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Francis modifies norms for the resignation of bishops

Vatican City, Feb 15, 2018 / 10:22 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Thursday Pope Francis tweaked the Church’s policies on bishops and Curial officials reaching the age of retirement, indicating that they should accept what God wants, whether accepting retirement or accepting continued service.

The changes were made through a motu proprio entitled Imparare a congedarsi, meaning “Learning to take your leave,” published Feb. 15.

Previous norms stated that the appointment of most bishops serving as curial officials and papal diplomats lapsed after the officials had reached the Vatican’s usual age of retirement of 75. Now, like diocesan bishops, they are requested to resign at 75, and will continue in their positions unless the Pope accepts their resignation. He may also request them to stay on, at his discretion.  

In the motu proprio, signed Feb. 12, Pope Francis cited the generous commitment and experience of many bishops in dioceses or working in the Curia, as a reason for the update in norms.
 
He noted that the period of transition, whether a resignation is accepted or not, can require an interior attitude of acceptance, and that even the conclusion of an ecclesial office itself is a service and requires “a new form of availability.”
 
“This interior attitude is necessary both when, for reasons of age, one must prepare oneself to leave office, and when asked to continue that service for a longer period, even though the age of seventy-five has been reached,” he said.

The Pope also provided some examples of reasons he might choose to extend a Curial bishop’s service in an ecclesial office past the age of 75.

The reasons could include, he said, the importance of continuity and the adequate completion of important projects, the difficulties associated with changing leadership of a dicastery already in a period of transition, and the contribution of the person in the application of new directives or new magisterial guidelines from the Holy See.

Francis explained that the transition from active service to retirement requires adequate internal preparation, which includes stripping oneself of the desire for power and or the need to be indispensable to others.
 
Such preparation will help to make the transition full of peace and confidence, rather than pain and conflict, he said.

As much as possible, this new “project of life,” should include austerity, humility, intercessory prayer, and time dedicated to reading and providing simple pastoral services, he said, noting that prayer is also a powerful tool for discerning how to live out this time.

On the other hand, if a bishop’s resignation is not accepted, and he is asked to continue his service for a longer period, this requires that he abandon his personal desires and projects “with generosity,” the Pope said.

He also emphasized that such a request of the Pope should not be considered a “privilege, or a personal triumph,” a favor between friends, or even an act of gratitude for the service he has provided.
 
“Any possible extension can be understood only for certain reasons always linked to the ecclesial common good,” he said, and is not an “automatic act, but an act of government.”

The Pope said that the virtue of prudence is applied, along with adequate discernment, in order to make the appropriate decision in these cases.

Pope Francis regularly meets with abuse victims on Fridays

Vatican City, Feb 15, 2018 / 05:45 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a conversation with Jesuits during his recent visit to Peru, Pope Francis said he regularly meets with victims of sexual abuse on Fridays, and that while the percentage of priests who abuse is relatively low, even one is too many.

When it comes to sexual abuse, roughly “70 percent of pedophiles are in the family environment, acquaintances. Then in gyms, at the pool,” the Pope said in a conversation with Peruvian Jesuits, published Feb. 15.

The meeting took place Jan. 19 after a courtesy visit to Peruvian President Pedro Kuczynski during a three-day visit to the country, which was part of a wider, Jan. 15-21 visit to South America.  

“The percentage of pedophiles that are Catholic priests doesn't reach 2 percent, it's around 1.6 percent. So it's not a lot,” he said. However, Francis stressed that “it's terrible even if it were just one of our brothers!”

“God anointed them for the sanctification of children and adults, and he, instead of sanctifying them, has destroyed them. It's horrible!” he said, and underlined the importance of listening to victims and hearing directly about the suffering they've undergone.

To this end, he said he regularly meets with victims of abuse on Fridays, and “their process is so difficult, they are annihilated. They are annihilated!”

For the Church, abuse is “a great humiliation,” he said. “It shows not only our fragility, but also, let's say it clearly, our level of hypocrisy.”

Vatican spokesman Greg Burke confirmed the Pope's comment about the Friday meetings, saying in a Feb. 15 statement that “several times a month” Pope Francis meets with victims of sexual abuse either individually or in groups.

Pope Francis, he said, “listens to the victims and tries to help them heal the serious wounds caused by the abuses they've undergone. The meetings are held with the utmost privacy, in respect of the victims and their suffering.”

The Pope's comments were made to Peruvian Jesuits during his recent Jan. 15-21 visit to Chile and Peru. He met privately with Jesuits in both countries, taking questions from attendees and listening to their concerns.

The conversations, published in Jesuit journal La Civilta' Cattolica, touched on a variety of issues, and included Francis' discussion with both the Chilean and Peruvian Jesuits. Chile and Peru are at the center of two major, high-profile cases of sexual abuse, with abuses committed by a Chilean priest and a Peruvian layman.

Francis met privately with abuse victims in Chile, and spoke openly about the tragedy in his Jan. 18 meeting with priests and religious in the country. His comments on abuse were made in response to a question posed by a Peruvian Jesuit about how to handle sex abuse, and whether he had any encouragement to give.

Speaking to the some 100 Jesuits present for the Jan. 19 encounter, Francis responded to the question saying sex abuse is “the greatest desolation that the Church is undergoing.”

He recalled a time when was returning home in Argentina. After getting off the metro, he saw a couple with a young toddler walking down the street. When the child started to run in his direction, the father immediately yelled for the child to come back, and to “watch out for the pedophiles.”

“What shame I underwent! What shame!” Pope Francis said. “They didn't realize that I was the archbishop, I was a priest, and what shame!”

He noted that often times abuse, particularly in new and flourishing communities, is linked to corruption, citing three types of abuse which often go together.

“Abuse in these congregations is always the result of a mentality linked to power, which must be healed at its evil roots,” he said, explaining that the various communities undergoing scandals generally all suffer from a deadly trio of “abuse of authority – with which it means to mix the internal and external forum – sexual abuse, and economic messes.”

Noting how both he and Benedict XVI have had to “suppress” various communities, such as the Legionaries of Christ, Francis said there are “many painful cases,” and that this phenomenon has also affected new and prosperous congregations, most notably the Peruvian-born Sodalitium Christianae Vitae.

In cases like this, “money is always in the middle,” he said, adding that “the devil enters through the wallet.”

According to St. Ignatius, one of the first steps of temptation is for wealth, he said. “Then come vanity and pride, but first there is wealth. In the new congregations that have fallen into this problem of abuse these three levels are also found together.”

However, citing the Ignatian spiritual exercises, the Pope said the shame experienced can also be a grace, and urged his fellow Jesuits to accept these experiences “as a grace and be deeply ashamed,” because “we must love the Church with her wounds.”

Though spoken beforehand, the Pope's comments have been made public at a time when he is under fire for his reaction to accusations of abuse cover-up on the part of Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno, Chile.

Appointed to head the Osorno diocese by Pope Francis in 2015, Barros is accused of both witnessing and covering the abuse of his longtime friend Fr. Fernando Karadima, who was found guilty of abuse in 2011. Barros has repeatedly denied these claims.

Opposition to Barros and his appointment has been relentless since his installment in 2015. Pope Francis faced major blow-back during his visit to Chile for saying the accusations against Barros were unfounded, and amounted to “calumny.”

On his flight back to Rome, Francis apologized for the comment, saying he had intended to say that there was not enough evidence to convict Barros of cover-up, and that no victims had come forward with information that could prove the Chilean prelate's guilt.

Shortly after the visit, Francis tapped Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, the Vatican's top man in clerical abuse appeals cases, to go to Santiago to hear victims' testimonies. The trip also includes a stop in New York to speak with one of Karadima's most high-profile victims, Juan Carlos Cruz, who has been among the most vocal opponents of Barros.

After Scicluna's appointment, reports came out indicating that before Barros' appointment in 2015, Cruz had sent an 8-page letter detailing Karadima's abuse to the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, alleging that Barros had not only witnessed his abuse and the abuse of others, but had at times participated and covered it up.

According to reports, members of the commission had given the letter to the commission's president, Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, who is said to have presented it to the Pope, raising questions as to whether Francis had read it and was aware of Cruz's testimony before naming Barros to Osorno.

Pope Francis voices sorrow for 'devastating' Florida school attack

Vatican City, Feb 15, 2018 / 05:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Thursday, Pope Francis assured his spiritual closeness to all those affected by a deadly shooting at a Florida high school that left 17 dead, offering prayer for the victims and voicing hope that such acts of violence would end.

In a Feb. 15 letter addressed to Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, the Pope said he was “deeply saddened to learn of the tragic shooting” that took place yesterday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Signed by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the letter assured all those affected by the “devastating attack” of the Pope's spiritual closeness, saying he prays “that Almighty God may grant eternal rest to the dead and healing and consolation to the wounded and those who grieve.”

“With the hope that such senseless acts of violence may cease, Pope Francis invokes upon all of you the divine blessings of peace and strength.”

The Pope's telegram comes the day after a former student stormed Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle, killing at least 17 students and teachers and injuring dozens more, according to reports.

The 19-year-old suspected shooter had been expelled from the school for “disciplinary reasons.” He is said to have a history of violence and has been treated for mental illness.

Students at the school posted videos and photos of the shooting – the third largest school shooting in American history – and its aftermath as it unfolded. The suspected shooter was arrested by police about an hour after the attack and remains in custody.

In a statement published on the diocesan website, Archbishop Wenski said he offered his prayers as well as those of the Catholic community for everyone affected by this “senseless tragedy.”

“We pray for the deceased and wounded, for their families and loved ones, for our first responders and our entire South Florida community,” said Wenski.

He urged Floridians to rise above their “understandable outrage,” and “come together as a community to support one another” in the aftermath of the shooting. With the Lord’s help, Wenski said, “we can remain strong and resolute to resist evil in all its manifestations.”

“May God heal the broken hearted and comfort the sorrowing as we once again face as a nation another act of senseless violence and horrifying evil.”

Curial reform as a matter of pastoral concern

Vatican City, Feb 15, 2018 / 12:00 am (CNA).- Reform of the Vatican Curia aims to emphasize pastoral care, and should not be seen as a reform that will overturn the whole Curia, a bishop involved in Rome’s Curia reform process has explained.
 
Bishop Marcello Semeraro is the secretary of Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals, appointed to assist the Pope in the government of the Church and to tailor a Curia reform. In a recent article for the Italian Catholic magazine Il Regno, Bishop Semeraro explained how the reform is being carried forward, and the rationale behind it.
 
Bishop Semeraro stressed that the reforms are intended to emphasize pastoral concern, and are not intended as a revolution. He said that recent reforms to Vatican communications offices might be considered a model for the reform project.
 
According to Bishop Semeraro, the establishment of a third section within the Vatican’s Secretariat of State is a sign of the major emphasis given to the pastoral work.
 
The third section of the Secretariat of State, announced in November, is intended to show the Pope’s attention and closeness to the Vatican’s diplomatic staff. For this reason, the head of the third section is tasked with visiting the Holy See’s nunciatures around the world.
 
Bishop Semeraro said that care for Vatican diplomats has been a main topic of discussion during meetings of the Council of Cardinals, and that the meaning of the secretariat’s reform lies in the way that the job of papal nuncios, similar to ambassadors, developed after the Second Vatican Council.
 
Bishop Semeraro noted that nuncios were once considered exclusively diplomatic figures, but the revised 1983 Code of Canon Law “met the Second Vatican Council’s hope that the office of the Pontifical legate – that is, the Apostolic nuncio – was to be described with reference to the pastoral ministry of a bishop.”
 
The 1983 Code “made explicit the distinction between ecclesial and diplomatic mission,” and underscored that “pontifical representatives, although having a diplomatic side, are mostly ecclesial figures,” and their main tasks “are religious and ecclesiastical duties” undertaken on behalf of the Pope, Bishop Semeraro said.
 
For this reason, Pope Francis wanted to show a pastoral concern toward the Vatican diplomatic staff, since “the focus on human resources is a non-secondary aspect of the Curia reform process,” Semeraro said.
 
To explain the ‘big picture’ of curial reform, Bishop Semeraro recalled Pope Francis’ 2017 Christmas greeting to the Roman Curia, and in particular, the way the Pope explained the Curia’s “ad extra” functions.
 
According to Bishop Semeraro, the Pope asked the Curia to be “extroverted,” that is, oriented beyond the Vatican, with a capacity to read the signs of times.
 
Bishop Semeraro said that the need to look outside, toward the local Churches, is also demonstrated by the motu proprio Magnum Principium, which liberalized the process of translating the Roman Missal from Latin into vernacular languages.
 
The secretary of the Council of Cardinals said that the Council itself was called to give its opinion on the issue, “with a context and competence other than the opinion of the Commission of Bishops and experts established.”
 
He also emphasized the work of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors in assisting the local Churches as another example of a Curia that sets its gaze to the outside.
 
He also said that the Pope wants the reform to be gradual, and this is happening with the new Dicasteries for the Promotion of Integral Human Development and for Laity, Family and Life.
 
Bishop Semeraro said that the Council of Cardinal relies on three principles in Curia reform: tradition, innovation, and focus on what is really necessary.
 
For what concerns tradition, Bishop Semeraro said that “it is misleading thinking of a reform overturning the overall Curial framework,” as the Curia includes “dicasteries regarding some fundamental ecclesial actions, like the announcement of the Gospel,  the safeguarding of faith, the liturgical life, the service of charity.”
 
The key principle of innovation is epitomized by the reform in the area of communication, that was intended to respond to new media realities.
 
The principle of “focus” might also be called “simplification”, as has happened with the merging of some dicasteries.
 
The Pope intends the reform as a “process” – Bishop Semeraro concluded – that needs time to be completed, according to Pope Francis’ sentence in Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium that states the need to “start processes, rather than possessing spaces.”
 
In this sense, the Curia’s Lenten spiritual exercises, which Pope Francis requested be set outside of Rome, are part of this reform, Bishop Semeraro stressed.

 

Pope on Ash Wednesday: Lent is the perfect time to 'come home'

Vatican City, Feb 14, 2018 / 09:33 am (CNA/EWTN News).- At Mass for Ash Wednesday, Pope Francis invited everyone to live the 40 days of Lent as a time to “pause” from things which keep us from virtue and to return home to the loving and merciful embrace of God the Father.

“Return without fear to those outstretched, eager arms of your Father, who is rich in mercy, who awaits you. Return without fear, for this is the favorable time to come home,” the Pope said Feb. 14.

“[Lent] is the time for allowing one’s heart to be touched...” he continued, explaining how “persisting on the path of evil only gives rise to disappointment and sadness. True life is something quite distinct and our heart indeed knows this. God does not tire, nor will he tire, of holding out his hand.”

Marking the start of the Lenten season Feb. 14, Pope Francis prayed the Stations of the Cross at St. Anselm Church in Rome before processing the short way to the Basilica of Santa Sabina for the celebration of Mass, benediction, and the imposition of ashes.

The traditional procession is composed of cardinals, bishops, priests, the Benedictine monks of St. Anselm, the Dominican friars of Santa Sabina, and lay people. As they make their way between the two churches, they sing the Litany of the Saints.

The practice of beginning the Lenten season of prayer and penance this way was started by Pope John XXIII when he came for the opening of the Pontifical Liturgical Institute in 1961.

In his homily at Mass, Pope Francis criticized distrust, apathy and resignation, stressing that Lent is the ideal time to uproot these and other temptations from our hearts. He listed out different ways we can do this through the actions of pausing, seeing, and returning to the Father.

He offered several suggestions of how to pause, including refraining from showing off, or from an attitude which gives rise to unproductive thoughts and self-pity, and which lead us to forget our call to encounter others and share in their burdens.

He also urged an end to the desire “to control everything, know everything, destroy everything,” which he said stems from a lack of gratitude for our life and what we've already been given.

Lent is also a good time for the “creative power of silence” in order to “leave behind the unrest and commotion that fill the soul with bitter feelings which never get us anywhere,” he advised.

“Pause from this compulsion to a fast-paced life that scatters, divides and ultimately destroys time with family, with friends, with children, with grandparents, and time as a gift... time with God,” he stated.

The Pope also called out “haughty looks” and “fleeting and pejorative comments,” and urged a break from words stemming from a lack of “tenderness, compassion and reverence for the encounter with others, particularly those who are vulnerable, hurt and even immersed in sin and error.”
Francis urged people instead to look upon and contemplate those actions which promote faith, hope and charity, and to look upon the faces of the vulnerable and in need, like families who, despite hardship, still strive to make their homes “a school of love.”

He also advised people to see the faces of children and youth, yearning for a future, to see the faces of the elderly reflecting “God's wisdom at work,” and to see the faces of sick people and their caretakers, whose vulnerability reminds us of the value of every person.

“See the remorseful faces of so many who try to repair their errors and mistakes,” he continued, “and who from their misfortune and suffering fight to transform their situations and move forward.”

Finally, the Pope encouraged everyone to take time during Lent to “see and contemplate the face of Crucified Love.”

“See and contemplate the real face of Christ crucified out of love for everyone, without exception,” he said. “For everyone? Yes, for everyone. To see his face is an invitation filled with hope for this Lenten time, in order to defeat the demons of distrust, apathy and resignation.”