The bishops of bling will fight for their things
The Catholic church has a long history of extravagance – the pope's war on profligacy will be hard fought
theguardian.com, Thursday 24 October 2013 14.20 BST
In case you thought the days of church feudalism and political infighting had been confined to history, battle lines are being drawn in the Vatican for a fight that has already claimed its first scalp. The pope has declared war on profligacy within his kingdom, and has suspended German bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst over the €31m spent renovating his official residence in Limburg. It marks the beginning of the clash of traditional values of Old Europe, so favoured by the pontiff's predecessor Benedict, with the stripped-back outlook of the New World incumbent.
The minute Pope Francis stepped out onto the papal balcony without his mozetta (a papal cape – an ermine trimmed velvet version of which was a favourite of Benedict), you could hear the lace vestments and jewelled crosses being shoved back into Vatican cupboards, and thus began the purge. Supposedly, employees of the Vatican secretariat of state were told by superiors that cufflinks were frowned upon and hardy rubber-soled shoes were encouraged, and apparently even the pope himself was checking the age of monsignors' cars in the Vatican car park – as he himself switched to a used Renault 4. Bishop Franz-Peter didn't have a chance.
The pontiff may be ostentatiously cutting back, but not without a fight. The Catholic church has a long history of extravagance, and sometimes the old ways are slow to die. Though Pope Francis started off by setting new simple sartorial standards, when it comes to throwing out real estate the Vatican elite may prove more resistant. There is a story doing the Vatican gossip rounds of a cardinal turning up in a church to celebrate mass and being offered a splendid red cappa magna to wear. A cappa magna is the liturgical equivalent of an opera cape – all billowing watered silk and a train that would rival Princess Diana's wedding dress. The cardinal refused, saying: "I sold mine after the second Vatican council, and gave the money to the poor." The master of ceremonies gave the curt reply: "It's a shame you didn't sell one of your two villas, and give the proceeds from that to the poor." It may be just a story, but it expresses the feeling of double standards within the Vatican community over self-conscious economy. The current German row, perhaps a Vatican "duck house" moment, is worth considering in the context of the power play between the Vatican and the German wing of the Catholic church. The independent wealth of the German church comes from the state – it is tax funded. In 2012 the Catholic church in Germany took $7.1bn in tax revenue, from the country's 23 million declared Catholics who by law pay 8-10% of their income to the church. The autocratic nature of the Vatican means that even if a bishop can clearly afford it, if it doesn't wash with His Holiness's vision you run the risk of being defrocked.
Historically, British medieval cardinals got carried away with grand designs – Henry VIII's jealousy over Cardinal Wolsey's Hampton Court cost the cardinal both his palace and his position. A few hundred years later, the church in Germany became the most ambitious bling builders of them all. The episcopal residences of the prince-bishops of what became Germany and Austria are staggering, capricious and outrageous feasts of excess. The Würzburg Residence, a 400-room baroque masterpiece that is rivalled only by Versailles in lavish appointment, comes complete with frescos by Tiepolo. Napoleon dubbed it the "nicest parsonage in Europe". Now a Unesco world heritage site, the Augustusburg and Falkenlust palaces in Brühl were built by the archbishop-elector of Cologne, Clemens August of Bavaria. There was even a gallery from which locals could come and watch the royal archbishop dine below.
For the Roman Catholic church in England, the first great division over humble appearance came from the Synod of Whitby held in 664 – a clash between the simple, poorer, married English Celtic priests and the power-broking celibate Roman priests. The Roman route won, culminating with compulsory tonsuring – the shaving of the scalp, leaving a circle of hair, for that archetypical "monk" look. As haircuts go, it is pretty violent – perhaps the ecclesiastical community is safer with the current pontiff's eyes set on masonry overspending.
So who is next on Pope Francis's list? Papal adviser Cardinal Reinhard Marx, archbishop of Munich, lives in the baroque Holnstein Palace in Freising (previous residence of Pope Benedict when he was Cardinal Ratzinger) and is apparently building a very expensive residence in Rome. He may be made safe by virtue of his powerful position in the Vatican hierarchy. Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi may not. The president of the pontifical council for culture, he founded a Vatican pavilion of contemporary art at the Venice Biennale this year (paid in part by sponsorship), but he could be the kind of frivolous target Francis could go for. Then again, maybe, just maybe, the pope likes the simplicity of video sculpture.
NSA spied on the Vatican as cardinals elected Pope Francis
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, October 30, 2013 11:20 EDT
US secret services allegedly eavesdropped on cardinals before the conclave in March to elect a new pope, Italian weekly magazine Panorama claimed Wednesday.
“The National Security Agency wiretapped the pope,” the magazine said, accusing the United States of listening in to telephone calls to and from the Vatican, including the accommodation housing cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio before he was elected Pope Francis.
The allegations follow a report on surveillance website Cryptome which said the United States intercepted 46 million telephone calls in Italy in December 2012 and early January 2013.
Among those, “there are apparently also calls from and to the Vatican,” Panorama said.
“It is feared that the great American ear continued to tap prelates’ conversations up to the eve of the conclave,” it said, adding that there were “suspicions that the conversations of the future pope may have been monitored”.
Bergoglio “had been a person of interest to the American secret services since 2005, according to Wikileaks,” it said.
The bugged conversations were divided into four categories: “leadership intentions”, “threats to financial systems”, “foreign policy objectives” and “human rights,” it claimed.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said “we have heard nothing of this and are not worried about it.”
If true, the US spying would be an embarrassing blow to an institution famous for its secrecy.
The goings-on of the conclave are particularly clock-and-dagger, with a system installed in the Sistine chapel where the cardinals meet in order to scramble any mobile phone communications and excommunication for those who spill the beans.
November 8, 2013
With Survey, Vatican Seeks Laity Comment on Family Issues
By JIM YARDLEY
ROME — Often, when the Vatican speaks, it can be a fairly one-sided conversation, issuing encyclicals and other formal documents stating the Roman Catholic Church’s official position on doctrine or other matters.
But Pope Francis, who has already shaken up the Vatican, is asking the world’s one billion Catholics for their opinions on a questionnaire covering social issues like same-sex marriage, cohabitation by unwed couples, contraception, and the place of divorced and remarried people in the church.
“It’s something that is totally new,” said Msgr. Alberto Pala, a parish priest at the Cathedral of Cagliari in Sardinia, Italy. “And we are very pleased.”
The questionnaire is being distributed to bishops worldwide in advance of their synod next fall. Family is the theme of that meeting, with bishops expected to grapple with how the church should address issues like divorce and same-sex marriage. In the past, the Vatican has determined the agenda for synods and sought opinions from bishops’ conferences around the world.
This time, however, some analysts say, the style and content of the questionnaire represent a deliberate effort by Francis to engage ordinary Catholics, unlike in the past when synods have attracted little attention. Francis has also raised expectations by changing the format, with next year’s meeting framed as a prelude to a second synod in 2015 that could bring proposed changes, even if few expect him to pursue major doctrinal shifts.
In recent days, the Vatican has sought to play down the importance of the questionnaire. This week, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, denied that Francis was “polling” the laity and said the questions were part of a routine preparatory document for the synod.
But other Catholic leaders clearly see the questionnaire as a significant overture that could raise expectations among Catholics for next year’s synod. The bishops of England and Wales put the questions online, while Vatican Radio, the church’s official news media outlet, also posted the questionnaire, accompanied by an interview with Bishop John Hine of Britain extolling the document as “extremely significant.”
“It really responds to the desire for the people, the laity in the church, to be consulted on matters which concern them so deeply,” Bishop Hine told Vatican Radio. “Couples are delighted that they’re going to be involved in the consultations.”
Alberto Melloni, a Vatican historian, said the questionnaire is especially significant because it seeks a snapshot of Catholic families as they are, and uses a nonjudgmental tone to gauge opinions on the church’s pastoral response to contentious issues.
“It asks to start with the reality of the family, not the doctrine of the family,” said Mr. Melloni, the director of the John XXIII Foundation for Religious Studies in Bologna, a liberal research institute. “What we will see in the next few months will be a flourishing of opinion, debate and discussion.”
First reported by the National Catholic Reporter, the questionnaire was sent to bishops’ conferences worldwide on Oct. 18 by Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, a Vatican official involved in preparations for next year’s meeting. In the letter, Archbishop Baldisseri asked that the questions be distributed to parishes to broaden the process of consultation.
With 39 questions, the document is broken into nine subsections, including No. 5: “On Unions of Persons of the Same Sex.” One question asks whether “your country” recognizes same-sex civil unions, while another asks about the attitude that parishes hold toward governments that support civil unions or same-sex marriages. “What pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live in these types of union?” another question asks.
Another subsection seeks to explore “Pastoral Care in Certain Difficult Marital Situations” and asks about unmarried couples’ living together. There are questions on how many divorced or remarried people ask to receive the sacraments and whether simplifying the canonical practice of nullifying a marriage would “provide a positive contribution.”
On Friday, the bishops in Belgium placed the survey online and asked for responses from the nation’s Catholics by mid-December. But in the United States, the decision on how and whether to distribute the questionnaire will depend on individual bishops, according to Sister Mary Ann Walsh, the director of media relations for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“Some are putting it on the Internet, and some will get information in other ways,” she said. She noted that the Vatican typically sought information before a synod, which is supposed to be a free exchange of ideas, but said the questions this year “may be a way of tailoring the issues a little closer.”
In Italy, several parish priests said that they had yet to see the questionnaire but that they were excited based on accounts in the Italian news media. In Sardinia, Monsignor Pala said that the questionnaire would demand much work and that he was planning to summon his parish’s pastoral council — parents, members of lay associations and others — to glean thoughts.
“It’s a matter of communicating, which is what we do every day,” he said. “The bishops need the people’s opinion and our interpretation of the doctrine.”
Gaia Pianigiani contributed reporting.
Pope Francis kisses a disfigured man – and shows politicians the lost virtue of humility
Is this a publicity stunt? No, because it expresses more than an empty gesture ever could
theguardian.com, Friday 8 November 2013 16.46 GMT
We live in a world of image-conscious leaders, hair primped, faces artfully powdered, photo opportunities carefully devised. The art of image is generally assumed to be both modern and false: the term spin doctor was unknown in Britain before Tony Blair's team made it part of the language. Yet for all the sophistication of modern political style, Pope Francis is showing by his superior example how tired, unconvincing and alienating such methods have become.
Francis has renovated a damaged brand not in years, but months. He has turned the image of the papacy and by extension the Catholic church upside down in less than a year. His papacy already seems destined to be remembered as special – and yet this communicational triumph has not been achieved through carefully constructed PR techniques. It is not spin. Its methods are medieval and its magic is simple.
This week's images of the pope kissing and praying with a man severely disfigured by illness are truly gothic. I do not say that intending to belittle or caricature the condition, apparently neurofibromatosis, from which this man who attended the pope's general audience in the Vatican is suffering. What is gothic is the return to 13th-century values in this picture of a Christian leader showing humility and charity by physically interacting with someone visibly sick and visually different from those around him. St Francis of Assisi, whose name Pope Francis has adopted, was a master of simple, powerful popular gestures: he invented the Christmas crib and reputedly preached a sermon to the birds.
Disease, in the world of St Francis, was mysterious and awe-inspiring. There was virtually no effective medicine. The sufferings of Job were a reality for all those infected by illnesses no one understood. Few illnesses today can inspire the deep sense of awe that once attended leprosy and plague: so it is harder to inspire saintliness, kissing the boils of the sick. Francis has found a face so unusual and estranged from the normal that as he touches and prays with its possessor he seems to reenact the spirit of St Francis himself.
Is this a publicity stunt? No, because it expresses more than an empty gesture ever could. Charity and humility and love really are Christian ideals, and for someone in the pope's position of power to so graphically express them is full of concrete meaning. Be like Christ: identify with the outcast. This pope's idealism is so clearly readable in his actions that it is missing the point to call him a clever communicator. He knows that he is a living symbol and that by identifying with this man he is making the church itself grow more human.
Can politicians emulate this pope's bold symbolic language? They'd be laughed at and called cynics. So why can he get away with it? The word we are looking for is authenticity. Pope Francis appears utterly authentic and honest. He does not seem cynical in this image because we accept his sincerity and seriousness. This is what politicians have lost in modern democracies. It is why people turn to Russell Brand. There is a deep crisis of belief in democratically elected leaders but Pope Francis has the answer: you who seek to lead, look at this picture, it has a message for you.
A simple message. Do and say what you believe.
'Pope Francis effect' credited with boosting Italian congregations
Researchers say more than half of Catholic priests have reported significant rise in attendance since election of new pontiff
John Hooper in Rome
theguardian.com, Sunday 10 November 2013 18.31 GMT
Hundreds of thousands of Italian Catholics have flocked back to church since the election of the pope, according to a study published on Mondaythat credits the "Francis effect" for the boost in congregations.
Researcher Massimo Introvigne, a sociologist and head of Italy's Centre for the Study of New Religions (Cesnur), found that 51% of 250 priests he interviewed reported a significant rise in church attendance since the election of the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio in March.
"If we project those results nationally, and if only half the parishes and communities in Italy have been touched by the Francis effect, then we're talking about hundreds of thousands of people who are returning," he said.
There was evidence that the 76-year-old Argentinian pope had made an even more dramatic impact in Britain. In a smaller survey, of 22 British cathedrals, 65% of the respondents had said they had noticed a rise in numbers, Introvigne added.
He said he first discovered evidence of a surge in attendance at mass in a survey he carried out soon after Francis became pope. He decided to conduct a more extensive poll to see if observance had since returned to its previous level.
"It might have been attributable to the novelty of having a new pope and the emotions stirred by the resignation of pope Benedict. But after six months I got more or less the same result," he said.
According to two of Italy's most senior clerics, Francis is making his biggest impact on long-lapsed Catholics. Cardinal Giuseppe Betori, the archbishop of Florence, said: "So many are returning to the sacraments, in some cases after decades."
His account was borne out by the auxiliary bishop of L'Aquila, Giovanni D'Ercole, who said in an interview with the daily La Stampa that "Francis makes headway above all among those who had distanced themselves from Christian life."
Introvigne cautioned that the persistence of the Francis effect would depend on how parish priests dealt with those who had previously abandoned their faith: "whether they are made to feel welcome" and whether they were given a proper re-introduction to Catholicism.
Pope Francis, who was noted for his simple lifestyle while archbishop of Buenos Aires, has refused the opulent trappings of the papacy and repeatedly advocated a simpler, poorer and less bureaucratic church. Some of his initiatives have also suggested he intends decentralising the administration of the world's biggest Christian denomination.
In one of the first public signs of misgivings, an influential Catholic writer on Sunday disparaged the idea of a less hierarchical church and defended the Vatican bureaucracy. Vittorio Messori, whose book-length interview with the late pope John Paul II sold millions of copies around the world, wrote in the daily Corriere della Sera that the dream of a "poor, egalitarian church [reminiscent of its] origins in which faith is freed of superstructures" was at odds with the historical fact that charismatic movements that "refused to change into hierarchical institutions" were swiftly reduced to irrelevance.
Could Pope Francis be considering the appointment of a woman as cardinal?
There has never been a woman cardinal, although they make up 70% of the Catholic churchgoing population. So who could be tipped for the post?
The Guardian, Monday 4 November 2013 18.01 GMT
To the horror of many of the frocked misogynists at the Vatican there are rumours, unconfirmed, that the reforming Pope Francis could be considering the first ever appointment of a woman to the rank of cardinal early next year. Women make up about 70% of the Catholic churchgoing population but there are relatively few likely contenders. Here are five of them:
▶ Linda Hogan is 49, married (gasp!), and vice-provost of Trinity College Dublin. She's the feminist frontrunner.
▶ Mary McAleese, fellow Irishwoman and former president, might get the Irish back batting for the Catholic side after the church was decimated by the child abuse scandals.
▶ Lucetta Scaraffia is an academic in Rome who is both a radical feminist and an orthodox Catholic. Last year she launched a women's supplement to the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano – with the Pope's blessing.
▶ Sister Teresa Forcades, a leftwing firebrand who thinks the church should be completely overhauled for the 21st century.
▶ Ana Cristina Betancourt. Head of the women's section of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, a red hat would open career paths currently closed to her. Fast-tracking women to the top of the Vatican could be the quickest way of creating real change.
Pope Francis celebrates hitting 10m Twitter followers
Pontiff thanks followers as Vatican reaches milestone in drive to spread the gospel through social media
Reuters in Rome
theguardian.com, Sunday 27 October 2013 19.11 GMT
A jubilant Pope Francis celebrated reaching 10 million followers on messaging site Twitter on Sunday , a milestone in the Vatican's drive to spread the gospel through social media.
"Dear Followers I understand there are now over 10 million of you!" the pontiff wrote on his nine accounts, which publish simultaneously in languages including Latin, Polish and Arabic. "I thank you with all my heart and ask you to continue praying for me."
The first non-European pope in 1,300 years has tripled the number of followers of the @pontifex handles since succeeding Benedict XVI in March, according to the Vatican, which announced Francis had reached 10 million after adding together the followers of all his accounts. This would make the pontiff more popular than the New York Times and just behind rapper Kanye West, according to websites.
But he still has a lot of tweeting to do before he can catch up with the three most followed people on Twitter: pop stars Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga, who have more than 40 million followers each. The Vatican has long been interested in using the latest technologies to keep in touch with the world's 1.2 billion Catholics and spread the faith, with radio inventor Guglielmo Marconi setting up Vatican Radio in 1931.
Palin shares some Catholics’ concerns about Pope Francis and his ‘liberal’ agenda
By Travis Gettys
Wednesday, November 13, 2013 8:00 EST
Sarah Palin says she’s dismayed by the apparent liberal agenda of Pope Francis, although she suspects her perception may have been shaped by misleading media reports.
“He’s had some statements that to me sound kind of liberal, has taken me aback, has kind of surprised me,” Palin said Tuesday in an interview on CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper.”
The former half-term governor of Alaska and failed 2008 vice presidential candidate said she’s suspicious of the way the media have portrayed the new pope and his message.
“There again, unless I really dig deep into what his messaging is, and do my own homework, I’m not going to just trust what I hear in the media,” said Palin, who described herself as a “born again” Christian.
Pope Francis has won many admirers for his open-minded comments on social issues, including homosexuality, abortion and contraception, and he’s criticized capitalism for promoting greed.
But that has alienated some Catholics, particularly in the U.S., where most prominent religious leaders promote conservative social and political issues.
“It seems he’s focusing on bringing back the left that’s fallen away, but what about the conservatives?” said Bridget Kurt, a Georgia Catholic conservative. “Even when it was discouraging working in pro-life, you always felt like Mother Teresa was on your side and the popes were encouraging you. Now I feel kind of thrown under the bus.”
Catholics have been debating online and in person the pontiff’s remarks on poverty and, particularly, a recent comment on the nature of good and evil that some have interpreted as condoning relativism.
Steve Skojec, a Virginia Catholic and blogger, said he’s come to suspect Pope Francis is a “self-styled revolutionary” who wants to change the church fundamentally.
“There have been bad popes in the history of the church,” Mr. Skojec said. “Popes that murdered, popes that had mistresses. I’m not saying Pope Francis is terrible, but there’s no divine protection that keeps him from being the type of guy who with subtlety undermines the teachings of the church to bring about a different vision.”
A recent Quinnipiac University poll found that two-thirds of American Catholics share the pope’s concerns that the church had become “obsessed” with a few social issues.
“I think he was completely right,” said Katie Stacy, who works at a Catholic-run pregnancy clinic in Georgia. “The focus should be not only on love and mercy, but on treating the women in these crisis situations with love and mercy.”
The pope is the most popular person on the Internet, according to the 14th annual survey from the Global Language Monitor, based on an analysis of English-language blogs, social media and 275,000 electronic and online news media.
November 9, 2013
Conservative U.S. Catholics Feel Left Out of the Pope’s Embrace
By LAURIE GOODSTEIN
SMYRNA, Ga. — When Pope Francis was elected in March, Bridget Kurt received a small prayer card with his picture at her church and put it up on her refrigerator at home, next to pictures of her friends and her favorite saints.
She is a regular attender of Mass, a longtime stalwart in her church’s anti-abortion movement and a believer that all the church’s doctrines are true and beautiful and should be obeyed. She loved the last two popes, and keeps a scrapbook with memorabilia from her road trip to Denver in 1993 to see Pope John Paul II at World Youth Day.
But Ms. Kurt recently took the Pope Francis prayer card down and threw it away.
“It seems he’s focusing on bringing back the left that’s fallen away, but what about the conservatives?” said Ms. Kurt, a hospice community educator. “Even when it was discouraging working in pro-life, you always felt like Mother Teresa was on your side and the popes were encouraging you. Now I feel kind of thrown under the bus.”
In the eight months since he became pope, Francis has won affection worldwide for his humble mien and common touch. His approval numbers are skyrocketing. Even atheists are applauding.
But not everyone is so enchanted. Some Catholics in the church’s conservative wing in the United States say Francis has left them feeling abandoned and deeply unsettled. On the Internet and in conversations among themselves, they despair that after 35 years in which the previous popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, drew clear boundaries between right and wrong, Francis is muddying Catholic doctrine to appeal to the broadest possible audience.
They were particularly alarmed when he told a prominent Italian atheist in an interview published in October, and translated into English, that “everyone has his own idea of good and evil” and that everyone should “follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them” — a remark that many conservatives interpreted as appearing to condone relativism. He called proselytizing “solemn nonsense.”
They were shocked when they saw that Francis said in the interview that “the most serious of the evils” today are “youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old.” It compounded the chagrin after he said in an earlier interview that he had intentionally “not spoken much” about abortion, same-sex marriage or contraception because the church could not be “obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines.”
Steve Skojec, the vice president of a real estate firm in Virginia and a blogger who has written for several conservative Catholic websites, wrote of Francis’ statements: “Are they explicitly heretical? No. Are they dangerously close? Absolutely. What kind of a Christian tells an atheist he has no intention to convert him? That alone should disturb Catholics everywhere.”
In an interview on Friday, Mr. Skojec said he was overwhelmed by the positive response to his blog from people who said they were thinking the same things but had not wanted to say them in public. He said he had come to suspect that Francis is a “self-styled revolutionary” who wants to change the church fundamentally.
“There have been bad popes in the history of the church,” Mr. Skojec said. “Popes that murdered, popes that had mistresses. I’m not saying Pope Francis is terrible, but there’s no divine protection that keeps him from being the type of guy who with subtlety undermines the teachings of the church to bring about a different vision.”
Most American Catholics do not share Mr. Skojec’s objections. A poll released last month by Quinnipiac University found that two in three agreed with Francis that the church was too “obsessed” with a few issues.
In parsing Francis’ statements in recent weeks, other conservative Catholics are concluding that nothing he has said contradicts the Catholic catechism, with some of his language even echoing Benedict’s. But in interviews, the words that conservatives used most often to characterize Francis were “naïve” and “imprudent.” They believe that he is saying things in ways that the news media and the church’s “enemies” are able to distort, and that there are consequences.
Some pointed to a vote on gay marriage just last week in Illinois. Two Catholic state legislators who voted to approve same-sex marriage there cited the words of Pope Francis: “Who am I to judge?” The pope said those words in response to a question about gay people during a long, freewheeling interview on an airplane in July. But Francis has not changed Catholic teaching, which holds that marriage is between only a man and a woman and that gay sex is wrong but gay people are worthy of mercy and respect.
Matt C. Abbott, a Catholic columnist in Chicago with Renew America, a politically conservative website, said in an interview on Friday, “I wish that he could have chosen some different words, expressed himself in a different way that wouldn’t have been so easily taken out of context.”
“For orthodox and conservative Catholics,” he said, “the last few months have been a roller-coaster ride.” He added in an email, “I’m not a big fan of roller coasters.”
Some conservative Catholics are sharing prophecies online that foretell of tribulations for the church. In one, an Irish woman predicted that Benedict would be held hostage. Others cite the German mystic Anne Catherine Emmerich, who wrote of a “relationship between two popes,” one who “lives in a palace other than before,” which some now see as a reference to Benedict, who resigned as pope early this year but still lives in Vatican City. During this time there arises a “false church of darkness.”
But some Catholics initially alarmed by Francis’ remarks are now trying to calm others down. Judie Brown, the president and co-founder of the American Life League, a Catholic anti-abortion group, said: “Pro-lifers are upset because they feel the pope is selling out the pro-life movement. And that’s not at all correct. If you read everything he’s been saying, especially in his Wednesday sermons, there’s no question that where he stands is consistent with what the church has been teaching.”
At the Pregnancy Aid Clinic in Hapeville, Ga., a Catholic-run nonprofit center where women who come for pregnancy tests are counseled against abortion, staff members gathered around a kitchen table last week and cautiously said they had been grappling with the pope’s message and were trying to take it to heart.
Alexandra P. Shattuck, the clinic’s director, said she had studied the pope’s interview in her parish’s Bible study class and concluded that the news media had taken Francis’ warning not to “obsess” about abortion out of context. She said he was really trying to teach about mercy.
“I think he was completely right,” added Katie Stacy, the development coordinator. “The focus should be not only on love and mercy, but on treating the women in these crisis situations with love and mercy.”
The room was crammed with baskets of empty baby bottles to be distributed to Atlanta parishes to fill with coins and bills as donations. The staff members said that most priests are far from obsessed with abortion or contraception, preaching against it only during “Respect Life Sunday.”
“When a pope makes a statement off the cuff or in an interview, it’s not an infallible statement,” said Chris Baran, the president of the clinic’s board. “What he said in a statement does not change any teaching of the church that’s been around over 2,000 years.”
Pope Francis 'is mafia target after campaigning against corruption'
Prosecutor says pope's attempt to bring transparency to Vatican is making mobsters agitated
Tom Kington in Rome
theguardian.com, Wednesday 13 November 2013 17.32 GMT
Pope Francis's crusade against corruption has made him a target for Italy's all-powerful mafia clans, a leading anti-mob prosecutor has warned.
Nicola Gratteri, who has battled Calabria's shadowy 'Ndrangheta mafia, said on Wednesday that Francis's attempt to bring transparency to the Vatican was making the white collar mobsters who do business with corrupt prelates "nervous and agitated".
He told the Italian daily Il Fatto Quotidiano: "Pope Francis is dismantling centres of economic power in the Vatican.
"If the bosses could trip him up they wouldn't hesitate. I don't know if organised criminals are in a position to do something, but they are certainly thinking about it. They could be dangerous."
Francis, who has called for "a poor church", has backed reform at the Vatican's bank, which has been suspected for years of being a channel for the laundering of mob profits. This week police impounded a luxury hotel on Rome's Janiculum hill – formerly a monastery – which the 'Ndrangheta allegedly purchased from a religious order.
In a fiery sermon on Monday, Francis railed against corruption and quoted the bible's advice that practitioners be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck.
"The mafia that invests, that launders money, that therefore has the real power, is the mafia which has got rich for years from its connivance with the church," said Gratteri. "These are the people who are getting nervous."
Gratteri attacked priests and bishops in southern Italy who legitimise mobsters. "Priests continuously visit the houses of bosses for coffee, which gives the bosses strength and popular legitimacy," he said. A bishop in Locri in Calabria had excommunicated mobsters after they damaged fruit trees owned by the church, he said. "But before that episode, the bosses had killed thousands of people" without being sanctioned, he added.
Boosting the strong links between mob and church is the fierce religious devotion of the gangsters themselves, he said, adding that in his 26 years as a magistrate he had never raided a mafia hideout which did not contain a religious image. "There is no affiliation rite that does not evoke religion. 'Ndrangheta and the church walk hand in hand," he said.
A survey of jailed mobsters had revealed that 88% were religious, he added. "Before killing, a member of the 'Ndrangheta prays. He asks the Madonna for protection."
Gratteri said mobsters did not consider themselves wrongdoers, and used the example of a mafioso putting pressure on a business owner to pay protection money, first by shooting up his premises, then by kneecapping him. "If the person still refuses, the mobster is 'forced' to kill him. If you have no choice, you are not committing a sin."
Vatican downplays alleged mafia threat against Pope Francis
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, November 15, 2013 8:53 EST
The Vatican has downplayed a warning that Pope Francis could be targeted by the mafia because of his reforms to Holy See financial bodies.
“There is no reason for concern, and there is no need to feed alarmism,” Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said.
He added that the Vatican — and, by extension, the pope — was “extremely calm” regarding the alleged threat.
The warning was voiced by Nicola Gratteri, a respected state prosecutor in the southern Calabria region, who said the vicious local mafia, the ‘Ndrangheta, is “nervous” the pope is threatening its interests.
“Those who up to now have fed off the power and wealth coming directly from the Church are nervous, upset,” he said in an interview published by the newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano this week.
The pope, Gratteri said, “is dismantling the Vatican’s economic centres. If the mafia bosses can trip him up, they won’t hesitate.”
Gratteri didn’t substantiate his warning. But his words reverberated through the Italian and foreign media, sparking fears for the pontiff’s safety.
Initially the Vatican tried to dismiss the allegation. But from Thursday it started saying it was simply taking the warning in its stride.
Implied in Gratteri’s comments is that Italy’s mafia has its tentacles in the Vatican’s obscure financial dealings and agencies, some of which have been marred by scandal.
Since taking the papacy in March, Pope Francis has set about cleaning up the Holy See’s vast holdings and making them more transparent.
One of his first steps was to install a special commission tasked with investigating the Vatican’s bank and another to probe Vatican finances in general.
The pope has also called in a US consultancy, Promontory Financial Group, to conduct an external review of the Vatican bank’s money-laundering rules and, more recently, to look into the internal agency handling its many real estate holdings.
The Vatican’s bank, known as the Institute for Religious Works, was notably the main shareholder of the Banco Ambrosiano, which collapsed in 1982 amid accusations of laundering money for the mafia.
Banco Ambrosiano’s chairman Roberto Calvi — dubbed “God’s Banker” — was found hanging from a London bridge that year in a suspected murder by mobsters.
The Vatican’s agency handling its real estate assets, the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, came under scrutiny when a prelate, Nunzio Scarano, was arrested in June on suspicion of acting as a front for dubious international payments made through the Vatican bank.
Scarano wrote to the pope to defend himself, accusing cardinals of covering up irregular financial activities carried out by his superiors.
Italy’s various crime syndicates have been held responsible for several high-profile assassinations and abductions.
Although the Sicilian mafia Cosa Nostra is perhaps the best-known, the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta, whose name comes from the Greek for courage or loyalty, is considered by many as more dangerous and difficult to predict.
It has a tight clan structure which has made it famously difficult to penetrate, and specialises in drug and arms trafficking, prostitution, extortion and illegal construction.
The ‘Ndrangheta runs an international crime network from its base in Calabria and has been linked to operations across western and northern Europe and as far afield as the Americas and Australia.
Why even atheists should be praying for Pope Francis
By Jonathan Freedland, The Guardian
Saturday, November 16, 2013 1:09 EST
Francis could replace Obama as the pin-up on every liberal and leftist wall. He is now the world’s clearest voice for change
That Obama poster on the wall, promising hope and change, is looking a little faded now. The disappointments, whether over drone warfare or a botched rollout of healthcare reform, have left the world’s liberals and progressives searching for a new pin-up to take the US president’s place. As it happens, there’s an obvious candidate: the head of an organisation those same liberals and progressives have long regarded as sexist, homophobic and, thanks to a series of child abuse scandals, chillingly cruel. The obvious new hero of the left is the pope.
Only installed in March, Pope Francis has already become a phenomenon. His is the most talked-about name on the internet in 2013, ranking ahead of “Obamacare” and “NSA”. In fourth place comes Francis’s Twitter handle, @Pontifex. In Italy, Francesco has fast become the most popular name for new baby boys. Rome reports a surge in tourist numbers, while church attendance is said to be up – both trends attributed to “the Francis effect“.
His popularity is not hard to fathom. The stories of his personal modesty have become the stuff of instant legend. He carries his own suitcase. He refused the grandeur of the papal palace, preferring to live in a simple hostel. When presented with the traditional red shoes of the pontiff, he declined; instead he telephoned his 81-year-old cobbler in Buenos Aires and asked him to repair his old ones. On Thursday, Francis visited the Italian president – arriving in a blue Ford Focus, with not a blaring siren to be heard.
Some will dismiss these acts as mere gestures, even publicity stunts. But they convey a powerful message, one of almost elemental egalitarianism. He is in the business of scraping away the trappings, the edifice of Vatican wealth accreted over centuries, and returning the church to its core purpose, one Jesus himself might have recognised. He says he wants to preside over “a poor church, for the poor”. It’s not the institution that counts, it’s the mission.
All this would warm the heart of even the most fervent atheist, except Francis has gone much further. It seems he wants to do more than simply stroke the brow of the weak. He is taking on the system that has made them weak and keeps them that way.
“My thoughts turn to all who are unemployed, often as a result of a self-centred mindset bent on profit at any cost,” he tweeted in May. A day earlier he denounced as “slave labour” the conditions endured by Bangladeshi workers killed in a building collapse. In September he said that God wanted men and women to be at the heart of the world and yet we live in a global economic order that worships “an idol called money”.
There is no denying the radicalism of this message, a frontal and sustained attack on what he calls “unbridled capitalism“, with its “throwaway” attitude to everything from unwanted food to unwanted old people. His enemies have certainly not missed it. If a man is to be judged by his opponents, note that this week Sarah Palin denounced him as “kind of liberal” while the free-market Institute of Economic Affairs has lamented that this pope lacks the “sophisticated” approach to such matters of his predecessors. Meanwhile, an Italian prosecutor has warned that Francis’s campaign against corruption could put him in the crosshairs of that country’s second most powerful institution: the mafia.
As if this weren’t enough to have Francis’s 76-year-old face on the walls of the world’s student bedrooms, he also seems set to lead a church campaign on the environment. He was photographed this week with anti-fracking activists, while his biographer, Paul Vallely, has revealed that the pope has made contact with Leonardo Boff, an eco-theologian previously shunned by Rome and sentenced to “obsequious silence” by the office formerly known as the “Inquisition”. An encyclical on care for the planet is said to be on the way.
Many on the left will say that’s all very welcome, but meaningless until the pope puts his own house in order. But here, too, the signs are encouraging. Or, more accurately, stunning. Recently, Francis told an interviewer the church had become “obsessed” with abortion, gay marriage and contraception. He no longer wanted the Catholic hierarchy to be preoccupied with “small-minded rules”. Talking to reporters on a flight – an occurrence remarkable in itself – he said: “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?” His latest move is to send the world’s Catholics a questionnaire, seeking their attitude to those vexed questions of modern life. It’s bound to reveal a flock whose practices are, shall we say, at variance with Catholic teaching. In politics, you’d say Francis was preparing the ground for reform.
Witness his reaction to a letter – sent to “His Holiness Francis, Vatican City” – from a single woman, pregnant by a married man who had since abandoned her. To her astonishment, the pope telephoned her directly and told her that if, as she feared, priests refused to baptise her baby, he would perform the ceremony himself. (Telephoning individuals who write to him is a Francis habit.) Now contrast that with the past Catholic approach to such “fallen women”, dramatised so powerfully in the current film Philomena. He is replacing brutality with empathy.
Of course, he is not perfect. His record in Argentina during the era of dictatorship and “dirty war” is far from clean. “He started off as a strict authoritarian, reactionary figure,” says Vallely. But, aged 50, Francis underwent a spiritual crisis from which, says his biographer, he emerged utterly transformed. He ditched the trappings of high church office, went into the slums and got his hands dirty.
Now inside the Vatican, he faces a different challenge – to face down the conservatives of the curia and lock in his reforms, so that they cannot be undone once he’s gone. Given the guile of those courtiers, that’s quite a task: he’ll need all the support he can get.
Some will say the world’s leftists and liberals shouldn’t hanker for a pin-up, that the urge is infantile and bound to end in disappointment. But the need is human and hardly confined to the left: think of the Reagan and Thatcher posters that still adorn the metaphorical walls of conservatives, three decades on. The pope may have no army, no battalions or divisions, but he has a pulpit – and right now he is using it to be the world’s loudest and clearest voice against the status quo. You don’t have to be a believer to believe in that.
‘Pharmacist’ pope hands out ‘spiritual medicine’
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, November 17, 2013 14:03 EST
Pope Francis on Sunday advised Catholics to take a special dose of spiritual medicine, offering some 20,000 boxes of “mercy” — containing rosaries — to pilgrims in St Peter’s Square.
“I now want to suggest a medicine. ‘What?’ you ask, ‘the pope is now a pharmacist?’” Francis said, shaking a box resembling a pack of tablets, after reciting the traditional Sunday Angelus prayer from a window overlooking the square.
Labelled “Misericordina, 59 Beads for the Heart” and emblazoned with an image of the human heart, the box contains a rosary and instructions in several languages.
“Can be used once a day, but in case of emergency can be taken as much as the soul needs,” the instruction leaflet says, adding: “The dose is the same for adults and children.”
The unusual medicine box was inspired by followers of Polish nun Mary Faustina Kowalska, who was made a saint in 2000 and is known as the Apostle of Divine Mercy, according to the Italian news agency ANSA.
“Don’t forget to take your medicine, because it is good for the heart, the soul, the whole life,” the pontiff said.
Saint Peter's bones: Vatican exhumes old argument with plan to show 'relics'
For the first time in nearly 2,000 years, fragments of bone held to be those of the apostle will go on public display
Lizzy Davies in Vatican City
theguardian.com, Monday 18 November 2013 19.00 GMT
On 26 June 1968, as much of Europe was busy rebelling against authority and fighting for free love, Pope Paul VI made a dramatic announcement that put the Roman Catholic church back in the headlines for reasons other than its stance on women, abortion or contraception.
Bones discovered in a Roman cemetery in the Vatican, he declared, had been identified "in a way we believe to be convincing" as those of Saint Peter, the Christian martyr who is traditionally held to have been the first pope and died 1,950 years ago.
But despite the 1968 announcement, the bones remained hidden. That will change on Sunday, when fragments are to be displayed in public as part of celebrations to mark the end of the Year of Faith, an initiative launched by Pope Benedict XVI, who resigned this year.
The fragments, contained in an urn usually kept in a private papal chapel, will be presented for public veneration in St Peter's Square at a mass celebrated by Pope Francis.
The decision to exhibit is controversial. No pontiff has ever said the bones are without doubt those of Saint Peter, and some within archaeological circles are fairly sure they are not.
The battle over the bones, which pits a rigorous Jesuit archaeologist against a pioneering female epigraphist, is one of the strangest stories to have come out of the Vatican during the 20th century and may also be one of the least dignified.
But, speaking on Monday, Monsignor Rino Fisichella said he had no qualms about thrusting the relics back into the spotlight. "We did not want to, and have no intention, of opening up any argument," said Fisichella who, in a carefully worded article for the semi-official Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano last week, described the relics as those "recognised by tradition" as Saint Peter's.
"We believe … faith, the people of God, has always believed these to be the relics of the apostle Peter, and we continue to venerate them in this way and give them the honour they deserve," he said.
Fisichella, president of the pontifical council for the promotion of the new evangelisation, also said "the symbolic value" of the bones – their "underlying theological value" – was hugely important. Regardless of what scientific testing might reveal, he said, Christians would venerate the remains and pray at the tomb of Saint Peter.
The story of how the bones came to be proclaimed Peter's dates back to 1939, when Pope Pius XII ordered an excavation of an area below St Peter's basilica thought to contain his tomb. The digging, overseen by a German monsignor, Ludwig Kaas, lasted 11 years and led, in 1950, to a stunning papal radio broadcast announcing "the tomb of the prince of the apostles" had been found.
But the pope was forced to admit his team had been unable to prove with certainty the bones were Peter's.
Years later, Margherita Guarducci, an archaeologist and the first woman to lead Vatican excavations, began to question the original findings. She noted graffiti near the tomb reading Petr eni, which she believed was an abbreviation of Petros enesti, the Greek for "Peter is here".
She was told Kaas had been collecting bones out of concern that they were not being properly looked after, and putting them in boxes in a Vatican storeroom. Having located some bones she thought were the most interesting, she convinced Pope Paul VI to commission tests on them. These revealed, among other things, that they belonged to a robust man who died approximately in his 60s. To the outrage of Antonio Ferrua, the Jesuit father who had been the chief archaeologist on the initial excavation, Guarducci told the pope he should say the bones were believed to be Saint Peter's. And, to the disquiet of Ferrua and some other Vatican experts, he did just that. Kaas, Ferrua and Guarducci have all since died.
In his book The Vatican Diaries, longtime observer John Thavis calls the affair "an embarrassment" for the church. "The supposed bones of Saint Peter had been surreptitiously dug up by a meddling monsignor when the archaeologists weren't looking; then they were thrown into a box and forgotten for more than a decade; then they were rediscovered by accident and became the focus of a feud between church experts," he writes.
"The whole affair did not inspire confidence in the Vatican's ability to exhume its own history, and it is little wonder that none of it is mentioned in the Vatican guidebooks." The Vatican, however, hopes the bones' moment has finally come. During its Year of Faith, which began in October 2012, 8.5 million pilgrims had prayed at St Peter's tomb, Fisichella said, and it seemed only fitting that the year should be rounded off with "a unique moment".
"For the first time, the relics of the apostle will be displayed for the veneration of believers," he said. "Peter was called by the Lord to confirm his brothers in faith. Around the successor of Peter, but almost in the physical presence of the first of the apostles – to whom, with Paul, we owe the foundation of this church – we will be called to profess our faith once more with conviction and strength."
Jonathan Jones: Christian relics on display... Click herehttp://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2013/nov/18/st-peters-bones-christian-relics
Vatican unveils restored catacomb with frescoes showing 'female priests'
Women depicted in scenes show they were priests, say activists; they were just praying like everyone else, says Holy See
Associated Press in Vatican City
theguardian.com, Wednesday 20 November 2013 17.43 GMT
The Vatican has unveiled newly restored frescoes in the catacombs of Priscilla, known for housing the earliest known image of the Madonna and child, and frescoes said by some to show women priests in the early Christian church.
Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the Vatican's culture minister, presided over the opening of the "cubicle of Lazzaro", a tiny burial chamber featuring fourth-century images of Biblical scenes, the apostles Peter and Paul, and one of the early Romans buried there in stacks, as was common in the age of antiquity.
The labyrinthine cemetery complex stretching for miles under northern Rome is known as the queen of the catacombs because it features burial chambers of popes and a tiny, delicate fresco of the Madonna nursing Jesus dating from around AD230-240., the earliest known image of the Madonna and child
More controversially, the catacombs feature two scenes said by proponents of the women's ordination movement to show female priests: one in the ochre Greek chapel features a group of women celebrating a banquet, said to be the banquet of the eucharist. Another fresco in a richly decorated burial chamber features a woman, dressed in a dalmatic – a cassock-like robe – with her hands up in the position used by priests for public worship.
The Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, which includes women who have been excommunicated by the Vatican for participating in purported ordination ceremonies, holds the images up as evidence that there were female priests in the early Christian church.
But Fabrizio Bisconti, the superintendent of the Vatican's sacred archaeology commission, said such a reading of the frescoes was pure "fable, a legend".
Even though the catacombs' official guide says there is "a clear reference to the banquet of the holy eucharist" in the fresco, Bisconti said the scene of the banquet wasn't a eucharistic banquet but a funeral banquet. He said that even though women were present, they weren't celebrating mass.
Bisconti said the other fresco of the woman with her hands up in prayer was just that – a woman praying. "These are readings of the past that are a bit sensationalistic but aren't trustworthy," he said.
Asked about the scenes, Ravasi professed ignorance and referred comment to Bisconti. The Vatican has restricted the priesthood for men, arguing that Jesus chose only men as his apostles.
The Priscilla catacombs are being featured in a novel blending of antiquity and modern technology. For the first time, Google Maps has gone into the Roman catacombs, providing a virtual tour of the Priscilla complex.
Pope Francis: We will not imagine ‘a Middle East without Christians’
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, November 21, 2013 17:35 EST
Pope Francis on Thursday said the Catholic Church will not accept a Middle East without Christians, who often find themselves forced to flee areas of conflict and unrest in the region.
“We will not resign ourselves to imagining a Middle East without Christians,” he said after meeting with patriarchs from Syria, Iran and Iraq, before calling for “the universal right to lead a dignified life and freely practise one’s own faith to be respected.”
The political upheaval that has swept the Arab world over the past three years has led to a rise of radical Islam, leaving minority Christians feeling threatened and sometimes forcing them to emigrate.
Francis said he had spoken to the patriarchs about “those who live in the Middle East, often in small flocks, in environments marked by hostility and conflicts” and “the size of the diaspora, which is notably growing.”
He said he was concerned by “the situation of Christians, who suffer in a particularly severe way the consequences of tensions and conflicts in many parts of the Middle East.”
“Syria, Iraq, Egypt and other areas of the Holy Land sometimes overflow with tears,” he said.
Amid reports Christians are being ‘punished’ for the actions of Western powers, some faith experts have warned that Christianity is in danger of becoming extinct in its own cradle.
Francis said he “will not rest while there are still men and women, of any religion, whose dignity is affronted, who are stripped of the basics necessary for survival, whose future is stolen, who are forced to become refugees or displaced people.”
He called on the patriarchs for “tireless zeal and that fraternal and paternal charity which bishops, priests and faithful look to us for, especially if they are alone and marginalised.”
Last year, Francis’ predecessor Benedict XVI used a trip to the Middle East to offer support to Christian minorities, calling on them not to emigrate or give in to a sense of “victimisation” amid the rising tide of Islamism.
Eastern Christians number between an estimated 10 and 13 million.
They make up 36 percent of the population in Lebanon, 10 percent in Egypt, 5.5 percent in Jordan, 5.0 percent in Syria, up to 2.0 percent in Iraq, 2.0 percent in Israel and 1.2 percent of Palestinians, according to the Oeuvre d’Orient Catholic association.
Among those meeting with Francis Thursday were Lebanon’s Maronite Christian patriarch, Bishara Rai, the Syrian patriarch of the Melkite Greek Catholic church, Gregory Laham, and the patriarch of the Iraq-based Chaldean church, Louis Sako.
Sako told Vatican Radio that Iraqi authorities were supplying visas as part of “a whole strategy to help Christians leave Iraq”, even in areas in the north of the country where they are not under threat.
“The Middle East is going to empty of Christians”, he warned.
The 2,000-year-old Christian community in the country has shrunk by more than half since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.
In Syria and Lebanon, Christians claim they are persecuted by rebels challenging the regime, because of their perceived allegiance to President Bashar al-Assad.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
Saint Peter’s bones on display for first time
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, November 24, 2013 11:25 EST
Bones believed to belong to Saint Peter, one of the founding fathers of the Catholic Church, went on display for the first time Sunday, as Pope Francis held a ceremony to end the “Year of Faith”.
Tens of thousands of pilgrims gathered to catch a glimpse of the remains, eight fragments of bone between two and three centimetres (around one inch) long displayed on an ivory bed within a bronze chest on a pedestal in St. Peter’s Square.
The chest, given to pope Paul VI in 1971 and usually kept in the tiny chapel of the papal apartments, was decorated with a carving of Peter, who was a fisherman before becoming the Church’s first pope, casting his nets into the sea.
At the start of the solemn ceremony, Francis prayed before the chest, bordered by white and yellow roses, before blessing the bones with incense.
The bones have long been the object of controversy between historians and archaeologists: they were first discovered in a 1940 dig next to an ancient monument honouring Saint Peter, but ended up gathering dust in a storage box.
It was not until archaeologist Margherita Guarducci discovered graffiti near the excavated tomb reading “Petros eni”, which could mean “Peter is here”, that she requested tests on the fragments.
She found they belonged to a robust man who died aged between 60 and 70 and had been buried in a purple, gold-threaded cloth — enough to convince Paul VI to say in 1968 that Peter’s bones had been identified “in a convincing manner.”
With no DNA evidence to support the find, the debate over whether they really do belong to one of Jesus Christ’s apostles is likely to continue, but the Vatican has said it “has no intention of opening up any argument.”
“Faith, the people of God, have always believed these to be the relics of the apostle Peter, and we continue to venerate them in this way,” Rino Fisichella, head of the pontifical council for evangelisation, said in the Vatican’s newspaper L’Osservatore Romano.
The ceremony brought to an end the Vatican’s “Year of Faith”, a Benedict XVI initiative which began on October 11, 2012 to mark the 50th anniversary of the start of the Vatican II Council, which approved key Catholic Church reforms.
The project’s principle aim was to tackle the decline of religious practice in the developed world, particularly in Europe.
The Vatican said the “Year of Faith” had attracted 8.5 million pilgrims to Rome.
Pope Francis calls unfettered capitalism 'tyranny' and urges rich to share wealth
Pontiff's first major publication calls on global leaders to guarantee work, education and healthcare
theguardian.com, Tuesday 26 November 2013 11.51 GMT
Pope Francis has attacked unfettered capitalism as "a new tyranny", urging global leaders to fight poverty and growing inequality in the first major work he has authored alone as pontiff.
The 84-page document, known as an apostolic exhortation, amounted to an official platform for his papacy, building on views he has aired in sermons and remarks since he became the first non-European pontiff in 1,300 years in March.
In it, Francis went further than previous comments criticising the global economic system, attacking the "idolatry of money" and beseeching politicians to guarantee all citizens "dignified work, education and healthcare".
He also called on rich people to share their wealth. "Just as the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say 'thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills," Francis wrote in the document issued on Tuesday.
"How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?"
The pope said renewal of the church could not be put off and the Vatican and its entrenched hierarchy "also need to hear the call to pastoral conversion".
"I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security," he wrote.
In July, Francis finished an encyclical begun by Pope Benedict but he made clear that it was largely the work of his predecessor, who resigned in February.
Called Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), the exhortation is presented in Francis's simple and warm preaching style, distinct from the more academic writings of former popes, and stresses the church's central mission of preaching "the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ".
In it, he reiterated earlier statements that the church cannot ordain women or accept abortion. The male-only priesthood, he said, "is not a question open to discussion" but women must have more influence in church leadership.
A meditation on how to revitalise a church suffering from encroaching secularisation in western countries, the exhortation echoed the missionary zeal more often heard from the evangelical Protestants who have won over many disaffected Catholics in the pope's native Latin America.
In it, economic inequality features as one of the issues Francis is most concerned about. The 76-year-old pontiff calls for an overhaul of the financial system and warns that unequal distribution of wealth inevitably leads to violence.
"As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world's problems or, for that matter, to any problems," he wrote.
Denying this was simple populism, he called for action "beyond a simple welfare mentality" and added: "I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor."
Since his election, Francis has set an example for austerity in the church, living in a Vatican guest house rather than the ornate Apostolic Palace, travelling in a Ford Focus, and last month suspending a bishop who spent millions of euros on his luxurious residence.
He chose to be called Francis after the medieval Italian saint of the same name famed for choosing a life of poverty.
Stressing co-operation among religions, Francis quoted the late Pope John Paul II's idea that the papacy might be reshaped to promote closer ties with other Christian churches and noted lessons Rome could learn from the Orthodox church such as "synodality" or decentralised leadership.
He praised co-operation with Jews and Muslims and urged Islamic countries to guarantee their Christian minorities the same religious freedom as Muslims enjoy in the West.
Pope issues mission statement for papacy
Pope Francis issued the mission statement for his papacy Tuesday, outlining how the Catholic Church and the papacy itself must be reformed to create a more missionary and merciful church that gets its hands dirty as it seeks out the poor and oppressed.
By NICOLE WINFIELD
VATICAN CITY —
Pope Francis issued the mission statement for his papacy Tuesday, outlining how the Catholic Church and the papacy itself must be reformed to create a more missionary and merciful church that gets its hands dirty as it seeks out the poor and oppressed.
In the 85-page document, Francis pulled together the priorities he has laid out in eight months of homilies, speeches and interviews and put them in the broader context of how to reinvigorate the church's evangelical zeal in a world marked by indifference, secularization and vast income inequalities.
He explained his most controversial remarks criticizing the church's "obsession" with transmitting a disjointed set of moral doctrines, saying that in the church's "hierarchy of truths," mercy is paramount, proportion is necessary, and that what counts is inviting the faithful in.
He went even further Tuesday, saying some of the church's historical customs can even be cast aside if they no longer serve to communicate the faith. Citing St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, Francis stressed the need for moderation in norms "so as to not burden the lives of the faithful."
At the same time, Francis restated the church's opposition to abortion, making clear that this doctrine is non-negotiable and is at the core of the church's insistence on the dignity of every human being.
The document, Evangelii Gaudium, (The Joy of the Gospel), is the second major teaching document issued by Francis but is the first actually written by him since the encyclical "The Light of Faith," issued in July, was penned almost entirely by Pope Benedict XVI before he resigned.
Francis wrote the bulk of it in August, during the Vatican's summer lull, said Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi.
Francis' concerns are laced throughout, and the theological and historical citations leave no doubt about his own points of reference and priorities: Popes John XXIII and Paul VI, who presided over the Second Vatican Council, which brought the church into the modern world, are cited repeatedly.
And in a first for an apostolic exhortation, as this type of papal pronouncement is called, Francis cited various documents of bishops' conferences from around the world, an indication of the importance he places in giving the local church greater say in church governance and decision-making.
"I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security," he wrote. "I do not want a church concerned with being at the center and then ends up by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures."
He added: "More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us, 'Give them something to eat.'"
In the frank and often funny style that has come to define Francis' preaching, the Argentine Jesuit chastised priests for their complacency, giving them a lesson on preparing homilies that don't put the faithful to sleep. He reminded them that confession shouldn't be "torture," and told them to get out of their sacristies, get their shoes muddy, get involved in the lives of their faithful and not be defeatist "sourpusses."
He said their greatest concern must be the poor and marginalized, since they are victims of an unjust, global economic system that prizes profit over people. He said the poor need the tender, merciful love that the church can provide.
While again ruling out women's ordination, Francis called for greater role for women in making decisions in the church and said the faithful ought not to think that just because priests preside over Mass that they are more important than the people who make up the church itself.
"The church, as the agent of evangelization, is more than an organic hierarchical institution; she is first and foremost a people advancing on its pilgrim way towards God," he wrote.
Francis cited Vatican II documents calling for a more decentralized church authority and said he too must rethink the papacy to achieve the goals of spreading the faith. He noted that Pope John Paul II had asked for proposals to rethink the way the primacy of the pope is exercised, a delicate and potentially revolutionary issue that hasn't yet been resolved.
Francis is currently overseeing a major overhaul of the Vatican's dysfunctional administration, but he said that he was "open to suggestions" about how to change the very nature of the papacy and its relation to the world's bishops conferences, to make the papacy reflect better what Jesus intended and what the church needs today.
"Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the church's life and her missionary outreach," he said.
Pope Francis rips capitalism and trickle-down economics to shreds in new policy statement
By Travis Gettys
Tuesday, November 26, 2013 11:48 EST
In case there was any doubt left, Pope Francis made it clear that he shares little in common with U.S. conservatives.
The pontiff released his Evangelii Gadium, or Joy of the Gospel, attacking capitalism as a form of tyranny and calling on church and political leaders to address the needs of the poor.
“As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems,” the pope said in the 224-page document that essentially serves as his official platform.
Pope Francis said that inequality was the root of social ills, and prayed for world leaders with more empathy and sense of social justice.
“I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor!” Pope Francis wrote. “It is vital that government leaders and financial leaders take heed and broaden their horizons, working to ensure that all citizens have dignified work, education and healthcare.”
The pope has already drawn the ire of some conservative Catholics, particularly in the U.S., for his open-minded comments on social issues such as homosexuality, abortion and contraception, and he’s also previously criticized capitalism for promoting greed.
But his latest statements put those concerns into sharper focus – and puts him in sharp contrast to American conservative leaders who prize the unfettered free market and promote the Randian theory of objectivism, or rational self-interest.
“I am interested only in helping those who are in thrall to an individualistic, indifferent and self-centered mentality to be freed from those unworthy chains and to attain a way of living and thinking which is more humane, noble and fruitful, and which will bring dignity to their presence on this earth,” the pope wrote.
He also launched a broadside against former President Ronald Reagan’s signature economic theory, which continues to serve as conservative Republican dogma.
“Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world,” Pope Francis wrote. “This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”
The pope lamented that people had “calmly accepted (the) dominion” of money over themselves and society, which he said was expressed in the recent financial crisis and the continuing promotion of consumer-based economies.
“We have created new idols,” the pope wrote. “The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption.”
The pope decried the growing gap between rich and poor as a social and political problem.
“This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation,” Pope Francis wrote. “Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules.”
The pope noted that corporations and individuals were failing to pay taxes in nations around the world, depriving governments of funding needed to serve all their citizens, and banks and loan organizations had crippled emerging economies with staggering interest obligations.
“The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits,” Pope Francis wrote. “In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.”
Pope Francis said this political and economic system was inherently sinful because it violated the biblical prohibition against killing.
“Such an economy kills,” he wrote. “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.”
The pope said that human beings themselves are used and discarded as mere consumer goods in this “disposable culture.”
“It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new,” Pope Francis wrote. “Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the ‘exploited’ but the outcast, the ‘leftovers.’”
[Image via Agence France-Presse]