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Mar 5 17 12:31 AM
One emerged from a crisis conclave, the other was elected after the strangest campaign in recent American history. Both have upended traditions and reached outside the usual channels to speak to the concerns of ordinary people. Donald J. Trump and Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the president and the pope, are the world’s most famous populists. But they are in conflict.To grasp why Pope Francis has become the flag-bearer of the global anti-Trump resistance, consider his Feb. 17 appearance at a university campus in Rome, where one of the students who asked him a question was a Syrian woman, Nour Essa. The pope knew her well. Hers was one of three families, all Muslim, he had brought back with him on the return flight from his visit to a refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece. He has helped dozens of refugees make new lives in Italy. Two families live in the Vatican itself, whose high walls and fortress features are these days at odds with the border-dissolving pope within.In the courtyard of the university, Roma Tre, where Ms. Essa has won a scholarship to study biology, she asked Francis to respond to Europeans who believe migrants threaten the continent’s Christian culture. Migration, he told her, is not a danger but a challenge, a spur to growth that has expanded Europe’s culture, not weakened it.“When there is this welcoming, accompaniment, integration, there’s no danger with immigration,” he said. “A culture is received and another offered. This is my response to fear.”The pope’s populism is not intended for popularity — a fickle thing, and anyhow, his soars far above any politician’s — but proximity. This is a pope who likes to come in close.As Europe’s borders stiffen and nativist movements gain footholds in elections, such bold assertions of universal humanity, backed by action, have made Francis a bridge maker in an age of wall building. In part because he anticipated the current political crisis long before it happened, his Greek-chorus commentary on the upheavals matters.“In moments of crisis, discernment doesn’t work,” he told the Spanish newspaper El País in January, around the time of Mr. Trump’s inauguration. “Discernment” is an important word for the pope; it is key to his Jesuit spirituality. He meant in this case the capacity to detect the “spiritual motions” — the presence of good and evil — in events. In times of crisis, that capacity disappears, and projection, scapegoating and hysteria take over. Francis gave the example of Hitler, pointing out that he was elected by his people and then destroyed them.Populist politicians, the pope said, promise to “give us back our identity and defend us with walls, with wires.” In a letter to Modesto, Calif., community organizers in February, he deplored political leaders who rely on “fear, insecurity, quarrels and even people’s justified indignation, in order to shift the responsibility for all these ills on to a ‘non-neighbor.’ ”Pope Francis and President Trump provide rich material for contrast. One is, notwithstanding his weaknesses, a spiritual leader of extraordinary maturity; the other, his strengths aside, is a thin-skinned, petulant narcissist. One is a celibate who lives in simplicity and austerity, embracing the disabled and the diseased; the other is a thrice-married germophobe who lived in a gaudy gold tower and mocks the feeble.And yet: The world’s two most compelling populists have more in common than some might admit. Take, for example, their extraordinary capacity for connection, bypassing traditional methods; their defiance of convention, even their iconoclasm; or their delight in challenging existing elites on behalf of the people. Both seem energized by opposition, even if they respond to it differently — Mr. Trump by ranting and belittling his critics; Francis never directly, but gently, in pointed asides.Politically, too, they share a beef with globalism. Both, in the broadest sense, are nationalists. When Stephen K. Bannon, the White House chief strategist, says the United States is “not an economy just in some global marketplace with open borders” but rather “a nation with a culture and a reason for being,” he says nothing Francis has not expressed often.The pope is no mere liberal. Born in Argentina, he was shaped by a movement of Catholic continental nationalism that saw social justice and economic sovereignty as key to a better future for Latin America. He grew up under and was unquestionably influenced by Peronism, a communal movement that in the 1940s and 1950s galvanized working-class and lower-middle-class support against the liberal establishment of the day, rooting its politics in the religious and nationalist values of ordinary Argentines. Although he later descended into autocracy, Juan Domingo Perón at his early best embodied what Francis sees as the purpose of statecraft: He created work, integrated the excluded (Perón gave women the vote), and built consensus around core values.Throughout his papacy, Francis has criticized the lack of that higher purpose in the technocratic liberal administrations of Europe and the Americas that have dominated since the 1980s. He deplores the way political principles have been replaced by market logic and how governments have failed to defend the interests and values of ordinary people. Speaking to Jesuits in Rome last October, he lamented the loss of “big politics,” the craft of making unity out of diversity and creating what he calls a “culture of encounter,” a society that integrates everyone — rather than a “throwaway culture” in which the poor and the unwanted are cast off.This puts the pope at odds with Trumpism in myriad ways. His encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si’,” contains a hard-hitting indictment of a politics consumed by immediate results and of the way governments pander to the electorate to the detriment of its long-term interests. In it, he deplores the capture of politics by economics, and politicians who glibly promise ever more growth even as current models of consumption and production are destroying the planet. It is fierce stuff, the fruit of a mind that has spent decades engaged in these questions.With the students at Roma Tre, he applied the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman’s famous concept of “liquid modernity” to the economy of the West. Why do developed countries have such high levels of youth unemployment? he asked, adding that the “liquid economy” leads jobless young people into addiction, suicide or terrorism. Against this metaphor of liquidity, he posits a “social economy” that invests in people and opens access to ownership and opportunity by spreading work.Equally deplorable to Francis is the liquid society, in which family and community bonds are hollowed out by me-first ideologies. Francis, like many popes before him, wants a vigorous civil society that holds both state and market to account.The Trump-Bannon response is to chafe at the wounds of popular resentment, promising to relieve it by building walls, raising tariffs, shutting out migrants and dismantling the state to release the energies of popular capitalism. They underpin this plan with a commitment to nurture and promote a culture that is defined as white and Christian, framing globalist media elites as “enemies of the American people,” and Muslims and other foreigners as potential terrorists who dilute or threaten that culture.Francis sees the surging tide of jobless and migrants as part of the same global crisis produced by dehumanizing capitalism. When he speaks to workers, he asks them not to see migrants as threats or rivals, but as fellow victims of the liquid economy, and to make common cause.And he helps them act. Quietly, Francis has over the last four years been supporting and guiding a global association of “excluded workers” like garbage pickers and migrant laborers, acting as their visible leader. At the gatherings of these “popular movements’” — two at the Vatican, one in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, and recently in Modesto — he continually stresses that deep and lasting change will come when those on the margins unite, creating strong social institutions that deepen the bonds of trust and solidarity.“Many people are hoping for a change capable of releasing them from the bondage of individualism and the despondency it spawns,” he told the attendees of the second meeting, in Bolivia in 2015.“I would even say,” he added, “that the future of humanity is in great measure in your own hands, through your ability to organize and carry out creative alternatives, through your daily efforts to ensure the three L’s (labor, lodging, land).”In Francis’s post-neoliberal future, the poor of the world act with the church and civil-society organizations to create an economy that serves human flourishing, while calling on states to receive migrants in solidarity. In Mr. Trump’s post-neoliberal future, former chief executives, billionaire hedge-fund managers and real estate moguls dismantle the state to make capitalism yet more liquid, but use the state to stiffen borders.That said, the kernel of the rift between the pope and the president is ultimately religious. Mr. Bannon believes the Catholic Church has to be rescued from Francis, whom he sees as part of the global elite (a description that would certainly surprise the pope). Mr. Trump’s chief ideologue has formed a curious alliance with Pope Francis’s archcritic, Raymond Burke, an American cardinal based in Rome, in their shared conviction that “Christian culture" is engaged in a deadly rivalry with Islam — the Samuel Huntington thesis, shared by the Islamic State, of an enduring “clash of civilizations.”Francis abhors this notion and rejects it at every turn. Religion, which is universal (because God is), can never be captured by a national culture; nor can true religion ever be the cause of terrorism and violence. For Francis, all fundamentalism — whether Christian or Muslim or nativist — is atheism, and all violence in the name of religion is simply nonsensical. (This is what he meant when he surprised many Catholics by describing the slaying of a French priest, Jacques Hamel, by Islamic State sympathizers in July last year as “absurd violence.”)For the pope, a Christian nation that defends its faith by turning away people in need is not protecting its faith but poisoning it; being true to Christianity requires seeing all as equal creatures of God, whoever they are and whatever they believe. When journalists discovered that the 12 refugees traveling back with the pope from Lesbos in February were Muslim, they asked him why he picked them.“I didn’t make a religious choice between Christians and Muslims,” he answered. “These three families had their documents in order. There were, for example, two Christian families who didn’t. This is not a privilege. All 12 of them are children of God. It’s a privilege to be a child of God.”
Mar 5 17 5:07 AM
Civil war in the Vatican as conservatives battle Francis for the soul of CatholicismAs the pope leaves Rome for a retreat to mark Lent, rebellion and turmoil are in the airWhen Pope Francis was elected nearly four years ago, on 13 March 2013, he was escorted – like every pope before him – from the Sistine Chapel to the Room of Tears. It is the place where a new pope pauses for a moment – and no doubt many of them do shed a few tears, thinking of the momentous responsibility upon their shoulders – before stepping out on to the balcony of St Peter’s to greet the world as the new leader of the Roman Catholic church.When Francis, known until then as Jorge Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, first appeared that night, he appeared remarkably sanguine, joking that the cardinals had gone to the ends of the Earth to choose the next pope. If he’d had any inkling of what these last four years would be like, he would surely have wept in that Room of Tears. [Oh, I think not ... the Jesuit who survived the years of military dictatorship in Argentina is not likely to be unduly upset by a bunch of intransigents.]While hugely popular across the globe with Catholics and non-Catholics alike, Francis has struggled against fierce opposition from the Vatican establishment to haul the Roman Catholic church into the 21st century, fought to reform its government, tried to persuade cardinals to revise their thinking on the divorced and remarried, and been openly opposed by rebel prelates. [Which just goes to show, in my opinion, that perhaps, just perhaps, the bigger problem with the Church is not the laity, but some of the clergy.]Last week marked the start of Lent, one of the most important periods of the church’s calendar, a time when Catholics fast, give alms and reflect on humanity’s sinfulness in the run-up to their commemoration of the crucifixion and of Easter. It is usually marked by quiet prayerfulness, and on Sunday the pope, along with members of the Roman Curia, will leave Rome to begin a five-day retreat. He will leave a Vatican beset by tension, turmoil and rebellion. There are even rumours that growing numbers of Vatican hands think he should quit. [Why? He was elected, and if they don't like him, they can always leave. As the old saying goes, if they can't take the heat, then they should get out of the kitchen!]On Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, came a big blow, in effect caused by the pope’s enemies: Marie Collins, the last abuse survivor on his commission into child abuse in the church, quit, frustrated at the lack of progress and what she calls “shameful lack of cooperation” from the officials most concerned with cases of abuse, highlighting the intransigence of the Roman Curia, or governing body, in the Vatican – the body Pope Francis wants to reform.With Collins gone from the Commission for the Protection of Minors, set up by the pope to investigate the worldwide scandal of sexual abuse by priests and religious brothers, and the other victim representative, the Briton Peter Saunders, on indefinite leave of absence, the commission has lost a certain integrity.When she stepped down, Collins complained that the commission had been starved of resources, progress was slow and there was “cultural resistance” to its work in the Vatican.The commission’s recommendation that there should be a tribunal set up to deal with bishops who had been negligent over abuse has been impeded by Roman Curia officials despite the pope himself approving it. “There is an area of the Curia that has not moved into the 21st century,” said Collins. “It is very resistant to working with the commission. There are people who still want to cover up.”The opposition Pope Francis is facing puts the church into uncharted territory. Massimo Faggioli, a leading theologian and Vatican-watcher, said: “The Vatican status quo is behind this. It is a cultural and political opposition that was already visible a few weeks after Pope Francis’s election. They are against changing the style and position of the church from a western one to a global religion.”In Francis’s early days as pope, Vatican whispers focused on the financial reforms he wanted to make. Pope Benedict had resigned after a series of revelations, known as Vatileaks, which exposed financial malpractice in the Vatican, and Francis sought to end it.But the most vocal opposition to the pope has developed over his desire for debate about marriage and divorce, gay people and the family. [And as usual, it all boils down to sex. Don't these ultra-conservatives ever have anything else to think about?]After two synods on the issues in 2014 and 2015, Pope Francis produced the document Amoris Laetitia, in which in effect he told the church’s bishops to make local decisions about the divorced and remarried and their receiving of communion.Traditional church teaching says that a Catholic who remarries after divorce can receive communion only if the church has also annulled his or her first marriage. Some bishops have seen Amoris Laetitia as a direction to compassionately welcome people without annulments to receive the Eucharist.That has outraged conservatives. A letter to Pope Francis from four cardinals hostile to change was made public. The communication took the form known as a “dubia”, expressing doubts, demanding yes and no answers and in effect challenging the pope’s authority by asking him to make points of church teaching clear on this issue and Christian life.The four accusers included three retired cardinals, plus Cardinal Raymond Burke, an arch-conservative American canon lawyer who has gone as far as threatening to issue a correction to Pope Francis over Amoris Laetitia. Burke has been a thorn in the pope’s side for some time.He was given a powerful judicial role in Rome by Benedict XVI, from which Pope Francis moved him. Last year Burke and other conservatives were ousted from the Vatican department that oversees worship. Then, earlier this year, during a row between the pope and the ancient Knights of Malta which led to the departure of the order’s British leader, Matthew Festing, Cardinal Burke was sidelined in his role as envoy to the order. [And for good reason, because it seems that he willfully disobeyed the Pope, and dragged the Order of Malta into his beef with the Pope.] Within days anti-Francis posters appeared on the streets of Rome; so has “fake news” by way of spoof Vatican newspaper pages mocking him.The rows are not just about personality clashes, or even divorce and communion. It goes much deeper than that. This is about the future of the church. If previous popes had enacted the wishes of the modernising Second Vatican Council, held 50 years ago, the domination of the wider church by the Vatican would have already diminished.Now Francis is trying to move at least some decisions out to the bishops and local churches across the globe, by allowing priests and bishops to make the decisions about allowing divorcees communion. That, for the traditionalists, is the thin end of the wedge.Christopher Lamb, Rome correspondent of the Catholic weekly the Tablet, said: “The fundamental shift that Pope Francis is trying to make is for the church to be more pastoral. The Roman Curia should be serving the church universally, but Marie Collins in her resignation has exposed what is going on: a department has not even been willing to answer letters from abuse victims.”According to Tina Beattie, a British feminist theologian who organised “fringe” events in Rome before the 2015 synod to get women’s voices heard, Pope Francis has a “blind spot about women” and hasn’t listened enough to them, but she admires him for attempting to have some dialogue.“I don’t want to say that the pope is defeated by the critics, but this is making him vulnerable. What they are doing is almost schismatic,” she said.On Sunday morning in Rome, the pope will no doubt mark the first Sunday in Lent with a call to repent. But his critics are hardly in penitent mood; they want him to resign. There are rumours that even some of those who voted for Francis now have doubts.“It is true that some cardinals may regret their vote for him in the conclave, but I do not think they hope that he resigns,” said Faggioli. “They know it would be very hard to find a popular pope like him.”
Mar 6 17 1:30 AM
Mar 7 17 5:46 AM
Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall to meet Pope FrancisPrince Charles has spoken out against the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and has made donations to charity Aid to the Church in NeedThe Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall will meet Pope Francis at the end of this month or in the beginning of April, Clarence House has confirmed. The meeting with Francis will take place as part of a wider European tour and marks their first private audience with this Pope in the Vatican. A spokeswoman for Clarence House confirmed the meeting but could not give a precise date while a statement said the prince and the duchess will be in Italy and the Holy See from 31 March to 5 April. When they do meet the Pope and Prince Charles should find points of common interest, particularly on the environment and interfaith dialogue. Both share a passion for protecting the natural world, with Francis writing a landmark environmental encyclical, Laudato Si’, on the topic while the prince has campaigned for 40 years on sustainability issues. Prince Charles has long championed interfaith discussion and has a keen interest in Islam while Francis has continually pushed the importance of dialogue between religions with the Vatican recently announcing a joint initiative with Egypt’s Al-Azhar university. The British heir to the throne and future Supreme Governor of the Church of England has also spoken out against the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and has made sizeable donations to Catholic charity, Aid to the Church in Need. He has taken an ecumenical approach to Christianity by attending Catholic masses and spending time on retreat in the Orthodox monasteries of Mount Athos in Greece. His visit to meet with Francis follows that of the Queen in 2014 who met with the Pope during a five-hour visit to Rome. Prince Charles and Camilla met with Benedict XVI back in 2009, which marked Charles' first audience at the Vatican since his divorce from the late Princess Diana. The meeting with Francis will include an exchange of gifts. The Pope gave the Queen a present for her great-grandson, Prince George, during their meeting three years ago. For their part, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh gave Francis a hamper of produce from the royal estate of Sandringham in Norfolk. In a statement released announcing the visit, the British Embassy to Italy explained that the UK Government had asked the Prince and Duchess to visit Europe, and their tour from the 29 March to the 6 April will also include Romania and Austria.
Mar 9 17 4:47 AM
Crux - Pope Francis has expressed openness to a renewed consideration of married priests in the Catholic Church, especially the possibility of ordaining the so-called viri probati, meaning tested married men, who could be called into clerical service.“Then we have to consider what tasks they could perform, for instance in isolated communities,” the pontiff said.While the question put to Francis specifically referred to ordaining viri probati as deacons, many theologians and some bishops have also suggested they could be considered for priestly service.The pope’s comments came in a new interview with the German newspaper Die Zeit, excerpts from which were published on Wednesday, with the full version set to appear on Thursday.At the same time, Francis appeared to rule out simply making priestly celibacy optional, saying that approach “is not a solution.”Calling diminishing vocations to the priesthood an “enormous problem,” Francis said the first response must be prayer, coupled with a more intense focus on “working with young people who are seeking orientation.”A lack of priests, Francis said, weakens the Church “because a Church without the Eucharist doesn’t have strength - the Church makes the Eucharist, but the Eucharist also makes the Church.”Francis called for the question to be faced in the Church “fearlessly.”“Fears close doors, freedom opens them, and even when [the space for] liberty is small, it opens a window,” he said.At present, most Catholic are expected to remain celibate, although Catholicism does include 23 Eastern churches in full communion with Rome whose clergy are allowed to marry. In the United States, there are also a few hundred former Protestant ministers who’ve entered the Catholic Church as married men and permitted to remain married after being ordained as Catholic priests.In April 2014, a Brazilian bishop said he and Pope Francis had discussed the idea of ordaining the viri probati in a private conversation and the pontiff appeared open to the idea, suggesting it’s up to bishops’ conferences to make proposals along those lines.Last November, Francis crossed Rome to meet with a community of seven families, all led by men who had left the priesthood to become married. There had been speculation that Francis might choose to devote the next Synod of Bishops in 2018 to the topic of married priests, but instead the focus of that gathering will be on youth, faith and vocational discernment.In another portion of the interview, Francis, as he has on other occasions, sounded an alarm about the rise of political populism in the West today.“Populism is evil and ends badly, as the past century has shown,” he said, arguing that it means “using the people” by offering them a messiah.Francis also rejected the suggestion that he’s something special, saying, “I am a sinner and I am fallible.”As he has many times in the past, he suggested that exaggerated celebration of a pope is actually dangerous.“We must not forget that the idealization of a person is always a subliminal kind of aggression,” he said. “When I am idealized, I feel attacked.
Mar 9 17 4:58 AM
In January, the Vatican office that oversees Catholic priests, sisters and brothers in global religious orders had a plenary session. Seven women attended as representatives of the world's women religious.That fact may not seem significant for those outside the Vatican, as sisters and nuns obviously represent a large proportion of those in religious life. But it was the first time in decades that women had been present at such a meeting, the result of a direct request to Pope Francis.When some 900 leaders of the world's congregations of women religious met with Francis last May, they asked why they were not being invited."Speaking about someone who is absent is not of the Gospel," the pope responded. "You must be present." He promised he would speak to the head of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, about the issue.Sr. Carmen Sammut, who leads the Rome-based global umbrella group of women religious called the International Union of Superiors General (UISG), said in a recent interview that since the pope made his promise, a change had been made."We were invited and we could speak," she explained. "That was a real structural change."Four years into this pontificate, many of the changes taking place at the upper echelons of the church echo the sisters' experience: Something that at first glance could appear minor takes on a wider meaning. Transformations build slowly as a culture shifts.As Francis enters his fifth year, some ask just what this pope, who famously said he had come "from the ends of the Earth" for the job, has achieved. What's more, they wonder, how will the things he has not accomplished be carried forward?Three of Francis' closest episcopal collaborators said in recent NCR interviews that the pope is playing a very long game, trying to shift the church's vision of its mission and its stance toward the world. Several theologians say, in doing that, he is also changing the wider culture's opinion of the church.Pope Francis greets Sr. Carmen Sammut during an audience with the heads of women's religious orders at the Vatican in May 2016. (CNS/L'Osservatore Romano)Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the only American who serves on Francis' advisory Council of Cardinals, said the pope has been a "blessing for our church and our world.""I know there's been some controversies of late, but the Holy Father's teaching and example are a great source of encouragement to our people," said O'Malley. "He has changed the conversation about the church in our country, and we are very grateful for that."Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who advises Francis on episcopal appointments as a member of the Congregation for Bishops, said the pope is calling for a recognition that because the wider culture is no longer Christian, let alone Catholic, the church must change its demeanor."This is a very different culture than even 25 years ago," said Wuerl. "We know now we have to move from what was a much more comfortable maintenance posture into a much more challenging, Gospel-driven, evangelizing discipleship, to use [Francis'] words."Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich, who was elevated to the cardinalate by Francis last November, said the pope is bringing the atmosphere of newness experienced during the 1962-65 Second Vatican Council back to the church."I don't think that I have had a sense of the freshness of the council more than what I do at this point," said Cupich. "As I read the reaction of people to him I think back to how people were responding to the council with that same sense of hopefulness and joy and pride about the church that we saw at that time."Inverting the pyramidMany of the headlines about Francis continue to focus on Amoris Laetitia, the apostolic exhortation he released in April 2016 following two worldwide meetings of bishops at the Vatican, called synods, in 2014 and 2015.While the central focus of the document was primarily a challenge to Catholics to see grace even in the most imperfect of family situations, much of the commentary about it has focused on its apparent openness to allowing divorced and remarried persons to take Communion in some circumstances.Beyond the particulars of the exhortation, however, several observers said they think the way Francis developed the document is one of the biggest windows he has offered about what lasting changes he wants to make in the church.Lisa Sowle Cahill, a moral theologian at Boston College, said she thought the pope used the synod process as a way to consider possible developments in church teaching without causing open divisions in the church."I think he recognized wisely that if he simply came out with changes in teaching from above, it would provoke division in the church, just as Humanae Vitae had done," she said, referring to Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical that affirmed the church's opposition to birth control. "He avoided doing that."Francis began the 2014 and 2015 synod process by having the Vatican synod office distribute a questionnaire to dioceses around the world on people's experiences of family life.At the beginning of the 2014 synod, the pope told the assembled bishops that no subject was to be considered off the table and that they should "speak boldly and listen with humility."Cahill, who described Francis as a "wonderful ecclesial politician," said the pope's focus on discussion and use of consultation is a "major change" and is his "primary contribution" to the institution of the papacy."When has teaching on sex and marriage ever been handled like that?" she asked, before answering: "Never."Wuerl, who participated in both of the 2014 and 2015 meetings, said he sees Francis using the worldwide gatherings of prelates to carry forward a wider agenda of sharing some of the pope's responsibilities with others."I think what it's doing is it's trying to put into practice what the Second Vatican Council spoke so clearly about, that the oversight of the church universal is the responsibility of all bishops, with Peter and never without him," said the cardinal."It's the not just the role of the bishop of Rome to govern the universal church," he continued. "It's in communion and working with, in consultation with, in collaboration with all of the bishops.""The pope is saying it's not all the pope," said Wuerl. "There has to be this commonality with the bishops and the most dramatic form of it that we've seen so far is the idea of having two synods back-to-back."O'Malley said he thought that Francis' decision to ask for input from lay Catholics brought a sense of enthusiasm and inclusion to the endeavor.Joking that at first he worried that the questions sent from the Vatican were "awfully complicated" and elicited a "collective groan" from parish rectories, O'Malley said: "Much to my surprise, people were very enthusiastic.""What amazed me was how happy the people were to be asked," he said. "What I thought would have been considered a bother, at least in our diocese, was an exercise that people were very happy to be a part of."Sammut, who is also the general superior of the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa, said she thought the pope used the synod to enact an inversion of the traditional pyramid structure of the church, where the pope had been at the peak above everyone else."The triangle is upside-down and it is the faithful who are on top, and the leaders, whether it is the bishops or the bishop of Rome, are at the bottom to make sure that the sense of the faith of the faithful is taken into consideration and that everybody can have a say in decision-making," she said."Of course, the leader has to make the final decisions, but it is on what he has heard and felt by everybody," she continued.Structural reformFrancis' reforms of the Vatican's central bureaucracy have mostly occurred quite quietly, over longer periods of time. He moved most quickly after his election to professionalise the Vatican's financial structures, creating a new centralized Secretariat for the Economy.The pope also recently finished consolidating some of the Vatican's disparate offices into two new larger entities: the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life and the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.Several Vatican staffers said that while his reforms of the Roman Curia may seem small from the outside, Francis has had a big impact over how people working in the offices understand their roles.One midlevel staffer said the pope is not focused on just consolidating offices but "making the Curia more conscious of the fact that it is at the service of the universal church and is not meant to direct the universal church.""If reform were just institutional, or shuffling around of offices, people could just play a new game in the modified system," the staffer said.Wuerl said Francis' structural reforms are focusing on three main aspects: putting forth the spiritual vision that should underline the Vatican's work, changing the personnel running its various offices as needed, and realigning some of the tasks assigned to those offices."I think we're seeing all three things," said the cardinal. "He's moving, I think, at a very judicious pace because it's such a huge institution."Cupich also said Francis does not want to just rearrange the Vatican's structures, but lay out a new vision for their work."I think that he does have a sense of purpose and mission about what he's doing," Cupich said. "He's not doing reform just to do reform, he's doing it because of the vision that's there. He wants to situate the church for its future in order to live out that vision."The Chicago prelate said he thought the pope is trying to develop changes at the Vatican based on what he thinks God wants most for the church."He's constantly going back to that question: Where is Christ calling us now?" Cupich said of Francis. "And then let's build any kind of reform around that. He has to have that vision, but it's a vision about what Christ is wanting us to do, not what he wants to do."O'Malley said the pope's work in reforming the Vatican bureaucracy "has been very challenging and yet very urgent and important." He noted that when the cardinals met to elect Francis in 2013 after the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, one of the things they agreed upon was the need for reform."Pope Francis has come in and faced the challenges," said the cardinal. "There's always resistance to change, but the Holy Father remains very serene and focused."Referring to his own work as the head of the papal commission Francis established for the protection of minors, O'Malley said the pope has "accomplished a lot certainly in the area of child protection with the establishment of the commission and the educational programs that are being carried out in the Curia itself and with the bishops' conferences around the world."Cahill said she thinks the pope is taking his time in rolling out reforms of the Vatican bureaucracy to allow appropriate time for discussion about what is most needed from the church's command center. She also said she thinks the pope does not want to simply determine what happens to individual offices on his own authority."He realizes that it doesn't always work to do something from the top down," said the theologian. "And I'm sure he's struggling with, 'OK, but when is it really important to intervene?' ""He's realizing, too, that you have to get buy-in with the lower levels, with the local bishops and local bishops' conferences and all the priests and religious and all the laity," said Cahill."The lower down he can start his reform, the more successful it's going to be in the long run," she said. "And I think he realizes that if there are recalcitrant bishops and cardinals, their power is going to be eroded if the people don't support them."Sammut related the pope's experience in trying to reform the Vatican to the experience of the heads of religious orders who try to change the way their orders function."It's easy to have a vision and to have people understand and want to enter into that vision," she said. "But when it comes then to changing structures, it is extremely difficult because you always have a percentage of people who want to keep to the old because that's what they know and that's what feels safe."Personal exampleSome of the longest-lasting impressions of Francis' papacy come from its earliest moments: his decision to live at the Vatican's Casa Santa Marta hotel instead of the apostolic palace, his paying of his hotel bill in person, and an early Angelus prayer reference to German Cardinal Walter Kasper's book on mercy as the essence of the Gospels.Noting the simple way the pope has carried himself since the beginning of his ministry, Wuerl said that Francis has also refocused the mission of the papacy into one of giving example for how Christians should act."What overrides everything here is ... what the Holy Father is also doing is bringing a personal witness," Wuerl said. "The way he speaks, the way he presents himself, the trimming away of so much of the trappings of office that have come from an earlier age."I think that's going to be the most striking and enduring quality: helping all of us get back to a more Gospel focus," said Wuerl.O'Malley said Francis has a "unique pastoral sense" that helps him understand what the people of today's world need most. The Boston cardinal pointed to the Jubilee Year of Mercy as one example."In my lifetime, I've never experienced a jubilee that has impacted people's lives all over the way that one has," he said."Most other holy years, most Catholics in the pews had no idea that there was even a holy year going on," he said. "We had thousands and thousands of people come to the cathedral and through the holy door. So many people returned to the sacrament of reconciliation. So many parishes involved in works of mercy and taking care of the homeless and the sick."Wuerl said he thinks Francis' pontificate has marked a new era for the church."This is the pontificate that has said definitively, 'Let's look and speak and act more like that early Christian community,' " said the Washington cardinal. "There's no turning back."
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Pope Francis’s four years at the helm in Rome have been one long Lent, a time of conversion - which involves both pain and joy - and of re-focussing on the Church’s primary purpose. The template for the transformation was designed in Latin America, and it is called “pastoral conversion.”The idea is that when the Church - not just its clergy but all its “missionary disciples” - learn how to be pastors to humanity as Jesus was, the churches will fill and the world will be converted.The program needed to come from Latin America, because the capacity for self-renewal in Europe and the United States had been exhausted. The wealthy but declining Churches of the north needed to learn again how to pastor.Its culture often sees Catholicism as sad and angry, something coercive and domineering, hurling rules at people and concerned with itself rather than with humanity.That story is false, but it was true enough often enough to be hard to refute - and there was no shortage of clergy and bishops and cardinals to reinforce it.In Latin America, on the other hand, the Church is seen very differently by the culture: as turned towards humanity, not against it; as a community of service, close to ordinary people, and their ally, concerned for their welfare and willing to expend themselves in their service. In short, a pastoral Church, as Vatican II sought.Again, that story is not wholly true: there are plenty of counter-examples of clericalism and rigidity and even corruption. Yet it is mostly true, and true often enough for the cultural prejudice to be essentially sound.Latin American theology and spirituality, in spite of deviations and resistance (often from Rome), has developed since the 1960s a powerful current of resistance to the arrogance of power and consumption in its “option for the poor.” This has given the Latin American Church an evangelizing credibility in proclaiming Jesus, who related firstly not to power groups but to their victims.When the Latin American bishops gathered in Aparecida, Brazil, in May 2007 they boldly asserted a call to the Church to a “pastoral conversion” that meant moving from “a pastoral strategy of mere conservation to a decidedly missionary approach.” This would in turn require a “spiritual, pastoral and institutional conversion” inspired by Vatican II.The electric currents that the Church of the northern hemisphere needed had to be released from the south, and they are still, through Francis, electrifying us - even if we have by now grown used to some of the shocks.Getting close and concretePastoral conversion was the call that Francis took up after his election in Evangelii Gaudium, and which has guided the decisions he has taken these past four years of reform. His papacy has been a “perennial activity of pastoral conversion and witness to mercy,” as he puts it in Mater et Misericordia, in which “what is central is not the law or legal justice, but the love of God, which is capable of looking into the heart of each person and seeing the deepest desire hidden there.”It has meant a new Catholic populism, re-connecting the Church with the people of God through attention to the lives and experiences of ordinary people, using ordinary language and speaking directly to their concerns, rather than taking refuge in abstractions and idealized schemes.It is a Church, in short, that seeks to be both “close” and “concrete” - traits the pope has himself embodied to a remarkable degree, in his communication and actions, transforming the papacy itself.It is a Church of dialogue, in the sense that Vatican II meant it: rather than treating the world outside the Church as needing to be taught truths which the Church possesses, it is more about discovering what God has done and is doing in the life of people and their societies, while speaking out forcefully against what resists that presence.It is a Church that seeks to follow “the logic of God” rather than “the logic of the doctors of the law,” as Francis put it to the cardinals in February 2015 - meaning less concerned with preserving the community from threats and more concerned with a direct encounter with and knowledge of Jesus Christ, and the service of humanity that flows from that experience.Pastoral conversion means a Church, as Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the Archbishop of Vienna told La Civiltà Cattolica, “that is not afraid to eat and drink with the prostitutes and the publicans.”“We need a Church unafraid of going forth into [people’s] night,” Francis told the Brazilian bishops back in 2o13. “We need a Church capable of meeting them on their way. We need a Church capable of entering into their conversation. We need a Church able to dialogue with those disciples who, having left Jerusalem behind, are wandering aimlessly, alone, with their own disappointment, disillusioned by a Christianity now considered barren, fruitless soil, incapable of generating meaning.”In his appointments of bishops and cardinals, Francis has made “pastorality” a key criterion, ending the custom of making a priest a bishop simply because he is an orthodox academic or canon lawyer. If he can’t walk with his people in their human realities, he is not suitable to lead the Church’s flock.He has also abolished the custom of awarding red hats automatically to major sees, giving them instead to pastoral bishops on the periphery so that the voice of the poor is present in universal church governance. Francis has rigorously applied over these four years Yves Congar’s principle of true Church reform, that the periphery must be allowed to shape the center if Christ’s true face is to be revealed in its structures.Addressing the U.S. bishops in Philadelphia in September 2015, Francis contrasted an attitude that deplored social ills and blamed contemporary society with the outlook of a pastor, who is asked “to seek out, to accompany, to lift up, to bind the wounds of our time.”Speaking of young people’s commitment-phobia, for example, he said that rather than “rehearsing the problems of the world around us and the merits of Christianity” pastors should invite young people “to be brave and to opt for marriage and the family.”Mercy doesn’t mean diluting the truth to make it more palatable, as so many of Francis’s critics believe; it means converting the Church to help people better live the truth. That means not taking refuge in abstractions, as if simply enunciating the truth will convert people, but encouraging the openness to grace that will enable them to live it.“We have long thought that simply by stressing doctrinal, bioethical and moral issues, without encouraging openness to grace, we were providing sufficient support to families, strengthening the marriage bond and giving meaning to marital life,” Francis observes in Amoris Laetitia. “We find it difficult to present marriage more as a dynamic path to personal development and fulfillment than as a lifelong burden.”Accompaniment, discernment, integrationPastoral conversion is summed up in the three key words of Amoris: accompaniment, discernment, and integration. It implies a way of the Church treating the ‘world’ - not shouting at it, but serving it, teaching it, healing it.Pastoral conversion requires a kerygmatic proclamation - the path of Jesus liberates, brings life, is the answer to the yearning of our hearts - rather than a moralistic one. Doctrine is not a moral code that must be obeyed, but the truth that flows from following Christ.This also means making space in the Church for discernment, meaning an attentiveness to human realities and the sometimes limited capacities and choices people face. This, too, reflects an eminently Latin-American pastoral theology, shaped by the experience of ministering to the poor.Amoris is full of such theology, especially where it enjoins pastors to apply the law keeping in mind the circumstances (psychological, historic, social) that may impede a person’s capacity to embrace the truth fully at that time. “We have to respond to people and help them in their journey to God, and to do so is not simply to apply a law,” as Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster says in a recent interview.To evangelize is first to discover the seeds of the Gospel in the lives of others, and to water and nurture those seeds. “We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them,” says Francis in Amoris. Pastoral conversion is not about the triumph of an idea, but making room for the action of God.This has meant a new emphasis on pastoral ministry as service. “The laity are a part of the holy, faithful people of God, and for this reason, the protagonists of the Church and the world, whom we’re called to serve and not by whom we’re to be served,” Francis wrote to the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.The resistance to Francis has come, in the United States in particular, from those who are wedded to the concept of the Church as a cultural battler or a political lobby centered on good ideas and effective policies. But once the Church is seen as a political actor speaking from a place of what Francis calls “pastoral autocracy,” it loses credibility. Where it speaks, boldly, from its pastoral experience, society listens.This has been for some the hardest part of this mortifying pontificate: the call to abandon the manners and mechanisms of power and privilege. It has been especially hard for many clergy to be lambasted for their self-importance and authoritarianism, their rigidity and their immobility, their joylessness and their culture of self-entitlement - and just as hard for them to hear the pope describe himself as a sinner who believes in the “theology of failure.”But Francis knows that the best way of bringing about conversion is to put people in the place of their victims. Priests (and curial officials) who object to the pope’s listing their sins must at least now understand better how many people feel about their clergy doing the same.Francis is fierce in attacking clericalism because this is key to pastoral conversion. The shepherds represent Christ, and if they have their backs turned to the people they are an obstacle to Him.Pastoral conversion of the curiaThe pope is applying the same principles of pastoral conversion to the Vatican bureaucracy. By 2012-13, the Roman curia had become a serious obstacle to the Church’s mission, a barrier between the Bishop of Rome and the bishops of the world, rather than a bridge.Francis has set in motion a process of reform whose fruits will be seen in a future pontificate, but which has already changed the curia so that it ceases to work independently from the pope or even against him. But he is avoiding the danger of shaping the curia in his own image by entrusting the long-term task of restructuring to his council of nine cardinals.In the meantime, he has reduced the Vatican’s autonomy in a host of ways, allowing for a greater flow between Rome and the local Church.Without firing lay staff but imposing a freeze (except where necessary) on new hires, he has shrunk the curia’s size and scope, and governed, in many ways, without the curia, instead giving bishops and cardinals a major role in the decisions that affect the universal Church, through the C9 (cardinals who are diocesans, not curiali), the synod of bishops, and the college of cardinals.He has also reduced its production. What was under St John Paul II a torrent of documents pouring forth from Vatican departments every week has been reduced to a trickle. Decentralization and subsidiarity have restored to the local bishops their proper teaching function, applying universal doctrine in ways appropriate to the local context.He has simplified and streamlined the dicasteries, merging different councils, and putting them on a more equal footing. There are now three ‘secretariats’ (for state, the economy and communications) instead of one, so that the secretary of state can no longer be a “vice-pope” and create a fiefdom in the curia.He has also opened up Rome to outsiders and non-Italians, creating or changing the boards of the Vatican’s financial institutions and watch-bodies to include large components of lay people from across the world.The financial reform - balancing the books, enabling Peter’s Pence to be spent mostly on charity, publishing audited accounts - is a work in progress, but no one believes the bad old days of financial scandals can come back now. The Vatican’s purpose - to facilitate the Church’s pastoral activity - has been restored.Just as importantly, he has attacked the culture of self-entitlement that lies behind those scandals in a constant barrage against attachments to wealth, image and power, and all forms of “spiritual worldliness” - the use of the Church’s resources for personal gain.Pastoral conversion is the new evangelizationFrancis has often been accused in his four years of neglecting Europe, Catholicism’s traditional heartland, where the Church shows many signs of decay. Yet in speeches and addresses, he has addressed the decline by calling on the Church to put its faith not in the restoration of bygone eras or dazzling new structures but in pastoral conversion.“We must stay among the people with the ardor of those who were the first to welcome the Gospel,” he told the German bishops. “And whenever we make the effort to return to the source and to recover the original freshness of the Gospel, new avenues arise, new paths of creativity open up.”He offered the same advice to the Italian bishops: reform consists not in the umpteenth plan to reform structures, but “grafting yourself to and rooting yourself in Christ, leaving yourself to be guided by the Spirit - so that all will be possible with genius and creativity.”Be pastors, he told them. “May nothing and no one take away the joy of being sustained by your people. As pastors, do not be preachers of complex doctrines, but proclaimers of Christ who dies and rose again for us. Focus on what is essential, on the kerygma. There is nothing more solid, profound and certain than this announcement. But may all God’s people be proclaimers of the Gospel - people and pastors.”Francis insists he is not a reformer, and had no program of reform for the Church four years ago. But he did.It was called pastoral conversion. It was designed in Latin America, and remains the core program of the pontificate. To the extent that it is effective - and, at least judging by the ferocious opposition, it is - history will judge Pope Francis.
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As Pope Francis marks the fourth anniversary of his revolutionary papacy, the pontiff apparently finds himself besieged on all sides by crises of his own making: an open “civil war” in the Catholic Church and fears of schism, mounting opposition from the faithful and a Roman Curia so furious with his reforms that some cardinals are plotting a coup to topple him.And those are just some of the more noteworthy threats to the church and his authority, at least in the view of various right-wing Catholic websites and pundits who have been criticizing Francis almost since the day he was elected four years ago on Monday (March 13).Now, as the anniversary approaches, their claims have grown increasingly insistent and eye-popping, often migrating into mainstream media accounts as well.Yet if you talk to senior churchmen in the U.S. and elsewhere, as well as advisers to the pope, Vatican officials and veteran church observers, these reports are also dismissed as increasingly outlandish and often driven by an anti-Francis agenda that is so hyperbolic that it is obscuring the genuine reservations that some might have about the direction Francis is taking the Catholic Church.“I certainly don’t see plots. I don’t see all this seething behind the cassocks of prelates all over Rome,” said Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl, one of Francis’ main U.S. advisers. Wuerl is frequently in Rome for meetings and has wide contacts among the global hierarchy, and he said he sees wide support for what Francis is doing, often more so in other countries.“I think there are a small number” of opponents, Wuerl said, “and they are the ones you see quoted over and over and over again – the same quotes, the same words, in the same publications.“It really is a concern of a few people in a few locations that is amplified by the megaphone of the media that support them.”Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich, who was personally picked by Francis to head the Archdiocese of Chicago and sit on key Vatican committees, has also characterized the pontiff’s foes as a splinter group. “They are not as much large as loud,” Cupich recently told Italian Vatican-watcher Andrea Tornielli.‘A lot of this is pure or impure speculation’Several curial officials, who requested anonymity in order to speak freely, readily admitted they see what they described as “concern” among some in the Vatican, and perhaps more than the usual amount of bureaucratic resistance to the structural overhaul Francis is pursuing.But as for serious, organized opposition, as one senior Vatican official put it, “I think it’s just wishful thinking by some people, to be honest.”Even some Catholic conservatives are growing impatient with the narrative of unprecedented crisis that is swirling around.“A lot of this is pure or impure speculation,” said Robert Royal, head of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington and a regular visitor to the Vatican. Royal cautioned that “there is a lot of turbulence in Rome these days.”But, he said, “some Catholic conservatives assume there is a coordinated network of liberals waiting to take over the church. I don’t, but I think (Francis) has given an awful lot of fuel to critics who want to see some bad things.”Indeed, the claims are hard to ignore. Traditionalist websites and canon lawyers are openly debating whether the pope is a heretic – and what can be done if he is – while others wonder whether Francis is leading the church into schism, or if such a split has already happened.Many of these conservative opponents have rallied around American Cardinal Raymond Burke, an outspoken critic of the pope who was a senior Vatican official until Francis moved him into a largely ceremonial role at the Rome-based charitable Order of Malta – where he recently was involved in another uproar over the ousting of a top leader there.The pope wound up intervening in the situation, providing another opportunity for Burke’s allies to denounce Francis as an “authoritarian” who is mercilessly crushing his foes.Some group or individual even plastered anti-Francis posters last month around Rome – a city where such manifestations are part of the daily discourse – leading some Francis critics to proclaim it proof that opposition to the pope was “spilling onto the street.”In fact, Francis seems as popular as ever (he just made the cover of the Italian edition of Rolling Stone magazine) and in the U.S. polls show his approval rating among Catholics actually increased to near 90 percent.That hasn’t stopped conservative Catholic media from regularly declaring that the church “is now in a full-blown civil war” or calling the church “drifting and directionless” and the pope akin to a “pathological” father, as Phil Lawler, editor of the Massachusetts-based Catholic World News site, has done.“But has there ever before been a Roman Pontiff who showed such disdain for what the has always taught and believed and practiced?” Lawler wrote in a widely shared post titled “This Disastrous Papacy.”Then this month The Times of London ran a story citing a right-wing Italian commentator’s claims that several cardinals in the Vatican who once supported Francis have turned on him and are leading a campaign to persuade him to resign so they can install the pope’s No. 2, Secretary of State Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin. The article was echoed by other outlets.“That was a crazy piece,” said one Vatican official, a view echoed by numerous other churchmen in Rome and the U.S.So, what’s really going on in Rome, and the rest of the Catholic Church?Part of the explanation is that Francis has welcomed open debate in the church – certainly one of the biggest changes he has made in his four years.That “has allowed deep-seated tensions within the church to surface,” the Rev. Russell Pollitt, a South African Jesuit, recently wrote. “Tensions have always existed – even though some would never dare to admit this. The difference is that under Francis’s leadership these tensions have not been pushed under the proverbial carpet.”The complaints of the conservative critics, however, are also magnified by the fact that so much of the conservative opposition comes from the U.S. and Great Britain, and from a core group of Italian traditionalists. That means their critiques are amplified by a media industry dominated by, and geared toward, the English-speaking West. Catholics and churchmen in the rest of the world often scratch their heads at the debates that inflame the faithful in North America.“This has all the qualities of what you would call an ‘in-house’ story,” Wuerl said. “But that house is located primarily in the United States and it has some participants in Rome. I think those are the only two places I heard any of this. Everyone else seems to be moving along with the church at this very exciting time.”Three sources of oppositionIn addition, different constituencies in the church are upset for different reasons, and they don’t necessarily overlap.Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke leads a Mass in the chapel of the Vatican Governorate to mark the opening of the Judicial Year of the Tribunal of Vatican City at the Vatican on Jan. 11, 2014. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Stefano RellandiniFor some, such as Burke and the handful of cardinals and others aligned with him, the chief concerns are about holding the line on traditional doctrine; they worry that Francis’ shift to a pastoral approach focused on mercy could water down the rules and dilute orthodoxy to the point that the church is teaching heresy.Others are political conservatives who are upset with the pontiff’s focus on the poor and marginalized, on caring for migrants and refugees, and on elevating economic and social justice concerns to the level that sexual morality has usually held in the Catholic agenda. The populist right in Italy and in the U.S., for example, is not at all happy with Francis, and through alt-right-promoting news sites such as Breitbart and the like its advocates are not at all shy about getting those views out there.Still another camp would be the Vatican bureaucrats and employees who have been directly affected by the unprecedented overhaul of the ancient curial table of organization that Francis has been pursuing.Resistance to those changes emerged most dramatically this month when Marie Collins, the lone victim of clergy sexual abuse on the commission Francis established to combat that crisis, resigned in frustration over what she said was opposition to change by the Curia.Collins singled out for chief criticism the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is headed by German Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, a holdover from the reign of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.But church sources said the CDF – the guardian of orthodoxy that has long enjoyed status as the premier department in the Vatican – is in many respects an outlier because it has had its wings clipped under Francis and is not happy about the shift.“It is not a civil war. It is an insurgency by people who find change difficult,” said an American bishop with extensive contacts in Rome.Francis himself recognizes that there is resistance. He frequently upbraids curial officials for enjoying their perks and privileges too much and exhorts them to remember their chief calling as pastors of souls.Another aspect of the issue, Royal said, is that Francis has set up his own kitchen Cabinet of advisers and he often makes decisions on his own, circumventing the usual channels and offices. That has created “confusion” even among “loyal foot soldiers” in the Vatican who feel they are “just treading water” even though the pope often criticizes the Curia for careerism.How will it all play out?What winds up happening is that all the varying laments and real outrage in these different groups get rolled up into one grand narrative of crisis. Royal said that there is “a fairly large number of people who are nervous about the pope” and noted that he himself has often criticized things the pope has said or done. “But I don’t consider myself an enemy or opponent of the pope.”That does not mean that the opposition to what Francis is doing may not have an effect on Francis’ papacy and beyond. It all may be, as veteran Vaticanista Robert Mickens wrote in Commonweal magazine, “really just a storm in a sacred chalice.” But the people who hold chalices in the church are influential, and the pope critics are especially numerous in the U.S.Royal estimated that about 40 cardinals out of 225 total around the world – 119 of whom are under 80 and therefore eligible to vote if a conclave were held tomorrow – “don’t like what they’ve seen” from Francis, and some may be those who voted for him in 2013. But the idea that they are banding together in any organized way doesn’t hold water.Several U.S. church sources privately estimated that the level of opposition is higher in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, where perhaps a third of the bishops are opposed to what Francis is doing, about a third are “on the fence,” as one American churchman put it, and a third are strongly supportive of the pope.Still, how this will all play out is unclear. The longer Francis goes on, the more cardinals and bishops he can appoint, which will likely increase the number of those who think as he does and decrease the size of the opposition still further.Then again, the smaller and more embattled the opposition feels, the more vocal it may become, which could create an even greater sense of crisis.Vatican observers such as Italian journalist Marco Politi have suggested the public protests against Francis are about positioning before the next conclave – creating an air of uncertainty and chaos so the cardinal-electors will opt for a different, safer and more traditional path than the one set out by the current pope, who is now 80.But that approach could also backfire.The serenity and good humor with which the pope has spoken about the critics and the criticisms could cast his opponents in a negative light, by way of contrast. And Catholics in the pews don’t seem averse at all to the Roman Curia and conservative hierarchs getting a bit of comeuppance.“I don’t think this has all done the pope any harm,” said one Vatican official. “When people hear that some bishops are against Francis, it plays to his credit.”
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Cues and escape routes to avoid the traps of “a superficial analysis” on the ongoing papacy. A four-part in depth investigation “Four years of Bergoglio could be enough to change things ....” so, in early March four years ago, an anonymous cardinal confided to a friend journalist his hopes for the upcoming conclave. When Pope Francis appeared for the first time to the multitude gathered in St. Peter’s Square, less than ten minutes were enough to realize that many things had already changed. From the first words he uttered as “Bishop of Rome”, his mention of the “bishop emeritus” Benedict, the Pater, Ave and Gloria recited together - the simplest and most commonly used prayers by the poor – along with the request to the people for a new path to do with God’s blessing. For many, these were comforting hints that the Lord still loved his Church, Ecclesiam Suam. Legends of a “piloted conclave” The election of Pope Bergoglio, for more than one aspect has something of miraculous. The “bad teachers”, who shamelessly try to spread poison rumours of a “piloted conclave” flaunt a ruthless intelligence contempt to the memory of others. Before Benedict’s resignation and the arrival in Rome of the cardinals for the pre-conclave general congregations, Bergoglio was for most of his colleagues only an old archbishop about to leave the government of Buenos Aires diocese. For quite some time he had been preparing to retire to the diocesan residence for retired priests, freeing cabinets and distributing his things among friends and acquaintances. For years, the ultra-right-wing Catholic Argentine newspapers made macabre allusions to his “fainter and fainter” voice soon to be forever silent . If there had been attempts to weave “ready-made” solutions at a conclave, accelerated by Pope Ratzinger’s renunciation, they most certainly looked in other directions. There were even those who believed they could slide the conclave towards a natural choice, a “must” In the days before the extra omnes, a strategist close to Cardinal Ruini held every evening a meeting with Vatican correspondents to update on the number of “safe” votes around the potential winner. Everyone remembers the incident of CEI’s pre-packaged official statement with the wrong heading. (Announcing Scola of Milan as the Pope!) That evening of March 2013 On the evening of March 13, the apparatus’ disorientation was disguised by platitudes and soon drew back into the shadows, to try to better observe the “Martian”. The opposing yet conforming factions pro and against Bergoglio had not yet been activated. So, in the first steps of his pontificate, before the masks and definitions could crystallize, the Pope elected on the crest of what seemed as a final time said the most important thing: he confessed to the Church and to the world that he does not do miracles, that he is a just poor man, “a sinner to whom Christ has looked.” At best, he is the finger pointing at the moon. A limited man, who had not gone to live in the Apostolic Palace “for psychiatric reasons.” Someone who did not want to be Pope, because “a person, who wants to be Pope, does not love himself and is not blessed by God.” Stretched in the folds of his teachings, in the repetitive images of his interventions was what he had already suggested in his brief speech to the cardinals, during the pre-conclave congregations: that the Church, starting from the Pope himself, does not shine with its own light. That the Church with all its assets, its performances, its glorious antiquity and its clever modernity remains an opaque, dark body, if Christ does not shine his light upon it. And that only Christ’s forgiveness may free the Church from its inertial self-referentiality, from turning on itself. Because “If the Lord did not forgive everything, the world would not exist”. (Angelus, 17 March 2013). The usual things In the first months of his pontificate, Pope Bergoglio’s most intimate actions and words of faith and Christian life, were stripped to their minimal traits; Grace, mercy, sin, forgiveness, love, salvation, love for the poor copiously irrigated his days and public interventions. These were familiar and accustomed words, yet for many they sounded unusual. They broke through the veil of objections and lit the questions of many. And Francis, to reach as many people as possible, from the beginning relied to the most ordinary and usual tool, which has always been used in the story of the Church: the morning homilies in Santa Marta. Break every day the bread of the Gospel, and eat it together with his brothers and sisters to avoid trade barriers, to facilitate the possible meeting of each one of us with Christ, though some “experts” of ecclesiastical politics had already called them “harangues”. The sensus fidei of the People of God After so long, God’s people reappeared on the ecclesial horizon. Fragile and distracted, poor and poorly ministered; God’s people immediately recognized the voice and the smell of the pastor. They recognized the amazing and yet familiar accents, the promise of humanity and happiness that welcomes and yet surprisingly, exceeds all expectations. Not the militants of acronyms, the activists of the permanent ecclesial mobilization, the full-time fervent of “creative minorities” and cultural circles, but the “rookies”, the “generic” baptized, those who have not prepared a speech. Those who feel an almost physical urge to remain simple. Because being and calling oneself Christian is already a miracle, one does not need to add anything more. God’s people sensed an instinctive harmony with Pope’s Bergoglio “elementary” Church. The “usual” Church was that of Pope Benedict and all of Peter’s successors. Not a “new” Church, but a new beginning set on the apostles’ path of faith. In a history marked by fresh starts, entrusted to the frail hands of men and women who proclaim the forgiveness and mercy of God, because they have experienced it in their flesh. The curiosity of the “others” But the words and actions of the new bishop of Rome immediately intrigued and sparked sympathy even among the multitudes who do not know or no longer recognize the name of Christ, in the many for which Christianity appears as something belonging to a past that does not concern them anymore, and in those who have turned their back on the Church. The false dogma of some ecclesiastical circles that in recent years almost took pleasure to appear hateful and intolerable to the world, wearing that contempt, as a badge of honor, had been finally unmasked. Pope Francis reminded everyone that Christianity does not work that way. Who wins and conquers the world by delectatio, as St. Augustine said; “For attractiveness,” as he always says, quoting Pope Ratzinger. That multitudes are intrigued and attracted not by inventions or strategies but by Christ, who from the very beginning did good to all, sinners and women, criminals and those who did not belong to the chosen people. World powers interest The actions and words of the Pope, “taken almost at the end of the world”, and the ease that they seemed to inspire in the Church, were soon perceived by those who have power. The first American Pope who no longer shared the ecclesiastical lines of thought that since the eighties, as secularizing ideologies were collapsing, had raised religious affiliations as a cultural-political identification factor, with the intention to politically and geo-politically reaffirm the hegemonic role of the religious institutions within the collective life. At the same time, the “pastoral conversion” he suggested to the whole Church was not confined to a parallel world, the world “of the Church” separated from the rest of humanity. It showed among its fundamental traits also a concern for the entire human family and the destinies of all peoples and nations. Pope Francis had not arrived to papacy with a geopolitical design to implement. His Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said that the objectives of the papal diplomacy are to “build bridges, promoting dialogue and negotiation as means of resolving conflicts, spreading fraternity, fight poverty, build peace. The Pope has no other “interest” or “strategy” and neither do his representatives when they act in the international arena. “ An attitude oriented to the global common good “,” without personal interests or “preferential axes” to protect, which explains at least part of the attention reserved to Bergoglio’s papacy among the most diverse geo-political subjects. So far, waiting the relationship with Donald Trump to unfold, the attention of the global and national leaders to the gestures and words of the Bishop of Rome has appeared constant and cross. From Vladimir Putin to Barack Obama, from Angela Merkel to Queen Elizabeth, Benjamin Netanyahu to the King of Bahrain Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, they all wanted to go to the Apostolic Palace or to Santa Marta, and listen to the Pope, “taken almost at the end of world “, and to be heard by him. The devotees’ party Besides the faithful people, the distracted and anxious global multitudes, besides the elite of “decision makers” and of those who have power, soon understood also a part of the ecclesial-media elites that in recent decades, as in the West Christian memory was fading away, had profited ecclesial power by affiliating to the muscle-identity ideologies and “theo-con” positions, the “winner” of the rediscovered “Catholic pride”. The same sectors that had elaborated an “organic” interpretation on the last two pontificates, of political and ideological nature, built on the conservative-liberal and liberal-orthodox dichotomies. And over time, they sharpened their tools and global networks able to impose their slogans as measuring units of Catholic orthodoxy, compliance criteria with respect to the tradition of the Church. Those areas soon began to grow nervous. And even the clerical media-operations packaged and then put into circulation through channels and “loyal” agents according to the typical cliché of power struggles inflicted to the previous ecclesial seasons: “Complaining and inveighing is what they do best. They grumble, and grumble. They are in a bad mood and, what is worse, feed resentment “(Charles Peguy). Cues and escape routes to avoid the traps of “a superficial analysis” on the ongoing papacy. A four-part in depth investigation
Mar 14 17 4:47 AM
The ecclesiastical hostility reserved to Pope Francis, in all its various gradations, is unprecedented in the history of the last centuries. The aggressive noise and point-blank attacks, their obsessive-compulsive rhythm orchestrated by different teams and coordinated at international level in the all so real "war of liberation", directed against the current Successor of Peter by individuals and clerical coordinated media-networks has most certainly its prosaic reasons. When Pope Francis blasted the automatism that made "cardinals" certain episcopal sees, he had knocked down the laborious mechanism with which the high-ecclesiastical "winning" network had already begun to place future conclaves electors for decades to come. From the first important episcopal appointments, he made it clear that long-time plans concerning episcopal nominees had fallen through. However, this does not explain everything. In many ways, the coordinated and relentless attack coming from hostile networks against Pope Francis remains a mystery, it belongs to the mystery of the Church. In certain operations conducted by interconnected and powerful clerical-media apparatus against Bergoglio, take place a religious hatred against the current bishop of Rome that does not fall in the 'ordinary' objections, criticism or intolerance that can be addressed to a Pope. All too similar to the analogue "unveiling of hearts", the episode told in the Gospels of those religious men who manipulated the Law of God to drive away people from the authority of Jesus, and tended him traps to catch him in contradiction. Secularized Doctrinal rigor This unprecedented contempt for the Pope from the new self-elected virtual inquisition hunting for Francis’ alleged doctrinal defaillances is a sign that in those doctrinally aggressive segments, the instinctive understanding of Christianity and Catholic doctrine has been secretly replaced by a religious ideology filled with Christian words and formulas, which have ultimately atrophied its more genuine and germinal sensus fidei. An intimate secularization, hidden beneath the muscular performances of doctrinal rigor, more devastating than all those favoured by the cultural influences of worldly nature (relativism and nihilism included), because it took place in the shadow of "christianist" ideology (Rémi Brague). The orchestrated and endless campaign carried out by anti-Bergoglio brigades, is mysterious in its root, but is strategically moving along accustomed lines. Its shooting targets are easy to locate. First, they are aiming at exacerbating the polarization pro / against Pope Francis, by focusing attention exclusively on his person and stirring up the battle around him. They want to push through the idea that, in this ecclesial season, everything is traceable to a matter of "taste", opinions and personal inclinations proper to Bergoglio’s personality, and that the global game in place consists of lining up with or against the "ideas" of the Argentine Pope, his inner individual guidelines, even his quirks and obstinacy. Insisting on his Jesuit and Argentine origins References to pope Bergoglio’s Latin American and Jesuit origin are used relentlessly in this "reductio,". There is a peculiar insisting on these two traits, to passing them off as unique genetic blueprints of Bergoglio’s every single gesture. The bishop of Rome’s "gesuitization" and "latino-americanization» cages him into stereotypes and preconceived models, as to pass off all his moves - including suggestions for reform and change – as rooted through the mechanical and obvious appeal to the Ignatian and Argentine archetypes. Even certain "Pro Bergoglio fans" - as we will see - sponsor these two undeniable personal connotations, the Pope’s being Jesuit and coming from Buenos Aires as exclusive interpretative coordinates of his pontificate. By doing so, they are indirectly helping those whose aim is to overshadow the elementary and sacramental evangelical spirit revived by Bergoglio as a way to renew and rejuvenate the Church. Too much attention focused only on the Pope, isolated by the Church, in the long run always ends up distorting and encouraging manipulative operations. The professionalized bullies of the reigning Pope ride the emphasis on his "innovative" exceptionality by claiming to "unmask" it in his Jesuit-Argentine genetic origins, and then charge him of discontinuity and potential 'detouring' from his last two predecessors. A self-feeding circuit All the para-doctrinal accusations against Pope Francis have no ties, not even remotely, with the great Church Tradition, nor they draw to the authentic Magisterium of the last Popes. The Bishop of Rome is targeted by the new inquisitors simply because he is not "aligned" with the slogans of the ruling ecclesiastical party of these recent decades. That same party that during John Paul II and Benedict XVI’s pontificates has distilled a neo-conservative ideological and doctrinal apparatus, setting itself as custodian of the "winner” interpretation of the last two pontificates, and in the age of online barbarization against ecclesial matters, is anxious to pass off its own arsenal of ecclesiastical politics as a new standard of orthodoxy and ecclesial discipline. The reason why the drop point of these organized strategies against Pope Francis point to read all his gestures and words according to a polarizing grid of Anglo-Saxon nature - liberal vs. conservative. This is the only "conjunction" in which the anti-Pope Pasdarans move with ease, the only closed and self-powered circuit in which they can operate their clerical role play. Do what the Pope actually says It would be enough to stay at the things that Pope Francis says and does, and maybe follow the instinct of the simple faithful who have recognized the heart of a pastor, and not torment oneself over the many anti-Bergoglio rancorous operations; just let them get sucked into the vortex of clerical self -occupation. Besides, to provide them with arguments and paradoxical help, they are droves of bards who are enthusiastic of Bergoglio’s "new course".
Mar 14 17 1:10 PM
While even “the saintliest person sins seven times a day,” conversion happens through humility and trying to become “better than the day before,” the pope said March 14 during the Mass in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae.“Converting doesn’t mean going to a fairy with a magic wand,” he said. “No, it is a path, a path of turning away (from evil) and of learning.”Reflecting on the day’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah (1:10, 16-20), the pope said, “You learn to do good through concrete things. Not with words, but with actions.”The reading from Isaiah gives three examples: “Help the oppressed, hear the orphan’s plea and defend the widow.”In the day’s Gospel reading from Matthew (23:1-12), the pope continued, Jesus also reproaches the scribes and Pharisees because they do not practice what they preach.“They do not know concreteness. If there is no concreteness, there can be no conversion,” he said.Pope Francis said Christians are called to embark on “the path of Lenten conversion,” knowing that God “is a father who speaks, he is a father who loves us.”“He accompanies us on this path of conversion. He only asks of us to be humble,” he said. “Then our sins all will be forgiven.”
Mar 14 17 1:23 PM
There aren’t many jobs that can pluck a man in his late 70s out of obscurity and make him a global figure. That’s what happened four years ago, when a smiley Argentinian man appeared on a balcony in Rome and bade the world good evening. I was there in the crowd in St Peter’s Square, sandwiched between an Australian nun and a Canadian prelate. The nun and I had no idea who the man on the balcony was (there is very little in the way of explanation on blockbuster Vatican occasions – the thrill is in the show, and mystery is part of the sell) but after a few minutes, the Canadian tumbled it. “That’s Bergoglio from Buenos Aires,” he said. “What will he be like?” the nun and I asked him. “No idea,” said the bishop.Well, the whole world knows now. Pope Francis set out first to be a living and credible witness to the values that are at the heart of Christianity, and second, to reform an institution that the whole world knows is in dire need of change (he took the name Francis as pope in honour of the saint whose opus magnum was to do the same).Four years on, how is he doing? On the first ambition, he’s been a runaway success: even hardened atheists have become fond of him. Unlike his bookish predecessor, Francis oozes charisma. He doesn’t seem to be hiding behind anything. One of my favourite moments of his pontificate is when he completely lost his rag with a crowd of Mexicans who pulled him on to a child in a wheelchair and shouted angrily at them. I also loved his recommendation that we ought to give our money to beggars in the street, and who cares if they’re buying alcohol, because that glass of wine might be the only good thing that happens in their day? Francis gets to the heart of things – and isn’t afraid of saying that he’s a sinner himself.All this, it seems to me, speaks to the world about the values of Christianity, and makes you think that at its heart, it’s not about a belief in dogma or tradition or priests or church services, thank God – it’s about a story that unites humankind with something outside of ourselves, a story that gives us the chance of being healed and renewed, and a story that puts kindness and care for others at the centre of everything we do.More than 2,000 years ago, the machine that became the Catholic church offered itself as the protector of those values; with every week that passes its credentials seem to be getting thinner. Francis is trying to rebuild his church, but to say this is a mammoth task is an understatement, and all the indications are that, to use his own analogy, he seems to be rowing his boat in one direction while others on board are pulling the oars the other way.So four years on, what is the Argentinian pope going to do next?That’s certainly how it seems on issues such as the treatment of paedophile priests – Marie Collins, who resigned recently from the Vatican’s child protection commission, said Vatican bureaucrats were stalling reforms, a view echoed by a senior Australian Catholic official.Then there are the reforms he seems to be pushing for, such as the ordination of married men (this in a church where there is no requirement for celibacy, but where celibacy has long been the norm, and which is now faced with a growing shortage of recruits to the priesthood), and the ordination of women to the diaconate (this is a rung below the priesthood, and it seems fairly clear that in the distant past, women fulfilled this role – so why not again?).On married priests, Francis has opened the door for further debate; on women deacons he has established a commission. So far precisely nothing has come of either– but there is a lot of noise inside the church against these sorts of changes, and it seems pretty clear that plenty of those same bureaucrats who are busily trying to undermine the child protection commission would roll up their sleeves to prevent the ordination of either married men to the priesthood, or women to the diaconate.So four years on, what is the Argentinian pope going to do next? What about his ambition to reform the church? The last person a pope is going to listen to is a British laywoman, but if I were him I’d ratchet up that women commission, and start the ball rolling on ordaining married men. Many of us out here are rooting for him on these changes – and even the most diehard conservatives know that if there aren’t enough priests, new measures must be taken. It is more important to have people who can celebrate the eucharist that is at the centre of the Catholic faith, than it is who those people are. This is the moment for change, however rocky Francis’s boat is going to get in the process.
Mar 15 17 5:24 PM
Pope Francis is asking Rome priests and lay Catholics to recommend candidates and qualities for the city’s next vicar.During a closed-door meeting Friday with Rome priests, Francis asked that suggestions be sent to the diocese by April 12, the newspaper of Italy’s bishops’ conference reported.Usually such consultations are restricted to a small cadre of high-ranking churchmen, with the Pope making the final decision. But Pope Francis has made a practice of polling ordinary Catholics, most significantly in the run-up to his 2014-2015 meetings on family issues.The current Vicar of Rome, Cardinal Agostino Vallini, is two years beyond retirement age. The vicar acts as the de-facto bishop of Rome given the Pope’s other duties.
Mar 15 17 5:28 PM
Mar 15 17 5:32 PM
CNA - Pope Francis greeted and blessed a group of pilgrims from China who broke protocol and approached him during the Wednesday general audience.The group of faithful, some of whom approached the Holy Father on their knees, held Chinese flags and amid sobs, asked for him to bless a statue of Our Lady of Fatima they had carried into Saint Peter's Square.At first, some Swiss Guards tried to prevent the pilgrims from approaching the pontiff, but Francis quickly stopped them and shared a few moments with the pilgrims.Among the pilgrims there were some children whom the Pope spent a few minutes with.China only allows Catholic worship services for the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, which is subordinate to the Chinese Communist Party, and rejects the authority of the Vatican to appoint bishops or to govern them.The Catholic Church faithful to the Pope is not completely clandestine, although it faces constant opposition.Diplomatic relations between China and the Vatican were broken in 1951, two years after the communists came to power and expelled foreign clerics.For some years the Holy See has been working on an accord for the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with China, a rapprochement encouraged by Pope Francis.In August 2014, while he was on his way to South Korea, the Holy Father sent a telegram to the President of China to express his best wishes when his plane was over Chinese airspace.The fact that the Pope had received permission to fly over Chinese airspace was considered a small step forward. Pope John Paul II had to avoid the airspace of this country during his trips to Asia.
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