Pope Francis holds a dove before his weekly audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican May 15. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The head of the Vatican office promoting new evangelization said that while he does not like the terms “Francis effect” or “Francis bump,” it is true that “Pope Francis has touched the hearts and minds of many people.”
Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, said he does not care for the term “Francis effect,” since Pope Francis has not changed church teaching.
But speaking to reporters May 15 about activities for the Year of Faith, he said that during an early May visit to southern Italy and in conversations with priests from northern Italy where he grew up, he repeatedly heard reports that “a lot of people have been going to confession and many have said that while they hadn’t gone in a long time, they felt touched by the words of Pope Francis.”
Archbishop Fisichella noted that requests for tickets to the weekly general audiences held by the pope in St. Peter’s Square have consistently numbered between 50,000 and 70,000, which is significantly higher than in the past. For the April 28 Mass his office organized with the pope and young people receiving confirmation, some 70,000 people signed up in advance, but more than 100,000 showed up. The crowds were similarly large May 6 when, despite the rain, as many as 100,000 people came for the pope’s Mass with members of Catholic confraternities.
“People want to be present, listen to his voice and see him, touch him, because he makes a connection (with people) that is very moving,” the archbishop said, adding that the pope’s popularity reflects the “importance of the faith, the importance of being Christian, and the importance of the pope at this moment in the history of the church.”
Bishop Jose Ruiz Arenas, secretary of the council, said that when he met with bishops and priests from Mexico and Colombia who were at the Vatican for a canonization Mass May 12, he heard “testimony that this phenomenon” of increased confessions is taking place everywhere.
“In Latin America, during Holy Week many people who hadn’t confessed for many years” returned to the sacrament because of things they had heard Pope Francis say.
Officials of the new evangelization council spoke during a press briefing about Year of Faith activities with Pope Francis May 18-19 for members of lay movements and associations.
Movements and groups including Focolare, Communion and Liberation, the charismatic renewal, the Neocatechumenal Way, Shalom and the U.S.-based Fellowship of Catholic University Students are often on the front lines of new evangelization, Archbishop Fisichella said.
“Many young people, men and women in these church groups have not only rediscovered the faith they lost along the way or a faith that had become sterile and indifferent, but they have undergone a real conversion of their lives,” he said.
The archbishop said the groups’ strong identity, their consistency over time and their strong missionary bent often give them an advantage over parishes where the pastor changes every eight or nine years and the parish’s pastoral outreach changes with him.
Bishop Ruiz said the key to the success of most of the movements is their focus on the Scriptures and on formation in small groups. He said the Latin American bishops, for several decades, have been promoting the same focus on small-groups Bible study and faith sharing in all their parishes, which has promoted new evangelization.
Pope Francis waves from the popemobile at the end of a Mass at which he canonized the first Colombian saint, a Mexican nun and some 800 Italians martyred by Ottoman Turks in the 15th century. (CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters)
By Francis X. Rocca
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke and U.S. pro-life leaders joined tens of thousands of demonstrators in Italy’s third annual March for Life May 12, which ended with a personal greeting from Pope Francis.
According to organizers, some 30,000 marched along the route from the Colosseum to Castel Sant’Angelo, a distance of nearly two miles. They followed a large wooden cross decorated with replicas of unborn children, and carried signs bearing messages such as “Let’s not kill the future” and “Stop silent genocide.”
Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno and Maurizio Gasparri, vice president of Italy’s Senate, were among the participants.
Many of the marchers had reached the end of the route by 11:30 a.m., when Pope Francis acknowledged them before praying the “Regina Coeli” in St. Peter’s Square, at the other end of Via della Conciliazione from Castel Sant’Angelo. The pope called on the marchers to “keep the attention of everyone on the important issue of respect for human life from the moment of conception.”
The pope also praised a petition drive in support of the pan-European “One of Us” initiative, which he said would “ensure legal protection to the embryo, protecting every human being from the first moment of existence”; and he noted the pro-life “Evangelium Vitae” pilgrimage, to take place at the Vatican June 15 and 16.
After leaving the square, Pope Francis rode in the popemobile down Via della Conciliazione, where he was met by many participants in the march.
Jeanne Monahan, president of the U.S. March for Life Education and Defense Fund, took part in the Italian event, as did Lila Rose, president of the U.S. pro-life group Live Action.
The day before the march, organizers held a daylong conference at Rome’s Regina Apostolorum University, featuring talks on bioethics by medical scientists and presentations by Cardinal Carlo Caffarra of Bologna, Italy, and Archbishop Giampaolo Crepaldi of Trieste, Italy.
Pope Francis waves as he leaves during rainy weather after celebrating a Mass for members of confraternities in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican May 5. The pope praised confraternities as a means of transmitting and cultivating the faith but said popular piety must be practiced in communion with the pastors of the church. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
By Francis X. Rocca
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis will meet slum-dwellers and powerful politicians, pay homage at a Marian shrine and celebrate with participants at World Youth Day when he visits Brazil in late July.
The Argentine pope’s first international trip, which will take him to his native Latin America, was planned under his predecessor, retired Pope Benedict XVI.
Pope Francis will fly to Rio de Janeiro July 22 and spend his six-day visit in or around the city, except for half a day in Aparecida, an hour and 15 minutes to the west by helicopter, where he will pray in the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida, Brazil’s principal patron saint.
In Rio, the pope will visit a hospital and a notorious “favela” slum, meet Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff, Latin American bishops and juvenile offenders, and address what the Vatican’s official itinerary describes as the “ruling class of Brazil.”
The largest part of Pope Francis’ time will be devoted to World Youth Day events, starting with a welcome ceremony on Rio’s Copacabana beach — where he will later lead the Stations of the Cross — and culminating in an outdoor Mass 30 miles away in Guaratiba.
Here is the schedule for the trip as released by the Vatican May 7. Times listed are local, with Eastern Daylight Time in parentheses:
Monday, July 22 (Rome, Rio)
– 8:45 a.m. (2:45 a.m.) Departure from Rome’s Ciampino airport to Rio de Janeiro.
– 4 p.m. (3 p.m.) Arrival ceremony at Rio’s Galeao-Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport.
– 5 p.m. (4 p.m.) Welcome ceremony in the Guanabara Palace garden. Speech by pope.
– 5:40 p.m. (4:40 p.m.) Courtesy visit to Rousseff in the Guanabara Palace.
Tuesday, July 23 (Rio)
Private time in the Sumare Residence.
Wednesday, July 24 (Rio, Aparecida)
– 8:15 a.m. (7:15 a.m.) Departure by helicopter from Rio to Aparecida.
– 9:30 a.m. (8:30 a.m.) Arrival at Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida.
– 10 a.m. (9 a.m.) Veneration of the image of Our Lady of Aparecida in the Shrine of the Twelve Apostles.
– 10:30 a.m. (9:30 a.m.) Mass in the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida. Homily by pope.
– 1 p.m. (12 noon) Lunch with bishops and seminarians of the province of Aparecida in the Bom Jesus Seminary.
– 4:10 p.m. (3:10 p.m.) Departure by helicopter from Aparecida to Rio.
– 5:25 p.m. (4:25 p.m.) Arrival in Rio.
– 6:30 p.m. (5:30 p.m.) Visit to Rio’s St. Francis of Assisi Hospital. Speech by pope.
Thursday, July 25 (Rio)
– 9:45 a.m. (8:45 a.m.) Pope receives the keys to the city and blesses the Olympic flags in Rio’s City Hall.
– 11 a.m. (10 a.m.) Visit to residents of Varginha in the Manguinhos complex of slums. Speech by pope.
– 6 p.m. (5 p.m.) Welcome celebration with young people on Rio’s Copacabana beach. Speech by pope.
Friday, July 26 (Rio)
– 10 a.m. (9 a.m.) Pope hears confessions of some young people in Rio’s Quinta da Boa Vista Park.
– 11:30 a.m. (10:30 a.m.) Meeting with young prisoners at archbishop’s palace.
– 12 noon (11 a.m.) Pope prays Angelus and gives speech from balcony of archbishop’s palace.
– 12:15 p.m. (11:15 a.m.) Meeting with organizers and benefactors of the XXVIII World Youth Day in the archbishop’s palace.
– 1 p.m. (12 noon) Lunch with young people in the archbishop’s palace.
– 6 p.m. (5 p.m.) Stations of the Cross with young people on Copacabana beach. Speech by pope.
Saturday, July 27 (Rio)
– 9 a.m. (8 a.m.) Mass with bishops, priests, religious and seminarians in Rio’s Cathedral of St. Sebastian. Homily by pope.
– 11:30 a.m. (10:30 a.m.) Meeting with the “ruling class of Brazil” in Rio’s Municipal Theater. Speech by pope.
– 1:30 p.m. (12:30 p.m.) Lunch with Brazilian cardinals, leaders of the Brazilian bishops’ conference and bishops of the region in the Sumare Study Center, Rio.
– 7:30 p.m. (6:30 p.m.) Prayer vigil with young people at the “Campus Fidei” in Guaratiba. Speech by pope.
Sunday, July 28, 2013 (Rio)
– 10 a.m. (9 a.m.) Mass and Angelus at the “Campus Fidei,” Guaratiba. Homily and remarks by pope.
– 4 p.m. (3 p.m.) Meeting with the coordinating committee of the Latin American bishops’ council, CELAM, in the Sumare Study Center. Speech by pope.
– 4:40 p.m. (3:40 p.m.) Departure from the Sumare Residence.
– 5:30 p.m. (4:30 p.m.) Meeting with World Youth Day volunteers in Rio Center. Speech by pope.
– 6:30 p.m. (5:30 p.m.) Farewell ceremony at Galeao-Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport. Speech by pope.
– 7 p.m. (6 p.m.) Departure for Rome.
Monday, July 29 (Rome)
– 11:30 a.m. (5:30 a.m.) Arrival at Rome’s Ciampino Airport.
The helicopter carrying Pope Benedict XVI passes the dome of St. Peter's Basilica as the retired pope returns to the Vatican May 2. The pope will live in a monastery in the Vatican Gardens. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — For the first time in history, the Vatican is home to a pope and a retired pope.
Pope Francis welcomed his predecessor, retired Pope Benedict XVI, to the Vatican May 2 outside the convent remodeled for the 86-year-old retired pontiff and five aides. Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict entered the convent’s chapel together “for a brief moment of prayer,” said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman.
Pope Benedict had been staying at the papal summer villa in Castel Gandolfo since retiring Feb. 28. Pope Francis traveled to the villa 10 days after his election to visit, pray and have lunch with Pope Benedict; the new pope also has telephoned his predecessor on at least two occasions.
In response to questions about the fact that Pope Benedict seemed to be much frailer than he was two months ago, Father Lombardi told reporters, “He’s an elderly man, weakened by age, but he is not suffering from any illness.”
In the last year of his pontificate, Pope Benedict was seen walking with a cane on more and more public occasions; after Pope Benedict retired, Father Lombardi confirmed that he had had a pacemaker inserted before becoming pope in 2005 and had undergone a brief procedure in November to replace the battery.
While the Vatican is now home to a pope and his predecessor, neither lives in the papal apartments of the Apostolic Palace. Pope Francis continues to live in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the Vatican guesthouse just south of St. Peter’s Basilica where the cardinals stayed during the conclave; the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery where Pope Benedict is living is just to the north of the basilica.
Arriving in Castel Gandolfo a couple hours before his retirement became official, Pope Benedict told a crowd gathered in the town square to welcome him, “I am a simple pilgrim who begins the last stage of his pilgrimage on this earth.
“With all my heart, with all my love, with my prayers, with my reflection, with all my interior strength, I still want to work for the common good and the good of the church and humanity,” he said, reaffirming his plans to spend his retirement in a “hidden life” of prayer and study.
The location he chose as his residence had served since 1994 as home to four different communities of cloistered nuns — Poor Clares, Carmelites, Benedictines and Visitandines — who each spent a five- or three-year term there in a life dedicated to praying for the pope and the church.
The structure includes what was once the Vatican gardener’s house; before the first group of nuns took up residence, Blessed John Paul II had it expanded to about 4,600 square feet, including a large chapel, refectory and infirmary.
Since the Visitandine nuns moved in November, the building has undergone a remodeling, including an expansion of the library specifically for Pope Benedict.
The retired pope will live in the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery with Archbishop Georg Ganswein, his secretary, who also serves Pope Francis as prefect of the papal household; and with four consecrated laywomen from Memores Domini, Father Lombardi said. The building also has a guestroom designed particularly for visits from Pope Benedict’s older brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger.
The Italian government helicopter bringing Pope Benedict to the Vatican from Castel Gandolfo was met at the Vatican heliport by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state; Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals; and other officials from the Vatican governor’s office and the secretariat of state.
Waiting in St. Peter’s Square to see the helicopter arrive was a priest from Kenya, who did not want to give his name. He told Catholic News Service, “It’s good he (Pope Benedict) comes to pray for the new pope and everyone else. He teaches us how to pray.”
“I guess he didn’t want any fanfare,” the priest said, noting that the large video screens in St. Peter’s Square were blank and the Vatican Television Center did not provide images. A battery of TV cameras stood outside the square with the same hope of catching a glimpse of the helicopter.
Jenna Cooper of Cornwall, N.Y., who is studying at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, said she came to the square “because I love Pope Emeritus Benedict. I wanted to be here to offer my prayerful support. I wanted to witness this historic event.
“It’s a beautiful witness that he’s dedicating his life to prayer; it shows how important prayer is for the life of the church,” Cooper said.
Father Bryan Jerabek of the Diocese of Birmingham, Ala., also studying at Holy Cross, said he came to see the retired pope fly back and was hoping the Vatican would show video on the monitors, “but he asked to be hidden from the world” so perhaps he asked that there not be live coverage. “But it was nice to see the helicopter.”
As for having a pope and a retired pope living in the Vatican, Father Jerabek said: “It’s absolutely unprecedented. We’re all still trying to figure out what it means.”
Noting that Pope Francis has visited and phoned Pope Benedict, Father Jerabek said, “It’s obvious he wants to have a close relationship with his predecessor. And now he can take a 15-minute walk to see him.”
Pope Francis administers the sacrament of confirmation to Brigid Miniter, 14, of Ridgewood, N.J., during a Mass in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 28. The pope confirmed 44 people from 22 countries. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Going to confession isn’t like heading off to be tortured or punished, nor is it like going to the dry cleaners to get out a stain, Pope Francis said in a morning Mass homily.
“It’s an encounter with Jesus” who is patiently waiting “and takes us as we are,” offering penitents his tender mercy and forgiveness, he said April 29.
Members of the Vatican’s investment agency and a group of religious women joined the pope for the Mass in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where the pope lives.
“God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all,” the pope said, quoting from the First Letter of John.
While everyone experiences moments of darkness in life, the verse refers to the darkness of living in error, “being satisfied with oneself, being convinced of not needing salvation,” he said.
As John continues, the pope said, “If we say, ‘We are without sin,’ we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
People have to start out with the humility of realizing “we are all sinners, all of us,” he said.
Even though it is embarrassing to admit to and tell the truth about one’s thoughts and deeds, embarrassment or “shame is a true Christian and human virtue” linked to the traditional virtue of humility.
“Humility and kindness are the framework of a Christian life,” the way a Christian must walk in life, he said.
“Oftentimes we think that going to confession is like going to the dry cleaners” to get out a stain, but it isn’t, Pope Francis said.
“It’s an encounter with Jesus” who “waits for us to forgive us” and offer salvation, he said.
The pope said confession isn’t like “going to a torture session” where Jesus “is waiting to lambast me.”
Confession “is going to praise God, because I — the sinner — have been saved by him,” who always waits and always forgives “with tenderness.”
When the Lord forgives, he is performing an act of justice, the pope said, “because he came to save and forgive us,” welcoming us with the affection of a father toward his children.
People need to believe that when they sin, Jesus will defend them because he is just and wants people to have “that peace that only he can give.”
However, people must go before the Lord with courage, even joy, “with our truth of being sinners,” he said.
“We must never disguise ourselves before God,” who “asks us to be humble and kind” and truthful.
In his homily April 27, the pope said Jesus invites Christians to go outside their comfort zone and proclaim the Gospel with joy.
Do not be afraid of the joy of the Holy Spirit, who opens the path “forward,” outside of oneself, he said.
Present for the Mass were workers from the Vatican post office and staff from Vatican’s St. Martha Dispensary, a maternal and pediatric clinic that serves mainly immigrants.
The pope warned against the formation of “little groups” of self-righteous whose hearts are closed “to the freshness of the Holy Spirit” and who “bargain with power” and try to solve problems alone, “among ourselves.”
These groups of self-righteous defend their hold on the truth with “slander, gossip” who only look within, wall themselves in and tear down others, the pope said.
Religious communities that are free open themselves up to “the freedom of God and the Holy Spirit,” and they “press on, even in the face of persecution.”
He asked people to look at their own parish, church group or religious community and ask whether they are open to the Holy Spirit and open to spreading the word of God.
“Because the good is like this: It always spreads, the good never curls up inside” but reaches out to the ends of the earth with joy.
Belgian Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard of Mechelen-Brussels reacts after activists from FEMEN threw water at him during a conference at the Free University of Brussels in Belgium April 23. Four bare-breasted protesters disrupted an evening debate and waved placards with the slogan, "Stop homophobia." (CNS photo/Yves Herman, Reuters)
By Catholic News Service
BRUSSELS (CNS) — The Belgian bishops’ conference criticized an attack on its president, Archbishop Andre Leonard of Mechelen-Brussels, during which he was soaked with water by half-naked women.
Four bare-breasted protesters from the international FEMEN movement disrupted the April 23 evening debate at the Free University of Brussels, waving placards with the slogan, “Stop homophobia.”
“A democratic debate on society’s questions is only possible if everyone is allowed to express their ideas in mutual respect and free expression,” the bishops said in an April 24 statement. “The attitude shown by these people totally lacks credibility and civic sense. It also completely contradicts the debate theme and the way the Catholic Church undertakes dialogue in a pluralist context.”
Press photos showed the 72-year-old archbishop sitting and praying as he was soaked by the women, who were later ejected by university guards from the debate, which was titled “Blasphemy: Offense or Freedom of Self-Expression?”
In a Facebook message, FEMEN members said their action had been “directed against the homophobia of Archbishop Leonard,” adding they would demand his dismissal for “spreading hatred and intolerance in our media and universities.”
“If he’s decided to inflict the punishment of abstinence and celibacy, FEMEN will not tolerate his attempt to impose chastity on the homosexual community as the only remedy for what he defines as a pathology,” the message said.
The debate organizer, Guy Haarscher, a professor at the Free University of Brussels, told La Libre Belgique daily April 25 the protest had been “very violent against an old man,” adding that Archbishop Leonard had gained the audience’s sympathy for his “enormous calm.”
“There’s a level of violence which shouldn’t be permitted,” said Haarscher, a former professor at Duke University School of Law. “Although I’m in total agreement with these women in principle, and in total disagreement with Leonard on homosexuality, he has the right to voice his opinions.”
Belgium’s Catholic news agency, CathoBel, said discussion of religious freedom would not be advanced by the “imbecilic provocation” of the women, whose torsos were painted with slogans including “In gay we trust.”
Archbishop Leonard has attracted controversy for statements on moral and social issues since being named head of the archdiocese in January 2010.
A couple kiss after renewing their wedding vows in Los Angeles Feb. 12. (CNS photo/CNS photo/Victor Aleman, Vida Nueva)
By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Catholics need to know that marrying someone from a different Christian community or, even more so, from a different religion will create extra challenges in their marriage, but church leaders also must learn how to help people in mixed marriages meet those challenges, a Vatican official said.
“We can express a positive judgment only when the conditions are met for a family life where the values and purposes of marriage are respected, and where a common faith in God helps the spouses to weave together an authentic communion of life and love,” said Bishop Jean Laffitte.
An interview with the bishop, secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Family, was posted on the council’s website and summarized in an article in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.
He was commenting, in part, on a research project conducted by the Catholic bishops of Lebanon, which looked at the realities and challenges of marriages between Christians of different traditions and between a Catholic and a Muslim.
In an interview for the family council’s website — www.family.va — Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Rai, the Maronite patriarch, said Lebanon “is a mixed society: in schools, universities, towns and cities. We all live together,” and, naturally, that has given birth to many mixed marriages.
The study said there are positive experiences of marriages between a Christian and a Muslim in countries like Lebanon, where followers of the two faiths have lived side by side for centuries. The diversity of the country is one of its riches, which is reflected in the number of mixed marriages and strengthened by them as members of the communities grow closer, the study said. However, it also found that different understandings of the family, conjugal life and the roles of men and women can make Catholic-Muslim marriages a challenge.
Cardinal Rai said that in Lebanon, “the judgment about mixed marriages is positive,” because they contribute to peaceful coexistence, including on a social and political level.
However, he also said, “we try not to encourage mixed marriages in order to preserve the faith and traditions” of the various communities, because studies show that often couples handle belonging to different faith communities by one or both of them limiting or eliminating their involvement in the community.
When such couples do decide to marry, the church must be there “to help them respect the religion of the other and the family and community of the other,” the cardinal said. “It’s important to educate each of the spouses to fully live his or her faith and to respect the faith of the other and of the children. In Lebanon, marriage is regulated according to the religious affiliation of the husband. Children under 18 years of age belong to the father’s religion. Once they reach adulthood they can choose.”
Commenting more on mixed marriages in general, Bishop Lafitte said social, cultural and political realties can have such a huge impact on how the couples are able to live their marriages that it is the responsibility of national bishops’ conferences to study the phenomenon and design pastoral responses.
However, he said, the church takes seriously the challenges mixed marriages pose. On a theological level, the Catholic Church insists marriage is a sacrament that binds a couple together for life and calls them to have children and educate them in the Catholic faith. And on a practical level, it believes families should pray together, attend Mass together, and have a relationship in which the husband and wife are seen as equal partners in the marriage.
Pope Francis embraces emeritus Pope Benedict XVI at the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, Italy, March 23. Pope Francis travelled by helicopter from the Vatican to Castel Gandolfo for a private meeting with the retired pontiff. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
UPDATE: The Vatican denied Wednesday that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI sufferers from any serious illness other than the problems associated with old age.
A Newsmax report claims that Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi denied reports in a Spanish newspaper that the former pope was facing any specific illness. The report further states that his plans to return to the Vatican to move into a remodeled convent in May remain unchanged.
Ever since he announced he would resign from the office of the Papacy, rumors have abounded concerning the health of His Holiness Benedict XVI, Pope Emeritus.
Although several statements by the Vatican claimed Benedict XVI was retiring as a result of age and energy, not illness, reports have since surfaced that his health is deteriorating.
Gloria TV commented on a report by the Spanish newspaper El Mundo which now claims that the Pope Emeritus is suffering from something “very severe” and that “we won’t have him with us for very much longer.”
El Mundo is the second-largest daily newspaper in Spain.
The brief and unspecific Gloria TV report on Benedict XVI’s health is so far (9:30 a.m. Wednesday, April 10) the only English language source of the news, which has not been confirmed by the Vatican. Various Catholic blog sites have picked up the story.
Then-Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation Feb. 11 saying, “I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.”
Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told reporters at the time that the pope was not ill. A week later, the Catholic News Service reported that the pope’s German-born biographer and journalist Peter Seewald said he had never seen Benedict XVI look so weak and exhausted.
Finally, a report widely circulated in the secular media showed Seewald reporting that Benedict XVI was blind in one eye and losing his hearing. The Vatican has not confirmed any of the ailments and Benedict XVI has kept a low profile since resigning the papacy on Feb. 28. His most recent public appearance was March 23 when he met with his successor Pope Francis.
By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis reaffirmed the importance of responding decisively to the problem of the sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy and called on the Vatican office dealing with suspected cases to continue carrying out its mandate.
During an April 5 meeting with Archbishop Gerhard L. Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the pope discussed the office’s various responsibilities.
However, he made a particular point of highlighting its work to counter clerical sexual abuse, telling Archbishop Muller he wanted the congregation “to act decisively concerning cases of sexual abuse,” the Vatican said in a written statement released after the meeting.
The pope, the statement said, asked the congregation to continue: “promoting measures that protect minors, above all; help for those who have suffered such violence in the past; necessary procedures against those found guilty; (and) the commitment of bishops’ conferences in formulating and implementing the necessary directives in this is area that is so important for the church’s witness and credibility.”
The pope also assured victims that they had a special place in his heart and prayers.
Pope Francis was holding private meetings in early April with the individual heads of various Vatican offices and congregations. According to the Vatican schedule, the pope had at least an hour slotted for the 11 a.m. meeting with Archbishop Muller.
As archbishop of Buenos Aires, the future pope had said his archdiocese had been very attentive to the problem and “rigorous” in its screening and selection of candidates for the priesthood and religious life.
Sex abusers suffer from a “perversion of a psychological kind” that is not caused by or directly linked to celibacy, he said in a book-length series of interviews.
“If a priest is a pedophile, he is so because he brought that perversion with him from before his ordination,” and not even priestly celibacy would be able to “cure it,” the future pope said in the book, “Pope Francis: Conversations with Jorge Bergoglio” by Sergio Rubin and Francesca Ambrogetti.
Because such a perversion already would be present in a candidate, he said, “it’s necessary to pay lots of attention to the choice of candidates to the priesthood.”
He said the archdiocese of Buenos Aires had been very “rigorous for many years already,” noting how only about 40 percent of candidates were actually admitted into the priesthood.
He also described how candidates undergo in-depth psychiatric tests to look for different forms of deviant tendencies, including “megalomaniacal, dishonest and criminal” tendencies.
In “On Heaven and Earth,” a 2010 book of conversations with a Buenos Aires rabbi, the then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio said, when it is discovered that a priest has engaged in such behavior, it is imperative that no one “look the other way.”
“One cannot be in a position of power and destroy the life of another person,” he said.
The proper action to take against an abuser, he said, would be to prohibit him from exercising his ministry and begin a canonical process in the diocese.
“I don’t believe in those positions that propose supporting a kind of ‘corporate’ spirit in order to avoid damaging the image of the institution,” he told the rabbi, Abraham Skorka.
The future Pope Francis said moving an abusive priest to another parish in an effort to protect the image of the church had appeared as a “solution” at times in the United States, but that it was “foolishness” because the abusive priest only takes his problem with him to a new parish.
He said he admired “the courage and honesty of Benedict XVI” in confronting the problem, calling for “zero tolerance” and enacting stricter measures to protect children and to punish abusers.
A man holds Brazil's flag as he and other Brazilians cheer during Pope Benedict XVI's general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Feb. 2. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — When hundreds of thousands of young Catholics gather with Pope Francis in Rio de Janeiro in the summer, reflections on safeguarding the environment will be part of the program.
Like earlier editions of World Youth Day, the July celebration in Rio de Janeiro will include morning catechetical sessions and afternoon cultural events.
“From the beginning of planning — under Pope Benedict XVI — we thought that a major theme in Brazil, known as ‘the lungs of the world,’ would have to be the environment,” said Marcello Bedeschi, president of the John Paul II Foundation for Youth, a Rome-based organization that assists with World Youth Day planning.
“We did not know that there would be a new pope and that in his first three major addresses, he would speak about safeguarding creation, not in political or ideological terms, but as a Christian obligation,” Bedeschi said.
Corrado Clini, Italy’s environment minister, has been working with the foundation, the Pontifical Council for the Laity, the Brazilian government and the Rio church’s World Youth Day organizing team to promote the reflection of young people on the importance of biodiversity and protecting the environment. He also is working to encourage cooperation between several Italian and Brazilian companies to reduce the energy and water used at WYD and to recycle as much of the refuse they produce as possible.
At an April 4 news conference at the Vatican, Clini said the fact that the youth gathering will take place one year after the international community gathered for Rio +20 — a U.N. sponsored conference on sustainable development — is a great opportunity to rally the passion Catholic youths have for protecting the world God created.
As the United Nations attempts to draft and build consensus around a set of “Sustainable Development Goals” as a follow-up to the conference, “grass-roots support and participation is essential,” Clini said.
“World Youth Day is the best context for expanding this vision of global solidarity,” which includes a commitment by industrialized nations to moderate their consumption habits, promote development in poor countries and share with them the knowledge and technology they need to build their economies without threatening the environment.
The Catholic Church can have a big impact on promoting the goals because it has an ability to bring moral teachings — including those about safeguarding creation — into the hearts, minds and daily lives of its faithful, the minister said.
WYD 2013 is scheduled for July 23-28. The special reflection on the environment is scheduled for the second day of the gathering. Clini, his Brazilian counterpart, scientists, theologians, U.N. officials and members of Catholic groups devoted to safeguarding creation will lead the reflection with young people.
At the end of the gathering, the youths are expected to issue a “manifesto for safeguarding creation,” which will be drafted with assistance from Conventual Franciscan friars from Assisi, Italy.