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Can Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals still deliver on reform?

Vatican City, Aug 7, 2018 / 04:17 pm (CNA).- By most accounts, Pope Francis was elected with a mandate to reform the Roman Curia- the complex network of dicasteries, commissions, and councils charged with the central administrative work of the Catholic Church- a network that, even to insiders and experts, more often resembles a rabbit warren than a well-defined system of governable offices with clear responsibilities.

From the beginning, there were high expectations for Francis, and widespread belief that he could succeed in reforming the Curia. His informality and disdain for protocol -his ability to think ‘outside the box’- led many to believe that under his leadership, the Curial wilds could be tamed.

One month after his election, he made his first major reform announcement: the creation of the Council of Cardinals, tasked with helping him review and reform the entire governing structure of both the Roman Curia and the universal Church.

Cardinals Maradiaga, Bertello, Errázuriz, Gracias, Marx, Monsengo Pasinya, O’Malley and Pell were informally dubbed the C8, later the C9 (Cardinal Parolin was added to the council when he became Secretary of State). Many saw them, and the enormous task they were assigned, as the embodiment of the kind of global perspective the Church needed for Curial reform.

Five years on, Curial dysfunction has been compounded by international crises, and several members of the C9 are themselves mired in controversy. Rather than bringing an end to scandals in the Curia, Rome’s ongoing problems seem- to some observers- to have gone global.

Embroiled in sexual abuse scandals, shady financial dealings, Curial power-plays, and even full-blown doctrinal disputes – rather than becoming the engine of reform, the C9 has, to some, begun to look like a microcosm of everything going wrong in the Church. Critics have begun to ask if the Council of Cardinals, and the whole of Pope Francis’s reforming agenda, still has the credibility to effect any meaningful change.

For example, clerical sexual abuse has reemerged as a major crisis in the Church, and three of C9 are connected directly to issues surrounding sexual abuse allegations.

Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, Archbishop of Tegucigalpa and a close confidant of the pope, is the C9’s official coordinator. For months, he has been dogged by allegations concerning his personal finances. At the same time, his auxiliary bishop and his frequent proxy in the governance of his  archdiocese, Juan Pineda, was forced recently to resign, after allegations were made public that he sexually approached seminarians and maintained a string of male lovers – and allegations were also made that those behaviors were widely known in the diocese and by the cardinal.

In response to that scandal, several seminarians from Tegucigalpa wrote an open letter to the bishops of Honduras, detailing a culture of open and active homosexuality in the seminary, with reprisals taken against those who spoke out. Cardinal Maradiaga reportedly denounced the letter’s authors and their motivations for writing it.

Cardinal George Pell, another member of the C9, has had to return to Australia to defend himself against “historic” allegations of sexual abuse. While the trial is ongoing, the cardinal is vigorously defending himself in court against the charges, and questions have been asked about the methods of Victoria police during their investigation.

Furthermore, Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz, a C9 cardinal who was known to be a close friend of the pope before his election, has emerged as a central figure in the disastrous Chilean abuse scandal.

Though he retired as Archbishop of Santiago in 2010, Errázuriz is alleged to have participated in cover-ups of clerical sexual abuse in Chile over a period of years, – including the abuse of notorious Fernando Karadima. It has also been reported that he tried to prevent Juan Carlos Cruz, the most visible and vocal of the Chilean abuse victims, from being appointed as a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Young People.

While five Chilean bishops have had their resignations accepted by Francis, and although Archbishop Theodore McCarrick made history recently by resigning from the College of Cardinals in the wake of his own scandal, Errázuriz remains both a cardinal and a member of the C9.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, whose public intervention was credited with the pope’s change of heart toward Juan Carlos Cruz and the other Chilean victims, is widely considered to be the Church’s most credible voice in speaking out against sexual abuse. Yet the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which he leads, has seen the resignation of two high-profile members, both survivors of sexual abuse. One of them, Marie Collins, has spoken often about her frustration that the Commission’s recommendations have not been adopted in the Curia or by national bishops’ conferences.

And O’Malley has faced criticism over reports that in 2015 his office received a letter from a priest detailing allegations against McCarrick, but issued only a staff member’s response, saying that the allegation was not the cardinal’s responsibility to address.

If the president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, a member of the C9, cannot advance binding reforms in the Curia, or even instill a culture of moral responsibility in his own staff, some working in Vatican tell CNA they are left wondering whether meaningful change can be expected to get beyond rhetoric.

Meanwhile, the structural reform of the Curia rumbles on, with Vatican departments being newly created, combined and renamed.

Initially, the most important of these new developments was the creation of the Prefecture for the Economy, led by Cardinal Pell. But even before Pell had to return to Australia, it became clear that bringing transparency and accountability to the Vatican finances was going to be an uphill slog.

In 2016, the Secretariat of State cancelled an external audit of  Curial finances that had been arranged by Pell’s department. The cancellation was ordered by then Archbishop, now Cardinal, Angelo Becciu. It was widely seen as an old-fashioned power-play - neither Becciu nor anyone else at the Secretariat of State technically had the authority to overrule Pell and the Prefecture for the Economy. That Francis was persuaded to back the move, granting it legal authority after-the-fact, was seen a serious blow to financial reform in the Curia.

In June 2017, Pell’s departure for Australia coincided with the dismissal of the first Vatican auditor-general Libero Milone. Milone was fired in dramatic fashion by the Secretariat of State, once again through Angelo Becciu, while being accused of “spying” on the finances of senior officials and facing the threat of prosecution.

Milone maintained that he was fired for being too good at his job, and because he and the reforming work of the Prefecture for the Economy were a direct threat to the Curial old guard. In May of this year, the Vatican quietly announced it had dropped all charges against Milone, but the financial reforms he and Pell were working towards appear to have been effectively dropped as well.

Despite expectations that the C9 would deliver a comprehensive reform of the Roman Curia, the results have been decidedly haphazard. New ‘super-dicasteries,’ like the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, were announced with much fanfare, but thus far, without clear mandates of responsibility and processes for oversight, changes to the names of departments appear to be about as tangible as the reforms have gotten.

Meanwhile, as other departments like the Prefecture for the Economy have had their wings very publicly clipped, the Secretariat of State has seen its influence grow under Cardinal Parolin, to the point where virtually all Vatican business, either formally or informally, comes under its purview.

Ironically, some in Rome claim that Parolin’s greatest coup was arranging for his personal rival and nominal deputy, Angelo Becciu, to be made a cardinal and moved to the far less influential Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.

Parolin has also been known to take a personal interest in high-profile disciplinary cases handled at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “checking in” with the CDF to monitor their progress – something unthinkable in previous decades. Outside of Rome, bishops in far corners of the world have been awakened by phone calls from the cardinal weighing in on those local issues of Church governance that may have caught his attention.

A capable diplomat and politician, Parolin has managed to thrive in a Vatican where foundering structural reforms have disrupted traditional spheres of influence and centers of power, and the day-to-day authority he has centralized in his own department is considerable.

If the reformed Curia under Pope Francis has become, perhaps accidentally, ever more administratively centralized, doctrinally the pull is in the other direction.

On a whole range of issues, most notably the pastoral implementation of Pope Francis’ 2016 exhortation Amoris laetitia, bishops’ conferences have begun articulating very different approaches to what were, until recently, universal points of teaching and discipline.

Many of the more radical approaches have begun, or at least been strongly championed in Germany, where the national bishops’ conference is led by Cardinal Reinhard Marx. As de facto head of the German Church, Marx has been closely associated with some highly controversial pastoral policies, most notably the recent proposal to allow protestant spouses of Catholics to receive Communion.

The way in which the German bishops have effectively refused to take no from Rome as an answer is seen to demonstrate how weak the CDF has become, and how little Parolin’s preeminent state department can do, for all its administrative clout, on matters of discipline.

Some have noted that Marx and the German Church can act with a level of autonomy, even impunity, because of their vast financial resources. It is certainly not coincidental that Cardinal Marx also serves as the coordinator for the Vatican’s Council for the Economy.

The Church tax, by which the German government awards the local Church a proportion of the income tax of every citizen who registers as Catholic, has kept German dioceses fabulously wealthy, even as actual church buildings empty at a staggering rate.

The German bishops send millions of euros abroad each year, and with the Church in some parts of the world – and even parts of the Vatican – depending on Teutonic largesse, Marx can publicly muse about theological issues in a way that progressive bishops elsewhere would not dream of doing.

The result of the peculiar Parolin-Marx dynamic is that, under Francis, the Church has inched toward a federalized approach to teaching and discipline, even as administrative power in the Curia becomes more centralized.

It is possible that this situation will be reversed, or at least placed into some more coherent context, if and when the C9 produces a final version of a new governing constitution for the Vatican’s departments. A first draft was apparently presented to the pope in June of this year, but there is no clear indication of when a final document might be made public, let alone brought into force.

In the meantime, Curial politicking and scandal continues to rumble on, and the global sexual abuse crisis shows no signs of meaningful resolution.

Five years ago, the C9 was created to reassure the world that the best leaders from the global Church were hard at work to deliver on the Franciscan promise of reform. Today, with several of its members directly implicated in personal scandals and others publicly maneuvering for their own agendas, the Council of Cardinals seems every bit as tainted as the structures it was tasked to reform.

Famously reliant on people he knows and trusts to work his will, Pope Francis may be fast running out of credible collaborators, and that is likely to create a whole new problem for the universal Church.

How papal diplomacy began a new approach in 1914

Vatican City, Aug 6, 2018 / 03:09 pm (CNA).- Pontifical diplomacy took on a new approach in 1914, with the election of Benedict XV as pontiff. The viewpoint of that moment is captured in a snapshot: a report from the Secretariat of State on papal diplomacy, drafted at the time of Benedict XV’s election.
 
That report was is published in a new book, “From Pius X to Benedict: Pontifical Diplomacy in Europe and Latin America in 1914”, written by Church historians Roberto Regoli and Paolo Valvo.
 
How did the Holy See change its approach to diplomacy?
 
In 1914, the Holy See had just 9 nunciatures established in the world. Ties with European countries were decreasing, while relations with Latin American countries we on the rise.
 
Why?  
 
In 1871, the Papal States were seized by the Italian troops who headed to Rome to make it the capital of the Kingdom of Italy. The Papal States thus lost their territory, and the Holy See became a kind-of state without territory, though it kept up its diplomatic relations.
 
In Europe, the Church had no strong allies: Italy, Austria and Prussia had signed in 1882 the Triple Alliance, while France was under such strong secularizing trends that brought to the 1905 Law on Separation between Churches and States.
 
As a consequence of the European political dynamic, the Church was forced to look further afield for diplomatic partners. In 1893, Pope Leo XIII opened an apostolic delegation to United States, and in 1899 another apostolic delegation was established in Canada.
 
A pontifical representation was opened in Central America in 1908 and in Venezuela in 1909, while in 1904 an apostolic visitor was appointed for Mexico, and a delegate was sent to Haiti.
 
The Holy See’s presence in Asia was also strengthened: in 1884, there began a pontifical delegation in India, and in 1905 Pope Pius X sent a delegation to Japan to study the possibility of establishing papal representation there. A pontifical delegate was appointed for China in 1922.
 
Given this data, it is no surprise that Latin America was the area of significant interest in the 1914 report on pontifical diplomacy. The report described the situation of 12 Latin American countries and of 7 European countries. Among those countries, great space was given to Serbia because of a covenant the Holy See had signed June 24, 1914.
 
The covenant was considered a template for similar agreements in Europe, and it is clear by the reports that the defense of religious interests and religious liberty was one of the central areas of importance for pontifical diplomacy in Europe
 
Latin America had become one of the Church’s main interests, as the countries there were undergoing a shift, too: governments had shed colonial ties, but at the same time they sought the same guarantees the Church had granted to the colonial powers.
 
In order to evangelize the New World, the Church had given the European kingdoms many concessions, even some influence in appointing new bishops. This was part of a Church-state bond that would be considered unacceptable now. At the time, however, they were part of a widespread practice, one that did bear good fruit, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, recently said.
 
Under Benedict XV, a shift in pontifical diplomacy was clear. The bilateral relations, though fundamental, were step-by-step set aside by a more multilateral approach. The main outcome of the multilateral approach was Benedict XV’s efforts for peace, which resulted in a letter he sent Aug. 1, 1918 to warring countries.
 
Benedict XV also worked to get rid of the system of “protectorates,” the concessions and agreements made with colonial powers who acted as the real guarantors for the evangelization in outward-bound countries.
 
This resulted in Benedict XV’s 1919 encyclical Maximum illud on missionary activity, which called for the formation of local bishops in territories of mission. Following that call, Pius XI later ordained the first Chinese bishops.
 
Valvo and Regoli noted that “it is evident that the ‘diplomatic mind’ of the 1914 report had rather pastoral and ecclesial policy priorities.”
 
One example is the Church’s relationship with France.
 
“The key of understanding to the relation with France is that of the pure defence of religious interests”, the authors write.
 
Given the French 1905 law on separation between the Church and state, and increasingly tense relations with the French state, which granted no juridical status to the Holy See, the Holy See made the decision to affirm the French protectorates in the Near and Far East in order to keep connections with France.
 
Despite the need to keep the links with France, the Law on the Separation of the Churches and the State also had a positive effect: the Pope could independently appoint the bishops, without any interference of the government.
 
Another example was the approach toward Latin America.
 
In South America, the Holy See had a nunciature in Brazil, and diplomatic ties in Argentina and Chile. Pontifical representatives had diplomatic rank in Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua, Perù and Venezuela.
 
The Holy See also was very active “in countries where there was a tendentially hostile separation between Church and States.”
 
In sum, before the pontificate of Benedict XV, the Holy See had tried to sign concordates or covenants in order to promote a confessional model of state, wherein the Catholic religion could have a predominant position, giving in exchange the possibility of advancing suggestions to fill the vacant sees of bishops, for example.
 
Benedict XV’s model was different. As the Holy See lost its structure and most of its secular privileges, Benedict XV promoted a more spiritual role for nuncios, whose task became more pastoral than political, and whose effort in helping the pope to identify new possible candidates for bishops becomes crucial.

After this shift, the Holy See began to be perceived as a neutral figure in the disputes between state, and this led to increased significance of its diplomatic activity. The 1929 Lateran Treaty signed with Italy, which granted the Holy See a small territory, paved the way for the building of a diplomatic network with a large impact because of its reputation for neutrality.
 
The Holy See now has diplomatic ties established with 183 countries: fairly more than the 9 countries that enjoyed full diplomatic ties with the Holy See back in 1914.
 
The Holy See’s diplomatic agenda, in the end, is that of the common good, and the relations with states are a tool to achieve it.

 

Francis again visits Blessed Paul VI's tomb on anniversary of his death

Vatican City, Aug 6, 2018 / 10:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis made a private visit Monday morning to pray at the tomb of Bl. Paul VI, on the 40th anniversary of his death.

Francis made a similar visit to Bl. Paul VI's tomb last year.

Pope Francis’ visit to the tomb took place in an absolutely private manner, said vice-director of the Holy See press office, Paloma Garcia.

She told EWTN Aug. 6 that Pope Francis prayed for about 10 minutes at the tomb, which is located in the Vatican Grottos, the crypt beneath St. Peter’s Basilica.

Bl. Paul VI, to whom Francis referred Sunday as a “pope of modernity,” was the author of the 1968 encyclical Humanae vitae, which reaffirmed Church teaching against contraception.

Bl. Paul VI will be canonized with Bl. Oscar Romero Oct. 14, during the synod on young people, faith, and vocational discernment.

At the end of his Angelus address Aug. 5, Francis recalled the blessed, calling him a “great pope of modernity,” and remembering him “with much veneration and gratitude.”

“From heaven may he intercede for the Church and for peace in the world,” the pope said.

Pope Francis unofficially confirmed the news of Paul VI’s canonization during his annual meeting with the priests of Rome Feb. 17. “Paul VI will be a saint this year,” he said Feb. 15.

After a long question and answer session, the pope gave texts containing meditations by Bl. Paul VI as a gift to each of the priests. “I saw it and I loved it,” Francis said about the book.

Pope Francis offers prayers for earthquake victims in Indonesia

Vatican City, Aug 6, 2018 / 09:22 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis sent his prayers and condolences to the people of Indonesia Monday, after nearly 100 people were killed and thousands evacuated in the aftermath of a strong earthquake Sunday.

“Pope Francis expresses his heartfelt solidarity with all those affected by this tragedy,” stated the Aug. 6 telegram from Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

The pope “prays especially for the repose of the deceased, the healing of the injured and the consolation of all who grieve the loss of their loved ones,” it continued.

He also offered encouragement to the civil authorities and those involved in the search and rescue of victims and invoked “upon the people of Indonesia divine blessings of consolation and strength.”

According to CNN, a 6.9 magnitude earthquake struck the Indonesian island of Lombok, a popular tourist destination, late Sunday night. At least 98 people were killed, all Indonesian nationals, and more than 200 people were injured.

An estimated 20,000 have been displaced from their homes or hotels, said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, the head of Indonesia’s disaster management department.

This is the second earthquake to hit the region recently, after a 6.4 magnitude quake struck July 29, which left at least 15 people dead and 162 injured, CNN reported.

Seek Jesus before material things, pope says

Vatican City, Aug 5, 2018 / 05:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- It is not wrong to be concerned with the daily necessities of life, but strengthening one’s relationship with Jesus is of far greater importance, Pope Francis said in his Sunday Angelus address.

“The Lord invites us not to forget that if we need to worry about material bread, it is even more important to cultivate our relationship with him, to strengthen our faith in him, who is the ‘bread of life,’ come to satisfy our hunger for truth, our hunger for justice, our hunger for love,” the pope said Aug. 5.

He reflected on the day’s Gospel passage, in which a crowd of people are searching for Jesus and his disciples after the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. When they find him, Jesus says to the crowd: “You are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled.”

In giving this answer, Jesus shows that “it is not enough that people search for him, he wants people to know him,” Francis said. Jesus wants “the encounter with him to go beyond the immediate satisfaction of material needs.”

This is because “Jesus came to bring us something more” than the daily preoccupations of feeding and clothing ourselves, our careers, and so on, he said.

“In fact,” he added, “the multiplication of the loaves and of the fish is a sign of the great gift that the Father has given to humanity and that is Jesus himself!”

Being the true “Bread of Life,” Jesus wants to satisfy not just bodies, but souls, “giving the spiritual food that can satisfy the deepest hunger,” he continued. So, he invites the crowd of people to search not for material food, but for the food that lasts: his Word, his Body, and his Blood.

In the Gospels, the crowd then asks Jesus what it is they must do to carry out the work of God, and Jesus answers them: “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.”

“These words are addressed, today, also to us,” Francis said. “The work of God does not consist so much in the ‘doing’ of things, but in ‘believing’ in the One he has sent.”

It is a Catholic’s faith in Jesus which “allows us to do the works of God,” he continued. “If we allow ourselves to be involved in this relationship of love and trust with Jesus, we will be able to do good works that smell of the Gospel, for the good and the needs of [our] brothers.”

After praying the Angelus, the pope noted that Monday, Aug. 6, marks the 40th anniversary of the death of Bl. Pope Paul VI, who will be canonized in Rome Oct. 14.

“We remember him with much veneration and gratitude… From heaven may he intercede for the Church and for peace in the world,” he said. Adding that the soon-to-be saint was a “great pope of modernity,” he encouraged those gathered to applaud in gratitude.