Afghan Troop Withdrawal Worries Australian General


Edward Pentin – 31 Jan. 2014:

Australia’s new governor general has told Newsmax he is concerned about very low levels of foreign troops in Afghanistan and fears the compartmentalization of political and ethnic groups threatens to undo the work of coalition forces.

Gen. Peter Cosgrove, who was appointed to represent Queen Elizabeth II as Australia’s ceremonial head of state Tuesday, said he was “worried about Afghanistan reverting” to its pre-war state because of “very low levels of foreign troops, whose job will be to be basically sit in enclaves and cantonments and only sort of emerge from time to time to basically train the Afghan army.”

“I’m afraid that a sort of compartmentalization of Afghanistan into pressure groups will be the first part of a bit of reversion,” he said.

U.S. and coalition forces aim to complete their mission in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, but President Barack Obama has said he wishes to sign a security pact with the Afghan government to keep a limited American military presence in the country.

Cosgrove, 66, who was chief of the Australian Defense Force from 2002 to 2005 and oversaw Australia’s initial contribution to the war in Afghanistan, sees similarities in Afghanistan with his experience in East Timor.

As head of peacekeeping forces in the war-torn Asian country in 1999, he remembers the “eternal syndrome” of the Timorese government wanting the foreign troops to leave, but also wanting them to stay.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai “is doing the same sort of thing,” he said. “The United States isn’t actually wanting to stay but I think there’s a bit of dilemma. If they sort of leave and things go bad, people are going to say ‘All of that treasure, all of that blood.’ It’s the same in Iraq.”

He is also concerned about historical precedent when it comes to winning the peace in the central Asian state. “I turn to the British experience over a couple of centuries ago, the Russian experience over a longer period [and] Alexander the Great’s words that it was ‘a country too far.’ There’s a bit of form there.”

Cosgrove led Australian troops during the beginning of the Iraq War and continues to see the invasion as just, given what he knew at the time. Like other decision makers, he believed Saddam had WMDs and had been complicit with terrorists, based on intelligence and weapons inspectors’ reports.

But the experience, and the fact that he no longer has access to the latest intelligence, makes him reluctant to impart his advice on current conflicts such as Syria.

“Remember, I’m a bruised general,” he said. “I’ve been bruised by the fact that we took what we thought was a principled stand over Iraq and it turned out to be wrong. And we don’t hide behind the fact that Saddam was a nasty piece of work, because if you use that as your benchmark, you never stop, you’d be running around the world looking for nasty pieces of work.”

Reflecting on Iraq, he said after the allied invasion it resembled a pressure cooker “whose lid has come off.” Saddam kept it brutally repressed, he said, but now that has ended and “factionalism and community-based violence” has been “added to the pot.” But on a positive note, he observed Iraq now has a government, elections, and a parliament where Kurds, Shia, and Sunni are represented.

A practicing Catholic, he recalled how “disgusted and horrified” he was when he learned of the torture and abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. “To me that was just intolerable [and] we were politically tremendously concerned,” he said. “We were morally repulsed and there’s no mealy mouthing in that sentiment.”

“One must not maltreat people, foe or not,” Cosgrove said. “One might kill them [in the line of duty], but one must not abuse their dignity as a human creation. They’re one of God’s creatures, so torture no, maiming no, oppressing the helpless no — for example, an enemy soldier who’s now disarmed and under control. In fact you must give that person succor.”

On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he is hopeful for peace if there’s continued dialogue. “Before peace, there is stability, and stability has to rely on a hope for a better future,” he said. “So in that regard, what did Winston Churchill say? To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.”

Cosgrove’s new role is ceremonial rather than political, but as a close ally of Prime Minister Tony Abbott and with experience of the highest levels of Australia’s armed forces, observers believe his influence is likely to remain considerable. 

Pope Reaches Out to Business Community



Pope Francis has reached out to the business community in a message to the World Economic Forum, extolling the “fundamental role” of business in improving the life of humanity and praising the “great personal honesty and integrity” of many businesspeople.

The Pope also called for the creation of employment and a better distribution of wealth that “goes beyond a simple welfare mentality.”

The message is being seen as a response to critics who accused the pontiff of being a Marxist after he strongly criticized “unfettered capitalism” and “trickle-down economics” in his apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel), published last November.

As well as praising improvements in areas such as healthcare, education, and communications, the Pope said “we must recognize the fundamental role that modern business activity has had in bringing about these changes, by stimulating and developing the immense resources of human intelligence.”

But he added that even if these successes have “reduced poverty for a great number of people,” they have also often led to “widespread social exclusion.”

He warned that the dignity of every human person and the common good should not be “little more than an afterthought” in political and economic decision making. Rather leaders of these fields “have a precise responsibility toward others, particularly those who are most frail, weak, and vulnerable,” he said.

The Pope drew attention in particular to the thousands who die from hunger every day and refugees who not only fail to find hospitality but often tragically die moving from place to place.

“I know that these words are forceful, even dramatic, but they seek both to affirm and to challenge the ability of this assembly to make a difference,” he said.

“In fact, those who have demonstrated their aptitude for being innovative and for improving the lives of many people by their ingenuity and professional expertise can further contribute by putting their skills at the service of those who are still living in dire poverty.”

The Pope called for a “renewed, profound, and broadened sense of responsibility” on the part of all people. And he reiterated his words of praise for business in Evangelii Gaudium — that it is a “a noble vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life.”

“Such men and women are able to serve more effectively the common good and to make the goods of this world more accessible to all,” he said.

Quoting Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate, he said the growth of equality demands something “more than economic growth, even though it presupposes it. It demands first of all a transcendent vision of the person.”

This is because without the perspective of eternal life, he said, “human progress in this world is denied breathing space.”

“It also calls for decisions, mechanisms, and processes directed to a better distribution of wealth, the creation of sources of employment, and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality,” the Pope continued.

He added that he is “convinced that from such an openness to the transcendent a new political and business mentality can take shape, one capable of guiding all economic and financial activity within the horizon of an ethical approach which is truly humane.”

Furthermore, he said that the “international business community can count on many men and women of great personal honesty and integrity, whose work is inspired and guided by high ideals of fairness, generosity, and concern for the authentic development of the human family.”

“I urge you to draw upon these great human and moral resources and to take up this challenge with determination and far-sightedness,” he said. “Without ignoring, naturally, the specific scientific and professional requirements of every context, I ask you to ensure that humanity is served by wealth and not ruled by it.”

He closed his message by saying that he hoped his words would be “a constructive contribution to help your activities to be ever more noble and fruitful.”

The message was delivered by Cardinal Peter Turkson, who heads the Vatican’s justice and peace council. The World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, begins tomorrow and ends on Jan. 25.

The event gathers world leaders, top business executives, and public figures to set the key priorities and challenges for the world to tackle in the new year.

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Vatican Commission Completes Medjugorje Investigation


The international Vatican commission investigating the events at Medjugorje has completed its work and will submit its findings to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican confirmed today.

The Vatican released the following statement this morning:

“The director of the Holy See Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, confirmed on Saturday that the international commission investigating the events in Medjugorje held its last meeting on 17 January. The commission, created by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is presided by Cardinal Camillo Ruini. The commission has reportedly completed its work and will submit the outcomes of its study to the Congregation.”

After the commission’s report is examined by the CDF, it will be given to the Pope who will have the final say, but this may take some time.

The commission, which has been working in strict secrecy since 2010, is made up of an international panel of cardinals, bishops, theologians and other experts who have been undertaking a detailed study of reports of Marian apparitions at Medjugorje which began in 1981. These apparitions continue regularly to this day, according to the shrine’s six “seers”, attracting hundreds of thousands of pilgrims each year.

The local hierarchy has sought to discourage the “Medjugorje phenomenon” which prompted the Vatican to carry out its own investigation. The Holy Father met Bosnian Cardinal Vinko Puljić, Archbishop of Vrhbosna, Sarajevo, in private audience on Thursday.

In November last year, CDF prefect Archbishop Gerhard Mueller unsettled devotees of Medjugorje when he sent out an instruction to forbid ‘seer’ Ivan Dragicevic from speaking in the United States.

Some Croatian news outlets have speculated the commission’s findings are “neither yes or no” and that the Vatican will continue to allow people to visit.

The Vatican currently does not forbid anyone visiting Medjugorje, but visitors are asked not to engage in public celebrations that take for granted the authenticity of the apparitions.

H/T Te Deum Laudamus

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Holy See Presents Sex-Abuse Assessment to U.N. Panel


un-logo-255x255GENEVA — The Holy See gave its first detailed assessment of the Church’s handling of clerical sex-abuse cases today to an international panel at the United Nations, during which officials stressed the Church’s commitment to protecting and upholding the inviolable dignity of every child.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See’s permanent observer to the United Nations in Geneva, told the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child “there is no excuse” for the abuse of minors. He added that, after having worked closely with local Churches in implementing a series of measures, the Holy See “is keen to become an example of best practice” in eliminating such cases.

He also said the Holy See “looks forward to welcoming any suggestions” from the committee on how to promote and encourage respect of the rights of the child and ensure efficient implementation of the provisions of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child and its protocols.

The Vatican diplomat made the comments as he presented the Holy See’s periodic report to the Committee on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which the Holy See became a signatory in 1990. He was also joined by the former Vatican promoter of justice, Bishop Charles Scicluna, who was responsible for overseeing the handling of abuse cases until his appointment as auxiliary bishop of Malta last year.

The Holy See was just one of several states questioned today on their record of protecting children from sexual abuse and other violence, the others being Russia, Germany, Portugal, Congo and Yemen.

“The protection of children remains a major concern for contemporary society and for the Holy See,” Archbishop Tomasi said, adding that abusers are found among members of the “world’s most respected professions, most regrettably, including members of the clergy and other Church personnel.”

He said the Holy See, in addition to implementing procedures aimed at eliminating such abuse, is also “committed to listen carefully to victims” and to address the “impact such situations have on survivors of abuse and on their families.”

He added that the “vast majority” of Church personnel and institutions continue to educate and care for children, adding that “egregious crimes” of abuse “have rightly been adjudicated and punished by the competent civil authorities in the respective countries.”


Local Churches’ Jurisdiction

But Archbishop Tomasi made the distinction that priests were “not functionaries of the Vatican, but citizens of their countries, and fall under the jurisdiction of their own countries.” Local Churches, taking into account the domestic laws in their respective countries, have developed guidelines and monitored their implementation with the aim of “preventing any additional abuse and dealing promptly with it,” he said.

He also stressed that the Vatican has adopted strong anti-abuse measures for personnel under its direct supervision, as shown by its willingness to hold a Vatican trial for a Polish nuncio accused of sexual abuse.

For his part, Bishop Scicluna answered follow-up questions by insisting it was “not the policy of the Holy See to encourage cover-ups.” But, he added, “the Holy See gets it that there are things that need to be done differently.”

Archbishop Tomasi pointed out that on the international level the Holy See has taken “concrete action” to ratify and accede to a number of treaties and protocols aimed at protecting children from abuse and conflict. “The Holy See then promotes and encourages these international instruments,” he said.

The permanent observer then explained the contents of the Holy See’s periodic report, which included the Holy See’s “international contributions” to advancing and promoting basic principles on a range of issues pertaining to the welfare of children.

“In the end, there is no excuse for any form of violence or exploitation of children,” Archbishop Tomasi said. “Such crimes can never be justified, whether committed in the home, in schools, in community and sports programs or in religious organizations and structures.

“This is the long-standing policy of the Holy See. For this reason, the Holy See and local Church structures in all parts of the world are committed to holding inviolable the dignity and entire person of every child — body, mind and spirit.”

He closed by quoting Benedict XVI’s words to the bishops of Ireland in 2006, in which he said such abuse is “all the more tragic when the abuser is a cleric.” He also pointed out the seriousness with which Pope Francis is dealing with the issue, most notably creating a new commission for the protection of minors in order to develop “safe-environment programs for children” and to improve “pastoral care for victims of abuse around the world.”


‘Understandable’ Attention

Speaking afterwards to Vatican Radio, Archbishop Tomasi said the attention that is given to the Holy See is “understandable,” but he added it is one of a number of members being examined, and the Holy See is “convinced that some very good results are coming out of this dialogue with the experts.”

Bishop Scicluna later told Vatican Radio the hearing “was grueling, in the sense it was a very long session, and it was very engaging.” But he added that the rapporteur had “important concerns to express, and we had a very important and fruitful interactive dialogue.”

Prior to today’s meeting, there was reportedly anger that the Holy See would not share the results of its own internal inquiry into sex abuse. The Vatican responded by saying it is “not the practice of the Holy See to disclose information on the religious discipline of members of the clergy or religious, according to canon law,” in order to “protect the witnesses, the accused and the integrity of the Church process.” Bishop Scicluna told Vatican Radio that “it was not within the remit of the committee to ask for individual cases.”

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi issued an explanatory note Jan. 16 in which he reiterated the deep sadness of the Holy See in relation to sexual abuse, the “unspeakable suffering” it has caused and the Church’s commitment to safeguarding the welfare of the child. But he said the scandals have resulted in a series of initiatives that have been “extremely helpful, also outside the Church community.”

Recalling that the Holy See has been an “early and wholehearted” supporter of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which it sees as consistent with Church teaching, he said the Holy See is, therefore, an “active promoter” in caring for the good of children. And he added that “the inspiring guidance and leadership” of Pope Francis “gives a new and evident energy to this commitment.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

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U.S. and Vatican Secretaries of State Engage in ‘Comprehensive Discussion’


Vvatican-kerryATICAN CITY — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had a lengthy meeting Tuesday with his Vatican counterpart, Archbishop Pietro Parolin, marking the first serious engagement between the Holy See of Pope Francis and the Obama administration.

Speaking to Vatican Radio after the meeting, Father Federico Lombardi, Holy See Press Office director, said the meeting was “very important” and pointed to the lengthy duration of the encounter that lasted one hour and 40 minutes — usually such meetings last around half an hour.

“The meeting was very fruitful and also very rich in content,” Father Lombardi said. He added that Kerry was “made aware of the concerns and wishes of the Holy See” that were also expressed by Pope Francis Jan. 13 in his address to the diplomatic corps.

Kerry called it “a very comprehensive, very, very interesting conversation” that touched on “just about every major issue that we are both working on.”

In a statement, the Holy See said the meeting at the Vatican covered “the peace process in the Middle East, especially the situation in Syria and the preparations for the Geneva II Middle-East Peace Conference.” The Syrian government and opposition are to discuss forming a transitional government at the United Nations-backed talks, which begin Jan. 22.

The two parties also discussed “negotiations between Israel and Palestine” at today’s meeting, which was also attended by Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican’s secretary for relations with states, and Kenneth Hackett, the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See.

The Vatican said other issues considered at the meeting “were the situation in Africa, especially South Sudan, and matters of special interest to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, such as health-care reform.”

Father Lombardi said health-care reform was “touched upon,” and the concerns of the Holy See were expressed, “in tune with the American bishops, with regards to safeguards to religious freedom and conscientious objection.”

“There was also talk of Obama’s plan to fight poverty and improve the situation of the poorest sections of the population,” Father Lombardi added. He ended by saying the “atmosphere was positive,” that it was “an important and constructive meeting,” and its duration “is indicative of its underlying significance.”


Kerry: A ‘Privilege’

Secretary Kerry, a Catholic, has been taking a leading role in both peace processes as well as talks over Iran’s nuclear program, making him “a very important player” in the words of one Rome diplomat. But the U.S. politician hasn’t always seen eye to eye with the Holy See on foreign policy. Last year, he strongly lobbied for military strikes against the Syrian government following a chemical-weapons attack on a Damascus suburb in August.

Kerry, the Democrat Party’s candidate for president in 2004, said it was a “privilege” to be the first U.S. Catholic secretary of state in more than 30 years to have talks with the Vatican secretary of state. He remarked that the Obama administration welcomes the Holy See’s support on the Geneva II process and would be keeping in touch with regard to progress in the peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians, especially over the issue of Jerusalem.

He said Archbishop Parolin was especially interested in assisting the peace process in South Sudan, and he mentioned that religious freedom in Cuba, possible Holy See assistance in freeing an American prisoner there, and environmental concerns were also raised. Poverty was a further subject of discussion, as well as implications for international security.

“This was as comprehensive a conversation as I’ve had with any secretary of state or foreign minister in the course of my tenure,” Kerry said. “I think, happily, we agreed on an enormous amount of things that we can cooperate on. That’s what’s important.”


‘State of the World’ Speech

In his annual “State of the World” speech to the diplomatic corps yesterday, Pope Francis said what is now needed “is a renewed political will to end the conflict” in Syria. He stressed the need for “full respect for humanitarian law,” adding that it is “unacceptable that unarmed civilians, especially children, become targets.”

The Pope also raised other concerns about the region, namely Lebanon, Iraq and the peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians. He expressed his hope that both parties “will resolve, with the support of the international community, to take courageous decisions aimed at finding a just and lasting solution to a conflict, which urgently needs to end.”

Archbishop Parolin’s meeting with Kerry also followed a Vatican-sponsored meeting of experts on Syria, the conclusions of which have been communicated to Kerry, say diplomatic sources. The participants of the workshop agreed that an immediate cease-fire was vital, spoke of a “humanitarian imperative,” the need for “inter-community dialogue,” urgent reconstruction and a “political transformation.”

Prior to today’s meeting, the U.S. State Department was at pains to point out how important the Holy See is in international affairs. Deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters Jan. 13 that the United States “values the Vatican’s vital role globally” and its lead on “international issues and peace efforts.” She also noted that this year marks the 30th anniversary of U.S.-Holy See diplomatic relations.

Given the importance of today’s meeting, some Vatican observers wondered why Kerry wasn’t able to meet Pope Francis. The Holy Father doesn’t usually meet foreign ministers on their own, but many felt an exception should have been made for the foreign minister of the world’s superpower.

The Vatican had no comment on the subject.

“I was a bit surprised the Pope wouldn’t see him simply to get a measure of the man and encourage him about Geneva II,” one diplomatic source told the Register. Being such a powerful figure in international politics, he said, “it’s interesting an approach appears not to have been made.”

Some observers contend that it’s perhaps because the Pope likes to avoid the nitty-gritty of politics and prefers to leave that to Archbishop Parolin, or that he wants to avoid being seen having talks with a pro-abortion Catholic politician. Others suggest it’s now Vatican policy to decline last-minute requests to see the Pope, as happened with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s first attempt to meet Pope Francis last year.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

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Cease-Fire in Syria ‘a Humanitarian Imperative’


VATICAN CITY — Political authorities and leading Church figures, taking part in a Vatican summit on resolving the conflict in Syria, have called for an immediate cease-fire, saying it is a “humanitarian imperative.”

They have also urged generous help towards reconstruction even before political and social questions are resolved, intercommunity dialogue and the full participation of all regional and global actors.

The Jan. 13 meeting — hosted by the Pontifical Academy for Sciences under the theme “Syria: With a Death Toll of 126,000 and 300,000 Orphans in 36 Months of War, Can We Remain Indifferent?” — was held ahead of the Geneva II conference on Syria that will begin Jan. 22.

The United Nations-backed talks will aim to forge an agreement between the Syrian regime and opposition groups to form a transitional government.

“The horror of violence and death in Syria has brought the world to a renewed reflection and, thereby, to a new chance for peace,” the experts said in a final statement. “Let us, therefore, all work in harmony and trust to chart an urgent path to reconciliation and reconstruction.”

The participants, who included the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammed ElBaradei, and the American economist Jeffrey Sachs said the “first and most urgent step” is an “immediate cease-fire” without political preconditions. This includes an end to the arming of both sides by “foreign powers,” they said, adding that it is a “humanitarian imperative” that represents the “first step to reconciliation.”

Humanitarian assistance should be immediate, they continued, and should treat the “countless numbers of refugees” in the region who are suffering “extreme and life-threatening deprivations.” They called on the international community to provide generous “financial and human support” to help rebuild the country “before all political and social questions are resolved.”

The young and the poor should be given a “preferential role” in these reconstruction efforts, they said, as the Syrian economy is in a “state of collapse,” and youth unemployment is “pervasive.”


Rebuilding Process

Next, the political experts called for “inter-community dialogue” and reconciliation that tends to the “urgent needs of spiritual and community rebuilding.” After years of inter-communal violence, the statement said the Holy See is “committed to supporting all religious faiths and communities” in Syria.

Recognizing that the country’s conflict is fueled by outside powers, the participants noted positively that the Syrian people themselves have lived in peace throughout most of their history “and can do so again.” But they also acknowledged that the regional conflicts that have “engulfed” Syria must also be addressed “in order to create the conditions for long-lasting peace.”

Geneva II must ensure “inclusive participation” of all parties to the conflict, within the region and beyond, they added. And they noted the “vital importance” of the recent agreement reached between Iran and the U.N. Security Council on its nuclear program. That agreement gave “great hope” that an era of “grave distrust” between Iran and other nations could be followed by one of “trust and even cooperation.” The agreement could provide a “vital foundation” to lasting peace in Syria, they said, as would a breakthrough in the current Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

“These, then, are preconditions for lasting peace,” they concluded: “an immediate cessation of violence, the start of rebuilding, inter-communal dialogue and progress to resolve all regional conflicts and the participation of all regional and global actors in the pursuit of peace in Geneva II.”

Such measures, they added, would provide a “base of security and reconstruction upon which lasting peace can be built.”

“Political transformation is needed,” they said, which is “not a precondition for ending violence,” but will, rather, “accompany the cessation of violence and the rebuilding of trust.”


Papal Comments

They closed by quoting Pope Francis’ words from the Vigil of Prayer for Peace in Syria last September, in which he said that “violence and war are never the way to peace.”

“Leave behind the self-interest that hardens your heart; overcome the indifference that makes your heart insensitive towards others; conquer your deadly reasoning; and open yourself to dialogue and reconciliation,” he said. “Look upon your brother’s sorrow, and do not add to it. Stay your hand; rebuild the harmony that has been shattered — and all this achieved not by conflict, but by encounter!”

During his annual “State of the World” speech to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See on Jan. 13, the Pope again called for renewed political will to end the conflict in Syria. “At the same time, full respect for humanitarian law remains essential. It is unacceptable that unarmed civilians, especially children, become targets,” he said.

In addition to the presentations from ElBaradei and Sachs, other talks at the Jan. 13 Vatican workshop were made by Thomas Walsh, a U.S. expert in interreligious peace-building and security; Pyotr Stegny, a former Russian ambassador to Israel and expert in Russian diplomacy and foreign policy in the Middle East; Joseph Maila, a Lebanese expert on the Middle East, Islam and politics; Miguel Angel Moratinos, a Spanish diplomat who served seven years as the European Union special representative for the Middle East peace process; Thierry de Montbrial, a French economist and expert in international relations; and William Vendley, secretary general of religions for Peace International.

The workshop also heard from Chaldean Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo, Syria, and the opening address was given by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

Others present included Cardinal Georges Cottier, theologian emeritus of the pontifical household, former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi and Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See’s permanent observer to the United Nations in Geneva.

Such a Vatican-sponsored meeting on a conflict is rare. Observers say it underlines Pope Francis’ concerns for Syria and peace in the Middle East in general.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

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Pope Francis’ First Consistory Will Feature International Flavor


VATICAN CITY — From Pope Francis’ choice of 16 cardinal-electors, it looks as though the Holy Father’s first cardinal-making consistory will steer the Church away from its perception as a predominantly Eurocentric and Western institution  and towards an international one, more representative of today’s Church.

The names of the 16, announced after the Angelus Jan. 12, mostly come from the Southern Hemisphere; only six are from Europe. None are from the United States, and there are just four from Italy. Many Vatican observers see this as a logical progression, given that Catholics are most populous in Latin America, and the Church is growing fastest in Asia and Africa.

“It’s certainly a good thing that there’s more of an international emphasis,” Cardinal Renato Martino, the Holy See’s former permanent observer to the United Nations, told the Register Jan. 13. “These new cardinals preside over many parts of the world, and it’s of great concern to the Pope that all the Church be represented.”

Significantly, the majority — 12 out of the 16 new cardinal-electors — are residential archbishops, indicating that the Pope has chosen prelates with more pastoral experience than those in administration. Only four are Curial officials, and the Holy Father has conspicuously omitted to elevate heads of pontifical councils to the College of Cardinals, possibly signifying an end to that tradition and giving him a freer rein to choose from a wider pool of archbishops around the world.

Furthermore, many of the appointees come from poor or particularly difficult areas. These include Mindanao in the Philippines, which has suffered a lengthy conflict and interreligious tensions. Archbishop Orlando Quevedo, its popular archbishop, has done much to try and promote peace in a region stricken by civil war.

Bishop Chibly Langlois of Les Cayes in Haiti is shepherd of a diocese on arguably the poorest island in Latin America, while Archbishop Orani Tempesta of Rio de Janeiro leads a flock where many inhabitants reside in slums, one of which the Pope visited on his World Youth Day trip last year. The appointment took the archbishop by surprise: “I didn’t know anything,” he told reporters Jan. 12. “The Pope didn’t warn me in advance — no one warned me.”

The Pope also chose new cardinals from Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast, places that show the Pope’s concern “for people struck by poverty,” said Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi.


Latin America and Quebec

As expected, many of the new cardinals — five in total — come from the Pope’s native Latin America, including his successor in Buenos Aires, Archbishop Mario Aurelio Poli. From North America, he chose Archbishop Gerald Cyprien Lacroix of Quebec, Canada, who succeeded Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops.

The United States is thought to already have its quota of cardinals, although Archbishops Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, William Lori of Baltimore and Charles Chaput of Philadelphia — traditionally cardinalatial sees — were passed over this time.

The Pope also passed over the traditional cardinalatial sees of Venice and Turin in Italy. Venice was the stepping-stone to the papacy of three popes in the 20th century (St. Pius X, Blessed John XXIII and Pope John Paul I).

But three of the four new Curial cardinals are Italian, and Francis chose Archbishop Gualtiero Bassetti of Perugia to be honored with a red biretta (the archdiocese was once led by Vincenzo Giaocchino Raffaele Luigi Pecci, who went on to become Pope Leo XIII). Italian media said Archbishop Bassetti appeared “dazed” by the appointment. As the vice president of the Italian bishops’ conference, he is believed to have been chosen by the Pope for his pastoral abilities and in order to push forward radical reform of the conference. “I would love to be of help in the enormous work of pastoral renewal that is taking place,” he told Italian media Jan. 12.

After the Feb. 22 consistory, 122 cardinal electors under the age of 80 will be present in the college out of a total of 218. And for the first time, the representation is evenly balanced between 61 from Europe and 61 from the rest of the world (34 Americans, 13 Africans, 13 Asians and one from Oceania).

At the Angelus on Sunday, Pope Francis noted the new cardinals come from 12 nations “from every corner of the world” and “represent the profound ecclesial relationship between the Church of Rome and the other Churches dispersed throughout the world.”

The 218 include three new archbishop emeritii, all over the age of 80 and chosen by the Pope for their distinguished service to the Church. Archbishop Loris Francesco Capovilla, 98, was John XXIII’s private secretary and could possibly be the oldest Churchman ever to have been made a cardinal.

“I am very grateful. I am grateful to Pope John because he has led me also to this — and to Pope Francis,” he told SIR, the Italian bishops’ news agency. He said he received the news with “much serenity” and “in communion” with all the Church’s “humble priests.”


‘Servants of the Church’

In addition to bringing greater representation of the faithful in the College of Cardinals, Francis also wants to underline the true nature of what it means to be a “prince of the Church.” In a letter to the cardinals on their appointment, released by the Vatican Jan. 13, the Holy Father stressed that the position “is not a promotion or an honor or a decoration,” but, rather, “simply a service that demands a wider view and a bigger heart.”

Cardinal Martino, who is now honorary president of the Rome-based Dignitatis Humanae Institute, especially welcomed the Pope’s words.

“Cardinals are servants of the Church,” he stressed. “It’s not just an honor; they do something more profound for the Church.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

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The Pope May Speak at UN in September



Officials at the Holy See and the United Nations are in talks about Pope Francis making a historic speech to the United Nations in New York, possibly later this year, Newsmax has learned.

The proposed visit, to coincide with two important anniversaries — the 50th anniversary since the Holy See was awarded permanent observer status at the U.N. and the centenary since the outbreak of World War I — could take place at the opening of the 69th session of the U.N. General Assembly in September.

The visit would follow U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s invitation to the Pope to visit the U.N., which he made when he visited Francis last April.

Officials believe the presence of so many world leaders in the fall would present an opportune moment for the pontiff to underline his concerns to a captive audience on the world stage, just as his most recent predecessors did. John Paul II addressed the U.N. in 1979 and 1995, and Benedict XVI in 2008.

Poverty, the plight of refugees, the victims of world conflicts, and persecuted Christians are just some of the major issues the Pope would likely address. And in view of an increase in the number of attacks on Christians and restrictions on freedom of religion, sources believe Francis could use the occasion to propose a “Universal Declaration on Religious Freedom” at the intergovernmental body.

Ambassadors accredited to the Holy See are strongly urging Pope Francis to make the historic visit, and Newsmax has learned they will make an implicit proposal on Monday when they have their annual meeting with the Pope at the Vatican.

Since his election, Pope Francis has endeared himself to the international community, drawing media attention to issues that are of shared concern to many nations. These include his appeals for peace, tackling poverty, assisting refugees, and a consensus on the need for dialogue rather than engage in conflict and the build-up of arms.

The diplomatic community has also welcomed the Pope’s recent appointments, many of which have been Holy See diplomats. “We’ve seen a restoration of Rome,” observed one senior diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The Pope and his actions so far have been very much welcomed by us.”

Diplomats will make that support known at Monday’s meeting, in a speech by the dean of the diplomatic corps at the Vatican, Ambassador Jean-Claude Michel of Monaco.

If a papal visit to the U.N. doesn’t happen this year, it’s equally likely in 2015. That would mark the 50th anniversary of Paul VI’s speech to the General Assembly in 1965, the first by a pontiff. That visit also took place at the same time that Michelangelo’s Pieta, which is usually on show in St. Peter’s basilica, was loaned to the New York World’s Fair.

But it’s felt that this year would be more favorable and appropriate. “He ought to go over while he’s still popular,” said one official. “There is also an urgent need to address the issue of religious freedom and the protection of minority Christians.”

Two reports issued this week, one by Fides, a Vatican news agency, and another by Open Doors, a Christian solidarity group, showed that the number of Christians killed because of their faith doubled in 2013. Many of the murders took place in Syria. The Pope is especially concerned about the conflict there, and in the Middle East in general.

A speech at the U.N. would also be timely given the state of the peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Furthermore, it would give the Pope a platform to speak out against anti-life and anti-family policies, many of which are championed by various U.N. agencies such as the United Nations Population Fund UNICEF, the World Bank, and the World Health Organization.

A visit to the U.N. in New York would naturally comprise a trip to the United States, and another 2014 anniversary would also make such a visit appropriate: 30 years since the establishment of full diplomatic relations between Washington and the Holy See.
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Pope Francis Sets Busy Slate for 2014


VATICAN CITY —  Pope Francis has a packed agenda for 2014, including a consistory to create new cardinals, a trip to the Holy Land and the canonizations of Blessed Popes John XXIII and John Paul II.

The papal year begins, as usual, with a distinctly international emphasis, when the Holy Father gives his annual “survey of the world” to diplomats from 180 countries accredited to the Holy See.

Many of the concerns he raised in his address and blessing urbi et orbi (to the city of Rome and the world) on Christmas Day will figure highly in the Jan. 13 address, in particular the conflict in Syria and the current peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians. Francis is also expected to highlight the importance of international solidarity, especially for victims of war and natural disasters, underline the need for social justice and the plight of refugees and the increasing persecution of Christians worldwide.

Mention will also be made at the meeting of two important anniversaries this year: the 50th anniversary of the Holy See becoming a permanent observer at the United Nations, which falls on April 6, and the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I.

On Jan. 13, the Vatican will also host a summit of international experts to look at ways of resolving the Syrian conflict. The Pope, most probably through his secretary of state, is expected to voice his particular concerns, not least for Christians in the country who fear they are being targeted by Islamist militants.


Creating New Cardinals

Any day now, the Holy Father will reveal the names of approximately 14 new cardinals who will receive their red biretta at Francis’ first consistory for the creation of new cardinals on Feb. 22. Archbishops Pietro Parolin, Beniamino Stella and Gerhard Müller, who serve respectively as secretary of state, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy and prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, are among those expected to receive that honor.

Many observers will be looking to see if Francis’ first consistory will signify a change in the geographical makeup of the College of Cardinals — whether he will hold off from choosing Europeans, particularly Italians, and possibly appoint more from Latin America, Africa and Asia. He may well keep the number of U.S. cardinals at 11, and Canada may remain untouched, too, with three. Britain, which normally has two cardinals, is more likely to gain one, as it has been without a cardinal under 80 for nearly a year.

This will also be an important year in the process of reforming the Vatican, a top priority of the Pope. In addition to the consistory in February, Pope Francis will take part that month in the third meeting of the council of cardinals — the group of eight cardinals from five continents chosen to advise the Holy Father on reforming the Curia and general governance of the Church. By mid-summer, after meeting every two months, the body is expected to produce a draft plan for a substantial overhaul of the Roman Curia.


Servant, Not the Master

Already, the nature of this reform is becoming clear. Observers point out that Pope Francis is clearly against the previous centralized model of the Church and is looking to shift emphasis to the periphery. The  Holy Father sees the pope as the servant, not the master, of the Church, said biographer Paul Vallely, and Francis has strongly hinted that he wants to end the model of papacy as an absolute monarchy.

“Above all, he thinks the Church needs to change the way it makes decisions,” says Vallely, author of Pope Francis: Untying the Knots. “That’s more important to him even than what the decisions are. He wants the Church to make its decisions in a way which involves the entire sensus fidelium [sense of the faithful]. His reforms are about locking that in so it can’t be overturned by a subsequent pontiff.”

During a plenary assembly of all the cardinals in the two days prior to the February consistory, the Pope will lead discussions on issues to be covered at October’s Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family and evangelization. At the end of February, he will also take part in another meeting on the synod — a plenary meeting of the council of the synod, during which cardinals and bishops will analyze the results of the worldwide survey on the family that the Vatican requested late last year. These findings will form the basis of the instrumentum laboris (working document) for the important October gathering.

Pope Francis will attend the synod Oct. 5-19 —  the first of two synods on the family, the second of which will take place in 2015.


First Anniversary as Pope
The Church’s first Latin-American pope will mark his first anniversary on March 13. Beginning a week earlier, he will shepherd the Church through Lent. Then he will celebrate his second Easter as Successor of Peter on April 20. A week later, on Divine Mercy Sunday, he will lead the canonization Mass of Blessed Popes John XXIII and John Paul II — an event expected to attract 5 million pilgrims, according to Rome authorities.

The following month, the Holy Father will travel to the Holy Land. The eagerly awaited May 24-26 apostolic visit, which will include Masses in Amman, Bethlehem and Jerusalem, will mark the 50th anniversary of the historic visit by Pope Paul VI to the Holy Land in 1964. It will also take place on the 50th anniversary of the historic embrace of Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras in Jerusalem.

The current Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, will be meeting Pope Francis in the city to mark the occasion. The trip could also be especially timely, as hopes continue for a breakthrough in peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians and resolution to the conflict in Syria and its continued fallout across the region.

Another likely trip this year is to Asia, most probably to the Philippines. Pope Francis has already publicly noted that Benedict XVI was unable to visit Asia and so he wishes to fill that gap, especially as the Church is growing in the region. Other possible Asian destinations include Japan, Sri Lanka and South Korea, but these have yet to be confirmed.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

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Pope Repeats that Same-Sex ‘Marriage’ is “Anthropological Regression”


In a recent private conversation, Pope Francis has reiterated his view that same-sex ‘marriage’ is an “anthropological regression”.

The Holy Father was also “saddened” by legislative proposals in Malta to extend equality legislation to homosexual couples, particularly those who wish to adopt.

In an interview with the Italian bishops’ newspaper Avvenire published today, Auxiliary Bishop of Malta Charles J. Scicluna said that when he met Pope Francis on Dec. 12, he expressed his concern to the Pope about the proposed law. “The Pope showed his sadness at this development, especially on the question of adoption.”

He added: “I told him that the promoters [of the bill] quote his words: ‘If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?’ but they don’t quote his words from 2010 when he was still Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires. The Pope repeated the phrase of his letter of 2010: ‘It’s an anthropological regression.’”

In 2010, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio called same-sex ‘marriage’ an “anti-value and an anthropological regression.” In a conversation with Rabbi Abraham Skorka published in the book “On Heaven and Earth”, he said same-sex ‘marriage’ is a weakening of the institution of marriage, an institution that has existed for thousands of years and is “forged according to nature and anthropology.”

Bishop Scicluna, who worked for 17 years as a promoter of justice at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said the new socialist Maltese government which won elections in March last year promised to facilitate the claims of the homosexual lobby and to legislate in favour of same-sex unions.

The new bill, inspired by the Danes in 1994, equates in all respects civil unions (both heterosexual and homosexual) and civil marriage, and allows homosexual couples to become adoptive parents.

Bishop Scicluna said Malta’s bishops have expressed their concern about the bill, “referring to Catholic doctrine that itself is clear, while insisting at the same time pastoral closeness to everyone, including homosexual people.”

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