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« Reply #60 on: Jul 23, 2013, 05:57 AM »

07/23/2013 12:30 PM

Fisher of Men: The New World of Pope Francis

By Fiona Ehlers

Openness, modesty, change: Pope Francis has launched a revolution in the Vatican as he seeks to clean up the Catholic Church and improve its image. In the process, the pontiff is making friends as well as enemies.

The great awakening begins at 7 a.m. every morning in the Vatican, when Pope Francis stands before 80 or 90 employees in the austere, modern chapel of the Santa Maria guesthouse and reads the first mass of the day. He speaks Italian with a soft Spanish intonation, reading the mass without a manuscript and without using Latin -- and looking directly into the faces of the congregation. He then vanishes through the vestry to join the worshippers, folding his hands, bowing his head and praying.

The Vatican's garbage collectors were the first employees the new pope invited to these morning masses, followed by the security personnel, gardeners, nuns and even Vatican Bank advisors. Many of the Vatican's roughly 4,000 employees come to the mass -- not because they are required to, but because they adore Francis.

"He has no trepidations," says a fellow resident of the guesthouse on the southern edge of Vatican City, where Francis lives. He gives "simple sermons (with) warm words. He has overcome the separation between the laity and the clergy."

At lunch, Jorge Mario Bergoglio stands in the cafeteria and waits for his coffee to drip out of the machine. "He sat alone at first, and we would stare over at him," says the fellow resident. But now they sit with him. Recently, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, one of the youngest members of the conclave, went over to the pope and asked: "Holy Father, may I?" "Of course, holy son," the pope replied.

Francis is a fisher of men, much like former Pope John Paul II. Almost four months after his election on March 13, after his first, almost shy "buona sera" from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, he has taken his office to heavenly heights. He makes it easy for people to love him. They like his incongruous approach and his plain words. "Pray for me," he tells them, or "bon appetit." They like the fact that he ignores protocol, that he washed the feet of a Muslim woman at Easter, drives a Ford Focus or takes the bus and chose to live in the guesthouse instead of the Apostolic Palace.

Pope of Gestures

Bergoglio is the first Jesuit and, since the Middle Ages, the first non-European in the papacy. He was born in Argentina, at the "end of the world," as he says, to Italian immigrant parents. It is this perspective from which he still looks at the Old World. It allows him to demonize the financial crisis, poverty and instability that are now plaguing Southern Europe. This pope lives in the present and is more political than his predecessor. But it is also clear that he will remain silent on certain issues and stick to his German predecessor's approach: the ordination of women, celibacy, abortion and gay marriage.

Benedict XVI was the pope of words, a professorial pope whose masses resembled lectures. Francis is the opposite. Instead of arguing, he appeals to people; he is best understood through his gestures and appearances. His visit to the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa was a gesture of compassion, and it offered a taste of his approach: going to the people, mingling with them and asking uncomfortable questions.

In his sermons, Francis often criticizes the "sophisticated church," which he accuses of revolving around itself and striving for power and wealth. By contrast, Francis wants "a poor church and a church for the poor." He wants it to venture out to the periphery, to the margins of society. This is the concept of the "theology of the people," which influenced Francis. In the 1970s, its adherents left their rectories and moved to the slums.

There is hardly any spot in Europe that is more peripheral than Lampedusa, where Africa begins and where Europe is defending its fortress of prosperity. During his visit, the pope stood on an altar made from the wood of stranded ships on which refugees had died, and raged against the "globalization of indifference." He asked who was to blame for the suffering of refugees, and why so many people have forgotten empathy and lost the ability to weep. It was a promising start to his papacy.

But despite that appearance, Francis still isn't the "pop star pope" many believed he was at the beginning. He is a man of action, and he operates at an astonishing pace. "He acts like someone who knows that he doesn't have forever. After all, he only has half a lung, and he sways like a ship when he walks. He'll be 77 in December," says an employee of the curia who prefers to remain unnamed.

'Still Getting Warmed Up'

Francis will have a hardworking first summer as pope, with no plans to take a break at the papal summer resistance in Castel Gandolfo. The papal secretary of state could be appointed soon and will become a key figure in bringing about the reform of the curia so often called for, someone to finally put a stop to the old-boy networks, nepotism and waste of money. The curia is currently divided into those who are concerned that the pope is overexerting himself, and those who are afraid of the new order. "The pope is still getting warmed up," says the source from the curia. "We are crouching in the trenches, and quite a few are trembling."

One of the new pope's biggest reform projects is the Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR), more commonly known as the Vatican Bank. On a recent July morning, a few nuns were standing in the domed bank lobby, where there was little activity. Nevertheless, something akin to perestroika seemed to be in the works, because we were suddenly granted entry to this massive, otherwise off-limits fortress next to the Secretariat of State. We were allowed to shake hands with the head of the bank, while advisors in pinstriped suits guided us through the hallways. Is this the "Francis effect" everyone is talking about, or just a rushed session of crisis PR?

At the end of the corridor is the secret nerve center, which we were also allowed to visit briefly. It contains a table, cables and many monitors, where a Harvard professor and a dozen external management consultants were sitting with their sleeves rolled up. Their job is that of auditing the accounts, reviewing every transaction for more than €10,000, and screening every customer. One was already caught in late June trying to bring €20 million from Switzerland to Rome in a private jet: Monsignore Nunzio Scarano, the chief accountant for the Vatican's property portfolio, who had intended to launder money through the IOR. It is clear that others will follow, now that the Vatican aims to wipe the slate clean in God's bank.

Francis is paying special attention to the IOR. Benedict did so, as well, when he appointed Ernst von Freyberg as the bank's director in February. But it was already too late, and Freyberg showed little interest in the details.

First Mistake?

Francis, on the other hand, issued a hand-written decree in late June to form an investigative committee. Two days later, the chief accountant was arrested and on July 2, the two general directors abruptly resigned. Last Friday, Francis appointed a special commission to advise him directly on economic issues and create more transparency. The pope also appointed a prelate who has access to all bank meetings and reports directly to Francis.

That appointment, though, could prove to be Pope Francis' first mistake. He chose Monsignore Battista Ricca, the former administrator of the Vatican guesthouse, for the job. But the magazine L'Espresso revealed last week that Ricca was transferred to the guesthouse in 2001 for disciplinary reasons, because he was allegedly living with and maintaining a homosexual relationship with a man in the nunciature of Montevideo and was beaten up in a gay bar. So does it exist after all, the "gay lobby" at the Vatican, whose members secure positions for each other? Did the curia deliberately conceal Ricca's past from the pope? These questions will have to remain unanswered for now, but the Ricca appointment could come back to haunt the pope.

Meanwhile, Alessia Giuliani, 42, a chain-smoking resident of Rome, is waiting on St. Peter's Square. She is standing at the obelisk, holding her paparazzi camera with its telephoto lens. It is Wednesday morning, and the weekly general audience is about to begin. Hundreds of thousands of people are flooding into the square -- a sea of smartphones and sunshades.

Giuliani began taking pictures of groups of pilgrims 15 years ago until she eventually became the first woman to join the illustrious circle of papal photographers. Now that Francis has come into office, she needs to use stronger flashes and a larger aperture, because he is darker-skinned than his predecessor. Although she sells more photos now, she hardly has a private life anymore, because Francis often makes spontaneous appearances, so that she has to chase after him.

She looks through her lens and sees Francis on the pope mobile, giving the thumbs up sign. His chief of security lifts children into the vehicle, and Francis distributes kisses, accepts the gift of a jersey from his beloved football club, Atlético San Lorenzo de Almagro, and hugs a girl with Down syndrome. He continues in this vein, often for as long as an hour, until the mass begins. "Che spettacolo" -- what a spectacle -- says a Roman woman, as she shakes her head and turns away.

The photographer lowers her camera and says that the scenery is too indistinct. She complains that she hasn't yet been able to capture an image that truly describes the new pope. The longer she watches him, says Giuliani, the more she fears that there could soon be too many images of him -- that his gestures could lose their meaning and his messages become trivial.

How They Preach in Latin America

Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, 65, can hear the cheers from the weekly public mass in his apartment at Santa Anna Gate. He prefers to call it counseling rather than a spectacle, noting that this is how they preach in Latin America.

The archbishop has taken over the former apartment of Joseph Ratzinger, who lived there for 23 years, as well as his former job as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which makes him the church's supreme protector of the faith. The son of a foreman at an Opel plant in Mainz, he sometimes greets private visitors in a tracksuit. He is in good spirits, as he celebrates his first anniversary in office; it looks as though the new pope plans to keep him.

The unfortunate situation involving the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) also seems to have been put to rest. A member of the order, Richard Williamson, had denied the Holocaust, and yet Benedict rehabilitated the archconservative bishop nonetheless. Now the Vatican's dialogue with the SSPX seems to have been suspended until further notice.

Archbishop Müller is with Francis on his trip this week to World Youth Day in Brazil. He worked as a priest in Peru and is friends with liberation theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez, who Rome punished in the 1980s because of his Marxist views. Another change under Francis is that the church will be less inclined to fight rebels within its ranks.

The fact that Francis chose Brazil as the destination for his first major trip was meant to show, says Müller, that the church consists of more than "that dissolute bunch from Rome, with their pomp and arrogance." He hopes that the sermons in Rio de Janeiro will provide a boost similar to that emanating from his visit to Lampedusa. Francis plans to speak clearly in Rio, directing his comments to the poor in the Varginha favela, young criminals and drug addicts.

Wildly Enthusiastic

Yet as approachable as Francis seems, it is difficult to meet him. In mid-May, with the German chancellor having just arrived for a private audience, a select group of Germans were allowed to greet the pope afterward. We spent several minutes walking through the corridors of the Apostolic Palace, past saluting Swiss Guards, before being asked to wait in antechambers with damask-covered walls. One could hear Chancellor Angela Merkel's girlish giggle from within. "The next time we'll have pizza on the piazza," she said in German as she left.

Francis, shorter than he seems in pictures and exhausted after a 47-minute conversation about the market economy and financial regulations, stayed behind. His handshake was firm and his eyes curious. There was nothing pompous about him; he wasn't wearing the golden Ring of the Fishermen, but rather a plastic watch.

What does one say to the pope? Perhaps that Rome seems like a new place since his election, like a city that has awakened from a long sleep? He has undoubtedly heard it before, but he still laughed heartily, and he seemed genuinely pleased and real, like a person who is wildly enthusiastic about his job.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #61 on: Jul 24, 2013, 06:43 AM »

Archbishop: Right wing of the church not happy about Pope Francis

By Eric W. Dolan
Tuesday, July 23, 2013 22:47 EDT

Conservatives in the Vatican are less than pleased with the election of Pope Francis, according to Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia.

In an interview with the National Catholic Reporter published Tuesday, Chaput said right wing officials in the Catholic church were disillusioned with Pope Francis.

“They generally have not been really happy about his election, from what I’ve been able to read and to understand,” he remarked. “He’ll have to care for them, too, so it will be interesting to see how all this works out in the long run.”

Francis was the first ever Jesuit elected as pope. The Catholic religious order, whose members are sometimes referred to as “God’s Marines” because of their missionary work in extreme conditions, focuses on protecting the oppressed and the poor.

The Jesuits also place a high value on education, and have stirred controversy by questioning the Vatican on issues related to abortion, female priests, and homosexuality.

Though Francis hasn’t mentioned “abortion,” “gay marriage” and “euthanasia” in his first 120 days as pope, Chaput doesn’t expect him to rock the boat by radically diverging from current Catholic teachings.

“I think the pope has spoken very clearly about the value of human life. He hasn’t expressed those things in a combative way, and perhaps that’s what some are concerned about, but I can’t imagine that he won’t be as pro-life and pro-traditional marriage as any of the other popes have been in the past,” Chaput said.
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« Reply #62 on: Jul 26, 2013, 05:38 AM »

Pope Francis attacks inequality on visit to Brazilian slum

Pontiff criticises 'culture of selfishness and individualism' and urges more efforts to fight poverty

Jonathan Watts in Rio de Janeiro, Thursday 25 July 2013 18.38 BST   

Link to video: Pope Francis condemns inequality on visit to Rio favela

Pope Francis has made his strongest condemnation yet of inequality when he used a visit to a Brazilian slum to denounce the "culture of selfishness" that is widening the gap between rich and poor.

The first Latin American pontiff, who once worked with slum dwellers in his home city of Buenos Aires, Argentina, expressed solidarity with the residents of the Varginha favela in northern Rio de Janeiro, where he received a rapturous welcome.

"You are often disappointed by facts that speak of corruption on the part of people who put their own interests before the common good," Francis told a crowd which had gathered on a football pitch to hear him speak. "To you and all, I repeat: never yield to discouragement, do not lose trust, do not allow your hope to be extinguished. Situations can change, people can change."

Despite security concerns, the pope walked through the favela, which was once part of a region contested by drug-gangs that was so violent it was known as the Gaza Strip.

Varginha was "pacified" in January by special police units, which still maintain a presence in the community where Francis stopped to pray at a small local church.

The setting underscored the pope's focus on poor and peripheral communities, where the Catholic church has been losing followers in recent years to US-style evangelicalism.

On Thursday, the pontiff unleashed the most powerful and politically loaded rhetoric of his trip, attacking the "culture of selfishness and individualism" and urging more efforts to fight hunger and poverty.

"No amount of peace-building will be able to last, nor will harmony and happiness be attained in a society that ignores, pushes to the margins or excludes a part of itself," he said.

The throngs were largely kept at bay by security barriers, but Francis kissed babies and shook hands with well-wishers. Police helicopters buzzed overhead, and police snipers watched the crowd from rooftops.

In a mass the previous day, the pope had urged Catholics to resist the "ephemeral idols" of money, power, success and pleasure. He also waded into political waters gave a sharply worded condemnation of moves to legalise drug use during a visit on Wednesday to a rehabilitation centre in Brazil.

"A reduction in the spread and influence of drug addiction will not be achieved by a liberalisation of drug use, as is currently being proposed in various parts of Latin America," he said.

Those comments ran counter to a growing movement in Latin America to decriminalise the use of marijuana and other narcotics after decades of a murderous and largely ineffectual war against drugs in the region.

On Thursday evening, the pope drew hundreds of thousands of pilgrims to a World Youth Day mass on the Copacabana beach, which is better known for its sun worshippers.

Catholics from around the world flocked to Rio to hear and see Francis, whose visit for the WYD festival coincides with a wave of protest in Brazil over inequality, corruption, high prices and low standards of public service. A huge stage decorated with a crucifix and flanked by giant screens and speakers has been erected on the sands usually occupied by beach footballers, volleyball players and bikini-clad tourists.

On Thursday, however, the Catholic faithful who filled the area were shivering under umbrellas as Rio experienced one of its coldest and wettest winter days. The rain halted in time for the pope's procession through rapturous crowds, many carrying the flags of their countries, others in nuns' habits, monks' cassocks or wearing priests' dog collars.

"I've always heard that Cariocas (Rio-born people) did not like the cold or the rain. But you are here. Well done!" Pope Francis joked at the start of his address.

Many of those present had travelled for days by bus or plane to see a pope that they admire for his spirituality, lack of ostentation and strong emphasis on the poor. For many Brazilian Catholics, these qualities are appreciated at a time when more than a million people have taken to the streets to condemn local politicians and businessmen.

Giovana Mendes was one of those who took part in protests against what she described as "the shameful political situation". But the 17-year-old said she was filled with hope and excitement to see a Latin American pope.

"It's indescribable, marvellous. I have butterflies in my stomach. It's an amazing feeling," she said. "In my life, he is the best pope. He's for the people."

The focus of the pope's visit has been on drawing more young people into the church. Brazil is the world's most populous Catholic nation, but in recent years the Vatican has been alarmed by the rise of secularism and an exodus of worshippers to US-style evangelical groups.

In the 1980s, nearly 90% of Brazilians identified themselves as Catholic. Today, however, census data suggests only 65% do so, while 22% describe themselves as evangelical, and 10% say they are not religious.

Many expressed hope that the new pope would offer a change of style and focus that would help to reverse the decline.

"He's very humble. He likes to speak the language of young people," said Renan Maia Londrino, a 22-year-old from Paraná state. "I hope he can mobilise young people who are outside the church. This is an important moment for the entire world."

The authorities appear to have struggled with the conflicting desire of the pope to be as accessible as possible and the government's instinct to step up security at a time of heightened protest.

Another demonstration was staged on Thursday evening a few kilometres further along the coast outside the home of the unpopular Rio state governor, Sérgio Cabral, in Leblon. Protests at the same location earlier in the week were broken up with rubber bullets and teargas.

Although the pope has been careful not to take sides, the Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, said her government needed to work closely with the Vatican "against a common enemy – inequality" and to do more to improve the lives of its people.

Although Francis had a somewhat conservative reputation in his home nation, Argentina, up until he was chosen as pope, his comments prior to his visit to Brazil on "savage capitalism" and the "dictatorship of the economy" heartened many on the left and those who joined the recent protests.

"The church fights with us. Pope Francisco fights with the people in these demonstrations," said Walace Luiz Herbst, a pilgrim from Brazil's Espírito Santo state. "Christ, the pope and the church won't sit quiet about injustice and inequality."

However, some demonstrators are unhappy that Brazil is reportedly spending $51m on hosting the pope. The organisation has hit occasional glitches. The Vatican announced on Thursday that the pope's schedule will have to change because the custom-built site where he was supposed to preside over Sunday mass has been waterlogged by the rain. Instead the event will take place on Copacabana beach.

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« Reply #63 on: Jul 26, 2013, 05:48 AM »

Vatican prelate accused of trying to smuggle €20m appeals to pope for help

Monsignor Nunzio Scarano tells Pope Francis he is innocent and says senior cardinals are protecting his lay bosses

Lizzy Davies in Rome, Thursday 25 July 2013 17.38 BST   

Even as he tours the favelas and beaches of Brazil, Pope Francis may find it difficult to forget what is going on back home.

On Thursday, a prelate accused of attempting to smuggle €20m (£17m) into Italy from Switzerland appealed directly to the pontiff, insisting on his innocence and accusing his lay bosses in the Vatican's asset management arm of abusive activities which he said were covered up by some cardinals.

In a letter written from the Regina Coeli (Queen of Heaven) prison in Rome, where he has been detained since his arrest with two others on 28 June, Monsignor Nunzio Scarano told Francis: "I have never laundered dirty money; I have never stolen. I tried to help someone who asked for help."

In the missive, written last week and released by his lawyers, he added: "The documentation in my possession proves my honesty and my battles against the abuse of my secular superiors, protected by some senior cardinals."

He also accused some of his superiors of blackmailing and manipulating the cardinals concerned, Reuters reported.

Until recently Scarano – dubbed "Monsignor 500" by the Italian media for his taste in high-denomination euro notes – occupied a senior position in the Vatican's asset management arm, the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See.

But he was suspended after being placed under investigation in a separate affair involving allegations of money laundering, which he also denies.

On Friday, before setting off for Brazil, Francis announced he was setting up a commission to look into the reform of the Vatican's administrative and economic structure. But his spokesman, Federico Lombardi, told reporters Francis had not seen Scarano's letter before his departure.

Lombardi announced on 12 July that two of Scarano's accounts at the scandal-plagued Vatican bank – the Institute for Religious Works, which Francis is also planning to reform – had been frozen.

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« Reply #64 on: Jul 27, 2013, 06:27 AM »

Pope Francis asks Brazil’s youth to help ‘the innocent and the defenseless’

By Reuters
Friday, July 26, 2013 20:00 EDT

By Philip Pullella and Anthony Boadle

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Pope Francis urged young people on Friday to change a world where food is discarded while millions go hungry, where racism and violence still affront human dignity and where politics is more associated with corruption than service.

Francis, on the fifth day of his first trip abroad since his election in March, went to Rio’s Copacabana beach to preside at a “Way of the Cross” service commemorating Jesus’ final hours as part of an international jamboree of Catholic youth, known as World Youth Day.

Hundreds of thousands of people turned out to see the Argentine pope at the theatrical event on the crescent-shaped beachfront, giving him yet another of the frenzied welcomes that have defined his trip so far.

He ordered his open-sided popemobile to stop numerous times along his 1.8-mile (3-km) route so he could kiss babies and shake hands. He got out several times to walk along the route, making his security detail nervous again.

In his address, Francis used the analogy of the suffering Jesus to ask the young people to ease the sufferings of the world. He used the theme to address issues ranging from hunger and crime to an oblique reference to the child sex abuse scandal that has roiled the Roman Catholic Church in recent years.

Francis spoke of “the silence of the victims of violence, those who can no longer cry out, especially the innocent and the defenseless.”

He said Jesus was united with families whose children were victims of violence and drug addiction.

“Jesus is united with every person who suffers from hunger in a world where tons of food are thrown out each day … with those who are persecuted for their religion, for their beliefs or simply for the color of their skin,” he said.

In a reference to the sex abuse scandal, he spoke of “young people who have lost faith in the Church, or even in God because of the counter-witness of Christians and ministers of the gospel.”

Since his election in March, the pope has taken strong stands in defense of the environment and has several times said that financial speculation and corruption were keeping millions of people in hunger.

“So many young people who have lost faith in political institutions, because they see in them only selfishness and corruption,” Francis said.


Last month, Brazil, Latin America’s largest nation, was rocked by massive protests against corruption, the misuse of public money and the high cost of living. Most of the protesters were young.

“The suffering of Christ is keenly felt here,” the pope said, asking the young people to step outside of themselves and not wash their hands of society’s many problems like Pontius Pilate washed his hands of Jesus’ fate in the gospel.

It was the second time in as many days that the pope urged young people to exploit their drive and energy to change things.

During a visit to a Rio slum on Thursday, he urged them to not lose trust and not allow their hopes to be extinguished. Many young people in Brazil saw this as his support for peaceful demonstrations to bring about change.

At the slum, he issued the first social manifesto of his young pontificate, saying that the world’s rich must do much more to wipe out vast inequalities between the haves and the have-nots.

The first Latin American pope is clearly relishing the enthusiasm at a time when the Church, which once was an unrivalled religious bastion on the continent, is grappling to hold onto faithful.

On Friday, he took on the role of a simple priest and heard confessions of young people. Later, he visited the archbishop’s residence, where he again showed his personal touch by lunching with youth and meeting juvenile inmates.

After four straight days of rain and unseasonable cold, the sun returned to Rio on Friday and the long evening service that included dramatic re-enactments of Jesus’ final hours was held under stars instead of clouds.

But the change in the weather came too late. The rain forced organizers to move this weekend’s two final gatherings to Copacabana from a pasture on the outskirts of the city because it had become a vast field of mud.

The final, climatic event of World Youth Day is Sunday, when Francis presides at a closing Mass before returning to Rome that evening.

(Writing by Philip Pullella; Editing by Doina Chiacu)
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« Reply #65 on: Jul 28, 2013, 06:38 AM »

Young Catholics flood Rio’s streets after Pope Francis speech

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, July 27, 2013 16:30 EDT

Heeding Pope Francis’ call to shake up the Church, hundreds of thousands of young Catholics marched across Rio on Saturday, singing, beating drums and chanting “this is the pope’s youth!”

They waved flags from around the world — Brazil, Australia, South Africa, the United States — and pitched tents on the crescent-shaped beach of Copacabana for an all-night vigil and final mass with the pope to cap World Youth Day festivities.

Since his election in March, history’s first Latin American pope has sought to re-energize Catholics, using his Rio trip to urge young believers to spread the Gospel and “make a mess” in their dioceses.

Flanked by the Sugarloaf mountain and Christ the Redeemer statue atop a peak, the faithful reflected on the pope’s message during a nine-kilometer (5.5-mile) pilgrimage to the beach.

Many agreed that the Catholic Church needs a dose of energy, lamenting that too many have lost interest in a religion that has been hurt by pedophilia scandals.

Some suggested that social media can help spread the Gospel, others said young Catholics needs to be more active, join missions and open up about their faith.

“Oh yeah! Shake it up, big time! You have to,” said Adrian Antonio Flores, a 31-year-old from the US state of Minnesota who works for a website catering to young Catholics.

“We’re alive, we’re on fire. When people see others on fire, it’s contagious,” he said before a prayer with 33 other Americans. “The Church needs to say to young people, here’s social media and there’s a light in media.”

Roque Sanchez, a 22-year-old mathematics student holding a flag of his native Mexico, said the Church “needs to adapt, use things like Facebook.”

“The Church must renew itself, otherwise it will be like in the Middle Ages,” he said.

While Yu-Chun Hung, a 25-year-old English teacher from Taiwan, agreed that the Church needs to adapt to a fast-moving society, she warned that social media must be used carefully.

“Young people can be easily seduced. Using social media could be bad or wrong, but it depends on how we use it. Like a gun, it can hurt people but a gun can also protect people,” she said, wearing a conical straw hat.

Although many said the Church must stick to dogma, Priti Khatiwada, a 16-year-old Catholic school student from Australia, said it should consider allowing priests to marry.

Some of the sins committed by clergymen, she said, may be due to the fact that “they have been deprived of basic human necessities.”

The Church has struggled with scandals that have alienated some faithful. Even Brazil, the world’s biggest Catholic country, has seen its flock dwindle while Evangelical churches and secularism advance.

But Pope Francis has generated wall-to-wall news coverage of his visit.

Many pilgrims said the 76-year-old pontiff has connected with them with his charisma and tendency to break protocol to embrace people who have lined the streets to see him.

“I think he’s lovely, really down to earth,” Khatiwada said.

The mass of people at World Youth Day, however, has caused logistical headaches for organizers, who have come under fire over a metro breakdown and the sudden switch of venue for the vigil.

The grand finale was supposed to take place on a field west of Rio, but rain turned it into a mud pit, forcing authorities to move the events to Copacabana.

During Saturday’s march, some pilgrims stood in huge lines for as long as three hours to receive a food box being distributed near a war monument. Some shouted at people trying to break in line.

“It’s very chaotic,” said Yolanda Chao, 48, of Vancouver, Canada.

But Chao and most pilgrims have remained upbeat despite the rain and logistical missteps.

“There are a million people so it will be hard for everything to run smoothly,” said Australian student Bronte Dunne, 16. “People should understand and be patient.”

And many were looking forward to spending the night on Copacabana, usually famous for curvacious women in tiny bikinis.

“God will work a miracle after we’re gone,” said Father Pierre Claver of Ivory Coast. “The girls in the sexy bikinis will see that the young people here today are giving another message, that Jesus is here and everywhere.”

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« Reply #66 on: Jul 28, 2013, 12:19 PM »

Pope Francis Defends Amazon And Environment In Brazil

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Pope Francis took on the defense of the Amazon and the environment near the end of his weeklong trip to Brazil, as he donned a colorful Indian headdress Saturday and urged that the rainforest be treated as a garden.

The pontiff met with a few thousand of Brazil's political, business and cultural elite in Rio de Janeiro's Municipal Theater, where he also shook hands with Indians who said they were from a tribe that has been battling ranchers and farmers trying to invade their land in northeastern Bahia state.

In a separate speech to bishops, the pope called for "respect and protection of the entire creation which God has entrusted to man, not so that it be indiscriminately exploited but rather made into a garden."

He also urged attention to a 2007 document by Latin American and Caribbean bishops that he was in charge of drafting, which underscored dangers facing the Amazon environment and the native people living there. The document also called for new evangelization efforts to halt a steep decline in Catholics leaving for other faiths or secularism.

"The traditional communities have been practically excluded from decisions on the wealth of biodiversity and nature. Nature has been, and continues to be, assaulted," the document reads.

Several of the indigenous people in the audience hailed from the Amazon and said they hoped the pope would help them protect land designated by the government as indigenous reserves but that farmers and ranchers illegally invade for timber and to graze cattle. In fact, grazing has been the top recent cause of deforestation in Brazil.

"We got credentials for his speech and attended so we could tell the pope what's happening to our people," said Levi Xerente, a 22-year-old member of the Xerente tribe in Tocantins state in the Amazon, after he attended the pope's speech. "We hope that he will help intervene with the government and stop all the big public works projects that are happening in the region."

Xerente, speaking in broken Portuguese, said the biggest threats to Indians in the region were big agribusiness invading land and the government's own massive infrastructure projects, including the damming of rivers for hydroelectric power generation and roads being carved out of the forest, often to reach giant mines.

Francis thanked Brazilian bishops for maintaining a church presence in the rugged and vast Amazon, which is about the size of the United States west of the Mississippi River. But he pushed church leaders to refocus energies on the region.

"The church's work needs to be further encouraged and launched afresh" in the Amazon, the pope said in prepared remarks, urging an "Amazonian face" for the church.

He cited the church's long history of working in the region.

"The church's presence in the Amazon basin is not that of someone with bags packed and ready to leave after having exploited everything possible," he said. "The church has been present in the Amazon basin from the beginning ... and is still present and critical to the area's future."

Catholic priests and nuns have taken up the causes of Indians and of poor subsistence farmers in the Amazon, often putting themselves in danger. Violent conflicts over land rights are common in the region, where wealthy farmers and ranchers are known to hire gunmen to intimidate people into leaving land the government has often set aside as reserves for their use.

In 2005, U.S. nun and Amazon land-rights defender Dorothy Stang was murdered by one such gunman in the state of Para. Two ranchers were later convicted of ordering her murder so they could control a parcel of land the government had ceded to a subsistence farming group Stang worked with.
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« Reply #67 on: Jul 29, 2013, 05:44 AM »

Pope says gays must not be judged or marginalized

By Reuters
Monday, July 29, 2013 7:25 EDT

ROME (Reuters) – Pope Francis, in some of the most compassionate words from any pontiff on gays, said they should not be judged or marginalized and should be integrated into society, but he reaffirmed Church teaching that homosexual acts are a sin.

In a broad-ranging 80-minute conversation with journalists on the plane bringing him back from a week-long visit to Brazil, Francis also said the Roman Catholic Church’s ban on women priests was definitive, although he would like them to have more leadership roles in administration and pastoral activities.

Francis defended gays from discrimination in what was his first news conference since being elected pontiff in March, but also referred to the Catholic Church’s universal Catechism, which says that while homosexual orientation is not sinful homosexual acts are.

“If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him?” the pope said.

“The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well. It says they should not be marginalized because of this (orientation) but that they must be integrated into society,” he said, speaking in Italian.

“The problem is not having this orientation. We must be brothers. The problem is lobbying by this orientation, or lobbies of greedy people, political lobbies, Masonic lobbies, so many lobbies. This is the worse problem,” he said.

Francis was answering a question about reports of a “gay lobby” in the Vatican.

“You see a lot written about the gay lobby. I still have not seen anyone in the Vatican with an identity card saying they are gay,” he joked.

Addressing the issue of women priests, the pope said, “The Church has spoken and says ‘no’ … that door is closed.” It was the first time he had spoken in public on the subject.

“We cannot limit the role of women in the Church to altar girls or the president of a charity, there must be more …,” he said in answer to a question during a remarkably frank conversation with Vatican journalists.

“But with regards to the ordination of women, the Church has spoken and says no. Pope John Paul said so with a formula that was definitive. That door is closed,” he said referring to a document by the late pontiff which said the ban was part of the infallible teaching of the Church.

The Church teaches that it cannot ordain women because Jesus willingly chose only men as his apostles. Advocates of a female priesthood say he was acting according to the customs of his times.

Many in the Church, even those who oppose a female priesthood, say women should be given leadership roles in the Church and the Vatican administration.

Francis arrived back in Rome on Monday after a triumphant week-long tour of Brazil which climaxed with a huge gathering on Rio de Janeiro’s famed Copacabana beach for a world Catholic youth festival which organizers estimated to have attracted more than 3 million people.

(Reporting By Philip Pullella; editing by Barry Moody)


July 28, 2013

Pope’s Trip to Brazil Seen as ‘Strong Start’ in Revitalizing Church


RIO DE JANEIRO — Pope Francis celebrated the last Mass of his trip to Brazil on Sunday before more than a million people gathered on the beach in this city, the national flags of Catholics from around the world hoisted in the air as a chorus of Brazilian priests belted out songs before the multitude. It was a vibrant display of the Vatican’s ambition of halting the losses of worshipers to evangelical churches and the rising appeal of secularism.

By various measures, Francis’s first international trip since he was named pope this year was a success. The 76-year-old Argentine, a Jesuit who is the first pope from the Americas, was greeted like a rock star by attendees to a conference of Catholic youth. He urged people to combat corruption, a top grievance in the protests shaking Brazil, and called on bishops to focus on the pragmatic needs of congregants, shifting emphasis from the abuse scandals that have plagued the Vatican for years.

“If this trip is any indication, he’s off to a strong start at revitalizing the church,” said Andrew Chesnut, an expert on Latin American religions at Virginia Commonwealth University who came here to see the pope’s visit up close. “He’s been very astute on focusing on the everyday afflictions of the poor, taking a page from the evangelicals themselves.”

Before scolding Brazilian clergy at one point during the weeklong visit for losing touch with their own worshipers, by appearing “too distant from their needs,” Francis offered the example of visiting a medical center where drug addicts receive treatment. Still, he hewed to the Roman Catholic Church’s prevailing view on drugs, criticizing supporters of decriminalizing drug use, showing how a pope can seem at the same time to be caring and resistant to a profound shift under way in parts of the world.

“Francis is more simpatico than John Paul II, certainly more likable than Benedict, but transforming the church requires more than public relations gestures, appealing as they might be,” said Peter McDonough, a scholar of religion who has written widely on the Jesuits, comparing Francis with his predecessors. “It’s doubtful, aside from a positive bump in applications to the priesthood and perhaps a groundswell in confessions, that Pope Francis’s visit to Brazil will stem the loss of congregants to evangelical and other denominations or reverse the tide of secularization.”

Still, if there is any place to forge ahead with strategies aimed at fortifying the Roman Catholic Church, it is Latin America. Just three countries in the region — Brazil, Mexico and Colombia — account for about a quarter of all Catholics in the world, according to a study of the global Catholic population by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Brazil has more Catholics, an estimated 123 million, than any other country.

Yet Brazil also showcases the threats to Catholicism. Just 65 percent of Brazilians identify as Catholics, compared with 85 percent of Mexicans. Almost 25 percent of Brazilians are now evangelical, up from single-digit levels in the 1970s, and a growing number of people reject religious doctrine completely, opting for a thoroughly secular lifestyle.

Illustrating Brazil’s diversity of beliefs, various protests coalesced around the pope’s visit. One of them, a Marcha das Vadias, or SlutWalk, involved scantily clad women questioning the Catholic Church’s opposition to legalized abortion, women as priests and same-sex marriage. At one point, a man reportedly spit on of the face of one of the protesters, only to have several women in the protest show him their breasts and shake their behinds at him in defiance.

But while a Carnivalesque atmosphere prevailed in some Rio neighborhoods, a more relaxed vibe was evident in many parts of the city during the pope’s visit. Pilgrims from around the world roamed through the streets. Some strummed guitars, singing religious hymns from their homelands. Thousands camped on the beach, shrugging at the blunders by local organizers like an accidental shutdown one day of the subway system.

“I will never forget this moment in all of my life,” Wael Sami, 22, an Iraqi Catholic who traveled here from Baghdad, said on Sunday. “I have been to many countries, but I think this is the coolest,” said Mr. Sami, a student of computer programming. “When they see our flag and know there are Christian people in Iraq, they are so excited.”

While shifting attention to Latin America and other parts of the developing world, Francis notably welcomed the participation during Mass of the Charismatic Catholic Renovation, a movement of singing priests, some of them heartthrobs with hit CDs, seeking to appeal to congregants with upbeat, lively strategies similar to those employed by fast-growing evangelical churches.

“I think this pope is breaking protocol,” said Saulo Palacio, 35, a computer technician who attended a religious service on Sunday at his evangelical church here, Nova Vida, or New Life. “We don’t agree on everything, but I recognize he’s different, maybe since he’s South American,” he said. “He could change things in the Catholic Church, but I’m not switching back to Catholic rites, not when my church is a happier place, with more emotion.”

Getting some evangelicals to even consider a return to Catholicism may be the start of a shift in the church’s fortunes in Latin America. But some scholars warn that the Vatican remains far from undergoing a broader transformation, with Francis, who returned to the Vatican on Sunday night, opposed to allowing women a more prominent role in carrying out religious services or allowing priests to marry.

“The gestures have changed, but the dogma has not,” said Fortunato Mallimaci, a sociologist at the University of Buenos Aires who specializes in the relationship between culture and religion, pointing to the example of the pope’s stance against legalizing drugs. “On social issues, Francis will be a continuation of his predecessors.”

Still, it was undeniable that Francis’s easygoing and ascetic style aroused optimism among many here that the Catholic Church could be on the cusp of a long-awaited revival. Leonardo Boff, a prominent liberation theologian who was reprimanded in the 1980s by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Benedict XVI , said Francis was repositioning the Catholic Church “from a fortress to an open house.”

“We’re exiting two papacies characterized by the return to great discipline and the control of doctrines,” Mr. Boff, 74, a former Franciscan priest, wrote during the pope’s visit. “With Pope Francis, coming from outside old European Christianity, he brings hope and enjoyment of life.”

Taylor Barnes and Paula Ramon contributed reporting from Rio de Janeiro, and Jonathan Gilbert from Buenos Aires.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: July 28, 2013

Because of a clerical error, the dateline on an earlier version of this article misspelled part of the name of the city where the article was written. It is Rio de Janeiro, not Janiero.

* 29pope2-web-articleLarge.jpg (71.43 KB, 600x399 - viewed 120 times.)
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« Reply #68 on: Jul 30, 2013, 05:53 AM »

07/30/2013 12:16 PM

'Not Afraid of Reality': Pope Praised for New Stance on Gays

In a departure from the Vatican's traditional view of gays, Pope Francis told reporters on Monday that he doesn't judge priests for their sexual orientation. His words have been welcomed by human rights groups, but critics say he still avoided the issue of sin.

"If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?" Pope Francis asked during an unexpectedly candid in-flight news conference on Monday. "We shouldn't marginalize people for this. They must be integrated into society."

The pope's comments, made on his way back to Rome from his first foreign trip, have been welcomed by human rights advocacy groups.

"Pope Francis used a different and more benign tone than his German predecessor when he was talking about homosexual people," said Boris Dittrich, advocacy director of the LGBT program at Human Rights Watch. "I read his view ... as a call to Roman Catholic clergy in many countries to speak up and protest when gay men or lesbian women are arrested or discriminated against by the authorities in their countries."

"From now on, the Roman Catholic clergy cannot look the other way, but should support this vulnerable group to integrate in society they live in," he added.

'A Strong Statement'

The German wing of the international Catholic reform movement "We are Church" also praised the pope's remarks. "This is a major coup for gay priests who have had to cover up their sexual orientation," said spokesman Christian Weisner. "It was a strong statement and an important signal that Francis is not afraid of reality."

Human Rights Campaign, the largest US gay rights group, said in a statement that the pope's remarks "represent a significant change in tone."

By contrast, Francis' predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, signed a document in 2005 that said men who had deep-rooted homosexual tendencies should not be priests. Francis distanced himself from this position in his first news conference as pope, when he said that gay clergymen should be forgiven and their sins forgotten.

Change in Style, not Substance?

But Francis still stopped short of rejecting the Catholic Church's principle that homosexual acts are a sin.

"Basically, what he said was obvious," wrote Germany's center-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung. "In his press conference, the pope skilfully avoided the truly thorny issue of whether gays and lesbians can only be equal before God (as others) if they are celibate."

Nevertheless, his remarks indicated that the new pope is willing to make his church more inclusive and merciful, and less critical and disciplinary, conceded the Süddeutsche Zeitung. "This new attitude is still noteworthy -- it suggests a willingness to step away from the old dogma."

The pope's comments were made in response to questions about reports earlier this year that a group of gay clergymen exert undue influence on Vatican policy. Italian news media suggested that a "gay lobby" contributed to Benedict's decision to resign.

"A lot is written about this 'gay lobby,'" said the pontiff. "I still haven't found anyone at the Vatican who has 'gay' on his business card. You have to distinguish between the fact that someone is gay and the fact of being in a 'lobby.'"

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« Reply #69 on: Jul 30, 2013, 05:59 AM »

Pope Francis's final mass in Brazil 'attended by 3m'

Pontiff wraps up first overseas trip as head of Catholic church with address to worshippers on Copacabana beach in Rio

Jonathan Watts in Rio de Janeiro, Sunday 28 July 2013 18.52 BST    

Link to video: Pope Francis addresses Brazil's Copacabana beach on World Youth Day

Pope Francis wrapped up a triumphant first overseas trip as pontiff with a Sunday mass on Copacabana beach attended by three million worshippers, according to Rio authorities' estimates.

In the evangelical, simple and radical style that has characterised his week-long visit to Brazil, Francis made an appeal to pilgrims to return to their home countries and revitalise the Catholic church.

He urged followers to be more active in their faith by reach out to "to the fringes of society, even to those who seem farthest away, most indifferent".

"The church needs you, your enthusiasm, your creativity and the joy that is so characteristic of you," he told the vast throng, hundreds of thousands of whom had slept overnight on the 4km-long beach.

Underscoring the influence of the church in Latin America, his congregation included the presidents of Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia and Suriname, as well as the vice presidents of Uruguay and Panama and a host of other dignitaries.

Authorities said the crowd for the final mass of the World Youth Day Catholic festival had swollen to more than 3 million people over the weekend. Many who camped on the beach overnight said they had trouble sleeping owing to the cold and the noise of the waves and happy pilgrims singing until the early morning.

"I'm very tired but happy. It was good fun," said Paul Mitchell, from Sydney, who slept on the sand and went for a swim before the mass began. "It was amazing to see other people's faces. People here are so alive and filled with the love of God. We could learn from that, especially the church in Australia."

Waving their hands, singing and praying together, the huge crowd joined in an often rapturous shared worship.

Sister Mary Herrera giggled when asked how it feels to sleep with three million people.

"This is what I call a revolution of love," said the nun, who teaches in poor communities and drug rehabilitation centres in Argentina.

The festival has brought a population bigger than the combined residents of Manchester and Birmingham into Copacabana for open-air events relayed along the beach by more than a dozen giant screens.

In the coming days, the migration will reverse. Many of those who will join the exodus say they will take back an activist message from the pope's sermons.

Lucas Robles, a 20-year-old from Peru."It has been fantastic. Much bigger and better than carnival. This also has a real purpose."

During his visit, the pope has consistently struck a politically radical tone. He expressed support for protesters who joined the huge demonstrations across Brazil last month.

"The young people in the street are the ones who want to be actors of change. Please don't let others be actors of change," the Argentine pontiff said during a Saturday night vigil. "I ask you to be actors of change, keep overcoming apathy and offering a Christian response to the social and political concerns taking place in different parts of the world."

The 76-year-old added visits to a favela slum, a drug rehabilitation clinic and a prison to his schedule to underscore his belief that Catholics need to reach out to the poor and underprivileged on the periphery of society.

He has also called on the church to reflect on why it has lost so many former followers to secularism and Pentecostal faiths in recent years.

Compared to his bookish predecessor, Francis has adopted a populist style, using simple language and references to popular culture.

An avid football fan, he told his audience: "Jesus offers us something bigger than the World Cup!"

But he has been uncompromising on contentious issues that separate the church from much of modern society. On Sunday, he invited a couple with an anencephalic baby to be blessed. The father was wearing a "Stop abortion" T-shirt.

For many in Latin America, this will recall a recent controversy in El Salvador where a young woman pleaded with the authorities to let her terminate her pregnancy with an anencephalic foetus.

Hundreds of people joined protests against the Catholic church on Saturday evening with a "slutwalk" by women – and a few men – in skimpy clothing, bearing signs declaring "Get your cross out of my uterus!" and banners criticising the pope's opposition to same-sex marriage.

Earlier demonstrations criticised local politicians, who have reportedly spent more than $50m (£32.5m) of public funds to host the event.

Overall, however, Vatican officials have declared the festival – which they say has attracted more than double the participants of any previous World Youth Day – as a success.

The hosts, however, face renewed questions about their organisational abilities.

This weekend's vigil and mass were supposed to have been held at a custom site on the outskirts of the city, but the venue was switched at the last moment because the field was waterlogged.

Traffic and public transport problems have also plagued the event and raised doubts about the upcoming World Cup and Olympics.
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« Reply #70 on: Jul 31, 2013, 06:26 AM »

Pope Francis: gay priests in the Vatican? Yes. A gay conspiracy? No

Pontiff reopens most urgent issue of his reign on flight from Rio and prioritises tackling attitudes to homosexuality

Andrew Brown, Kate Connolly in Berlin and Lizzy Davies in Rome
The Guardian, Wednesday 31 July 2013   

It was on the return flight from Rio aboard the papal plane known to Vatican-watchers as Shepherd One that Pope Francis reopened the most urgent issue of his reign. Relaxing in the glow of adulation from a tour of Brazil that had culminated in the celebration of mass with three million pilgrims on Copacabana beach, the pontiff wandered to the back of the papal plane, where he spoke freely to an astonished press corps about the vexed question of the Vatican and homosexuality.

He first dispensed with his predecessors' distaste for the very word "gay". "Who am I to judge," he said, "if someone is gay and he searches for the Lord with goodwill?" Gay people should not be marginalised from society, he said, before tackling head-on the rumoured, much-discussed existence of a powerful "gay lobby" in the Vatican. If such a thing existed, it was not the most important form of corruption: "The problem is not having this orientation. We must be brothers. The problem is lobbying by this orientation, or lobbies of greedy people, political lobbies, Masonic lobbies, so many lobbies. This is the worse problem."

To understand the significance of homosexuality to the Vatican, one needs to know that a large minority of Catholic priests are thought to be gay and these priests know all too well the catechism's teaching that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered". Add this to the Vatican tradition of discrediting an enemy by accusing him of being gay, and the result is a sizeable number of closeted men in positions of authority with deep and potentially damaging secrets. By making same-sex acts a sin, the church moved homosexuality from being a simple matter of sexual orientation into the realm of conspiracy and politics.

The problem is compounded by a document drawn up by Pope Benedict XVI when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, which appears to mandate a life in the closet for the gay priest. Although it condemns homosexuality as an attraction towards "an intrinsic moral evil", men who have managed three years of celibacy are assumed to have no "deep-rooted" homosexual orientation. In such an atmosphere, it's no wonder that the phrase "gay lobby" has become so powerful and that almost everyone is suspected of membership.

A recent and high-profile target of suspicion was the pope's new personal representative at the troubled Vatican Bank, Monsignor Battista Ricca, who was accused of living openly with his male lover when he was a Vatican diplomat in Uruguay at the turn of the century. The pope, on the flight from Rio, said the allegations had been found to be groundless and anyway only concerned a sin, which God might forgive, and not a crime. This was not only an assertion of his authority over the backbiters within the Vatican but also marked an attempt to deal with gay people realistically, as people.

These two strategies are closely linked in his struggle to reform the church, and tame the Vatican's bureaucracy, known as the Curia.

The English theologian James Alison, himself openly gay, reckons more than 40% of the Catholic clergy today are gay, but that very few are comfortable or honest about it. Other experienced observers concur with this estimate, though few inside the church will speak on the record.

"The notion of a gay lobby is complicated," said Alison. "There are so many uses of the term." Inside the Vatican, the term typically refers to all people outside who claim being gay is normal. The second use, said Alison, was as shorthand for delusional thinking, such as "When people say things like: 'This so-called scientific teaching is merely the result of a powerful gay lobby.'" This shows, said Alison, that the biggest and most successful gay lobby in the Vatican is the closeted one.

The veteran Vatican correspondent John L Allen of the National Catholic Reporter believes the Italianised term "lobby gay" has a different nuance to the English phrase. "When you say 'gay lobby' to the typical English-speaker, what they're going to think of is … an interest group advancing an agenda.

"That really is not what Italians mean by the term 'lobby gay'. What they mean is this clandestine network of people in the Vatican who have skeletons in their closets who are looking out for one another, and as far as Italians are concerned those skeletons don't even have anything to do with sex in some cases.

"If the question is 'Are there gays in the Vatican?', yes, of course there are. But if the question is 'Is there some kind of organised network of gays in the Vatican who are protecting one other and advancing their own interests', all I can tell you is that in 15 years of covering the place I've never seen any particular evidence of that."

According to Alison, even the notion of a closeted gay lobby turns out to be complicated. "It's a honeycomb of closets. Not everyone knows everybody else. Everybody knows somebody who knows someone else. So there is a …game of blackmail going on.

"The people with the strongest motivation to keep the current system are those people who – maybe for the best of motives – opted to 'sacrifice' that part of themselves for what they thought was the glory of God. They found themselves constantly having to re-enact that sacrifice for other people, as though the annihilation of who one is was actually what Our Lord meant. Their sacrifice has been not only in vain, but has been a monumental act of self-destruction. This destruction is independent of whether the person has or has not got partners."

Another perspective is supplied by the German theologian David Berger, who for 20 years was part of the closeted traditionalist scene in Germany (Alison notes wryly that the smallest possible Catholic society would be a gathering of straight traditionalist priests). Berger was denounced and sacked from his teaching job when he came out in 2010 and now edits a gay magazine. "In Rome I experienced that these [gay] networks exist but they're not about power grabbing. Nepotism exists in the Vatican anyway, based on friendships. The main aim of these circles is simply to gain access to sex in an uncomplicated way. There is also a lot of paid sex but much unpaid sex as well. There's no gay conspiracy in the Vatican."

Berger has large files of letters from priests, largely from German-speaking countries, in which the writers have told him graphic and often tortured stories about their experiences of being gay and in the priesthood. One priest was so distraught by the attempts to blackmail him as well as his sense of guilt that he covered himself in petrol in front of the other priest with whom he was in a relationship and set himself alight. He died, whilst the surviving priest lives with a huge psychological burden.

Some observers identify an older generation of gay priests as being less conflicted. One highly placed English Catholic said: "I have known quite a few gay clergy of that generation, who accepted the church's teaching on homosexuality without having to fight any self-hatred. They did not see their homosexuality as being at the very core of their identity. They happened to be gay. But what is at the centre of their being is that they can love, and it just happens that some of their most profound experiences of love were of other men."

This adjustment to a celibate life – where sex is entirely unimportant and uninteresting when compared with love that seems to need no sexual expression – does certainly still exist, and was acknowledged by everyone the Guardian talked to. But it is hard in the modern age. "Rome is one of the last places on earth where 'don't ask don't tell' actually means that," said Alison. "It is a traditional monosexual culture, in the same way that the British army would have been in 1890. Women and indeed sex are simply irrelevant. It didn't matter what you did so long as you weren't caught and caused no scandal.

"It's a remarkable cultural survival of a pre-modern world. But the people inhabiting it are modern people. So you get cognitive dissonance. There are various ways of surviving. You can live a double life, with all the pain that will lead to. You can choose to shut down your emotional life and become career-minded."

It will be a test of his reign whether Pope Francis can negotiate this politically charged issue, one consequence of which is that accusations of homosexuality remain one of the commonest and most effective forms of attack.

Sometimes this is entirely deranged. A traditionalist blogger has denounced the archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, as "a homosexual" because he had said something sympathetic about his own gay clergy.

Similarly, a letter denouncing by name a number of prominent German and Austrian Catholic clergy, inside and outside the Vatican, was circulated to all German-speaking bishops last year and to the media including the Guardian. The men are widely regarded to be moving in gay networks. Some are accused of complicity in the manoeuvrings around the Vatileaks scandal last year, when Pope Benedict's butler was convicted of passing on detailed and confidential information to journalists. It seems likely that this letter formed part of a dossier presented to Pope Benedict in February by three cardinals charged with investigating the Vatileaks affair.

As his remarks on the plane imply, an opening towards honesty in Catholic attitudes to homosexuality and gay people must form a part of what Francis was elected by the cardinals to do: reform the Vatican. It is a huge task.
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« Reply #71 on: Aug 03, 2013, 07:09 AM »

August 2, 2013

Pope Sends Message of Respect for Muslims


In a demonstration of what the Vatican spokesman called Pope Francis’ “particular attention to relations with the Muslim world,” the pope on Friday personally signed the Holy See message for Muslims at the end of Ramadan, calling for “mutual respect through education” between Christianity and Islam.

“We are called to respect the religion of the other, its teachings, its symbols, its values,” Francis wrote in a statement distributed by the Holy See.

“We have to bring up our young people to think and speak respectfully of other religions and their followers,” said the message, which stressed the enhanced role that education must play in building respect for different religions and the need “to avoid ridiculing or denigrating their convictions and practices.”

“As an expression of esteem and friendship for all Muslims,” Francis decided to personally sign his good wishes to Muslims worldwide on the feast of Id al-Fitr, which celebrates the end of Ramadan, a month of prayer and fasting. Historically, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue has delivered the message on behalf of the Holy See. The last pope to send a personal message to Muslims was John Paul II in the aftermath of the Persian Gulf war in 1991.

“It’s not the first time that a pontiff has signed the message by his own hand,” the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said. “But it certainly shows Francis’ particular attention to relations with the Muslim world.”

In 2006, Francis’ predecessor as pope, Benedict XVI, upset Muslims when he quoted a Byzantine emperor who called Islam “evil and inhuman.” Muslims in many countries took to the streets in protest, and an Italian nun was killed in Somalia. Benedict later apologized, and the Holy See was very careful in avoiding any similar remarks.

Francis, who chose the name of the saint known as the “universal brother,” with strong ties to Islam, has always been quite attentive to interreligious dialogue. Meeting religious leaders from all over the world in March, the pope promised friendship, respect and dialogue among men and women of different religious traditions, and expressed special gratitude to the Muslim leaders who had come to salute him at the beginning of his papacy.

In his first address to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, Francis stressed the importance of intensifying dialogue among the various faiths, “particularly dialogue with Islam.”
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« Reply #72 on: Aug 22, 2013, 06:58 AM »

Ex-pope Benedict says God told him to resign during 'mystical experience'

Pope Francis's predecessor breaks silence to contradict explanation he gave to cardinals when he stepped down

Tom Kington in Rome, Wednesday 21 August 2013 13.45 BST   

The former pope Benedict has claimed that his resignation in February was prompted by God, who told him to do it during a "mystical experience".

Breaking his silence for the first time since he became the first pope to step down in 600 years, the 86-year-old reportedly said: "God told me to" when asked what had pushed him to retire to a secluded residence in the Vatican gardens.

Benedict denied he had been visited by an apparition or had heard God's voice, but said he had undergone a "mystical experience" during which God had inspired in him an "absolute desire" to dedicate his life to prayer rather than push on as pope.

The German ex-pontiff's comments, which are said to have been made a few weeks ago, were reported by the Catholic news agency Zenit, which did not name the person Benedict had spoken to.

A senior Vatican source said the report was reliable. "The report seems credible. It accurately explains the spiritual process that brought Benedict to resign," he said.

Benedict said his mystical experience had lasted months, building his desire to create a direct and exclusive relationship with God. Now, after witnessing the "charisma" of his successor, Pope Francis, Benedict said he understood to a greater extent how his stepping aside was the "will of God".

Benedict's reported remarks contrast with the explanation he gave to cardinals when he announced his resignation on 11 February. "My strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry," he said then.

At the time, a German journalist who had recently met Benedict reported he was going deaf, appeared to be blind in one eye, and was emaciated and "exhausted-looking".

Speculation also grew that he was depressed after his trusted butler, Paolo Gabriele, was caught leaking his personal correspondence. Italian press reports have recently claimed he was frustrated by a network of influence built up at the Vatican by a pro-gay lobby of prelates.

Zenit reported that Benedict has stuck to his plan to live a life of secluded prayer, receiving very few visitors at his house in the Vatican's gardens, which enjoys views across Rome to the Apennine mountains beyond.

"During these meetings, the ex-pontiff does not comment, does not reveal secrets, does not make statements that could be understood as 'the words of the other pope', but is as reserved as he has always been," wrote Zenit.

After concerns were raised that Benedict would exert undue influence at the Vatican as his successor struggled to find his feet, Francis's popular approach and his shakeup of Vatican protocols have relegated Benedict to the sidelines.

Francis has even joked about the situation, saying in July: "The last time there were two or three popes, they didn't talk among themselves and they fought over who was the true pope!"

Having Benedict living in the Vatican, he added, "is like having a grandfather – a wise grandfather – living at home".

Francis's first encyclical, issued in July, was started by Benedict while he was in office and finished by his successor.

Benedict took his first day trip out of the Vatican on 18 August, walking in the gardens at the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, outside Rome, where he stayed after his retirement while his new house was being refurbished. Benedict did not risk running into Francis, who has preferred to stay at his desk at the Vatican during the summer.

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« Reply #73 on: Aug 22, 2013, 07:00 AM »

Vatican: Iranian Christian sentenced to 10 years for distributing Bibles

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, August 21, 2013 11:44 EDT

An Iranian Christian convert has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for distributing Bibles in his home country, the Vatican missionary news agency Fides reported on Wednesday.

Mohammad-Hadi Bordhar was arrested in Iran in December and reportedly said he wanted to “evangelise by handing out 12,000 pocket bibles”.

He was accused of “crimes against state security”.

After being baptised, the man had created a “domestic church” in his home in Rasht in northern Iran, Fides reported. Iranian police found books, CDs and more than 6,000 Bibles at his property.

Fides said he had already been arrested in 2009 and found guilty of apostasy but had since been released.

The Catholic news agency quoted non-governmental groups saying that interest in Christianity among young Iranians is worrying the authorities and that churches have been shut down.

The agency said Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, has raised hopes with his rhetoric about civil rights.

The Christian minority in Iran is tiny, estimated at less than one percent of the population.

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« Reply #74 on: Aug 23, 2013, 06:35 AM »

Pope Francis defies Vatican protocol by directly contacting Papal subjects

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, August 22, 2013 16:31 EDT

A teenager who wrote to Pope Francis got a shock when the Catholic leader called him up for a chat — the latest example of the pontiff’s down-to-earth approach.

Francis called up a journalist friend on the day of his election and even phoned a newspaper stand in Buenos Aires to cancel his subscription.

Stefano Cabizza, a 19-year-old student from Padua in northeast Italy, had sent a letter to the pope, the local Il Gazzettino daily said on Thursday.

But he said he never expected the phone to ring and a voice on the other end to say: “Hello, it’s the pope.”

Cabizza said that the two “laughed and chatted for eight minutes” and that Francis had blessed him.

The pope, formerly the archbishop of Buenos Aires, makes many calls directly in a break with protocol under which calls are usually handled by aides or at least through the Vatican switchboard.

He recently called an Italian man who was paralysed after a car accident and who recently lost his brother.

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