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« Reply #195 on: Mar 06, 2014, 07:10 AM »


The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe – review

David Kertzer's nuanced book investigates an unholy alliance between fascism and the Catholic church

Lucy Hughes-Hallett   
The Guardian, Thursday 6 March 2014 10.00 GMT   

In 1938, Pope Pius XI addressed a group of visitors to the Vatican. There were some people, he said, who argued that the state should be all-powerful – "totalitarian". Such an idea, he went on, was absurd, not because individual liberty was too precious to be surrendered, but because "if there is a totalitarian regime – in fact and by right – it is the regime of the church, because man belongs totally to the church".

As David Kertzer demonstrates repeatedly in this nuanced book, to be critical of fascism in Italy in the 30s was not necessarily to be liberal or a lover of democracy. And to be antisemitic was not to be unchristian. The Pope told Mussolini that the church had long seen the need to "rein in the children of Israel" and to take "protective measures against their evil-doing". The Vatican and the fascist regime had many differences, but this they had in common.

Kertzer announces that the Catholic church is generally portrayed as the courageous opponent of fascism, but this is an exaggeration. There is a counter-tradition, John Cornwell's fine book, Hitler's Pope, on Pius XII (who succeeded Pius XI in 1939) exposed the Vatican's culpable passivity in the face of the wartime persecution of Italian Jews. But Kertzer describes something more fundamental than a church leader's strategic decision to protect his own flock rather than to speak up in defence of others. His argument, presented not as polemic but as gripping storytelling, is that much of fascist ideology was inspired by Catholic tradition – the authoritarianism, the intolerance of opposition and the profound suspicion of the Jews.

Pius XI – formerly Achille Ratti, librarian, mountain-climber and admirer of Mark Twain – was elected Pope in February 1922, eight months before Mussolini bullied his way to the Italian premiership. For 17 years the two men held sway over their separate spheres in Rome. In all that time they met only once, but they communicated ceaselessly by means of ambassadors and nuncios, through the press (each had his tame organ) and via less publicly accountable go-betweens. From the copious records of their exchanges Kertzer has uncovered a fascinating tale of two irascible – and often irrational – potentates, and gives us an account of some murky intellectual finagling, and an often startling investigation of the exercise of power.

The accession of Mussolini, known in his youth as mangiaprete – priest-eater – didn't bode well for the papacy. The fascist squads had been beating up clerics and terrorising Catholic youth clubs. But Mussolini saw that he could use the church to legitimise his power, so he set about wooing the clergy. He had his wife and children baptised. He gave money for the restoration of churches. After two generations of secularism, there were once again to be crucifixes in Italy's courts and classrooms. Warily, slowly, the Pope became persuaded that with Mussolini's help Italy might become, once more, a "confessional state".

Only gradually did it become clear how much the church might lose in the process. Pius fretted over inadequately dressed women – backless ballgowns and the skimpy outfits of female gymnasts were particularly worrisome. Mussolini played along, solemnly declaring that, in future, girls' gym lessons would be designed only to make them fit mothers of fascist sons. He was accommodating in aiding the Pope's war on heresy – banning Protestant books and journals on demand. But Mussolini was creating a heresy of his own. Schoolchildren were required to pray to him: "I humbly offer my life to you, o Duce." In January 1938, he summoned more than 2,000 priests, including 60 bishops, to participate in a celebration of his agricultural policy. Neither the Pope nor his secretary of state were happy, but they feared offending the dictator. And so the priests marched in procession through Rome. They laid wreaths, not at a Christian shrine, but on a monument to fascist heroes. They saluted Mussolini as he stood on his balcony and attended a ceremony where they were required to cheer his entrance, to pray for blessings upon him and roar out "O Duce! Duce! Duce!" That the fascists (beginning with their precursor, Gabriele d'Annunzio) had appropriated ecclesiastical rituals and liturgies could perhaps be taken as a compliment to the church, but to recruit its priests for the worship of a secular ruler was to humiliate God's vicar on earth. Mussolini was cock-a-hoop. It was easy to manipulate the church, he told his new allies in Nazi Germany. With a few tax concessions, and free railway tickets for the clergy, he boasted, he had got the Vatican so snugly in his pocket it had even declared his genocidal invasion of Abyssinia "a holy war".

When it comes to the "Jewish question", Kertzer demonstrates that the Pope's failure to protest effectively against the fascist racial laws arose not simply from weakness, but because antisemitism pervaded his church. Mussolini scored a painful hit when he assured Pius that he would do nothing to Italy's Jews that had not already been done under papal rule. Roberto Farinacci, most brutal of the fascist leaders, came close to the truth when he announced: "It is impossible for the Catholic fascist to renounce that antisemitic conscience which the church had formed through the millennia." And Catholic antisemitism was thriving. Among Pius's most valued advisers were several who – as Kertzer amply demonstrates – saw themselves as battling against a diabolical alliance of communists, Protestants, freemasons and Jews.

Avoiding overt partisanship, Kertzer coolly lays out the evidence; he describes his large and various cast of characters, and follows their machinations. We meet the genial Cardinal Gasparri who, narrowly missing the papacy himself, became Pius's secretary of state, handling the negotiations that led in 1929 to the Lateran Accords between the Vatican and the regime. Gasparri, a peasant's son who had risen far, considered Mussolini absurdly ignorant and uncouth; Mussolini thought him "very shrewd". We meet the Jesuit father, Tacchi Venturi, Pius's unofficial emissary, a firm believer in conspiracy theories, who claimed to have been nearly killed by an antifascist hitman (the story doesn't stand up). We meet Monsignor Caccia, Pius's master of ceremonies, who was known to the police and to Mussolini's spies for luring boys to his rooms in the Vatican for sex, rewarding them with contraband cigarettes. And we meet the motley crew familiar from histories of fascism: the doltish Starace, Mussolini's "bulldog"; Ciano, plump and boyish and, in the opinion of the American ambassador, devoid of "standards morally or politically"; and Clara Petacci, the girl with whom Mussolini spent hours of every day on the beach. Some of this is familiar territory, but what is new, and riveting, is how fascists and churchmen alike were forced into intellectual contortions as they struggled to justify the new laws. "Racism" was good. "Exaggerated racism" was bad. "Antisemitism" was good, as long as it was Italian. "German antisemitism" was another thing entirely.

Eventually Pius XI drew back from this casuistry. Kertzer describes the old pope on his deathbed, praying for just a few more days so that he could deliver a speech with the message that "all the nations, all the races" (Jews included) could be united by faith. He dies. Cardinal Pacelli – suave, emollient and devious, where Pius XI was a table-thumper who had no qualms about blurting out uncomfortable truths – clears his desk, suppresses his notes and persuades the Vatican's printer, who has the speech's text ready for distribution, to destroy it so that "not a comma" remains. Eighteen days later Pacelli becomes Pope Pius XII. It is a striking ending for a book whose narrative strength is as impressive as its moral subtlety.


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« Reply #196 on: Mar 06, 2014, 07:15 AM »


Pope Francis rejects hero-worship and says he is a normal person

Pope says he objects to 'idealisation' as Vatican prepares to celebrate anniversary of his election

Lizzy Davies in Rome
theguardian.com, Wednesday 5 March 2014 17.36 GMT   

He has graced the cover of Rolling Stone, been depicted as a street-art superhero and is greeted by crowds of adoring fans wherever he goes. But Pope Francis has told a newspaper he has had enough of the hero worship that has accompanied his year-long papacy, describing it as offensive and insisting he is just "a normal person".

In an interview published in the Italian paper Corriere della Sera almost 12 months after his election, Francis said he objected to the image of him that has been widely propagated.

The Argentinian pontiff, 77, has dramatically altered the style of the papacy, making a series of symbolic choices that have solidified his persona as a plain-living, down-to-earth and genial head of the Catholic church.

But, as a new magazine launched in Italy dedicated entirely to him and the Vatican prepared to mark his first anniversary with a DVD of behind-the-scenes footage, Francis rejected the excesses of so-called Francescomania.

"Sigmund Freud used to say, if I'm not mistaken, that in every idealisation there is an attack," he said. "Depicting the pope as a kind of superman, a kind of star, seems to me offensive. The pope is a man who laughs, cries, sleeps calmly and has friends like everyone else. A normal person."

Giving interviews to the mainstream media is one of the ways in which Francis has struck a new tone in the Vatican since his election last March.

But the encounters have not always gone smoothly: the Vatican chose to take down an interview with him that appeared in La Repubblica after doubt sprang up over certain passages in the published text and the journalist admitted he had neither recorded the conversation nor taken notes during it.

Francis said that, while he liked "to be among the people", he did not appreciate the assumptions he said were made about his stance on core issues.

"I do not like the ideological interpretations, this kind of Pope Francis mythology," he said. "When, for example, it is said that I leave the Vatican at night to feed the homeless in Via Ottaviano [a street just outside Vatican City]. Such a thing has never occurred to me."

In some of his comments, Francis appeared to want to strike a balance between insisting that doctrine on issues such as contraception and civil partnerships would not change and hinting, nonetheless, that their application should sometimes take account of pastoral realities in a more pragmatic way.

On birth control, he said that, while doctrinal change was not a possibility, the important thing for the church was "to ensure that pastoral care takes into account situations and what is possible for people". And, while re-emphasising the church's position that "matrimony is between a man and a woman", the pope appeared to indicate that the church should judge non-marital civil unions on a case-by-case basis.

"The secular states want to justify civil unions to regulate different situations of cohabitation, driven by the need to regulate economic aspects between people, like, for example, ensuring health care," he was quoted as saying. "The different cases need to be looked at and evaluated in their variety."

When he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, the pope is reported to have been a supporter of same sex civil partnerships as a potential compromise with the government when it was pushing through gay marriage. The move earned him a reputation as a pragmatic rather than zealous enforcer of church teaching. On Wednesday, however, the Vatican said that Francis had in the interview been speaking "in very general terms and did not specifically refer to same-sex marriage as a civil union." Francis also took the opportunity to defend the church's record on the clerical sex-abuse scandal, an issue on which he has rarely spoken about.

While acknowledging the crimes committed as "terrible" occurrences, which left "very deep wounds", he praised the efforts of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, in responding to the crisis.

"On this the church has done a great deal," he said. "Perhaps more than anyone else. The statistics concerning the phenomenon of violence against children are shocking but they also show clearly that the great majority of abuse occurs within families and among acquaintances. The Catholic church is perhaps the only public institution to have acted with transparency and responsibility. No one else has done more. And yet the church is the only one to be attacked." To mark the anniversary of the church's first non-European pope for almost 1,300 years, the Vatican is not only producing a series of commemorative coins and stamps but also preparing to release a video from the night Francis was chosen as pope.

The church, however, is not the only organisation regarding 13 March as a date to watch. Mondadori, the publishing company controlled by the family of the former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, has brought out a new weekly magazine devoted to the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

Entitled Il Mio Papa, or My Pope, the fanzine contains an array of Francis trivia and comment, including tips on the best places to stand in St Peter's Square to catch his Sunday blessing, photographs of the guesthouse where he lives, and a centrefold picture of the pontiff smiling in his white cassock.


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« Reply #197 on: Mar 08, 2014, 05:36 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
03/07/2014 01:36 PM

Pope John Paul II's Canonization: The Making of a Miracle

By Alexander Smoltczyk

Pope John Paul II will be canonized in April. A woman from Costa Rica experienced a stunning recovery from a brain aneurysm after praying to the late pontiff. Her story provides a unique look at the Vatican's miracle workshop.

There is a place in Rome where miracles are collected and examined, inspected and screened, and purged of all thirst for glory or pagan superstition. It is called the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

The Vatican's outpost in the Lateran Palace is on Piazza Giovanni Paolo II. The marble street sign, a more recent addition, will have to be redone soon, when a mason chisels the word "San," or "saint" into the sign. That will occur by no later than April 27, when Karol Wojtyla, aka Giovanni Paolo II, will be declared a saint in Rome, only nine years after his death. Rarely has the Vatican been in such a hurry to complete a canonization. John Paul II was a global pope, and now he is to become a saint of the 21st century, a global saint.

He has already been beatified. But to attain the second level of godliness, sainthood, another miracle, one that has been officially examined and cannot be explained by the laws of science, is required.

The necessary research is undertaken at the office on Piazza Giovanni Paolo II. Slawomir Oder, 53, is the "postulator" of "Causa Ioannis Pauli." He handles the red tape surrounding the canonization, acting as an intermediary between Heaven and earth, a sort of central collecting point for evidence, witness testimony and reports of miracles. His staff has inspected all of the writings of Karol Wojtyla, from an early play called "The Jeweler's Shop" to the words of his last, almost inaudible address.

The monsignor is a representative of the new Poland, multilingual, efficient and, most recently, sporting a neatly trimmed goatee. He looks like someone who could be managing a tech start-up. His office on the fifth floor of the Lateran Palace is filled with files, images of popes and souvenirs from his travels. A glass case next to the door contains a white cap and a pencil case. Monsignor Oder answers the question before it is even asked: "Yes, they are originals." He points to a round reliquary, which contains a piece of material with gray spots on it. "They are from the day of the assassination attempt," May 13, 1981. It's the most valuable item in his collection.

Oder's office is also responsible for the management of relics, which are divided into three classifications. The most valued are parts of John Paul's body, which include mostly hair or blood. Second are "contact relics," or clothing and accessories the deceased pope once wore. Finally, items that came into contact with a contact relic also make the list.

A Wondrous Story

There are currently about 400 "first-class relics" in circulation, and about 40,000 second-class relics, which consist almost exclusively of nine square-millimeter snippets of one of the pope's chasubles.

The number of third-class relics is potentially infinite, following the homeopathic principle whereby substances are effective, even in the greatest possible dilution. However, as Oder is quick to point out, such relics are not to be used as a talisman. A relic, he says, is no good-luck charm, but rather an object of meditation and a window into the faith. "Take a few," says the monsignor.

The "Positio," or final report, is kept in the safe. One copy was given to Pope Francis, while the original remains in Monsignor Oder's safekeeping. The Karol Wojtyla file weighs about four kilograms (nine pounds) and consists of four volumes, bound in apostolic eggshell-white material, and comprising a total of 2,709 pages. The file is titled "Positio super vita, virtutibus et fama sanctitatis," or "Report on the Life, Virtues and Reputation of Sanctity." The report includes, for example, the testimony of a certain Dr. Helmut Kohl (the former German chancellor), as well as that of the Dalai Lama and about 100 other contemporaries. Oder has visited all of them in the last few years. Each of those interviewed, if Catholic, was asked to swear upon his or her soul that he or she was telling the truth.

The "Positio" also contains a long, wondrous story that unfolded three years ago and 10,000 kilometers away, or, to be more precise, in the right temporal lobe of the brain of Floribeth Mora Díaz.

The house of Mora's family is on a steep street on the outskirts of San José, where the Costa Rican capital gradually gives way to the rain forest. Mora -- 50, wearing tight, red stretch jeans -- is a grandmother nine times over. She has constructed an altar on her veranda, a colorful, shimmering private shrine, complete with plaster cherubs, Sacred Heart candles, and printouts of prayers for John Paul II, who will soon be Saint John Paul II. "My saint," says Mora; there is no doubt that her claim is correct.

On April 13, 2011, Señora Mora was convinced that her head was about to explode. She could no longer feel her left leg and she was constantly vomiting. Her doctor had diagnosed Mora with "migraines," but she refused to believe him.

Her husband, Edwin Arce, took her to the emergency room at the Hospital La Católica in San José. He was determined that only the best would do for his wife, and La Católica was the best hospital in the city, despite the fact that some of the patients were admitted in handcuffs, owing to the prison located right around the corner.

A Positive Omen

The neurologist who evaluated Mora was Dr. Alejandro Vargas, a doctor so young, attractive and clever that he could easily be taken for a telenovela actor. Before Vargas operates on a patient's head, he likes to say: "With the help of God, vamos…" Mora decided to interpret his words as a positive omen.

"My head felt like it was swollen, I didn't even dare to sneeze. The doctor gave me a contrast agent and did his examination. Then he told me I had an aneurysm" -- a bulge in the wall of a blood vessel. Aneurysms are not unusual in individuals over 50, especially when they are somewhat overweight and have hypertension.

"Her blood pressure was very high. She was suffering from a fusiform aneurysm," Vargas would later write in his report. "It could have been clamped, but the problem is that we don't have the technology for that. An operation was too risky."

Mora's aneurysm looked to be located in a region of the brain that was inaccessible to the surgeons. "Dr. Vargas said that he couldn't clamp the blood vessel," Mora relates. "He said that if he operated, I could fall into a coma or become permanently paralyzed. He told me there was nothing he could do."

Mora remembers how a priest came to administer her last rites. Dr. Vargas recalls that he had only said that nothing could be done for Mora in his hospital. "This type of case is certainly operated on in Mexico or the United States. I prescribed anti-hypertensive medication for the señora, as well as a sedative. After all, the aneurysm hadn't ruptured. There was still hope."

But Mora didn't think so. She had a problem in her head, one that not even the best doctor in Costa Rica could solve. She was in tears as her husband Edwin drove her back to Tres Ríos. "I called my brothers so that they could get the family together. I wanted to tell them they should always stick together, even without me, and that their mother had only a month left to live." Mora wept for three days and took the pills Dr. Vargas had prescribed. In between bouts of weeping, she prayed.

One of her children occasionally came into her room and tapped her to see if she was still alive. She had been sent home to die. It was what she would later say to every priest she encountered, to the archbishop and to anyone else who would listen.

The Only True Miracle

From a purely dogmatic standpoint, miracles make the church a little uncomfortable. God doesn't need to prove his omnipotence in the form of patients whose missing limbs suddenly reappear. The only true miracle is the resurrection of Jesus.

To Pope Benedict XVI, reports of farmers strolling across their village pond were just as suspect as the cult of Padre Pio or the apparitions of Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where the lame and sick go for salvation. The veneration of saints is no substitute for health insurance.

But people want miracles. A world without the possibility of the impossible would be like a lottery without a grand prize -- an empty world, a world without God. It's the reason people want saints. To the faithful, saints are like touchable, practical versions of God.

This sentiment explains why devout Catholics began chanting "Santo subito!" (Italian for "saint now!") shortly after Karol Wojtyla's death. On the day he died, "we perceived the fragrance of his sanctity, and in any number of ways God's People showed their veneration for him," said Benedict XVI, as he proceeded to beatify his predecessor in record time, after only six years of examination.

On May 1, 2011, the day John Paul II was beatified, one and a half million pilgrims came to Rome. Newspapers worldwide published special issues to commemorate the event, including La Nación in San José, Costa Rica.

But there is a difference between beatification and sainthood. Only a real saint has his own holiday, and only his relics can be worshipped everywhere, no matter what documents turn up in the future. Only a saint remains a saint until doomsday and beyond.

However, a "fragrance," no matter how strong, is not enough for sainthood. The rules can be found in the papal bull titled "Divinus perfectionis Magister." They state that it is not sufficient to have led an unblemished and virtuous life, or even to have wrestled down communism. Canonization requires a confirmed miracle.

The notion that he was capable of miracles was already attributed to John Paul II in the course of his beatification. In 2005 Marie Simon-Pierre, a nun from Puyricard in France's Provence region, claimed that she had been cured of Parkinson's disease by merely invoking the deceased pope.

According to the rules, simple martyrdom, such as death by assassination, would be sufficient for beatification. But a miracle is required for canonization, provided the pope enforces the rule. What's more, the miracle must have taken place after beatification. In the case of John Paul II, that would be anytime after May 2, 2011.

Juan Pablo's Helping Hand
Floribeth Mora couldn't sleep that night and watched television instead. The special edition of La Nación, with a black-and-white photo of the pope giving his blessing, was lying on top of Mora's TV.

"In the morning, I looked at his picture in the newspaper. I heard a voice. Yes, it was a male voice. Yes, it was in Spanish. It said: 'Get up and have no fear.' His two hands emerged from the photo." Mora has told the story many times. She weeps every time she tells it.

She is an attractive and serious woman, and yet she lacks the penetrating radiance common to those who have been in contact with the dead. Her husband Edwin, who used to sell auto parts, now runs a security company with his sons. The youngest son, who looks like a punk rocker, serves us tamales.

"I stood up and said: 'Sí, Señor.' I was able to go into the kitchen. I felt a little better. I felt an inner warmth. I was convinced that I was healthy, even if my body was saying the opposite. My Juan Pablo," says Mora.

Her headaches subsided and eventually disappeared. In July, Dr. Vargas was astonished to see his patient return to his office with no symptoms. He says: "When I saw the scans, I initially thought it was the wrong CD. I could see no signs of an aneurysm. It looked like a completely normal artery, even after the catheter examination. It was my impression that something had happened here. I haven't found anything like this in the literature."

Juan Pablo had helped.

For Mora, there was no need to discuss the miracle any further, and the world would never have learned about it if a certain Father Dariusz Ra had only brought along some Polish sausage from Krakow, or perhaps some vodka. But the priest had felt that something very special was needed.

In Rome, Ra had become friends with another priest, Donald, when they were both students at the Pontifical Gregoriana University. Father Dariusz was from Silesia, and Father Donald was from Costa Rica. "Dariusz wanted to visit me, spent a few days at the beach and see the volcanoes. He asked if he could bring me anything. I had no idea," says Donald. In any event, he expected his friend to turn up with some Polish sausage instead of blood -- papal blood. Although it was only a drop, it was the blood of John Paul II, together with a certificate in Latin, which read: "Ex Sanguine Beati Ioannis Pauli Papae."

The Making of a Miracle

"That was the first peculiarity," says Donald Solana, the priest at the church of Nuestra Señora de Ujarrás in Paraíso, a neighborhood in the city of Cartago. Wearing a short-sleeved shirt, he smiles broadly and easily. "The blood of a pope -- here in Costa Rica. I am always amazed anew by our Lord."

And that was only the beginning. Without that drop of blood in the luggage of Father Dariusz, there would be no canonization on April 27, 2014, nor would there be a square at the Vatican soon to be named Piazza San Giovanni Paolo II. That's because miracles don't just fall out of the sky. Miracles are made.

The drop of blood that the visitor from Krakow had brought along in his luggage was dried on a piece of material and enclosed in a brass container. It was from the last blood sample taken from John Paul II as he was dying.

Stanislaw Dziwisz, who is now the Archbishop of Krakow, was the pope's private secretary at the time and had inherited the ampoule. In addition to being viewed as the trustee of John Paul's spiritual estate, Dziwisz has a monopoly on the distribution of the former pope's blood, which he dispenses at his discretion around the world, contained in various reliquaries.

"The hospital ampoule was not thrown away, but was wiped clean with one of the pope's old chasubles. And my friend Dariusz…," says Father Donald, pausing to savor the moment, "… had brought us some of it."

Some 3,000 pilgrims came to see the drop on the first day. On the second day, Father Donald thought about moving up the date of a planned expansion of his church.

The intercessory prayers of the day are already piling up in a basket in front of the relic. "Ensure that my son gets the job at the town hall," reads one note, while another reads: "Help me, Juan Pablo, I'm in such great pain."

In strict accordance with canon law, Father Donald isn't permitted to collect such entreaties. Someone who has been beatified can only be worshipped in his native country -- Poland, and not Costa Rica, in this case. Father Donald's drop of blood will only be transformed into the blood of a saint on April 27, when its value will suddenly increase, not unlike a work of art being auctioned at Sotheby's.

A Call to Costa Rica

"One day this señora turned up after the church was already closed. She was weeping and she was determined to see our drop of blood," says Father Donald. "I let her in. She said something about a cure, and that John Paul had saved her. My friend Dariusz wrote down a web address to which she could send her story." After that, says Father Donald, the woman's name slipped his mind.

"We certainly had a few dozen interesting, potential miracle cases in reserve," says Slawomir Oder, the man in charge of the former pope's file in Rome. "My secretary gave me the email from Señora Floribeth. There was no vanity there. On the contrary, she was a simple and beautiful soul whose only thought had been for her family. And John Paul II had always been near and dear to the family. So I made a call to Costa Rica."

Father Donald received the call at 7 a.m. one day in April 2012. Monsignor Oder introduced himself as the postulator of the cause of John Paul and quickly got to the point: "Find Señora Floribeth Mora. We need her."

It took the priest a moment to remember the woman who had come to his church in tears. With the help of someone he knew at the phone company, he managed to track her down at her home in Tres Ríos, on the outskirts of San José. "The Vatican sent us $1,200 to have Floribeth examined in a private clinic," says Father Donald. "The result was the same: There was no aneurysm. I sent the scans to Rome by DHL."

The machinery of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints had been set in motion. Too many people were waiting for a miracle. And certainly not just because they were sick.

In Washington, for example, a "Blessed John Paul II Shrine" had been built for $75 million, but the expected crowds of visitors had failed to materialize. The operators, a pope-loving brotherhood called the Knights of Columbus, were planning to quadruple the size of their exhibit space once John Paul's canonization was announced. According to a spokesman, the organization is now hoping to be able to present pilgrims with a blood-spattered piece of the former pope's robes from the day of the attempted assassination.

In Poland alone, 19 churches have already been consecrated in the name of the former pope. There are study centers, pilgrimage sites, museums and commemorative paths on every continent. And since the beatification, everyone has been waiting for the same thing: sainthood. The real thing. The miracle.

No Longer Needed

On Oct. 17, 2012, Floribeth Mora boarded an airplane for the first time in her life. Father Donald accompanied her to Rome, where a room had been reserved for her at the Gemelli Hospital, on the same floor where the pope, her Pope Juan Pablo, had stayed after the attack. The Congregation for the Causes of Saints had made all the preparations.

Perhaps Mora already sensed at the time that her private miracle was about to be transformed into something else, something much larger that would have little to do with her anymore: a global miracle. As a souvenir, she bought a snow globe with a tiny St. Peter's Basilica inside.

She was given the same unpleasant and prolonged tests as in Costa Rica: ultrasound, CT, catheter diagnosis. The tests made her so ill that an excursion to Assisi had to be canceled. At some point Mora just wanted to go home. And by then, she was no longer needed.

"It isn't the miracle that makes the saint," explains Slawomir Oder, the postulator of the cause. "It's merely the final confirmation" -- God's watermark, so to speak. "Every miracle requires a legal configuration," says Oder. "The church must have definitively determined that, after a person with a reputation for sanctity was turned to in prayer, an act of God occurred for which there is no scientific explanation."

In other words, the miracle is subjected to a technical inspection of sorts. A panel of theologians examines whether a sincere and deliberate prayer actually took place prior to the miracle.

Before that can happen, a panel of doctors is convened, pursuant to Section 2.14.1) of the "Divinus perfectionis Magister," which reads: "The claimed miracles, for which a written document has been prepared by the rapporteur appointed for this purpose, are examined by a group of experts (if cures are involved, a group of doctors); their statements and conclusions are described in a precise report."

Although he cannot provide the names of the doctors involved, says Postulator Oder, this much he can say: "They are authorities who are not necessarily close to the church."

When Father Donald received another phone call from the Vatican in November, the voice on the other end informed him that everything was "tutto bene!" The doctors had found no scientific explanation for Mora's cure. "It was indeed a miracle," says Monsignor Oder. "The doctors had ruled out spontaneous healing. The aneurysm was in a part of the brain that couldn't be operated on. There is neither a thrombus nor a scar, nor is there any evidence of a different path the blood could have taken. It's as if the aneurysm never existed."

Another Version

The case was clear, for the postulator, for the cardinals and bishops of the Congregation, and for Pope Francis. On July 5, 2013, the Holy See announced that the pope had recognized by decree the miracle required for canonization.

Without access to all of the scans, it is difficult to say what really happened in the right temporal lobe of Floribeth Mora Díaz.

Since the pope's death, there had been so many alleged miracle cures that there was practically a competition over which miracle would be selected by the Vatican. Brazil, Mexico and Poland, as well as Bolivia, were all in the running. So why did the Vatican choose Floribeth Mora from Costa Rica?

The local archbishop, Hugo Barrantes, sees the case as "a message to the secular state" of Costa Rica, which was in the process of decriminalizing artificial insemination. "A miracle is no random intervention by the Lord," says Slawomir Oder, who ought to know. "It always comes with a deeper message. In the case of Señora Floribeth, it is a message for life and the family."

There is also another version of the story.

"We didn't want it to be a nun, because a nun had already been involved in the beatification," says Daniel Blanco, chancellor of the diocesan curia of San José in Costa Rica. The official report on the miracle of San José bears his signature. "The case was very much strengthened by the fact that it was from Latin America, where John Paul II is very popular. And that she was a mother in the prime of her life."

Besides, says Blanco, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz -- the Archbishop of Krakow and the source of Father Donald's relic containing the blood of the former pope -- had shown a keen interest in the case. "In the final phase, he called almost every day to ask how much progress we had made." Progress with the miracle, that is.

On April 27, 2014, Rome will be overflowing with pilgrims once again, when a new name is added to the list of saints: Saint Karol.

Father Donald Solano will have renovated his church by then. He has already had new business cards printed for the church. They now include the word "shrine."

Dr. Alejandro Vargas, the first doctor in the case, says that patients now come to him just to touch his hand. Recently, as he was performing a difficult surgery using a microscope, there was so much blood that he had to operate blindly. He says that he sensed that "someone took my hand, and the bleeding stopped."

Today Mora always sits in the front row during mass. Some people from Bosnia recently came to her house to ask for her blessing. It is still something of a mystery to her that they have made her Juan Pablo into a saint; that her name will soon be mentioned in every language; that millions of people will think about the miracle that took place in her head.

Mora's life has thoroughly changed in only one respect: It is continuing. But what happens if another aneurysm forms in her brain? "Under canon law, it would be a completely new illness," the postulator said. A new miracle would then be required -- or a better doctor.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


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« Reply #198 on: Mar 10, 2014, 07:59 AM »

Pope Francis’s first year: Faith, hope—and how much change?

How a modest but canny man is approaching the complex task of leading the Roman Catholic church

Mar 8th 2014
VATICAN CITY
The Economist

IN THE 12 months since he appeared on the balcony of St Peter’s to begin his papacy with a disarmingly unaffected “Good evening” to the crowd below, Pope Francis has won a following far beyond the Roman Catholic church. He has softened the image of an institution that had seemed forbidding during the reign of his predecessor, Benedict, and shown that a pope can hold thoroughly modern views on atheism (“The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience”), homosexuality (“If a person is gay and seeks God and has goodwill, who am I to judge?”) and single mothers (he has accused priests who refuse to baptise their children of having a “sick mentality”).

More than anything, Francis has demonstrated an extraordinary ability to communicate his ideas, and those of his faith, purely by gesture. Every recent pope has spoken of the need to treasure human life, even in its most tragic and painful manifestations. But Francis achieved more than any of them when he embraced a sufferer of neurofibromatosis, a disfiguring genetic disease. Though all popes pay lip service to the need for humility and simplicity, Benedict departed from the Apostolic Palace after his unexpected resignation in February 2013 in a Mercedes limousine. Francis drives a 1984 Renault of the sort owned by many French farm labourers.

A poll published by the Pew Research Centre on March 6th found that, in America, two-thirds of Catholics and half of non-Catholics regard the new pope as a change for the better. But whether he is attracting lapsed Catholics to return to regular observance is unclear. In a poll of Italian priests last year, more than half reported increases in church attendance. But Pew found no significant change in how often American Catholics said they went to Mass.

The task ahead is daunting. High birth rates in the developing world mean the number of baptised Catholics, around 1.2 billion, continues to grow. But there is an ever-widening gap between the doctrines of the church with regard to sex and marriage and what Catholics, particularly in the developed world, think and do. Clerical sex-abuse scandals, and the church’s complacent response, have also seen many Catholics in western Europe and North America turn away in disgust. A fear sometimes voiced privately in the Vatican is that Catholicism risks one day becoming a religion largely for Africans and Asians, confined elsewhere to a self-consciously reactionary fringe. Much therefore depends on this frugal, likeable man.

As the first Latin American pope, Francis has a political and economic perspective quite unlike that of his predecessors—in particular the two most recent, Benedict XVI and John Paul II, both Europeans whose attitudes and thinking were shaped by the cold war. Diplomats listening to his annual “state of the world” address in January noted with interest, even astonishment, that Europe was barely mentioned beyond its role as a destination for poor migrants.

Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical De Rerum Novarum (“The Rights and Duties of Capital and Labour”), which first set out Catholic social teaching in 1891, was as critical of the excesses of capitalism as it was of socialism. “To misuse men as though they were things in the pursuit of gain, or to value them solely for their physical powers—that is truly shameful and inhuman,” he wrote. But since then Catholic leaders have become more tolerant of capitalism. One reason was their perception that Marxism, which is inherently atheistic, was the greater Satan. Another was the dominance of Italians within the hierarchy: tempered by Christian Democracy, which ostensibly advocated Catholic social teachings, capitalism had created Italy’s post-war “economic miracle”. Right-wingers also supported the church on matters such as abortion. Perhaps most important, from a European viewpoint capitalism was the only feasible alternative to communism.

By contrast, says Jimmy Burns, a former correspondent in Argentina who is writing a biography of Francis, the pope “tends to see capitalism in terms of its effects on the third world”. The form of capitalism he knows from Latin America is, for the most part, not liberal, but corrupt and crony-ridden. His disdain for it radiates from his first Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”): “Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless.”

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis supported the city’s cartoneros (wastepickers) as they fought for better working conditions. Last year he arranged for an organiser of the cartoneros, Juan Grabois, to attend a Vatican-sponsored workshop on the “Emergency of the Socially Excluded”. Mr Grabois, who describes himself as a “social militant against the havoc the neoliberal model caused in the 1990s”, told the meeting how impressive he found the “radicalism” of Evangelii Gaudium. During Benedict’s reign it is unlikely that anyone like him would have been let inside the Vatican’s gates.

Francis’s views pose difficulties for conservatives inside and outside the church. One passage in Evangelii Gaudium appalled many: “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.” Even more radically, he quoted St John Chrysostom, an early church father: “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them.”

Rush Limbaugh, a conservative American radio talk-show host, called Evangelii Gaudium “just pure Marxism”. Francis brushed that claim aside, but in a way that did little to mollify his critics. “The Marxist ideology is mistaken,” he said in an interview with La Stampa, an Italian daily. “But I have known many Marxists in my life [who have been] good as people and because of that I do not feel offended.”

The Peronist pope?

The political landscape of Francis’s homeland, however, offers a more accurate, and nuanced, understanding of his views. For most of his life Argentina has plotted a kind of third way between Marxism and liberalism—albeit one with disastrous political and economic results. “Francis only knows one style of politics,” says a diplomat accredited to the Holy See. “And that is Peronism.”

The creed bequeathed by Argentina’s former dictator, General Juan Perón, with its “three flags” of social justice, economic independence and political sovereignty, has been endlessly reinterpreted since. Conservatives and revolutionaries alike have been proud to call themselves Peronist. But at its heart it is corporatist, assigning to the state the job of resolving conflicts between interest groups, including workers and employers. In that respect it resembles fascism and Nazism—and also Catholic social doctrine.

The pope’s Peronist side shows in his use of a classic populist technique: going over the heads of the elite to the people with headline-grabbing gestures and comments. And it is visible in his view of political economy, which also has much in common with post-Marxist protest movements such as Occupy Wall Street, the Spanish indignados and Italy’s Five Star Movement. “While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by the happy few,” he has written. “This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control.”

The new popemobile

Francis was elected after a clash in the General Congregations, the discussions before a conclave in which the cardinals debate the issues that will face the new pope. A faction composed largely of English- and German-speaking pastoral cardinals made clear their exasperation with what they depicted as the arrogance, secretiveness and mismanagement of the “Italians”, a group of insiders, most of them Italian by birth or officials in the Roman Curia, the Vatican bureaucracy, which is steeped in a very Italian ethos of reciprocal favours, patronage and conspiracy. Though his spirituality and managerial talent counted, Francis, an archdiocesan cardinal and the son of Italian emigrant parents, was also the embodiment of a compromise between the two factions.

His first, and possibly most important, decision after taking office was to shun the papal apartments in the Apostolic Palace overlooking St Peter’s Square for simpler accommodation: Room 201 of Casa Santa Marta, a sort of hotel within the Vatican for visiting clerics and others. He has explained this decision in terms of his need as a member of a religious community, the Jesuits, not to live in isolation. But it was also a shrewd political move. It expressed his desire to eschew ostentation and to seek counsel from outside the church’s traditional power structures: living in Casa Santa Marta gives him the freedom to buttonhole all and sundry as they pass through Rome. As he told Civiltà Cattolica, a Jesuit periodical, the Apostolic Palace is “like an inverted funnel. It is big and spacious, but the entrance is really tight.”

The move signalled the start of what Massimo Franco, a columnist at Corriere della Sera, an Italian daily, called “an inexorable transition that has caught many of the ‘Italians’ off-guard.” Since then the pope has bypassed the Vatican hierarchy and placed advisers from the periphery at the centre of his decision-making. A month after his election he created a group of eight cardinals to “advise him on the government of the universal church” and to draw up a project for the reform of the Curia. Only one is a Vatican official. He has also named clerics and laypeople from outside Rome to several other new consultative bodies. Asked to identify Francis’s most salient characteristic, one diplomat replied: “His hardness”.

Last month Francis announced a new Secretariat of the Economy to oversee the Vatican’s financial affairs. This may be the most important change to the Curia since a restructuring ordered by Pope Paul VI in 1967. Its first head will be the archbishop of Sydney, George Pell, whose reputation for ruthlessness has earned him the nickname “Pell Pot” in Australia. Among his many difficult tasks will be to clean up the Institute for the Works of Religion, often known as the Vatican Bank.

Such reforms are essential to the success of Francis’s papacy: the Vatican Bank has been at the centre of several financial scandals that have embarrassed recent popes. But they are also dangerous: many in Rome believe that a Curial plot forced Benedict’s resignation. When, on January 26th, a crow attacked doves of peace released by children standing beside Francis, some Romans took it as a warning that he risked a similar fate. The insiders whose leaks alleging corrupt favouritism in the Vatican undermined Benedict’s papacy were branded corvi (“crows”) in many Italian media outlets. Francis is aware of these risks. The founder of La Repubblica, Eugenio Scalfari, who had a long conversation with him last year, quoted him afterwards as describing the court that forms around a pontiff as a “leprosy of the papacy”.

A misstep in his handling of the long-running scandal of clerical sex abuse poses other, perhaps greater, dangers. On this, critics accuse the pope of moving too slowly. He has set up a special commission for the protection of minors, but its role is merely advisory. Though he suspended Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, a German bishop, for his opulent lifestyle, he has so far done nothing about Robert Finn, an American bishop convicted in 2012 for failing to tell the authorities about a priest suspected of sexually abusing children.

“He has changed the topic from abuse without doing anything about it,” says Anne Barrett Doyle of the American watchdog group bishopaccountability.org. “I would never have predicted that a whole year would go by without the new pope reaching out in a meaningful way to the victims.” In his most recent interview, with Corriere della Sera, Francis appeared to suggest that the church was the true victim: it was “perhaps the only public institution to have acted with transparency and responsibility...And yet the church is the only one to have been attacked.”

The flock and the fold

Though structural and organisational reforms mattered, Francis insisted in his wide-ranging interview with Civiltà Cattolica, they could only come after what he termed a “reform of attitude”. The ministers of the gospel “must be people who can warm the hearts of the people,” he said. It was a reminder that the pope is not only the head of a giant multinational, but also a man of faith, who spends two hours every morning in prayer and one every evening in adoration of the Eucharist.

Francis’s priority will be, as Benedict’s was, to reverse the galloping secularisation of the world’s Catholics. This is spreading from western Europe and North America to Latin America, and is, in many cases, rooted in disagreement with the church’s teaching on sex. Here, too, he has turned to outsiders for counsel, arranging a global poll of deaneries and parishes to find out how they deal with the family.

“Francis is not a dogmatic scholar who would just like to affirm everything as it was in the textbooks,” says Hans Küng, a liberal Swiss theologian who has clashed with successive popes over doctrine. And on occasion Francis has hinted at a readiness for change. “Let us think of when slavery was accepted or the death penalty was allowed without any problem,” he said to Civiltà Cattolica. “Exegetes and theologians help the church to mature in her own judgment.”

Complex man, complex problems

But it is not yet clear just how far Francis is prepared to go to adapt church teaching to modern life. The gulf that has opened up between the beliefs and attitudes of the Vatican, and those of the faithful, was highlighted by a recent poll in selected countries commissioned by Univision, an American Spanish-language television network. On a wide range of issues, the only continents on which most Catholics agreed with the Vatican’s line were Africa and Asia.

On the subject of artificial contraception, lay sentiment was heavily in favour of change, even in the otherwise dutiful Philippines. A majority supported an end to priestly celibacy in three of the four Latin American countries surveyed, and the ordination of women in two. Throughout Latin America and in Europe clear majorities favoured allowing the termination of pregnancies in some circumstances. And gay marriage, though widely opposed by Catholics in most of the world, was supported by most of the respondents in the United States.

The issue where the well-informed see greatest hope for change is the church’s ban on communion for divorced, remarried Catholics. Univision’s survey found overwhelming majorities in favour of ending it, not only in Europe and North America, but in Latin America, too. Conservatives raise two objections: one theological and one pragmatic. How can someone in what the church sees as an invalid marriage be a worthy recipient of the Eucharist, which Catholics believe is the body of Christ? And how can the Vatican appear to undermine marriage at a time when the church is engaged in what it sees as a desperate battle to defend the institution against same-sex marriage in many countries, and rising divorce and cohabitation rates almost everywhere?

In recent weeks Pope Francis has nevertheless appeared to be edging towards a shift. Last month he chose Cardinal Walter Kasper, a liberal who has argued against the ban, to address cardinals meeting to discuss questions about the family. And on February 28th, during his daily mass in Casa Santa Marta, he called on priests to “accompany” those whose marriages had failed. “Do not condemn,” he said. “Walk with them and don’t practise casuistry on their situation.”

Liberal Catholics are also hoping that the pope will reconsider the role of women in the church. “For me, this is the litmus test,” says a former senior Vatican official. “If he does not do something radical for women, then I think we can assume he will not make any substantial reforms.” One possibility is that he might place a woman, perhaps the head of a religious order, in charge of a Vatican department. Some theologians have argued that only the ordained can exercise power in the name of the pope. But on March 3rd Cardinal Kasper, perhaps acting as a stalking horse, said there was no reason why women could not run some of the Pontifical Councils, second-class Vatican “ministries”, which have briefs that include the laity, the family, culture and the media.

Almost no one familiar with the church expects Francis to change doctrine on abortion, divorce or artificial contraception. Many of his non-Catholic admirers seem unaware of his doctrinal limitations. But Mr Küng warns against underestimating the role of style and gestures. His latest book is called, “Can we Save the Catholic Church?” and he answers his own question by noting that Francis has already started to save the church. “It is not only that he has plans,” Mr Küng says. “I think that the simple clothing, the change in protocol and the completely different tone of voice are not superficial things. He has, in fact, introduced a paradigm shift. That is the beginning of saving, not the end. But that is already a lot.” Perhaps the greatest risk for this unpretentious, popular pope is of raising false expectations.


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« Reply #199 on: Mar 13, 2014, 04:13 AM »

Now the hard work starts for ‘superstar’ Pope Francis

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, March 12, 2014 12:52 EDT

Now the hard work starts.

Pope Francis celebrates one year in office on Thursday swaddled in a blanket of approval world leaders would die for and most of his predecessors could only dream of.

But he also knows that there is more to being pontiff than good PR. Bigger challenges lie ahead as Francis seeks to engineer a renaissance of his Church after years of scandals caused by paedophile priests and corruption and intrigue within the Vatican bureaucracy.

Spreading the word of God via Twitter, posing for selfies, paying his own hotel bills and washing the feet of young offenders: all have proved to be inspired moves for the erstwhile Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

Humble, modest, approachable and modern. After 12 months, the @Pontifex brand is thriving.

The 77-year-old is not only lovable, he’s also cool. Sufficiently so for his first year to have been marked by appearances on the covers of an unlikely trio of US magazines.

He was Time’s person of the year for 2013. Esquire declared him their best-dressed man and Rolling Stone just decided: “He rocks.”

Church attendances are said to be rising across the world and pilgrims are flocking to Rome in unprecedented numbers.

A UN report accusing the Catholic Church of having covered up for tens of thousands of child-abusing priests failed to dent the impression that Francis is serious about reshaping the Church in his own open and forgiving image.

Questions raised at the time of his appointment over whether he might have done more to oppose the 1970s military junta in his native Argentina also seem to have melted away.

Overall, things could hardly be rosier.

- Reaching out to believers -

Or could they? Within the walls of Vatican City, Francis’s popularity is not universally acclaimed as a positive sign amongst traditionalists suspicious of the new pope’s desire to reach out to believers who have abandoned regular interaction with the Church.

That has involved striking a more compassionate, understanding tone on the vexed issues of the Church’s attitudes to homosexuality and its treatment of divorced people.

Francis made waves early in his papacy by telling journalists, “If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?”

More than any other, that remark helped secure the Time man of the year accolade. But Vatican insiders insist it would be wrong to infer from it that Francis is bent on breaking with established doctrine on this or any other issue.

Instead, his approach consists of finding practical ways to enable the Church to overcome the many chasms that have opened up between what it officially teaches, on an issue such as contraception for example, and what, in practice, most of its followers believe.

That will be the focus for a major synod on the family which Francis has called for later this year and which some observers have billed as potentially defining his papacy.

The synod has been preceded by an unprecedented process of consultation of ordinary Catholics around the world.

Traditionalists have seen this as potentially opening the door to an “a la carte” version of Catholicism in which the faithful are allowed to buy into or opt out of parts of official doctrine, as long as they keep turning up for mass.

Not true, says one of the pope’s closest counsellors, the German Cardinal Walter Kasper.

- Never judge -

Kasper, 81, was the oldest member of the Conclave that elected Francis a year ago but he is firmly on the modernising side of debates raging in the Holy See.

Seeking new solutions to issues that have become a barrier between the Church and its followers, does not amount to an attack on doctrine, Kasper said this week in an interview with Italian daily La Repubblica.

“Rather it is about a realistic adaption of doctrine to the current situation.

“The Church must never judge as if it had a guillotine at the ready, rather it must always leave the door of mercy open, a way out that allows everyone a new start.”

The issue has split the cardinals. Marriage, for all of them, remains an indissoluble sacrament, but many are acutely aware that those whose marriages have failed cannot be excluded from a Church that wants to prosper.

“When love fails, as often it does fail, we must feel the pain of this failure and accompany those who have known it. Do not condemn,” Francis himself said at the end of last month.

Kasper acknowledged that some cardinals were opposed to the debate taking place at all, and there are those who fear Francis’s honeymoon period could be headed for an acrimonious end.

“There have been open exchanges, but I am not afraid of that,” Francis confided to another Italian daily, Corriere della Sera, last month.

The approach to divorced believers is similar to that envisaged on the gay issue.

Talking to NBC in the United States this weekend, Timothy Dolan, the conservative cardinal of New York, revealed that Francis wanted to understand, why so many countries had legalised same-sex unions.

But he was also at pains to stress that Francis had never expressed any kind of approval of them.

One year in, it is evolution not revolution that is on the menu in Rome.

**************

Pope Francis knows his Vatican revolution must outlast him

In his first 12 months Pope Francis has done all that one man can do. The challenge now is to ensure his successor cannot undo all his progress

Andrew Brown   
Wednesday 12 March 2014 18.45 GMT The Guardian     

In his first year in office, Pope Francis has transformed the image of the papacy. His demonstrative lack of ostentation has been an extraordinary contrast with almost all his predecessors. From the moment he signed out of his own hotel room after being elected pope, rather than sending a flunky to do it for him, he has shown a remarkable gift for public humility.

He has refused to live in the papal apartments. He has described himself as first and foremost a sinner. He washed the feet of Muslim immigrant women to make a traditional gesture of humility reach out into the modern world. He has refused to criticise gay people, asking "Who am I to judge?" and then confirming the appointment of a man thought to be in a prolonged gay affair to a key job cleaning up the Vatican. But what, in substance, has he actually achieved?

The transformation of the image of the papacy is a real achievement. It does not in itself attract people back to the church, but it does remove a gigantic obstacle to their return. It's also clear that he thinks he was elected to do a great deal more than that.

However, so far everything he has accomplished is personal and could die with him. He is 77 and has only one lung. If Francis lives long enough, he may well follow his predecessor's example and retire when the job becomes too much, after which his successor could undo everything in a year. So he needs to make large and lasting changes in policy and in culture. These will be extraordinarily difficult and have only just begun, but we can see already the direction he is heading in.

The temptation for observers is to look at the policies of the church and ask which of these he will change. But policy in the long run matters much less than culture: written rules matter less than unwritten ones. A clear example of this is the experiment of married clergy undertaken by Pope Benedict XVI with the so-called Ordinariate of Anglicans who left their churches after women were ordained.

For the Roman Catholic church to lift the compulsory celibacy of a whole class of parish priests – for the first time since some Orthodox-rite churches in the Ukraine were absorbed in the 17th century – was a monumental change of policy. But because the new groups had essentially sold themselves to Rome on the basis of a fantasy – there were claims at the time that hundreds of thousands would follow them – they have had no effect on the wider culture of the church, and have recently been rebuked by the cardinal in charge of them for bitterness and backbiting.

Celibacy among the clergy is one of the policy challenges that Francis must deal with: it comes after the treatment of remarried divorcees, who may not at present take communion even though this ban is fairly often ignored, and of course the ban on artificial contraception.

All these are instances of policies that the Vatican imposed, or attempted to impose, on a church that does not believe in them. It is not just the laity who reject them but large parts of the clergy and the bishops, even if almost all have been too frightened to say so until now. The Roman Catholic church is, after all, an autocracy in which the punishment for disobedience can be arbitrary and cruel.

Francis believes in obedience, but he was cured of a belief in autocracy by his traumatic experiences in the Argentinian dirty war, when he was the young leader of the Jesuit order there and enormously unpopular with his subordinates for attempting to override their judgments. But how does an autocrat dismantle the structures of autocracy? How can he turn the Vatican bureaucracy into the servant of the wider church rather than its master?

This is where he reaches the limits of one man's power and it is also where he has been recruiting allies all around the world. His appointment of a group of eight cardinals – variously liberal and conservative but all equipped with dislike and suspicion of the Vatican based on personal experience – promises lasting institutional change, of the kind that will be hard for any successor to reverse.

Later this year there will be a huge conference of bishops from around the world on Catholic sexual teaching – the Synod on the Family. Here too the preparations reveal the shape of an alliance that can repeal some of the mistakes of autocracy. Questionnaires sent out to churches around the world have once more revealed the extent to which the laity have completely rejected the official line on artificial contraception and on remarriage after divorce. Both are prohibited in official teaching, though in both cases there are workarounds: rich or well-connected Catholics can get their failed marriages annulled, which leaves them free to marry in church again, while the official church promotes a frankly incomprehensible distinction between natural and artificial birth control. The difference, so far as the laity is concerned, was summed up by the late Duke of Norfolk, Britain's most senior Catholic layman, who complained that the problem with the rhythm method is that it doesn't bloody work.

The bishops' conferences have responded either by publishing the results, as the German and Japanese have – which shows the extent to which the laity reject the teaching – or by suppressing the results, as the English have.

There is fierce traditionalist opposition to softening the line on contraception and remarriage. But Francis understands that the church can only be governed by consent – and also that it can only be changed by consent. In his first year he has done all that one man can do. Now we will see if he can get his church doing it too.


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« Reply #200 on: Mar 13, 2014, 04:22 AM »


Pope Francis: has his revolution even started?

One year on, everyone agrees Pope Francis is a breath of fresh air for the Catholic church, but there is less clarity over who he really is. Is he liberal or conservative – or is he something altogether more unpredictable?

Paul Vallely   
The Guardian, Tuesday 11 March 2014 18.55 GMT        

After a full year in office it ought to be fairly clear what kind of pope the new man in the Vatican is turning out to be. Yet if you survey the raft of commentaries on the first 12 months of Pope Francis, which have appeared all around the world in recent days, you discover a surprising lack of agreement. A battle is underway for the soul of the pope.   

All the verdicts share a standard litany of anecdotes. He is the pontiff who lives in a hostel, carries his own bags, is driven round in an old Ford Focus, and makes unexpected phone calls to strangers that open: "Ciao, sono Papa Francesco." He is a priest who practises what he preaches: he embraces the disfigured; invites the homeless for breakfast; suspends bishops with opulent or self-regarding lifestyles; and follows a regimen of ostentatious frugality.

But is there anything more to this shift in papal style than a cosmetic rebranding of a global corporation that has undergone massive reputational damage in recent decades?

There is a carefully cultivated ambiguity about the man who is the 266th successor to St Peter. And it is producing a war of words between conservatives and liberals, inside and outside the Catholic church, with each trying to claim the pontiff for their side in a religious culture war. The stakes are high. This is a pope who has attracted almost seven million visitors to papal events in the 12 months since he took office – triple the number who turned out to see Benedict XVI the year before.

A glance at his Wikipedia page reveals one side of the battleline. It has clearly been written primarily by religious conservatives. Its entries seek predominantly to accentuate the religious orthodoxy of the man who was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Throughout his papacy, it insists, Pope Francis has been a vocal opponent of abortion. He has asserted that he is a "son of the church" and, therefore, loyal to existing doctrine. He has maintained that divorced and remarried Catholics may not receive holy communion (a totemic issue in the traditionalist v progressive divide). The reason he does not sing Gregorian chant during mass is because he had part of one lung removed as a young man.

The casual reader would be advised to take all that as a large dose of spin. Francis's opposition to abortion has hardly been vocal; indeed, he has proclaimed that the church has hitherto "obsessed" too much about it. There is an artful inscrutability to what he means by "a son of the church"; it is a statement about the past, not the future. He has repeatedly hinted that he wants to end the policy of banning divorced and remarried Catholics from communion. He does not chant in Latin because he feels traditional styles of worship do not connect with ordinary people in the wider non-European world.

But what about the other side of the argument? Liberal Catholics, like the new pope's many enthusiasts in the secular world, look to the first non-European bishop of Rome for 1,200 years and see something altogether different. He is "a miracle of humility in an age of vanity", to quote Elton John. He has shown his readiness to break with tradition by washing the feet of women and Muslims. He has told atheists they can get to heaven so long as they "obey their conscience". Most onlookers are attracted by his demand for "a poor church, for the poor" and his letter scolding the rich and powerful at Davos for neglecting the "frail, weak and vulnerable".

The world was taken aback when the head of a church whose key document on the pastoral care of gay Christians is called Homosexualitatis Problema asked: "Who am I to judge?" Yet he has shown no such reticence in adjudging the shortcomings of the medieval monarchy that is the Vatican, describing its courtly Curia (officials) as the "leprosy of the papacy".

All of which, conservatives counter, is a wish-fulfilment Fantasy Francis. It mistakes style for substance and ignores the fact that the new pope's actual teaching demonstrates what the prominent US conservative George Weigel, a biographer and confidante of John Paul II, has called a "seamless continuity" with the German and Polish popes who preceded him.

So where does the truth lie? Is Francis a conservative or a liberal? Three areas offer pointers: politics, sex and governance, on each of which there are separate and distinct axes within the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.

Politically, ever since 1891 and Pope Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum, the church has routinely excoriated the excesses of unregulated capitalism and sought to find a third way between it and what it feared as atheistic communism. Francis has been blasted by the US religious right for "pure Marxism" but Pope John Paul II said much the same thing in his day, condemning the "idolatry of the market" and arguing that Marxism was right in its identification of the "exploitation to which an inhuman capitalism subjected the proletariat since the beginning of industrial society".

What is different about Francis is that, where previous popes saw the issue as one of theological abstraction, his condemnations of capitalism come from living with its direct impact on the poor. After Argentina became the centre of the world's biggest debt default in 2001, almost half the population was plunged into poverty. "Not to share one's wealth with the poor is to steal from them," Francis proclaimed.

He has rehabilitated liberation theology. Rome sought in the 1970s and 80s to emasculate the movement, which grew up in South America and aimed to place the church on the side of the poor in struggles for justice and social change in the developing world. Bergoglio, as leader of the Jesuits in Argentina three decades ago, was part of the move to suppress it as a cover for Marxist class struggle. But as pope he has invited the father of the movement, Gustavo Gutierrez, to Rome and had the Vatican pronounce that liberation theology can no longer "remain in the shadows to which it has been relegated for some years". He has also asked another key figure, Leonardo Boff, who was once condemned to "obsequious silence" by Rome, to contribute his writings on eco-theology to a document Francis is planning on the environment.

It is on Catholic attitudes to sex that Pope Francis has been at his most ambiguous. The interview he gave to Corriere della Sera last week has only added to the opacity on contraception, divorce, homosexuality, gender and paedophile priests.

One of Francis's most innovative acts has been to issue an unprecedented questionnaire to discover what lay people around the world think of the church's handling of issues around sexual ethics. Early indications – from Germany and Ireland, to the Philippines and Japan – are of a seismic gap between official teaching and what ordinary Catholics believe and do. The exercise, ahead of two decision-making synods of bishops this and next year, has raised big expectations of change.

But in Corriere della Sera, Francis praised Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae of 1968, which reaffirmed the church's longstanding ban on the use of artificial contraception. Pope Paul did this in the teeth of a major consultation with scientists, doctors and theologians who recommended lifting the ban. His decision undermined the credibility of the church in the eyes of many, if not most, Catholics. Last week, Francis said Pope Paul's "genius was prophetic, he had the courage to side against the majority, defend moral discipline, put a brake on the culture, oppose neo-Malthusianism, present and future" – though he added that the church should take care to apply its teaching against artificial birth control with "much mercy".

There was equivalence, too, in what he had to say on gay marriage. He reiterated the official line that marriage must be "between a man and a woman", but added that the church needed to "look at" the issue of civil unions to protect the civil and legal rights of "diverse situations of cohabitation". Then, in a classic Catholic one-step-forward-two-steps-back, Vatican officials insisted that in Italian "civil unions" refers to non-church weddings rather than same-sex ones.

And there was vagueness in another area where the pope will be judged by actions not words. "Women can and must be more present in the places of decision-making in the church," he told Corriere della Sera. What does that mean? He has previously said "the door is closed" on the ordination of women and he has ruled out female cardinals, saying "women in the church must be valued not clericalised". But it is unclear whether that is a deft deflection or an aspiration for change at a deeper level, since he clearly sees clericalism as a profound problem in Catholicism. He needs to appoint women to head Vatican departments – or create a council of lay advisers with women members to parallel his new Council of Cardinal Advisers – before anyone will take seriously his talk of "a more capillary and incisive feminine presence in the church".

But the most depressing aspect of the interview came with the pope's remarks on clerical sex abuse – his first since February's withering United Nations report denounced the Vatican for continuing to protect predator priests. Francis argued that most abuse takes place inside the family rather than in churches and added: "The Catholic church is perhaps the only public institution to have acted with transparency and responsibility. No one else has done more. And yet the church is the only one to be attacked." It felt as if the new pope was reading from Rome's same old script of myopic apologia and self-deception.

Transferring to Rome strategies he developed as archbishop of Buenos Aires has largely served Francis well. Yet in Argentina – although Bergoglio pursued a policy of zero tolerance for abusers and was scathing of the solution in the church in the US and Europe of just moving paedophile priests to a different parish – his policy was to deal with the matter internally. He did not call the police. The world has made it clear that is not acceptable. Dirty linen must be washed in public.

He may simply be buying time on these big issues. But there is a limit to how long he can pursue the strategy of one of his predecessors, John XXIII, who famously said: "I have to be pope both for those with their foot on the accelerator and those with their foot on the brake." Equal pressure on both results in getting nowhere.

It is in the third area of disagreement within the church that it is clear Pope Francis, whether he is, at core, liberal or conservative, is most certainly a radical. For several centuries, the Vatican has acted as the master of the church around the world rather than its servant. Many in Rome hold firmly to that model. Francis wants that to change. It is in this area that transformation is proceeding with greatest speed.

He has sacked the cardinals running the Vatican Bank, brought in outside consultants who are closing dodgy accounts and set up a team to propose long-term structural reform. Management consultants are reviewing the Vatican's accounting, communications and management systems. He has set up a new finance department headed by an outsider, Cardinal George Pell, whose ruthlessness has earned him the nickname "Pell Pot" in his native Australia.

He has removed key conservatives from the body that appoints bishops. And he has set up the powerful Council of Cardinal Advisers from the world's five continents (all of them past critics of the Curia) to draw up a radical decentralisation of the papacy. He has instructed it to find more collegiate ways of decision making. Collegiality was the great upheaval advocated by the revolutionary Second Vatican Council in the 1960s but its vision was never implemented and was, indeed, undermined by the Vatican bureaucrats and popes who followed and who did not want to see doctrinal authority dispersed.

Many see the questionnaire of lay people and priests as the pilot for a new process of governance within the church that will inspire fresh and creative discussions by the Synod of Bishops, whose support staff has been doubled in Rome.

Certainly, the climate of conformity and fear that gripped Catholicism has lifted. Last month, Francis invited cardinals to debate the emblematic issue of communion for the remarried and chose Cardinal Walter Kasper, a liberal who has argued against the present ban, to address the meeting. When "intense discussion" followed, the pope declared himself delighted. "Fraternal and open confrontations foster the growth of theological and pastoral thought," he said. "I'm not afraid of this; on the contrary, I seek it."

To outsiders, that may sound like glacial progress, given the scale of the problems yet to be tackled. But within the Catholic church, it feels as if a revolution has begun. Pope Francis has done a lot in his first year. He still has much to do. But, at 77, he is an old man in a hurry.

• Pope Francis – Untying the Knots, by Paul Vallely, is published by Bloomsbury.

• This article was amended on 12 March 2014. The original stated "Liberal Catholics, such as the new Pope's many enthusiasts in the secular world ..." This has been corrected.


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« Reply #201 on: Mar 13, 2014, 09:34 AM »

Originally published March 12, 2014 at 11:14 PM   

Survivors: Pope Francis saved many in dirty wars

Gonzalo Mosca was a radical on the run. Hunted by Uruguay's dictators, he fled to Argentina, where he narrowly escaped a military raid on his hideout. "I thought that they would kill me at any moment," Mosca says.

By DEBORA REY
Associated Press

SAN MIGUEL, Argentina —

Gonzalo Mosca was a radical on the run. Hunted by Uruguay's dictators, he fled to Argentina, where he narrowly escaped a military raid on his hideout. "I thought that they would kill me at any moment," Mosca says.

With nowhere else to turn, he called his brother, a Jesuit priest, who put him in touch with the man he credits with saving his life: Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

It was 1976, South America's dictatorship era, and the future Pope Francis was a 30-something leader of Argentina's Jesuit order. At the time, the country's church hierarchy openly sided with the military junta as it kidnapped, tortured and killed thousands of leftists like Mosca.

Critics have argued that Bergoglio's public silence in the face of that repression made him complicit, too, and they warn against what they see as historical revisionism designed to burnish the reputation of a now-popular pope.

But the chilling accounts of survivors who credit Bergoglio with saving their lives are hard to deny. They say he conspired right under the soldiers' noses at the theological seminary he directed, providing refuge and safe passage to dozens of priests, seminarians and political dissidents marked for elimination by the 1976-1983 military regime.

Mosca was 27 then, a member of a leftist political movement banned by the military government in his home country of Uruguay. Bergoglio answered his call, and rode with him for nearly 20 miles (30 kilometers) to the Colegio Maximo in suburban San Miguel.

"He gave me instructions: 'If they stop us, tell them you're going to a spiritual retreat,' and 'Try to keep yourself a bit hidden,'" Mosca recalled in an interview with The Associated Press.

Mosca said he could hardly breathe until they had passed through the seminary's heavy iron doors, but Bergoglio was very calm.

"He made me wonder if he really understood the trouble he was getting into. If they grabbed us together, they would have marched us both off," said Mosca, who stayed hidden in the seminary for days, until Bergoglio got him an airplane ticket to Brazil.

Soldiers prowled inside the walled gardens, sniffing for fugitives. But a full raid on the spiritual center was out of the question since Argentina's dictators had cloaked themselves in the mantle of Roman Catholic nationalism. And a constant flow of people masked Bergoglio's scheming from an air force outpost next door.

Several new books assert that Bergoglio's public silence enabled him to save more people.

"Bergoglio's List," by Vatican reporter Nello Scavo, is already being developed into a movie, its title playing on the "Schindler's List" film about the Nazi businessman whose subterfuge saved hundreds of Jewish prisoners during the Holocaust.

Marcelo Larraquy, author of "Pray for Him," told the AP that Bergoglio saved "20 or 30" people. Scavo said about 100 owe him their lives. Both authors say the full number will likely never be known, largely because Bergoglio remains so circumspect.

Like many Argentines, Bergoglio "remained silent in the face of atrocity," but he was determined to thwart the death squads when he could, said Larraquy, who runs investigations for the Argentine newspaper Clarin. "He used back channels, did not complain in public and, meanwhile, he was saving people who sought refuge in the Colegio."

"He locked them up in the compound, gave them help and food, and set up a logistical network to get them out of the country," Larroquy added. "But his condition for giving them refuge was that they had to give up all political activism."

New ways of thinking were running through the lower ranks of Latin America's Catholic Church in the 1970s, influenced by Vatican II reforms announced in 1965. Many lay workers and clergy embraced "liberation theology," which promoted social justice for the poor.

Many were politically active and some were Marxist, but others were simply committed social workers. The right-wing military made few distinctions. Priests as well as Catholic lay workers began to disappear at the hands of death squads.

Sitting in a seminary garden whose tranquility was broken only by the gurgling of a fountain and leaves rustling in the breeze, theologian Juan Carlos Scannone quietly told the AP of the terror he felt decades ago.

Scannone said he was targeted because he promoted a non-Marxist "theology of the people" and worked with slum-dwellers in the city's "misery villages." He said Bergoglio not only defended him against criticism within the church, but personally delivered his writings for publication even when the military was trying to find him.

"It was risky," Scannone said. "Bergoglio told me never to go out alone, that I take someone along so that there would be witnesses if I disappeared."

Scannone said he "wrote a lot about the philosophy of liberation and the theology of liberation, which at the time was a naughty word ... Bergoglio would read it and tell me, 'Don't mail this from San Miguel, because it could be censored,' and he would mail them from Buenos Aires with no return address."

His recollection suggests Francis' view on liberation theology may have always been more nuanced than some of his critics suggested before he became pope. Francis still draws a line against Marxism, but has helped rehabilitate some liberation theologists. The movement's founder, Gustavo Gutierrez, received applause this year during a book presentation at the Vatican.

Bergoglio also intervened, at the request of outspoken Bishop Enrique Angelelli, to save three seminarians after Catholic lay workers were killed in western La Rioja province in 1976. The seminarians were being followed by the same death squads and accused of being "contaminated with Marxist ideas." No one else would take them.

Bergoglio was able to rescue Mario La Civita, Enrique Martinez and Raul Gonzalez just as Angelelli was assassinated in August 1976.

"I watched him save lives," La Civita recalled. "It was a difficult time because two or three soldiers were always walking around in the back of the compound. Bergoglio had a strategy of generating confidence in them so that they wouldn't think he had people hidden."

But Bergoglio couldn*t save everyone he tried to help.

Esther Ballestrino de Careaga, a communist who had been Bergoglio's boss in a laboratory before he became a priest, pleaded with him to hide the Marxist literature in her house after her daughter was kidnapped and son-in-law disappeared. "Those were the books that Bergoglio fought (against), but he carried them away anyway," Larroquy said.

A short while later, she co-founded the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, publicly demanding that the junta account for the missing. Soon, she disappeared.

Bergoglio's role was more ambiguous in the case of two slum priests, Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics. He supported their social work, but not their political activism, much less their contacts with armed revolutionaries, and he made them quit the Jesuit order, leaving them without church protection, Larroquy said.

"Bergoglio told them to abandon their political project in the slum, and they refused; they were insubordinate," Larroquy said.

Yorio, Jalics and some Catholic lay workers were seized a short time later after holding Mass, and taken to the regime's clandestine torture center inside the Navy Mechanics School.

Bergoglio testified as part of a human rights trial in 2010 that he persuaded another priest to fake an illness so that he could hold a private Mass for dictator Jorge Videla and personally plead for the Jesuits' release. They were set free in October 1976, left drugged and blindfolded in a field.

"Bergoglio contributed by helping the persecuted, and he dedicated himself to obtaining the release of his kidnapped priests. Still, he didn't participate at the time in the fight against the military dictatorship in defense of human rights," said Adolfo Perez Esquivel, whose human rights work in Argentina won him the Nobel Peace Prize.

Very few other detainees emerged alive from the Mechanics School, and when Bergoglio testified, he didn't reveal any new details about the others who disappeared, "even when their families are demanding an answer," complained human rights lawyer Myriam Bregman.

Bregman says Francis should clear up doubts by opening the church's archives.

"We've asked for it and we keep waiting. The church was part of the dictatorship, it was a direct accomplice, and today it continues without revealing all that it has in its archives," Bregman said.

Mosca sides with Bergoglio. Referring to Yorio and Jalics, Mosca said: "He did not hesitate in risking everything for my cause. He didn't know me. If he did all that for me, how much would he have done for those two?"

___

Associated Press writer Nicole Winfield at the Vatican contributed to this report.


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« Reply #202 on: Mar 14, 2014, 05:28 AM »

Pope Francis marks one-year anniversary with a tweet: ‘Please pray for me’

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, March 13, 2014 12:33 EDT

Pope Francis on Thursday marked the first anniversary of his election in prayer and quiet contemplation of the meaning of Lent, far from the adoring crowds and controversies of Rome.

In keeping with Francis’s tendency to eschew much of the pomp and ceremony associated with his role, the anniversary was not marked in any official way, with the exception of a solitary tweet from the official @Pontifex account.

“Please pray for me,” the 77-year-old wrote to his 12 million followers in nine languages, echoing an appeal he made in his first address to followers from the balcony of St Peter’s Basilica exactly one year ago.

Francis was spending the day on a pre-Easter spiritual retreat in the Castelli Romani, a picturesque area on the southeastern outskirts of Rome.

He left the Vatican on Sunday after his weekly blessing and will return on Saturday.

The Lenten retreat is a regular fixture in the Vatican calendar and its focus on self-denial, penance and repentance chimes with the tone Francis has set for his papacy through his emphasis on the themes of mercy, humility and support for the poor.

“He did not want anything different from usual,” said his spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi. “It is his way to be solemn and to insist on prayer.”

The Argentinian pope’s extraordinary popularity has helped increase church attendance around the world but it has also fuelled the growth of a cult of personality that he has denounced as inappropriate.

“Portraying the pope as a kind of superman, a type of star, it seems offensive,” Francis recently told Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

More than anything, the pope’s first year in office has been marked by his apparently sincere determination to maintain the kind of simple lifestyle the former Jorge Mario Bergoglio has had throughout his career as a priest.

- Two popes, no discord -

The pontiff lives simply in a three-room apartment rather than a papal palace. The golden cross and red cape of his predecessor have been left unworn and he is reported to regularly phone an 80-year-old widow who recently lost her son. “She is happy and I get to be a priest,” he said of those calls.

That attitude has helped to fuel his popularity around the world. If retweets are counted, it is likely more Twitter users are reading what he has to say than tweets by US President Barack Obama.

The micro-blogging site was awash Thursday with commentary on the anniversary, well-wishers hugely outnumbering detractors.

“What a year it has been,” tweeted Irish priest Rory Coyle while the Washington Post hailed: “A triumphant 1st year.”

Amid all the plaudits, the issue of who exactly the new pope is and what he stands for remains the subject of much discussion, and the controversies he inherited have not gone away.

Allegations that he is a “Marxist” pope may be exaggerated, but there is no doubt that he is no fan of globalisation, which he once described as a “way to enslave nations.”

In that sense, he seems to be a pope for these times of uncertainty and economic insecurity.

Critics and victims’ organisations say he has done nothing to seriously address the issue of paedophile priests.

“He’s warm and popular but he ignores the Church’s greatest and ongoing crisis – the cover-up of horrific clergy sex crimes,” David Clohessy, Executive Director of the US-based SNAP network of survivors of clerical abuse, told AFP.

Francis rebuffed such criticism last month, insisting the Church has been as transparent as any other institution in its handling of a problem that concerns all of society.

Francis has made waves with his determination to reform the Vatican’s structures and initiate new approaches on contentious issues such as the Church’s attitude to divorce and homosexuality.

Church sources say traditionalist Cardinals are resisting Francis’s lead at a time when cost-cutting measures are causing disquiet within the Vatican walls.

Papal staff are fearful for their posts, already having had to accept cuts in their income because of a crackdown on overtime.

Andrea Tornielli, of Italy’s La Stampa newspaper, knows Francis personally and acknowledges that his way of leading the Church has encountered some resistance.

“I do not believe groups have been formed. But his style, everything that can seem as desacralising the pontiff’s role, the lack of distance and his accessibility, are a problem for some,” said the journalist, who also runs the Vatican Insider website.

The unique situation created by Francis’s predecessor Benedict XVI’s decision to retire has led to speculation that the Vatican could easily slip into two rival camps headed by, respectively, the current, reforming pontiff and the conservative Emeritus Pope.

Tornielli says such theorising is wide of the mark, citing an email Benedict sent him last month describing the suggestions as “absurd speculation” and voicing his “profound friendship” for the man who succeeded him.


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« Reply #203 on: Mar 22, 2014, 06:18 AM »


Pope Francis to mafia: repent or 'end up in hell'

Francis's stance on organised crime in contrast with church's perceived former reluctance to criticise mafia bosses

Lizzy Davies in Rome
The Guardian, Saturday 22 March 2014   

Pope Francis has made his strongest attack to date on the mafia, telling organised crime bosses they will end up in hell if they do not "convert" and give up their lives of "bloodstained money [and] blood-stained power". In an echo of John Paul II's appeal to mafia dons to renounce their "culture of death", the Argentinian urged mafiosi to "stop doing evil" as he held an unprecedented meeting with hundreds of victims' relatives in Rome.

"I feel that I cannot conclude without saying a word to the protagonists who are absent today – the men and women mafiosi," he said, quietly but forcefully. "Please change your lives. Convert yourselves. Stop doing evil."

The meeting in a church near Vatican City was the first time a pontiff had taken part in events tied to a day of commemoration held annually by the anti-mafia organisation, Libera. During a prayer vigil, the names of 842 victims were read aloud.

In his address, Francis made special reference to an attack on Monday in the southern Italian province around the city of Taranto, in which three people – two adults and a toddler – were shot dead in an apparent mafia hit.

In January, he spoke out after a three-year-old boy was killed in an apparent attack by the 'Ndrangheta, the powerful Calabrian mafia. Then, too, Francis urged those involved to "repent and convert to the Lord". He has previously condemned organised crime for "exploiting and enslaving people".

On Friday, before a packed church, the pope said it was in the criminals' own interests to change their ways. "There is still time to avoid ending up in hell. That is what is waiting for you if you continue on this path," he said. "You have had a father and a mother. Think of them. Cry a little and convert."

Expressing the hope that a "sense of responsibility" would eventually win out over corruption globally, he added: "This life that you live now will not give you happiness. The power and money that you have now from many dirty dealings, from many mafia crimes, is bloodstained money, is bloodstained power – you cannot bring them with you to the next life."

Francis's stance on organised crime is in contrast with that of some of his 20th century predecessors, who were perceived as presiding over a church reluctant to criticise mafia bosses. Victims had to wait until 1993 to hear an explicit papal condemnation, when John Paul II urged the guilty to "convert" and warned them that judgment day was coming.

That was in May. In July, two Roman churches – San Giovanni in Laterano and San Giorgio in Velabro – were damaged in bomb attacks amid a wave of violence.

Organised crime controls almost all economic and criminal activity in Calabria, Sicily and parts of Campania and Apulia, and it has greatly extended its influence in Rome and Milan in the past two decades.

Italy's main crime groups – Sicily's Cosa Nostra, Calabria's 'Ndrangheta, and the Camorra from around the southern city of Naples – have a joint annual turnover of €116bn (£97bn), according to a United Nations estimate.

The mob continues to use violence and threats to keep its grip on its territory. Threats again st local government officials have risen 66% since 2010, when the figures were first collected, according to a report published on Friday.


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« Reply #204 on: Mar 26, 2014, 06:14 AM »


Pope accepts resignation of German 'bling bishop'

AFP
03/25/2014

Vatican City (AFP) - Pope Francis has formally accepted the resignation of Germany's controversial bishop of Limburg, the Vatican said in a statement Wednesday.

Franz-Peter Terbartz-van Elst, nicknamed the "bling bishop" by the international media, had been under fire for his luxury lifestyle and was indefinitely relieved of his clerical duties by Francis last year.

The Roman Catholic bishop had faced outrage over an ostentatious building project at his official residence, which included a museum, conference halls, a chapel and private apartments, in the ancient town of Limburg in central Hesse state.

The project was initially valued at 5.5 million euros ($7.5 million) but the cost ballooned to 31 million euros, including a 783,000 euro garden and a 15,000 euro bathtub -- using the revenue from a religious tax in Germany.

He had also come under fire for lying under oath about flying first class to visit slum dwellers in India.

Tebartz-van Elst, 53, had told a journalist with the Hamburg-based news weekly Der Spiegel that "we flew business class", but then in sworn testimony denied having said those words.

However, the reporter had videotaped him making the comment and the embattled bishop settled the court case with a 20,000 euro payment in November.

The scandal sparked calls for greater transparency in Catholic Church finances, a reform aim of the new pope who has called for a "poor Church for the poor".

The Vatican said Tebartz-van Elst would be transferred to another post, without specifying which.
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« Reply #205 on: Mar 27, 2014, 05:02 AM »

Obama Meets Pope Francis, Looks for Catholic Boost

by Naharnet Newsdesk
27 March 2014, 06:47

Barack Obama will meet Pope Francis for the first time Thursday for talks on a shared agenda to fight inequality which the U.S. President hopes will help boost support at home.

The talks between the first Latin-American pope and first African-American U.S. president will focus on tackling the gap between the rich and the poor, but are likely to spill over into thornier issues such as abortion, homosexuals and contraception.

The meeting at the Vatican comes as a welcome rest-stop for Obama during a six-day European tour dominated by the crisis over Crimea, and the U.S. leader will doubtless be hoping some of the pope's overwhelming popularity will rub off on him.

Obama will also meet new Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi and the country's president Giorgio Napolitano during his visit to the eternal city, as well as going on a private guided tour of the Colosseum.

Diplomatic relations between Italy and the United States are close, though Rome still needs some convincing on the value of imposing sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine crisis, amid fears it would take a toll on a key market.

Italy's 39-year-old Renzi, who used Obama-style catchy slogans and social media campaigns to shoot up the political ladder, will be keen to strengthen ties with the U.S. leader.

But political watchers say the meeting with the former boy scout will be overshadowed by talks and a photo opportunity with the 77-year-old pope.

Obama is "mostly going I think to bask in the glow of the new Pope," said Jeremy Shapiro, visiting fellow at Washington's Brookings institute.

His main aim will be "to highlight their sort of mutual attention to the problems of poverty and inequality. This isn't really a foreign policy stop," he said.

- 'Challenge' of income inequality -

According to the White House, Obama hopes to speak to the pope about their "shared commitment to fighting growing inequality", though the peace process in the Middle East, the environment and immigration are also expected to be on the table.

Obama, whose approval rating has been slipping, will be keen to repeat his denunciations about income inequality, which he has described as "the defining challenge of our time".

Earlier this month, he used the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington to argue that his calls for tax hikes on the rich and curbs on abuses by big banks had a strong moral and religious grounding, in an election-year swipe at Republicans.

Pious religious observance should guide political motives and lead to policies that help the sick and the needy, he said -- echoing Francis's rallying cry for more to be done for the poor and disadvantaged.

The pope's critical comments about capitalism last year saw him forced to rebuff accusations from rightwing Americans that his teaching is Marxist. But his condemnation of "the economy of exclusion and inequality" won the support of progressive Catholics.

Obama said he was "hugely impressed" by Francis's inclusive approach after the pope called for the Church to stop obsessing debating teachings on abortion, homosexuals and contraception.

However, Vatican experts say the relationship is not as cosy as it once was between pope Jean Paul II and Ronald Reagan, and Francis is unlikely to refrain from tackling Obama on his domestic and foreign policy.

The pontiff spoke out strongly against a proposed military intervention by the U.S. in Syria last year, organizing a vigil at the Vatican which drew tens of thousands of people.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has repeatedly challenged Obama's signature accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act, arguing that it the health care scheme violates religious freedom by requiring for-profit corporations to provide insurance for contraception.

Controversy surrounding the Affordable Care Act and Obama's drop in popularity risk resulting in a Republican victory in an upcoming Senate election, which would dramatically weaken the U.S. leader's negotiating position for his remaining two years in power.

Religious expert John Allen told Vatican Radio Obama will be fishing for Catholic votes to help him keep a hold on the Senate.

Words of support from Francis would certainly boost his case: a survey published by the Saint-Leo University found that Francis was popular with 85 percent of Catholics and 63 percent of Americans.


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« Reply #206 on: Mar 30, 2014, 06:43 AM »


Agence France-Presse   
March 30, 2014

Monks try crowdfunding to restore St Francis cell

Crowdfunding and medieval history are coming together in Rome as a group of Franciscan monks take to the Internet to drum up funds to restore a dusty cell said to have been used by St Francis of Assisi himself.

Located in the trendy Trastevere district, the church of San Francesco a Ripa looks much like any other of 900 churches in the Eternal City and is better known for a statue by Baroque master Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

But the monks in charge of the church say the real treasure tucked away on the first floor of the church is a cell that hosted St Francis (1182-1226) -- the famous saint of the poor who inspires Pope Francis.

"We need $125,000 (90,900 euros) to restore the cell of St Francis," Brother Stefano Tamburo, who is in charge of the church-monastery, told AFP during a visit.

The Kickstarter project runs out on April 11 and has already raised more than a fifth of the sum to clean up the room measuring 17 square metres (183 square feet).

"Few people know of its existence," Tamburo said.

The monk explained that St Francis stayed in the room at least four times between 1209 and 1223 when he visited Rome to try to meet with pope Innocent III to obtain recognition of his new monastic order.

"The saint slept sitting on the ground, directly in contact with a large stone that is still visible today and which he used as a sort of cushion," he said, pointing to a stone that is now covered by a grill.

He said there are no written records from that time, but that an "uninterrupted oral tradition from St Francis's period attests he stayed in the monastery, followed by later references to it in written texts."

The windowless cell was transformed in the 17th century into a small chapel dedicated to St Francis and is not accessible to the public but was visited by late pope John Paul II to pray -- as seen in a photo on the wall.

The space is badly dilapidated -- its walls blackened by candles and oil lamps, its wall paintings fading away and its ceiling in need of extensive restoration.

Following Franciscan tradition, the monastery has appealed for charity to finance the project, refusing to ask the Vatican or the Italian state for funds.

"With the economic crisis, the priority is for spending on social issues. For restoring the cell, we prefer to ask people who can afford it," said the monk.

The project has already received some 400 individual donations -- most of them coming from the United States.

Donors will receive symbolic gifts for their contributions, including T-shirts with the Franciscan slogan "Pax et Bonum" ("Peace and Goodness"), wooden pendants and for the most generous a holiday to Rome for the inauguration of the restored cell.

An added bonus could be the presence of Pope Francis.

"Since Pope Francis was elected, people are more interested in the cell," Tamburo said. "We hope he will come and visit it. I think it will be on his agenda."
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« Reply #207 on: Apr 01, 2014, 06:31 AM »

Crowds swamp church in Spain after historians claim it holds the ‘Holy Grail’

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, March 31, 2014 10:41 EDT

Curators were forced to remove a precious cup from display in a church in Spain when crowds swarmed there after historians claimed it was the Holy Grail, staff said.

Visitors flocked to the San Isidro basilica in the northwestern city of Leon after two historians published a book saying the ancient goblet was the mythical chalice from which Christ sipped at the Last Supper.

The director of the basilica’s museum, Raquel Jaen, said the cup was taken off display on Friday while curators look for an exhibition space large enough to accommodate the crowds.

“It was in a very small room where it was not possible to admire it to the full,” she told AFP.

Made of agate, gold and onyx and encrusted with precious stones, the object in Leon is formed by two goblets joined together, with one turned up, the other down.

It has been known until now as the goblet of the Infanta Dona Urraca, daughter of Fernando I, King of Leon from 1037 to 1065.

The two historians — Leon University medieval history lecturer Margarita Torres and art historian Jose Manuel Ortega del Rio — identified it as the grail in their book “Kings of the Grail”, published last week.

They said two Egyptian parchments they found in 2011 at Cairo’s University of Al-Azhar set them on a three-year investigation.

Their studies led them to identify the upper part of the princess’s goblet, made of agate and missing a fragment as described in the parchments, as the grail — one of the most prized relics in Christianity.

It was offered to Fernando, a powerful Christian Spanish king, as a peace offering by the emir of a kingdom in the Muslim part of Spain at the time, Torres said.

In Europe alone there are 200 supposed Holy Grails, the Spanish researchers admitted. They attempted to debunk the authenticity of some of the better known candidates in their book.


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« Reply #208 on: Apr 02, 2014, 05:35 AM »


Vatican Radio digitises archive of popes' voices

Clips available online include Pius XII's eve of war address and Benedict XVI's unprecedented 2013 resignation speech

AFP
theguardian.com, Tuesday 1 April 2014 15.49 BST   
   
The voices of popes from as early as 1884 will be able to be heard after the digitisation of 8,000 tapes from the pontifical archives of Vatican Radio.

The Vatican initiative is part of preparations for the sainting of John Paul II and John XXIII (1958-63) on 17 April – the first double papal canonisation ceremony in Church history.

"This way, the popes remain among us thanks to their voices," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said.

Radio Vatican has stored recordings since it was set up under pope Pius XI in 1931, but it has also older recordings, such as Leo XIII's Humanum Genus encyclical, which the pontiff recorded on a dictaphone in 1884.

Some of the clips in the online collection capture historic moments, such as Pius XII's speech in August 1939 calling for restraint on the eve of the second world war, saying: "The danger is imminent, but there is still time. Nothing is lost with peace, all can be lost with war!"

People can listen to John XXIII's impromptu 1962 "Speech to the Moon" in St Peter's Square, where he told the masses: "When you head home, find your children. Hug and kiss your children and tell them 'This is the hug and kiss of the pope'".

There are also Paul VI's anguished words following the kidnapping and murder of the Italian prime minister Aldo Moro in May 1978, culminating in his public address to God: "You did not grant our plea for the safety of Aldo Moro, of this good and gentle man … who was my friend."

John Paul II's emotionally charged attack in 1993 on the mafia's "culture of death" following a spate of high-profile killings can be listened to again, as can Benedict XVI's 2013 resignation speech, where he said he "will simply be a pilgrim starting the last phase of his pilgrimage on this earth".


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« Reply #209 on: Apr 02, 2014, 05:36 AM »


Vatican plans social media celebration of popes' sainthood

Website, smartphone app and Facebook page being set up for canonisation of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II

Lizzy Davies in Rome
theguardian.com, Monday 31 March 2014 18.18 BST   

The last time a Roman Catholic pontiff was made a saint, television news was in its infancy and the coverage from St Peter's Square was resolutely black, white and grainy.

Sixty years on from the canonisation of Pope Pius X, two of his successors are to follow in his footsteps – and the church is keen to show that, in the sphere of communications at least, it has changed with the times.

People around the world wanting to follow the twin canonisations of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II on 27 April will be able to do so via a multi-faceted "digital platform", said Monsignor Walter Insero on Monday.

As well as a website – which is still under construction and will be available in five languages – there will be a Twitter handle (@2popesaints), smartphone app, Facebook page and YouTube channel. Insero said other social media sites including Instagram and Storify would also be used to communicate the event to young people effectively.

Insero said the importance of media coverage had been illustrated in 2011 when a Costa Rican woman, Floribeth Mora Diaz, watched the beatification of John Paul II on television. Mora, who had been diagnosed with a brain aneurysm, went on to recover and the church declared her case to be the second miracle attributed to the Polish pope, who died in 2005. The first concerned Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, a French nun who staged an astonishing recovery from a 2001 diagnosis of Parkinson's disease.

The Vatican is not putting a figure on the number of people it expects to come to Rome for the twin canonisation, but estimates from city officials have reached into the millions.

On Monday the Vatican announced that churches in the centre of the Italian capital would stay open the night before the ceremony for a prayer vigil. However, perhaps in a sign of the current pope's influence, it stressed that the nature of the event was spiritual not extravagant, and that costly side events would be avoided.

"It is essentially a spiritual message because it is a celebration of sainthood," said Cardinal Agostino Vallini, vicar general of Rome. "The thread that ties these two pontificates is faith."

In Bergamo, the northern Italian province where John XXIII was born, the church will mark the canonisations with a charity drive. Monsignor Giulio Dellavite said priests would be invited to donate a month's wages to a fund for struggling families.

In Rome, meanwhile, the signs are that local hotel owners are looking on the canonisations more as an opportunity to make money rather than to give it up. The travel website Trivago said last week that the price of an average hotel room for the night of 26 April was up 63% on last year.


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