiti.
Dr. Hérnandez’s familiar figure, usually dressed in a black suit with a high-peaked felt hat and a mustache, his hands behind his back (an image based on a widely reproduced photograph taken during a stay in New York City in 1917), can be seen all over the country — painted on walls, reproduced in small statuettes, and displayed in roadside shrines or simple altars in stores and homes. His image is so instantly recognizable to Venezuelans that a simple dark silhouette of a man in a hat with his hands behind his back is often all that is used to represent him.
“José Gregorio is quintessentially Venezuelan,” said Laura Zambrano, who helps run the sainthood effort conducted by the Archdiocese of Caracas. “He took all of our virtues to an extreme, to the extreme of perfection.”
In 1986, Pope John Paul II declared Dr. Hernández “venerable,” a step toward being considered for sainthood. To take the next step, known as beatification, the church would need to show that Dr. Hernández had performed a miracle. Once that was done, proof of a second miracle could qualify him to be canonized, or declared a saint.
Twice, in 1986 and 2009, the Venezuelan church documented what it believed were medical miracles attributable to Dr. Hernández. It sent them to Rome for approval by a panel of experts assigned to evaluate such cases, but each time they were rejected.
Now, with the 150th anniversary of Dr. Hernández’s birth approaching, the church here has started a campaign to find the miracles needed to propel him to sainthood. It has distributed millions of palm-size cards encouraging the faithful to pray for Dr. Hernández’s canonization and asking them to send in accounts of miracles.
This year already, the office in charge of seeking Dr. Hernández’s sainthood has received more than 800 testimonials recounting possible miracles, compared with 234 last year and just 65 the year before.
Here in Isnotú (pronounced ee-sno-TOO), hundreds and often thousands of pilgrims arrive every day to pay tribute to Dr. Hernández at a large shrine that has become the town’s main attraction.
Melvin Andrade, who recently made the nine-hour drive from Caracas, prayed silently before a life-size marble statue of Dr. Hernández, which shows the doctor with his right hand extended, holding a pill bottle and other medicines.
Mr. Andrade said that he had appealed for Dr. Hernández’s help during a series of grueling operations after a motorcycle accident in January. Now he had come to give thanks.
“The spinal operation I had could have left me an invalid and I came out perfectly,” he said.
His girlfriend, Marvella Rivas, 46, had no doubt about Dr. Hernández’s status. “For me he’s a saint even though he hasn’t been beatified, which is something I can’t understand,” she said.
Ms. Rivas recalled a teenage relative who was found during a medical examination to have a tumor. But a subsequent test found the tumor had mysteriously disappeared.
“She said that José Gregorio Hernández operated on her,” Ms. Rivas said. “We don’t know if it was a dream or real, but when they took another X-ray, the tumor was gone.”
There is not much to Isnotú beyond a main street dominated by the sanctuary and souvenir stalls selling trinkets and statuettes of Dr. Hernández.
The sanctuary was built in the 1960s by the federal government, on the spot where Dr. Hernández’s childhood home had stood. In a move that many residents regret today, the house was torn down to make way for the sanctuary. Around the same time, the church where Dr. Hernández was baptized and confirmed was also demolished, and a larger church was built in its place.
Yet Venezuelans have embraced this town as a link to the man they already venerate as a saint, to a degree that has made the church hierarchy in Caracas uncomfortable. That has led to a tug-of-war over his legacy.
“José Gregorio cannot be worshiped there because José Gregorio has not been beatified, he has not been canonized,” said Msgr. Fernando Castro, the auxiliary bishop of Caracas, who is in charge of the campaign to win sainthood for Dr. Hernández. He stressed that the sanctuary is officially dedicated to the baby Jesus, not to Dr. Hernández. “Only saints can be the object of worship,” he said.
Bishop Castro said Dr. Hernández’s tomb in a Caracas church, known as the Candelaria Church, should be the center of attention as the 150th anniversary of his birth approaches, not Isnotú.
“There are indications in that place that would make it appear that it is like the center of everything to do with José Gregorio,” Bishop Castro said of Isnotú. “No. The center of José Gregorio is the Candelaria Church.”
On a recent visit, the Candelaria Church was under renovation and Dr. Hernandez’s white marble tomb, behind a metal grating, was covered in dust and surrounded by construction debris.
Meanwhile in Isnotú, a large stained glass window in the sanctuary chapel shows Dr. Hernández kneeling before the Virgin Mary, with the baby Jesus in her lap, surrounded by angels. His image appears in other stained glass windows and on the metal doors to the chapel.
A gift shop operated by the parish sells dozens of souvenirs depicting Dr. Hernández, including plastic penholders and statuettes, alongside only a few representing the Virgin Mary, or posters of Pope John Paul II.
All over the sanctuary, the walls are covered in small plaques left by the faithful attesting to miracles or favors they attribute to Dr. Hernández. They date back as far as the 1940s.
Local residents said that Bishop Castro came to Isnotú in December 2012 and asked to have the statue of Dr. Hernández removed. Bishop Castro said that he could not remember making such a request.
The statue stayed, but now many here feel the need to defend the town’s claim to its favorite son.
Helder Durán, a member of the municipal commission to commemorate Dr. Hernández’s 150th birthday, accused church leaders in Caracas of seeking to switch the focus of Dr. Hernández’s devotees to the capital.
“Economically it’s more profitable for the Catholic Church,” he said, charging that the Caracas church wanted to get its hands on the revenues from the tens of thousands of pilgrims who flock to Dr. Hernández’s shrine each year.
“They want to make Isnotú invisible,” he said.