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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Plan to Relocate U.S. Embassy to Vatican Follows Recent Trend


VATICAN CITY — Does the Obama administration’s plan to relocate the U.S. embassy to the Holy See within the grounds of the American embassy to Italy signify a downgrade in U.S.-Vatican ties?

According to the State Department, the answer is a predictable and emphatic “no.”

“Security is our top priority in making this move,” wrote Shawn Casey Nov. 27 on Dipnote, an official State Department site. The new premises, he argued, will be “safer, bigger, and architecturally more appealing. It also is slightly closer to Vatican City.”

With the shift slated for completion by January 2015, the administration is at pains to point out that it has no plans to close the Holy See embassy, as some reports have suggested.

“Nothing could be farther from the truth,” Casey insisted. “Not only does the United States continue to respect the Holy See as a crucial bilateral partner … but Secretary [John] Kerry, our first Catholic Secretary of State in more than thirty years, is personally inspired by the Church’s work on issues from peace to global poverty, issues at the heart of Catholic social teaching.”

Still, that is not how some previous ambassadors to the Holy See — both Republican and Democrat — are viewing it. Former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See James Nicholson said the embassy’s planned move to the grounds of the U.S. Embassy to Italy is “another manifestation of the antipathy of this administration both to Catholics and to the Vatican — and to Christians in the Middle East.”

“This is a key post for intermediation in so many sovereignties but particularly in the Middle East,” Nicholson told “This is anything but a good time to diminish the stature of this post. To diminish the stature of this post is to diminish its influence.”

Nicholson, who served as ambassador from 2001-2005 under President George W. Bush, said that the State Department has sought for years to relocate the embassy.

“It came up when I was an ambassador. I explained the folly of this and it went away. But now they seem determined to do this,” he said.

Raymond Flynn, who served as President Bill Clinton’s ambassador to the Holy See, saw the move as leading eventually to possible closure. “It’s not just those who bomb churches and kill Catholics in the Middle East who are our antagonists, but it’s also those who restrict our religious freedoms and want to close down our embassy to the Holy See,” he told the National Catholic Reporter.


Mixed Feelings

Members of Rome’s diplomatic community contacted by the Register have mixed feelings about the move. Speaking on condition of anonymity, one senior official said he felt the administration was making a mistake at a time when Pope Francis is so popular among electorates, and President Barack Obama is under fire domestically following the botched Obamacare rollout.

“I think the administration will back down,” he said. “The move looks weak at a time when Obama is weak.”

But another senior diplomat was more positive, seeing the move as a sensible policy when budgets are tight and security is paramount.

“Most of our work takes place at our residences anyway, and that isn’t affected by this,” he said, as the administration has committed to maintaining a separate residence for the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See. “Their new offices will also be larger and better equipped, so I don’t see any problem.”

Indeed, he suggested much of the opposition to the move was being whipped up by Republicans as a stick with which to beat the Obama administration.

Vatican officials are publicly unconcerned by the plans even though only three of the diplomatic missions to the Holy See in Rome are on the same compound as their embassies to Italy. The rest of those in the city are separate, in order to respect the Vatican’s sovereignty.


The British Precedent

But the Obama administration’s plans are somewhat reminiscent of what happened to the British embassy to the Holy See in 2006.

Britain’s then-Labour government was also looking to cut costs and saw its embassy to the Holy See as a prime target. Officials in London were unable to understand its significance, not least its valuable role as a “listening post” with an extensive network of contacts around the world.

Were it not for parliamentary pressure and some clever resistance from its serving ambassador, the embassy could well have closed altogether, as happened with Ireland’s embassy to the Holy See a few years later.

Using the argument of “enhanced security,” the British Foreign Office did succeed in moving the premises of its embassy from the center of Rome — which admittedly was rather vulnerable — to converted old stables in the compound of Britain’s embassy to Italy.

But British officials wanted to go even further, and relocate the Holy See ambassador’s residence to an annex of the British ambassador to Italy’s residence, as well as starve the Vatican embassy of staff and resources. Those attempts failed, partly due to protests by the Vatican.

At the time, diplomats in Rome feared a precedent was being set, and that other embassies would follow suit in a bid to cut costs.

In 2006, only Israel had both embassies on the same grounds. After Britain’s move, the Netherlands did the same, and Ireland closed theirs altogether, ostensibly because of the fallout over the clerical abuse scandals in the country.


Canadian Vacancy

But the most serious controversy doesn’t currently concern the U.S. or these other embassies, but rather the Canadian one.

Canada’s embassy to the Holy See has been so downgraded recently that Ottawa is unable to find an ambassador willing to take up the position. One candidate was ready to take up the role but when he heard what the terms were, he was said to be shocked at how basic they were.

For the past year, the mission has been without a serving ambassador and is currently being run by a charge d’affaires out of Madrid.

Rome’s diplomatic community sees the cutbacks as bizarre, especially because in February the Canadian government opened an Office for Religious Freedom. “It’s simply scandalous and very difficult to understand,” said one senior diplomatic source, “but it says something about Canada’s approach to foreign affairs.”

He also fears such actions point to a growing trend. “The Holy See need to be careful this doesn’t catch on,” he said. “Some are predicting there won’t be any independent located embassies to the Holy See in ten years’ time.”

All of which may partly explain why, after a relative fall in the Holy See’s diplomatic standing in recent years, Pope Francis is filling so many senior Curial positions with well-seasoned Vatican diplomats.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

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Italian Magazine Says NSA Listened into Vatican and Pope


The National Security Agency has been listening into telephone calls of the Pope and senior Vatican officials, an Italian magazine has claimed.

In an article in Panorama which will appear on newsstands tomorrow, the NSA is reported to have tapped the phonecalls of Vatican officials and senior prelates before and during the Conclave, as well as incoming and outgoing calls from the Domus Internationalis residence where the Pope was living before the election.

Panorama also says there are suspicions that the conversations of the Pope were even monitored long before he was elected. The magazine refers to the Wikileaks files which, it says, revealed that Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio had been under surveillance since 2005.

According to the Italian weekly, incoming and outgoing calls from the Vatican were classified into four categories: “leadership intentions”, “threats to the financial system”, “foreign policy objectives”, and “human rights”.

There are also suspicions that calls surrounding the election earlier this year of the new President of the IOR (Vatican Bank), Ernst von Freyberg, have also been monitored. The IOR has been implementing a number of transparency measures over the past few years, one of which is aimed at eliminating the possibility of terrorist organisations using the Vatican Bank to launder money.

Panorama says that an annex of the U.S. Embassy to Italy has a section dedicated to spying made up of NSA and the CIA agents. These findings, Panorama says, are backed up by the archives leaked by former intelligence officer Edward Snowden that reportedly confirm the presence of an elite spying unit in Rome – part of a network found in 79 locations, including 19 in Europe.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi has played down the claims, saying: “We don’t know anything about this, and in any case we don’t have any concerns about it.”

The U.S. embassies to Italy and the Holy See have so far not publicly commented on the allegations.

Today a delegation from the German secret service will be received at the White House to discuss alleged NSA tapping of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone.

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Vatican’s Financial-Transparency Law Enacted


VATICAN CITY — A new law governing financial transparency, supervision and information-sharing within the Vatican came into effect Oct. 8, the Vatican has announced.

The Holy See Press Office said in a communiqué Oct. 9 that the new norm, Law XVIII, “strengthens the current internal system for the prevention and countering of money laundering and the financing of terrorism, in conformity with international guidelines.”


IMG_7391 (531x800)

It marks the latest development in efforts by both Pope Francis and, up until his retirement, Benedict XVI to reform the financial system of Vatican City and the Holy See.

Law XVIII implements Pope Francis’ motu proprio of Aug. 8, which called for a broadening of existing Vatican laws on financial supervision.

The Vatican said the new law is also in continuity with existing norms introduced by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010 aimed at preventing and countering illegal activities in the area of monetary and financial dealings.

The new regulation is also enacted in conjunction with Pope Fran
cis’ motu proprio of July 11, which reformed some of the Vatican’s penal laws related to crimes of a financial nature. Law XVIII, the Vatican added, is “a contribution to the stability and integrity” of the Vatican’s financial management “at a global level.”

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi stressed that Law XVIII formally expands the competence of the Vatican’s Financial Intelligence Authority, strengthening its preventive and prudential vigilance and the overall trustworthiness of all Vatican financial operations.

But he said Vatican authorities still are working on establishing rules for the supervision of the financial dealings of foundations and nonprofit organizations based within Vatican city state — a measure also included in the Aug. 8 motu proprio.


Monitoring ‘Suspicious Activities’

In a separate statement, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, secretary for relations with states, said that “special attention” will now be dedicated to giving information on “suspicious activities,” which will be carried out under the auspices of the Financial Information Authority (FIA).

If a “valid reason” to suspect activities of money laundering or financing of terrorism should occur, the Financial Information Authority will send a “detailed report” to the Vatican’s promoter of justice, and transactions and operations under suspicion may be suspended “for up to five working days,” the archbishop explained.

He added that the FIA has powers of “general supervision” to ensure prescribed measures are taken by “obligated subjects” against money laundering and the financing of terrorism. He also said that “administrative sanctions” can be applied by the FIA, or, in the most serious cases, by the president of Vatican city state, upon suggestion by the FIA.

Archbishop Mamberti stressed that Law XVIII provides for “prudential supervision” of bodies that handle financial activity “in the name of or on behalf of third parties, for the purposes of the production or exchange of goods or services.” This has been done to meet recommendations of MoneyVal, the Council of Europe’s financial watchdog that carried out a review of the Vatican’s finances last year, the archbishop said.

The Vatican diplomat further stated that individuals who threaten peace and international security will be automatically denied the ability to trade or make financial transactions with the Vatican. He said the FIA may immediately place “a preventative block” on their goods and resources and financial transactions. “Cautionary measures” can also be applied to those where there are “valid reasons to suspect” they pose a threat to peace and international security, but only if the subject is added to the list of suspects within a 15-day period.

The new law also regulates the “cross-border transportation” of cash amounting to more than 10,000 euros, in cooperation with other states and “on the basis of agreement protocols,” Archbishop Mamberti said.


Msgr. Scarano’s Trial

The news comes as the trial continues of Msgr. Nunzio Scarano, the former Vatican accountant accused of smuggling $26 million in cash into Italy at the behest of a family of shipping magnates. The Italian official worked at the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See (APSA), the department that manages the Vatican’s physical properties and investments.

All the assets of APSA belong directly to the Pope, whereas the assets of the Institute for the Works of Religion (the Vatican Bank) belong to dioceses and religious orders.

Rome prosecutors said Oct. 8 that existing controls put in place by the Vatican “don’t go far enough” and still lack the supervisory and monitoring powers required to prevent money laundering and other financial crimes. They said the destination and provenance of funds, especially those from third parties, were difficult to track.

It’s not clear, however, whether their assessment included the latest regulatory measures. Also, in July, Pope Francis established a commission to review the Vatican’s economic and administrative structures, including APSA, but their recommendations are not expected for some time.

As far as Archbishop Mamberti is concerned, the three-year program of reforming Vatican finances has now reached a “particularly advanced stage.”

The fundamental purpose of these changes, he said, has been “to contribute in a concrete way to the growth of the international community, within which the Holy See is called to play a guiding role and example.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

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A Look at Archbishop Parolin’s Diplomatic Record


VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has chosen an accomplished Italian Vatican diplomat as the new Vatican secretary of state, replacing Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who is stepping down on account of his age.

402px-Pietro_parolinArchbishop Pietro Parolin, who currently serves as the Pope’s representative to Venezuela, will become what is considered to be the closest equivalent of a Vatican “prime minister,” presiding over the running of the Curia, the Holy See’s diplomatic service and relations with states.

At just 58 years of age, he will be the youngest secretary of state since Eugenio Pacelli, who was appointed in 1930 at the age of 53 and later became Pope Pius XII. Archbishop Parolin will take over from Cardinal Bertone on Oct. 15.

In a statement released by the Vatican Aug. 31, Archbishop Parolin expressed his “deep and affectionate gratitude to the Holy Father” for the “unmerited trust” he had shown in him.

He assured the Pope of his “willingness and complete availability to work with him and under his guidance for the greater glory of God, the good of the Holy Church and the progress and peace of humanity, that humanity might find reasons to live and to hope.”

Archbishop Parolin said he felt “very strongly the grace of this call” and “the full weight of the responsibility placed upon me.”

“This call entrusts to me a difficult and challenging mission, before which my powers are weak and my abilities poor,” he said. “For this reason, I entrust myself to the merciful love of the Lord, from whom nothing and no one can ever separate me, and to the prayers of all.”

Archbishop Parolin, whose episcopal motto is “What will separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:35), also thanked those who have helped him and will assist him in his new position.

He said he was sorry to leave Venezuela, where he has been stationed since 2009, and paid tribute to his family, friends, Benedict XVI, Cardinal Bertone and others to whom he owes “a great debt.”

“It is with trepidation that I place myself in this new service to the Gospel, to the Church and to Pope Francis,” he said, but added he would do so “with trust and serenity — disposed — as the Holy Father has asked us from the beginning — to walk, to build and to profess.” He ended his statement invoking Our Lady of Monte Berico, Guadalupe and Coromoto, to give him the courage to “walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Lord’s cross.”


A Credentialed Diplomat

Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Parolin after a lengthy period of reflection and widespread consultation with cardinals whom he trusts, such as Honduran Cardinal Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, John Paul II’s long-serving secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, and Cardinal Bertone.

The Vatican diplomat is well regarded in Rome. He earned respect within the Vatican principally as undersecretary for relations with states between 2002 and 2009. Although the post is regarded as the Holy See’s “deputy foreign minister,” it has considerable influence.

During that time, he became known for cementing ties between the Holy See and Vietnam that laid the foundations for advances in religious freedom in the communist state. He improved relations with China, helping to re-establish direct contact with Beijing in 2005, and tried to keep relations on track in the lead-up to the 2008 Olympics. He visited China twice, and his time as undersecretary was said to mark a real turning point in Church relations with Beijing.

Further, he has earned a reputation for being well connected yet humble, with an unassuming, modest personality. He was responsible for advancing negotiations with Israel to fulfill the 1993 Fundamental Agreement between the Holy See and the State of Israel, on tax and property rights for the Church, even though the agreement is still yet to be signed. He was personally at the forefront of Vatican efforts to approve and implement the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

As undersecretary, he was also involved in handling sensitive relations with Iran. Diplomatic sources say he was largely responsible, while working closely with the British Embassy to the Holy See, for the liberation of 15 British navy personnel captured by Iranian forces in the Arabian Gulf in April 2007. He is also credited with playing a key role in Vatican efforts to revive dialogue between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

The Holy See diplomat took further interest in combatting human trafficking, promoting and protecting religious freedom and safeguarding the environment.

During his time as undersecretary, the Holy See also worked to resolve tensions in a variety of trouble spots, from East Timor to the conflict between Ecuador and Peru over rights to the Amazonian territories along their disputed borders. The Vatican also pushed international efforts to ban cluster bombs and helped resolve a serious institutional crisis that had broken out in Zaire.

His subsequent time as apostolic nuncio to Venezuela, during the presidency of Hugo Chavez, was never easy. In 2010, Chavez ordered a review of Venezuela’s ties with the Vatican amid tensions between his government and the country’s bishops. It is said to be partly because of Archbishop Parolin’s skilfull diplomacy that relations did not deteriorate further before Chavez’s death on March 5 this year.

“He is a man of patient dialogue, an exemplary priest, formed also in the great diplomatic tradition of the Holy See,” said Marco Impagliazzo, president of the Sant’Egidio Community, adding that Archbishop Parolin “appears to have a personality best suited” to work with the Pope in his upcoming tasks. The lay community, which worked closely with Msgr. Parolin in the 2000s, said his appointment is “a sign of the pastoral style Pope Francis is impressing on the governance of the Church.”


His Earlier Years

Pietro Parolin was born in 1955 in Schiavon, Vicenza, in northern Italy, to a devout Catholic family. He experienced tragedy at the age of 10, when his father died in a car crash, leaving his widowed mother to bring up Pietro and his two siblings. He entered the seminary at the age of 14 and studied during the social turbulence of the late 1960s.

He was ordained on April 27, 1980, after which he took up graduate studies in canon law. Though he appeared to be headed for service on a diocesan tribunal dealing with family pastoral care, his career took a turn when he was summoned to work for the Holy See instead.

In 1986, at the age of 36, he graduated from the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, the Holy See’s institute for training diplomats, and then he entered the Holy See’s diplomatic service. He served in the nunciatures of Nigeria and Mexico; the former gave him valuable experience with Christian-Muslim relations, while the latter post gave him a chance to work on the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Mexico.

In 1992, he was called back to Rome to work as an official in the Secretariat of State. While there, he was country director for Spain, Andorra, Italy and San Marino before being appointed undersecretary to relations with states in 2002. He speaks Italian, English, French and Spanish.


The Task Ahead

Archbishop Parolin’s personality is likely to fit harmoniously with that of the Holy Father, and he is said to share the same concerns as Pope Francis with regards to “careerism” in the Roman Curia.


Courtesy of Amy Roth Sandrolini

His diplomatic skills and relative youth, meanwhile, have stirred up expectations that he will be a proactive and dynamic secretary of state. This is particularly important given criticisms in recent years of poor communications and a perceived lack of direction coming from the Secretariat of State.

The big question is whether he will make the Holy See’s most important dicastery a force for evangelization. As pope, Benedict XVI would frequently remind the Holy See’s diplomatic corps that they were priests first, diplomats second. For Archbishop Parolin, serving the Holy See has always been a way to exercise his priestly spirituality while at the same time taking a realist view of global diplomacy. His administrative competence and linguistic abilities are also expected to improve the Church’s image and, in turn, have a positive impact on evangelization.

Cardinal Bertone had a difficult seven years as secretary of state, especially during the Vatileaks scandal, which prompted him to offer Benedict XVI his resignation and which the former pontiff refused to accept. He was neither a diplomat nor a linguist, and many felt he was out of his depth. But when he addressed the Italian media Sept. 1, he said he took a “positive view” of his time as secretary of state.

“Of course, there were problems, especially in the last two years,” he said, and he blamed “a mix of crows and vipers.” But he added, “This shouldn’t overshadow what I believe to be a positive assessment.”

“I’ve always given everything,” he said. “Certainly I have had my faults, and if I think back now, I would have acted differently. But this does not mean I haven’t tried to serve the Church.”

Cardinal Bertone, who turns 79 in December, has some scheduled pastoral duties to complete before he steps down, including a pilgrimage to Fatima on Oct. 12, shortly before the transition takes place.

On Oct. 15, Pope Francis will receive in audience superiors and officials of the Secretariat of State “in order publicly to thank Cardinal Bertone for his faithful and generous service to the Holy See and to introduce them to the new secretary of state,” the Vatican said.

Pope Francis confirmed Aug. 31 the positions of Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu as sostituto for general affairs at the Vatican (the Vatican’s chief of staff), Archbishop Dominique Mamberti as secretary for relations with states (the Vatican’s foreign minister), Archbishop Georg Gänswein, as prefect of the pontifical household, Msgr. Peter Wells as assessor for general affairs, and Msgr. Antoine Camilleri as undersecretary for relations with states.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent

This article appeared in the National Catholic Register, 3 September 2013

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Pope Stresses Selfless Service to Youth at Holy Thursday Mass


The Holy Father opened the Triduum by spending it with young men and women at a youth detention center in Rome.   

VATICAN CITY 28/3/13 — At a young people’s detention center just outside of Rome this evening, Pope Francis urged a group of jailed teens to be at the service of one another, reminding them that Jesus came to serve and help mankind.

cr9The Holy Father made the comments at the Casa del Marmo youth detention center, where he celebrated the Mass of Our Lord’s Supper for 50 young offenders, including 11 girls, as well as staff, volunteers and dignitaries.

Among those concelebrating the Mass with the Holy Father were the vicar of Rome, Cardinal Agostino Vallini; the deputy secretary of state, Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu; private secretary Msgr. Alfred Xuereb; and the detention center chaplain, Father Gaetano Greco.

The Vatican said that during the Mass the Pope “washed the feet of 12 young guests of the penal institute, of different nationalities and religious confessions, among them two girls.”

The decision to celebrate the Mass there was a break with papal tradition, which is normally celebrated in the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome. The Holy Father has not yet formally taken possession of the basilica as the bishop of Rome.

In his unscripted homily, Pope Francis recalled the “moving” washing of the feet by Jesus and the Lord’s explanation of his action.

“Jesus washes the feet of his disciples,” he recounted. “Peter understands nothing. He refuses, but Jesus explains to him. Jesus, God, did this, and he himself explains it to the disciples: ‘Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me teacher and master, and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.’”

The Holy Father explained that the foot-washing is important for Jesus “because among us the one who is highest up must be at the service of others.”

“This is a symbol; it is a sign — washing your feet means I am at your service,” he said. “And we are too, among each other, but we don’t have to wash each other’s feet each day. So what does this mean? That we have to help each other.”

“Sometimes I would get angry with someone, but we must let it go; and if they ask a favor of you, do it!” the Pope said.


‘Help One Another’

He continued, “Help one another. This is what Jesus teaches us. This is what I do. And I do it with my heart. I do this with my heart because it is my duty. As a priest and bishop, I must be at your service. But it is a duty that comes from my heart and a duty I love. I love doing it because this is what the Lord has taught me. But you too must help us and help each other, always. And thus, in helping each other, we will do good for each other.”

In closing, the Pope said the ceremony of the washing of the feet should prompt each person to question, “Am I really willing to help others? Just think of that. Think that this sign is Christ’s caress, because Jesus came just for this: to serve us, to help us.”

As cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis would celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in prisons or hospices and sometimes wash the feet of girls. This is in variance from the normal canonical practice that only men should have their feet washed, as it signifies the fact that Christ’s apostles were all male.

Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Mass in the Casa del Marmo during Lent in 2007.

Since his election, Pope Francis has sought to encourage the Church to look outwards more, and he reminded Catholics of the Church’s special role in caring for the poor and marginalized.


Presents for the Pope

At the end of Mass, before returning to the Vatican, Pope Francis met members of the institute, as well as government ministers in the prison gym. The boys in the prison gave the Pope a wooden crucifix and a kneeler that they had made in the institute workshop.

The Mass of the Lord’s Supper marks the beginning of the Easter Triduum. Tomorrow afternoon, the Holy Father will celebrate the Passion of the Lord in St. Peter’s Basilica, and, in the evening, he will lead the Via Crucis at the Colosseum.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi later released this statement on the issue of washing the feet of of the two girls.

“One can easily understand that in a great celebration, men would be chosen for the foot washing because Jesus, himself washing the feet of the twelve apostles who were male.  However the ritual of the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday evening in the Juvenile Detention Centre in Rome took place in a particular, small community that included young women.  When Jesus washed the feet of those who were with him on the first Holy Thursday, he desired to teach all a lesson about the meaning of service, using a gesture that included all members of the community. 

We are aware of the photos that show Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, then-Archbishop of Buenos Aires, who in various pastoral settings washed the feet of young men and women.  To have excluded the young women from the ritual washing of feet on Holy Thursday night in this Roman prison, would have detracted our attention from the essence of the Holy Thursday Gospel, and the very beautiful and simple gesture of a father who desired to embrace those who were on the fringes of society; those who were not refined experts of liturgical rules. 

That the Holy Father, Francis, washed the feet of young men and women on his first Holy Thursday as Pope, should call our minds and hearts to the simple and spontaneous gesture of love, affection, forgiveness and mercy of the Bishop of Rome, more than to legalistic, liturgical or canonical discussions.”

An American Pope?


In this article which appears today in the National Catholic Register, I analyse whether the papal shoes would fit an American. Naturally, the Holy Spirit is the cardinals’ ultimate guide, but factors such as these Flag-Pins-USA-Vatican-Citywill play a role in their decision.


VATICAN CITY — There’s increasing chatter in Rome that an American cardinal could become the next pope, but would such a choice be prudent, given the nation’s superpower status?

Ever since the French Pope Clement V became a tool of the monarchy of France, then the world’s most powerful nation, and transferred the entire papacy to Avignon in 1309, the Church has been reluctant to elect a pope from a ruling superpower.

This conventional wisdom has become embedded in the Church’s thinking; even U.S. Cardinal Donald Wuerl recently argued against having an American pope on the grounds that it might present a “conflicting spiritual challenge.”

“A pope from a superpower would probably have a lot going against him when he’s trying to present a spiritual message to the rest of the world,” the archbishop of Washington told ABC News Feb. 27.

“The pope has to be able at times to speak a spiritual challenge, even to the United States,” he added. “So I’m not sure that it would be the wisest thing to have an American pope.”

Furthermore, some wonder whether an American pope would be able to keep a separate position from the United States government over such issues as relations with the Muslim world, China, Iran and the Holy Land. Would he truly be able to represent the interests of the Church in the realm of international affairs?

Many Catholics feel that the United States as a superpower already exerts more than enough worldly influence on the Church in the field of culture, politics and economics. An American as the successor of Peter, they say, risks simply magnifying that influence further.

Moreover, such observers feel a pope from across the Atlantic would bring plenty of baggage — most notably the extent of clerical sex abuse in the U.S. Church and the deficiencies of its bishops in addressing the issue prior to 2002 — as well as culture clashes with a Europe that leans even more towards socialism than does the Obama administration.

And the Roman Curia, despite concerted efforts by Blessed Pope John Paul II and to some extent Benedict XVI to internationalize the Vatican, remains largely Eurocentric and therefore resistant to a non-European leader who could introduce a completely different culture and ethic to centuries-old practices.

Furthermore, it’s worth noting that only relatively recently, in 1984, did the Holy See establish diplomatic relations with the United States; and even now, it views the American Church as sometimes reflecting Protestant and Calvinistic tendencies.

Cardinals are also said to struggle with the perception that an American pope wouldn’t be sophisticated enough to lead the 2,000-year-old Church. The United States is still considered by some to be too young, both in its history and in its culture, and therefore unsuited to running such an ancient institution. The American Church, a few observers will point out, was still being formed by missionaries right up to the beginning of the last century.


The Case for an American

And yet many of these arguments against an American pope can in fact be turned on their head.

As differences between the Obama administration and the Church widen, so it becomes increasing unlikely there will be split loyalties and conflicting spiritual challenges between Church and state. On the contrary, as an increasingly secular state emerges in a countrythat  influences so much of the world, it can be reasonably argued that there is the need for a more vocal Church, one that would be helped by being led by an American pope who already has experience in standing firm in the face of aggressive U.S. secularism.

Also, the United States is, in the words of Cardinal Wuerl, “a grand and glorious and great country” that has retained many Christian values. It remains a country of faith, something that an American pope could help export, especially to an “old Europe” suffering from what John Paul II called a “silent apostasy.”

A U.S. supreme pontiff could also bring a number of other advantages, generated by a more modern style of governance that could inject greater efficiency into the Curia and finally reform its structure in a way no other pope has been able to do. An American pope would be better able, some argue, to root out some of the Vatican’s turf wars and replace dated management methods, which together have cramped the Church’s efforts to evangelize.

And as the regular briefings by American cardinals during this interregnum also indicated, an American pope would likely be someone well versed in handling the media. He’d probably come across as confident, enthusiastic, convey a sense of strength and purpose and thereby bring some much-needed media savvy to the Vatican.

A further and by no means minor advantage is that he would speak English, the modern world’s lingua franca, and so potentially would be able to improve the Holy See’s communications in an unprecedented way.

Moreover, if someone such as Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York were elected, he would bring much needed dynamism to the role — the “vigor of both body and mind,” which Benedict XVI “recognized he had lost and defined as necessary for his successor,” as veteran Vatican watcher Sandro Magister recently pointed out.

Since Benedict XVI’s abdication, which broke with a 600-year tradition in the Church, overcoming the “superpower conventional wisdom” suddenly doesn’t seem so far-fetched. And, of course, it wasn’t the first such long tradition to come to an end relatively recently — the last two popes have been anomalies, men of the Church who, for the first time in over 400 years, have hailed from beyond Italy.

That’s a reality not lost on Cardinal Dolan.

“With the election of John Paul, with the election of Benedict,” he told SiriusXM radio recently, “one wonders if the former boundaries seem not to have any more credibility.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent

Read more:

The Pope as Diplomat


My take on Benedict XVI’s legacy in foreign relations in the journal Foreign Affairs.


February 27, 2013

faAs Pope Benedict XVI abdicates the papacy, retiring to a life of prayer and study, he leaves behind an admirable, if somewhat chequered, record in international relations.

His influence in foreign affairs — like that of all popes — has been considerable. As a truly global body with over a billion members, the world’s oldest diplomatic service, and a worldwide network of humanitarian aid organizations, the Catholic Church is arguably able to frame foreign policy in a way no other institution can.

That was perhaps most clearly evident during Pope John Paul II’s tenure, when the Vatican sided with the West in its struggle to topple Soviet communism. But the pope and the Holy See are not foreign policymakers as such — they can only guide world powers toward a particular vision of justice and peace.

To understand Benedict XVI’s approach to foreign affairs, it’s important to note his background as a professor. More at home with books than with the diplomatic corps (many of his recent predecessors had been trained statesmen), he primarily sought to bring the teachings of the Catholic Church to the world stage, rather than dwell on practicalities. It was an approach that in many ways proved to be an advantage: Unconstrained by the protocols of diplomacy, he could more forthrightly proclaim the Christian message to a global audience — and it bore fruit, although not without a cost.

Pentin_PopeAsDiplo_411His pronouncements, which often went right to the core of an issue, were regularly regarded as diplomatic gaffes. The most famous example occurred during his 2006 lectio magistralis at the University of Regensburg. In his speech, Benedict XVI memorably quoted a medieval emperor who implied that Muhammad had only spread Islam through violence. Although the lecture was primarily meant to show that contemporary militant Western liberalism and contemporary militant Islam share the same erroneous approach to truth, his quotation set off a firestorm, testing the Holy See’s relations with Islam-majority nations and forcing the pope to issue an apology for the reaction it caused.

And yet his comments struck a chord with many who began to debate in their own minds the problem of violence among certain Islamic groups, even if they were unwilling to articulate the issue publicly. His comments initiated deeper reflection among Muslim scholars on what it means to love God and love one’s neighbour, and they gave urgency to an ongoing Catholic-Muslim dialogue: No longer was it about mere niceties but more about genuine encounter. Specifically, it led Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah to make an historic visit to the Vatican in 2007 and launch his own foundation aimed at improving interreligious understanding last year.

At the same time, Benedict worked hard to help foster peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Although he supported the recent UN General Assembly vote recognizing the state of Palestine, he was simultaneously able to improve relations between the Church and Israel by patiently persevering with bilateral discussions on settling the Fundamental Agreement — an incomplete 1993 accord that formed the basis of Holy See–Israel diplomatic relations — and by visiting the Holy Land in 2009. Israeli President Shimon Peres recently described Vatican-Israeli relations as “the best they have ever been.” Israeli and Jewish leaders would frequently remark that it was easier to deal with Benedict because “you knew where you stood with him.”

Under Benedict’s watch, the Holy See also established full diplomatic relations with Russia, Botswana, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Montenegro, and most recently, South Sudan — bringing the total of countries with formal ties to the Vatican to 180.

That is not to say that the Pope was able to accomplish all of his core goals — namely, to establish formal diplomatic ties between the Vatican and Saudi Arabia, China, and Vietnam.

Apart from the visit by Abdullah, there has been little progress in achieving religious freedom in the Arab kingdom, where churches are forbidden and priests must minister in secret, although the king has lightened the hand of the country’s dreaded religious police.

In China, the pope tried hard to improve the lives of Catholics. (Chinese Catholics loyal to Rome are forced to worship underground, and only the state church, the Patriotic Association, is officially recognized.) The pope, who made clear his desire to visit the communist nation, took the unusual step of writing a letter to Chinese Catholics in 2007 in which he urged Church unity and suggested ways to achieve it. Although the statement was received with enthusiasm by the nation’s faithful, it caused embarrassment to the Chinese authorities. Nearly six years on, diplomatic relations are little closer to being restored. Chinese Catholics loyal to Rome are still imprisoned and persecuted, and the Patriotic Church continues to consecrate “bishops” without Rome’s permission.

In Vietnam, where Catholics have long been persecuted by the communist regime, the pope has had more success. The Holy See recognized that the regime was amenable to reform, and thanks to extensive diplomatic efforts by the Holy See and the establishment of a joint working group in 2007, the communist nation has been more cooperative. It has allowed the Church to appoint bishops, and in 2011 the Vatican appointed its first envoy to the country — a step toward establishing full diplomatic relations.

Such successes, however, have not prevented criticisms of Holy See diplomacy, which, some say, has suffered in recent years. A number of Rome diplomats believe the Vatican is not as “focused” as it was just ten years ago and complain about poor lines of communication. Due to poor governance at the Vatican, they argue, the Church fails to transmit a unified international agenda. That is why, they say, many perceive the Catholic Church to be losing influence. “Either the pope is unaware of this and cannot get a hold of it, or he is aware and doesn’t care — and both are unacceptable,” a senior diplomat in Rome told me a couple of years ago.

And yet on a personal level, Benedict would consistently look for opportunities to voice his concerns on the international scene, always reminding a country’s citizens to make space for God and resist a growing tide of secularism. He surprised many by traveling far more than people expected, in the end making 24 trips outside Italy, including visits to Cameroon, the Holy Land, Lebanon, Turkey, the United States, and the United Kingdom. He viewed each papal trip as a pilgrimage, an opportunity to proclaim the faith and bolster the local churches. In turn, he strengthened relations between those countries and the Holy See.

That is just one approach to foreign relations that John Paul II and Benedict XVI held in common. “The two pontificates were marked by a striking continuity,” says George Weigel, a papal biographer, and the author of Evangelical Catholicism. “Both men had an acute sense of the discontents of twenty-first-century democracy and tried hard to shore up its crumbling moral-cultural foundations.”

According to Weigel, Benedict’s four September addresses — the speeches he delivered in Regensburg, Germany; Paris; New York; and Berlin — “rank with John Paul II’s two UN addresses as among the most important papal statements on contemporary world affairs.”

In light of the pope’s decision to step down, he clearly was aware of perceptions that the Church was drifting and did care enough to renounce the papacy and entrust it to someone younger and more able to govern. Besides, more than any particular diplomatic triumph, Benedict’s real legacy will be that he never missed an opportunity to teach the world lessons on how to achieve peace — and he did so with startling simplicity and clarity.

“Peace,” he told diplomats earlier this year, “is not simply the fruit of human effort but a participation in the very love of God. It is precisely man’s forgetfulness of God, and his failure to give him glory, which gives rise to violence.”

In the world of international diplomacy, it is teachings such as these that make the difference.

Pentin: Benedict XVI May Be Remembered as one of Greatest Popes


Edward Pentin reporting from Rome (Newsmax 28th Feb 2013) — Unlike Blessed Pope John Paul II, who will forever be remembered for visible triumphs such as helping to bring down Communism in the former Eastern bloc, Pope Benedict XVI’s leaves behind a legacy that lacks his predecessor’s conspicuousness but is no less profound.

Over his eight-year pontificate, the Pope produced three encyclicals, completed his trilogy on Jesus of Nazareth and wrote thousands of addresses, papal documents and catecheses. Indeed, one might argue that everything about his papacy has been about teaching, including his actions, right up to his shocking resignation.

In his many addresses, he strove to remind the world that God in the person of Jesus Christ is an ever present reality, that he loves every person as the Gospel teaches, and that rejection of him can only lead to catastrophe. Benedict gave careful critiques of the secularism that afflicts so much of the Western world today, warning that societies risk becoming trapped in a “dictatorship of relativism” where there is no such thing as truth, everything is allowed and nothing has any meaning. In this sense, Benedict’s teaching was a continuation of his predecessor’s with whom he had worked so closely.

But as a theology professor regarded as one of the Church’s most brilliant theologians, Benedict XVI had a way of teaching that made him better understood than his more philosophical and poetical predecessor. Benedict’s “September Addresses,” given at Regensburg, Germany, the United Nations in New York, Westminster Hall in London, the Collège des Bernardins in Paris, and the Bundestag in Berlin will probably be remembered as the hallmarks of his papacy.

They helped unravel prevailing problems confronting society and invariably centered around the Pope’s key theme: that faith needs reason, and reason needs faith. Without this balance and reference to the natural law inscribed on each person’s heart, he would often stress, justice is violated and human dignity is undermined.

The Pope’s first encyclical, “Deus Caritas Est” — God is Love — was considered a masterpiece in explaining the various themes of love and how they relate to God. It also took everyone by surprise, especially those used to believing the inaccurate media image of Benedict as a negative, authoritarian moralist. The joy of human love (eros or erotic love) leads us to a deeper, sacrificial love (agape), the Pope explained, that finds its true fulfilment in the love of Jesus Christ on the Cross.

In other words, the human and the divine are one and not in opposition.

His other two encyclicals were also well received and, rare for a Pope, Benedict weaved in references from secular writers and thinkers including Lenin, Dostoevsky and Adorno — often contrasting their views with his to help explain Christian thought. In his second encyclical “Spe Salvi,” Saved in Hope, he characteristically explained with simplicity how the Christian concept of hope is what makes man fully human.

“The capacity to suffer for the sake of the truth is the measure of humanity,” he wrote. “Yet this capacity to suffer depends on the type and extent of the hope that we bear within us and build upon.” The saints, he pointed out, were able to make “the great journey of human existence in the way that Christ had done before them, because they were brimming with great hope.”

And in his final encyclical, “Caritas in Veritate,” Charity in Truth, the Pope reminded the world that both are essential for integral human development on an individual and national level. An awareness of God’s love, he wrote, “gives us the courage to continue seeking and working for the benefit of all.”

Within the Church, one of the Pope’s main legacies will probably be his efforts to bring unity, most notably by reaching out to the Society of St. Pius X, a traditionalist breakaway group that cannot accept certain teachings of the Second Vatican Council. Although unity still hasn’t been achieved, he managed to bring the society closer than it has ever been to possible reconciliation with Rome.

And he helped bolster his firm belief that the council’s reforms, which sought to open the Church up to the modern world, were in continuity with tradition rather than a rupture with it.

With Anglicans, too, Benedict sought to foster unity by creating an ordinariate — a canonical structure through which disaffected Anglicans, many of whom have felt abandoned by their own liberal-leaning hierarchies, could become Catholic while retaining their own patrimony and liturgies. Although it initially caused some concern within the Anglican Communion, it’s now generally accepted.

Benedict XVI will also be remembered for advances in relations with the Orthodox Church, and with Islam and Judaism, though not without some serious clashes.

The most famous example occurred during his 2006 lectio magistralis at the University of Regensburg when Benedict XVI memorably quoted a medieval emperor who said Muhammad had only spread Islam through violence. His quotation, although aimed at showing how militant Western liberalism and Islamic fundamentalism have erroneous approaches to truth that set them on a collision course, set off a firestorm in the Islamic world.

And yet his comments struck a chord with many who were debating the problem of violence in Islam, but who were unwilling to articulate the issue publicly. It would initiate a deeper reflection among Muslim scholars on what it means to love God and love one’s neighbor, and it gave added urgency to Catholic-Muslim dialogue: No longer was it about mere niceties but more about genuine encounter.

Specifically, it led Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah to make an historic visit to the Vatican in 2007 and launch his own foundation aimed at improving interreligious understanding last year.

At the same time, Benedict will be remembered for that rare thing: securing the support of both Israelis and Palestinians. His visit to the Holy Land in 2009 and good diplomatic relations with Israel led Israeli President Shimon Peres to recently describe Vatican-Israeli relations as “the best they have ever been,” while the Pope’s support for UN recognition of a Palestinian state and frequent calls for a two-state solution won him friends among the Palestinians.

Again, his success there can be attributed to his teaching prowess, built on the strength of his convictions. Middle East leaders would frequently remark that it was easier to deal with Benedict because “you knew where you stood with him.”

Under Benedict’s watch, the Holy See also established full diplomatic relations with Russia, Botswana, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Montenegro, and most recently, South Sudan — bringing the total of countries with formal ties to the Vatican to 180.

But Benedict XVI won’t be remembered for any major diplomatic triumphs such as winning religious freedom for persecuted and oppressed Christians in China or Saudi Arabia. Nor are Church historians likely to give him high marks for his governance of the Roman Curia after the Vatileaks scandal and the series of communication gaffes that littered his pontificate.

His teaching, however, is different. Not only did he channel it through his writings, but also by means of his very actions and character. Benedict’s widely recognized humility, kindness, courage and even innocence — not often accurately conveyed in the mainstream media — tended to point others not to himself but to the truth of Christ, as did many of his actions.

His 24 trips outside Italy were a testimony to this — no matter what the threatened opposition, he placated many of his enemies by placing Christ at the center rather than himself. Many believe he also achieved this through his surprise resignation — deemed by some as “revolutionary” on account of it demystifying the papacy by eliminating the “personality cult” that had grown up around it.

Ultimately, however, it’ll be for history to decide whether Benedict XVI’s greatest legacy — his skill as a consummate teacher and brilliant theologian — will endure, possibly making him one of the Church’s greatest popes

Recipe for a Pope: A Christlike Man Who Can Govern and Unite


NEWS ANALYSIS: Church leaders say reform of the Curia is a top item for the next pope, whoever he may be.

by EDWARD PENTIN 02/24/2013 

VATICAN CITY — Ask any Vatican official or leading Church figure in Rome what one of the most important characteristics of the new pope should be, and, chances are, they’ll say he must have an ability to govern.

Amid the many tributes being paid to Pope Benedict XVI, among the few criticisms is the observation that governance wasn’t the Holy Father’s strong point.

Although he has been widely praised for certain aspects of governance — namely his episcopal appointments, his efforts to crack down on clerical sex abuse and measures to make the Vatican’s finances more transparent — running the Roman Curia was his Achilles heel, made harder by his infirmity and old age.

He appeared to allude to this in his letter of resignation, when he said he had “come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry” and that, “in order to govern the barque of St. Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary.”

“Benedict XVI was an excellent theologian [and he] will leave us with a tremendous wealth in the field of the magisterium,” said Cardinal Ruben Salazar Gomez of Bogota, Colombia, according to a Feb. 18 report by the German Catholic news agency KNA Feb. 18. “But from the perspective of government, this was not a strong papacy.”

Since the Vatileaks scandal last year and the dysfunction it revealed, other cardinal electors are openly talking about the need for reform of the Roman Curia.

“It has to be attended to,” Cardinal Francis George of Chicago said, according to a Feb. 21 Associated Press article. And in a Feb. 20 interview with the Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera, Cardinal Walter Kasper, who retired in 2010 as prefect of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, called for “more coordination between the [discasteries], more collegiality and communication.” He added, “Often, the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.”

‘Petty’ Squabbling

Opus Dei Father Robert Gahl, a professor of moral philosophy at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, believes the next pope must be able to tackle the Curial factions “warring against one another” over “petty issues.” These factions are “not arguing over big theological issues,” he observed, but, instead, over “struggles to advance their own careers and reinforce their own power.”

“Those are all reasons why the kind of governance the next pope will have to deal with is reforming the Curia,” he continued, “and making sure that in the future the Curia acts in a spirit of service rather than one of personal ambition.” Currently, he added, parts of the Vatican are victims to a “feudal turf war.”

“The management style of the Vatican remains that of Italian feudalism, similar to that of 18th or even 17th-century Italian politics — way before the existence of the Italian republic,” he said. “And yet, clearly, there have been tremendous advancements in management theory, practice and technology, so there’s a need for reform of that governance model.”

The kind of governance being proposed is one that moves away from a rigidly hierarchical pyramid that management experts have long held to be a very inefficient and incompetent way of running an organization. Such a system of management leads to information only passing through a superior, while those officials at the same lower levels in different offices do not communicate with one another.

This overdue reform of Curial management is considered all the more important in today’s environment of rapid information flow, where there’s a need for information to be communicated through multiple channels.

Diocesan Experience

For these reasons, it’s likely the cardinal electors will be looking for someone with diocesan and pastoral experience who has a track record of good governance.

“I really don’t see them choosing someone who at least hasn’t had a foot in a diocese,” a veteran Vatican official told the Register. “Someone with Curia experience would also be helpful.”

Some argue that such a pope needs to be a reform-minded Italian; others disagree, believing that a non-Italian would be best, as he would be well outside the institutional infighting.

Whatever their nationality, the cardinal electors will be looking for someone with energy, who is media savvy and, most importantly, a man of deep faith. They will be looking for someone who can unite the Church — the key papal task — and, most importantly, someone of prayer, for whom the transcendent reality is a daily reality.

In short, the cardinal electors, led by the Holy Spirit, will be looking for someone with holiness and Christlike qualities — pastoral and with deep compassion for the poor, the suffering and the most vulnerable, especially the unborn.

“Among the cardinals, there are so many who are worthy and capable,” said Benedict XVI’s brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, in a Feb. 21 interview with Corriere della Sera. “But I would say that the new pope should be a person deeply rooted in the faith and that faith must guide his life. It’s necessary to have a great respect for the weak.”

He added that another “indispensable quality is realism: to understand what is possible and what is impossible to do. He will have to have enormous energy, because it takes a lot to direct such a large community and to get the message across with strength. Perhaps they should choose a younger man.”

The ideal age of the new pope, according to many observers, would be around 65 and certainly below the age of 75. The average age of the cardinal electors is 72, and only 43 of the 116 voting cardinals are under the age of 70.

Many Challenges

Relative youth will be needed to confront an array of challenges, such as the growth of secularism and moral relativism in post-Christian Europe and North America and their effects; the emergence of radical Islam and an increasingly troubled Arab world; and the social fallout of debt-ridden, troubled economies. Ecumenism and interreligious dialogue will be added challenges.

It’s unclear whether the majority of the cardinal electors will choose a European or North American to tackle those areas where the Church is in greatest crisis or settle on someone from Asia or Africa, where the Church is growing fastest.

“Let’s be honest: The future of the Church is in Africa and Asia; it’s not in Europe or North America,” said the Vatican official. “It’s just not there. They’re dead [in terms of faith growth], and it would make more sense to go for a place that’s got life, liveliness and hope.”

But he said his view was not typical of the Italian-dominated Curia, which tends to believe that only Europeans should be pope.

An American Pope?

An American pope is also possible, though its superpower status could be an obstacle. Ever since the French Pope Clement V became a tool of the French monarchy (then the world’s most powerful nation) and transferred the entire papacy to Avignon in 1309, the Church has been reluctant to elect a pope from a ruling superpower.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York disagrees, however. In a Feb. 19 interview on Sirius XM satellite radio, he said that when he was growing up it was presumed the pope would be an Italian.

“We don’t even think that anymore, do we?” he said. “The pope is the earthly, universal pastor of the Church. To think that there might be a pope from North America, to think that there might be a pope from Latin America, a pope from Asia, a pope from Africa — I think that’s highly possible, don’t you?”

Father Gahl similarly thinks an American has a fair chance of being elected.

“Americans always bring up the difficulty of electing an American pope — no one else,” he noted. He believes this is a remnant from the Cold War and the Bush era of America being a hyper-superpower. Now that the Church is in “open contrast” with the White House, Father Gahl believes “it removes entirely that objection.”

Furthermore, some see Cardinal Dolan as having just the attributes needed, given his admired ability to unite the Church in support of religious freedom and yet remain separate from partisan politics. His personality, too, is suited to today’s media age. Some, of course, disagree.

Cardinal Dolan himself played down his own chances when asked in the Sirius interview if he could be elected. “I could be the next shortstop of the Yankees too,” he said. “Anything is possible!”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

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