Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Spanish judge charges 10 Catholic priests with child sexual abuse

Sonya Dowsett, Robin Pomeroy
January 27, 2015

(Reuters) - Ten Spanish priests were charged with child sexual abuse on Tuesday, in a case brought after Pope Francis telephoned the victim to offer the Church's apology, court documents showed.

The victim, now 24, wrote to the pope to say he had been molested when he was an altar boy. The pope called the man in August to apologize, Spanish news site Religion Digital reported in November, a report later confirmed by the pope himself.

The pope said in November that he had ordered a church investigation. The Archbishop of Granada, Francisco Javier Martinez, removed several priests linked to the case from their duties.

The victim said the abuse had happened over a period of years from when he was 14 to the age of 17 in a house rented by the abusers in a suburb of Granada, the court said.

Pope Francis has promised a policy of zero tolerance for sexual abuse of children by clerics after church scandals in several countries over many years. Groups representing victims say he has still not done enough.

The Vatican said last year it had defrocked about 850 priests between 2004 and 2013 who had been accused of sexually abusing minors.

Monday, January 26, 2015

San Francisco Catholic Church priest bans girls as altar servers

Jill Tucker
SF Gate
January 26, 2015

A Catholic priest, new to San Francisco and no stranger to controversy, has banned girls from acting as altar servers at Mass, a decision that sets his parish apart from all others in the archdiocese.

The Rev. Joseph Illo, pastor at Star of the Sea Church since August, said he believes there is an “intrinsic connection” between the priesthood and serving at the altar — and because women can’t be priests, it makes sense to have only altar boys.

“Maybe the most important thing is that it prepares boys to consider the priesthood,” he said.

The Richmond District parish is now the only one in the Archdiocese of San Francisco that will exclude girls from serving at the altar. Such a decision is “a pastor’s call,” said archdiocese spokesman Chris Lyford.

Decision upsets some

Still, the decision has rankled some people at the church and its school, where some, but not all, parents and students disagreed with the move, said parent Nancy Bye, who serves as liaison between the school and the parish.

“I think it is a few people,” Bye said. “I think a lot of the people who are upset are not parishioners.”

Currently, only adults assist the pastor during the church’s regular Masses. Altar boys and girls are used during the Masses held for the students at the parish’s Star of the Sea School.

Girls trained to be altar girls will be allowed to continue serving, with the use of females phased out. Illo said he wants to get an altar boy program up and running for all Masses, as part of a larger father and sons program at the church.

Male bonding

An altar boy program would be a male bonding experience, one that helps them socialize and develop their leadership potential, Illo said. Girls would still be allowed to perform readings during Mass.

Females were authorized by canon law to be altar servers about 20 years ago — or “not that long ago” in the 2,000-year tradition of the Holy Eucharist, Illo said.

This is not the first time Illo has drawn national attention to his parish. In 2008, as a Modesto priest, he said that voting for Barack Obama, who supports abortion rights, required a trip to the confessional.

“Voting for a candidate who promises 'abortion rights,’ even if he promises every other good thing, is voting for abortion,” Illo wrote in a letter to parishioners. “It is a grave mistake and probably a grave sin.”

Like then, Illo was unapologetic about his stance.

“I think it’s OK for one to just have altar boys,” he said. “We're a bit more traditional here” at Star of the Sea.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Francis struggles to answer crying girl's question about suffering

Joshua J. McElwee
National Catholic Reporter
January 17, 2015

Tearfully recounting a young life as yet spent forced to forage for food from garbage and to sleep outside on cardboard mats, 12-year-old Glyzelle Palomar had a simple but profound question for Pope Francis.

"Why did God let this happen to us?" the young Filipino asked, covering her face with her hands as she sobbed.

Speaking on a stage in front of some 30,000 young people as part of a meeting between Francis and Filipino youth Sunday, Palomar's intense query visibly affected the pontiff.

Putting aside a text he had prepared for the occasion in order to respond directly to the young woman, Francis answered her with a 40-minute reflection on the nature of suffering, love, and service.

"The nucleus of your question almost doesn't have a reply," the pontiff said at first, pain clearly etched on his face as he mentioned that he had seen her tears.

"Only when we too can cry about the things that you said are we able to come close to replying to that question," Francis continued.

"Why did children suffer so much?" he asked. "Why do children suffer?"

"Certain realties in life we only see through eyes that are cleansed through our tears," Francis said.

Addressing the thousands of youth in the crowd, he continued: "I invite each one of you to ask yourselves: 'Have I learned how to weep, how to cry when I see a hungry child, a child on the street who uses drugs, a homeless child, an abandoned child, an abused child, a child that society uses as a slave?'"

"Let us learn how to weep, as she has shown us today," said Francis. "Let us not forget this lesson. The great question of why so many children suffer. She did this crying. And the response that we can make today is let us learn, really learn, how to weep."

Francis' remarks Sunday came in a meeting with Filipino youth organized as part of his visit to the country Thursday-Sunday and held at Manila's Dominican-run University of Santo Tomas.

Palomar was one of four young people who gave testimonies about their lives during the event. Rescued from living on the streets by a foundation in Manila dedicated to helping such children, she and a young man helped by the same foundation spoke of the intense poverty faced by many Filipino children.

A nation of some 100 million, more than one-quarter of the population of the Philippines is estimated to live below the poverty line. A 2009 study by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies found that 36 percent of Filipino children live in impoverished conditions.

In answering Palomar, Francis also said that Jesus cried often in the stories of the Gospel.

"If you don't learn how to cry, you can't be good Christians," said the pope. "This is a challenge."

Francis spoke extemporaneously Sunday in his native Spanish, with the help of a priest translating his remarks into English for the crowd.

Beginning his talk, Francis first asked the youth at the meeting to offer prayers for the young woman who died at the end of a Mass the pontiff celebrated Saturday in Tacloban, an area about 500 miles southeast of Manila.

Kristel Pasadas, a 27-year-old staff member for Catholic Relief Services, was killed when scaffolding holding a speaker used for the amplification system during the Mass fell on her.

"I have very sad news today," the pope said Sunday, before asking that those assembled take a minute of silence in prayer. "Let us also pray for her father and mother," Francis added. "She was the only daughter."

Francis then addressed the fact that besides Palomar those that gave testimonies at the youth event were young men.

There was "only a very small representation of women among you," he said, adding: "too little."

"Women have much to tell us in today's society," the pope continued. "Sometimes we are too machista ... and we don't allow room for the women."

"When the next pope comes, please more women among the number!" he asked.

The pope then addressed two other testimonies given by young men at the event, one focusing on the struggles young people face becoming overloaded with information in the internet age and the other speaking about volunteering to help survivors of 2013's Typhoon Haiyan.

Addressing the first testimony, Francis said there is so much information available now "but perhaps we don't know what to do with that information."

"We run the risk of becoming museums of young people, that have everything but without knowing what to do with it," he said.

"Which is the most important subject that you have to learn in university, that you have to learn in life?" Francis asked, answering: "To learn how to love. And this is the challenge that life offers you, to learn how to love."

The pontiff then said that in order to love, one has to use three languages: Of the mind, of the heart, and of the hands.

"What you think you must feel and put into effect," he continued. "Your information comes down to your heart and you realize it in real works."

Francis then said that love also requires being open to being loved and to surprises.

"Don't be frightened of surprises," he told the youth. "They shake the ground from underneath your feet and they make us unsure, but they move us forward in the right direction."

Reflecting on the example of St. Francis of Assisi -- who he said "died with empty pockets but with a very full heart" -- the pope said that "real love leads you to spend yourselves in life, to leave your pockets empty."

Responding to the man who volunteered after the Typhoon, one of the most devastating ever experienced in the Philippines, Francis told the young people they must not only learn to give of themselves but to receive from others.

"Jesus had to come to allow himself to feel compassion, to be loved," said the pope. "How many young people are there like this? You know how to give and yet you haven't yet learned how to receive."

"You lack only one thing, to become a beggar," he continued. "This is what you lack, to learn how to beg."

"To learn how to receive with humility," said Francis. "To learn to be evangelized by the poor, those that we help: The poor, the sick, the orphans, they have so much to offer us. Have I learned how to beg also for that?"

"Do you let yourselves be evangelized by those you serve?" he asked. "Or do I feel self-sufficient or I'm only going to offer something and think that you have no need of anything?"

Francis is visiting the Philippines, Asia's largest Catholic nation, Thursday-Sunday in the second visit of a two-part Asian voyage that first saw him visit Sri Lanka earlier in the week.

Later Sunday the pontiff will celebrate a public Mass in Manila's Rizal Park, an event the Vatican has called a "mega Mass" because of the expected crowds. Millions have converged since early Sunday morning on the streets of Manila, under pouring rain, to try and secure a place in the celebration.

In one sign of the massive operation to prepare for the event, officials from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines on Saturday night celebrated a Mass and consecrated 2.5 million hosts for distribution Sunday from 20 tents among the crowd.

Security for the papal visit has been extraordinarily tight. About 50,000 police and soldiers have been on patrol and authorities have been using jamming technology to prevent use of cellular networks in areas near where the pope is traveling.

As Francis traveled the some four miles Sunday between Manila's apostolic nunciature, where he has been staying during his visit, and the university for the youth meeting, crowds pressed in along the route, with some people coming so close as to almost touch the pope's hand.

Police were lined shoulder to shoulder along barricades lining the road, attempting to hold the crowd in.

Masses cancelled and Catholic schools closed in Niger as Muslim protestors torch churches

Abigail Fryman Rouch
The Tablet
January 23, 2015

The bishops of Niger have cancelled Masses and shut Catholic schools, healthcare facilities and charity outreaches after Muslim protestors torched more than 40 churches across the country.

The protests were started as an angry response to the publication of the depiction of Muhammad on the cover of Charlie Hebdo magazine. The edition was the first since Islamic extremists in Paris massacred 12 people at the magazine’s offices in retaliation for earlier cartoons of Muhammad.

In a statement, Bishops Laurent Lompo, Ambroise Ouedraogo and Michel Cartatéguy said that suspending activities will allow them to pray and calmly consider “the painful events that we have had recently. We cordially thank all those who have expressed their solidarity at this difficult time.”

The archbishop of Niamey, Michel Cartatéguy, told Vatican Radio that despite all the support the Church had received, “We have to suspend all activities in Catholic missions and close our schools.”

In Niger there were reports of three deaths in the capital, Niamey, and another five in the second city, Zinder. The bodies of three of the dead were found in churches. More than 250 people in Zinder were forced to seek refuge at a military base. Christian properties across the country were targeted, including orphanages, pastors’ homes and church-run schools.

The archbishop went on: “The Christian community in Niger is still in a state of shock: Almost all the churches [of the diocese], 12 to 14 of them, were completely plundered. Nothing remains, they were totally burned.”

“Only the cathedral is still standing,” he said.

He also voiced concern that the inter-religious tensions were being whipped up by antagonists from outside the country. Those responsible for last weekend’s riots “are being manipulated from abroad, everything is being manipulated,” Archbishop Cartateguy said. “It’s obvious that the millions of copies of the Muhammad cartoons being distributed are saying to the people here that the Christians of the West are the ones who have done this!” the archbishop said.

Christians have accused the police of being slow in coming to their aid.

“Now there are people running throughout the streets asking, ‘Are you Allah is great or Alleluia?’ This means they are looking for Christians,” he warned.

Last weekend Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou appealed for calm in a speech on state television, adding: "Those who loot these places of worship, who desecrate them and kill their Christian compatriots ... have understood nothing of Islam.”

Monday, January 19, 2015

Francis lambasts international aid, suggests Catholics should limit number of children

Joshua J. McElwee
National Catholic Reporter
January 19, 2015

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE FROM MANILA Pope Francis has obliquely but sharply criticized how financially stable nations lend aid to developing countries, saying they sometimes require concessions that strike echoes of 20th century dictatorships.

The pontiff has also made what appears to be an unprecedented statement that Catholics may have a moral responsibility to limit the number of their children, while reaffirming Pope Paul VI’s ban on artificial means of birth control.

Francis’ statement about development aid was a clarification of an earlier warning against what he called an "ideological colonization" of family life, made during a meeting with families in the Philippines last week. Speaking to media Monday, Francis recounted a story of a public education minister he knew who was offered money to construct new schools for the poor.

To receive the money, said Francis, the minister had to agree to use a course book with students that taught what the pontiff called "gender theory."

"This is the ideological colonization," said the pope. "It colonizes the people with an idea that changes, or wants to change, a mentality or a structure."

"It is not new, this," he continued. "The same was done by the dictators of the last century. They came with their own doctrine -- think of the Balilla [youth groups of Fascist Italy], think of the Hitler Youth."

"They colonized the people," he continued. "How much suffering -- peoples must not lose liberty."

"Every people has its own culture," said Francis. "But when imposed conditions come from the imperial colonizers, they seek to make [peoples] lose their own identity and make an homogeny."


Reaffirms prohibition on birth control

Francis said Pope Paul VI, whose 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae outlined the contraceptive ban, was warning against a "Neo-Malthusianism, " a reference to a theories that suggested in the 1960s and ’70s that exponential global population growth would lead to an irreversible world food crisis.

Citing the low rates of birth specifically in Italy and Spain, Francis said such Neo-Malthusianism "seeks to control humanity."

At the same time, however, Francis made a statement that seems without precedent for a pope, suggesting that parents may have a responsibility to limit the number of their children, saying: "This does not signify that the Christian must make children in series."

Telling the story of a woman he met in a parish in Rome several months ago who had given birth to seven children via Cesarean section and was pregnant with an eighth, Francis asked: "Does she want to leave the seven orphans?"

"This is to tempt God," he said, adding later: "That is an irresponsibility." Catholics, the pope said, should speak of "responsible parenthood."

"How do we do this?" Francis asked. "With dialogue. Each person with his pastor seeks how to do that responsible parenthood."

"God gives you methods to be responsible," he continued. "Some think that -- excuse the word -- that in order to be good Catholics we have to be like rabbits. No."

"This is clear and that is why in the church there are marriage groups, there are experts in this matter, there are pastors," Francis said. Using the term for a practice that follows church law, he continued: "I know so many, many licit ways that have helped this."

Francis was speaking about birth control in response to a question from a Filipino journalist. Use of contraception in the Philippines is a contentious issue, as the Philippine government only recently approved contraceptive access against forceful opposition from Catholic bishops.


read full article at National Catholic Reporter

Friday, January 16, 2015

100 years later Ku Klux Klan still alive in Arkansas

Aprille Hanson
Arkansas Catholic (newspaper of diocese of Little Rock)
January 16, 2015

Harrison, Ark., was again the center of local and national attention when a racially charged billboard was erected picturing a white girl holding a dog and stating, “It’s not Racist to (Heart) Your People.”

It lists a “White Pride Radio” website, which leads to Ku Klux Klan information. The KKK is a national hate group that promotes white supremacy and has targeted blacks, immigrants, Catholics and Jews.

Thom Robb, who runs the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, lives outside the city and a local chapter of the hate group is present, which has left a widespread reputation of racism to outsiders looking in. However, Mayor Jeff Crockett, city officials and church leaders have worked hard to combat that stigma in recent years by creating a race relations task force to show that the hate group does not speak for everyone in Harrison. “None of us that I know of like it,” Deacon Mark Scouten of Mary Mother of God Church in Harrison said of the KKK billboard erected in December. “We’ve been trying to figure out what to do about it; like the rest of the town, we’re at a total loss.”

The city has been plagued by its reputation of being against minorities for more than 100 years. In 1905 and 1909 it was reported that white mobs chased nearly every black person out.

Scouten said all minorities are welcome at Mary Mother of God Church and those that do attend are “very well liked in the parish.”

“The only thing I can tell anybody is until you get to know the place, the town and the people in the area, don’t make assumptions. We can go into any town in Arkansas, in the United States and find racist bigots. It’s just the grand wizard of the KKK is here, and he is more vocal and has money and is able to spread it more. Hate breeds hate … So it’s really hard to fight it with love and understanding, which is what we’re trying to do, but people are afraid. Instead of taking the chance and seeing what it’s like, they just say, ‘They’re a bunch of racist hicks from Harrison’ and we’re not.”

The key for those within the Catholic faith is to keep evangelizing and spreading Church teaching of love and prayer to stop racist intolerance, but that can’t silence others, Scouten said.

“If anybody could come up with a concrete idea on how to fight this, we’d help but things like this have been going on for hundreds of years and nobody has a solution to it,” Scouten said of the KKK spreading hateful messages in Harrison. “If one came up, we’d step behind it.”

Several other white supremacist groups, including Kingdom Identity Ministries, have ties to the Ozark mountain region.

According to 2010 census data, 96 percent of Harrison residents identify themselves as white. Only 34 of the city’s 12,493 people identify themselves as black.

St. Paul - Minneapolis archdiocese files for bankruptcy

Amy Forliti
Associated Press
January 16, 2015

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis filed for bankruptcy protection on Friday, saying it's the best way for the church to get as many resources as possible to victims of clergy sexual abuse.

"We're doing the right thing," Rev. Charles Lachowitzer, a top church official, told The Associated Press in an interview in advance of Friday's filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. "This decision reflects the end of a process of putting victims first."

The archdiocese is the 12th U.S. diocese to seek bankruptcy protection in the face of sex abuse claims. Church leaders have said for months that bankruptcy was an option, as the archdiocese faces numerous lawsuits by victims of clergy sex abuse. The lawsuits will be put on hold while the bankruptcy case is pending.

The filing estimates that the archdiocese - the largest in the state with more than 800,000 parishioners - has assets between $10 million and $50 million, with liabilities between $50 million and $100 million. It also estimated 200 to 300 creditors.

An attorney for the victims, Mike Finnegan, said the bankruptcy filing won't stop scrutiny of the archdiocese. But church officials have "promised to treat victims fairly during this process," said Finnegan, whose firm is working with the archdiocese as part of an October settlement on child protection issues.

But Patrick Noaker, another victims' attorney, said he's disappointed. Noaker is handling a lawsuit scheduled for trial this month, and he said the bankruptcy filing robs him of the chance to reveal information that could help protect children in the future.

"The process of bankruptcy is not going to make kids safer," he said. "I don't think it's any accident that they filed a week before this trial was going to start."

In a letter to parishioners, Archbishop John Nienstedt said he ordered the bankruptcy as the fairest way to distribute the archdiocese's finite resources to victims.

"This is not an attempt to silence victims or deny them justice in court," Nienstedt wrote.

Minnesota lawmakers created a three-year window in 2013 for victims of past sexual abuse to file claims that otherwise would have been barred by the statute of limitations.

Since then, the archdiocese has been sued roughly two dozen times, and it has received more than 100 notices of potential claims, according to Joe Kueppers, the archdiocese's chancellor for civil affairs.

The mission of the church and its day-to-day operations will continue through bankruptcy, archdiocese attorney Charlie Rogers said. Parishes and schools, which are incorporated separately from the archdiocese's central office, should not be affected.

"It's a smart move on their part," Pamela Foohey, an associate professor at Indiana University Maurer School of Law, said of the bankruptcy filing. "It ultimately can be useful for the victims taken as a whole, assuming that the diocese treats them fairly."

Not all bankruptcy filings have gone smoothly. The Archdiocese of Milwaukee's bankruptcy has dragged on for four years as attorneys fight over who should get paid and how much.

But in Montana, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena sought protection only after working out a deal with victims. The deal was approved by a judge earlier this week.

The St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese does not have a pre-packaged plan for reorganization, but the archdiocese will try to avoid prolonged fights seen in other dioceses, Rogers said. The archdiocese has already addressed issues that have bogged down other bankruptcies, including implementing a new system to protect children and disclosing thousands of pages of church documents and the names of accused priests.

As a result, Rogers said, this bankruptcy could focus purely on financial restitution to victims.

Finnegan, the victims' attorney, said the process also will allow victims to look at the church's finances, and allow the archdiocese and victims to pursue insurance companies.

Lachowitzer said he hopes parishioners see the bankruptcy filing as a necessary step to close "a horrendous and tragic chapter in the life of the church.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Kansas City Catholics divided over Vatican investigation of Bishop Finn

Frank Morris
Northeast Public Radio
January 15, 2015

A Catholic bishop normally governs pretty much unchecked in his diocese — only the pope can dislodge a bishop. And each time Catholics celebrate Mass in Kansas City, Mo., they pray for Bishop Robert Finn, right after they pray for Pope Francis.

But some Catholics here, like Deacon David Biersmith, refuse to go along.

"When the priest says that, you know, you're supposed say it with him, but I just leave that out," Biersmith says. "I just don't say it. Because he's not my bishop, as far as I'm concerned."

Much of the discontent in Kansas City has to do with an incident four years ago. A computer technician found hundreds of lewd photos of young girls on a priest's laptop. The priest was Shawn Ratigan, and it wasn't the first sign that he was a pedophile.

But Finn didn't tell authorities. Instead, he sent Ratigan to a therapist, switched Ratigan's job and asked him to stay away from children. Ratigan didn't, and months later a diocese official finally reported him.

Ratigan was sentenced to 50 years in prison for child pornography, and Finn drew two years of probation for shielding him. Finn is now the subject of a rare Vatican investigation that began in September.

Jeff Weis was once just a regular parishioner in the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City, but after Ratigan was sentenced, he knew he had to act.

"What I was looking for was, what is the church's response to this?" he says. "What is the bishop's response?"

The church set up new protocols for reporting child abuse and hired a former federal prosecutor to investigate the Ratigan case. But Finn stayed on as bishop, so Weis launched an online petition asking the pope to remove him. It has drawn more than 260,000 signatures.

Other parishioners sent the same message in different ways, and then last fall, the Vatican dispatched an archbishop here to investigate.

"Out of the blue I got a call, and they were arranging meetings for the archbishop to talk with people about the Bishop Finn issues," says Jim Caccamo, who led a board for the diocese to advise Finn on sexual abuse issues.

While Caccamo calls Finn a wonderful, holy man, he can't fathom why he failed to report Ratigan to authorities.

"Oh my gosh!" he says. "In this environment today, when the church is moving to protect its children, how, how, how could that happen?"

A lot of people are asking the same question. James Connell, a priest and canon lawyer in Milwaukee, says Finn broke protocols the church set up after the huge sexual abuse crisis in 2002. Even high-ranking church officials have publicly weighed in.

Cardinal Sean O'Malley from Boston, a close adviser to Pope Francis, addressed the Finn issue on 60 Minutes last November.

"It's a question that the Holy See needs to address urgently," O'Malley told CBS's Norah O'Donnell. "There's a recognition of that from Pope Francis."

Francis recently demoted Finn's closest ally in Rome, a conservative cardinal named Raymond Burke. But Finn still has plenty of support in Kansas City.

"Well, I love Bishop Finn," says John Purk, a recently ordained deacon in the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese. "He's a great friend. He's a supporter. You know exactly what he's thinking because it just rolls off his tongue."

Like Finn, Purk holds traditional Catholic views of marriage, birth control, abortion and theology. It's a belief system that Purk says reveals the deity of Jesus.

"Now, a lot of people have a problem with that, just like they had a problem with Jesus," he says. "And so, the problems that Jesus encountered, this bishop encounters."

Purk says Finn faced a real dilemma over Ratigan. He says the bishop got conflicting advice, and he notes that Ratigan attempted suicide when his lewd photographs came to light.

"I think the bishop did the best that he could have done, with the information that he had, having to balance mercy and justice with a man who was suicidal," Purk says.

American Catholics are looking to see how the Vatican balances the traditional autonomy of bishops with the need to better address the church's ongoing sexual abuse issue and the pope's selection for leader of the diocese in Kansas City.

Possible acceleration of Oscar Romero's sainthood cause creates mixed emotions

Chaz Muth
Catholic News Service
January 13, 2015

Scholars who have studied the life of murdered Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero say a reading of the tea leaves suggest advancement of his sainthood cause is imminent.

The news is being met with jubilation by many Romero researchers and with mixed emotions by Salvadorans.

Supporters of the cause for Romero's canonization have been frustrated for years by what they view as a stalled effort.

However, the cause now appears to have momentum, and a soon-to-come beatification or sainthood announcement "would be a great day for us," said Damian Zynda, a Romero researcher who is a faculty member with the Christian Spirituality Program at Creighton University.

Zynda was among several scholars Catholic News Service interviewed during the annual International Conference on Archbishop Oscar Romero at the University of Notre Dame in September.

The most promising movement of the cause came Jan. 8, when the newspaper of the Italian bishops' conference announced that a panel of theologians advising the Vatican's Congregation for Saints' Causes unanimously voted to recognize the archbishop as a martyr, and declared that the archbishop had been killed "in hatred for the faith."

Romero, an outspoken advocate for the poor and an uncompromising critic of a Salvadoran government he said legitimized terror and assassinations, was shot and killed March 24, 1980, as he celebrated Mass in a San Salvador hospital chapel during his country's 12-year civil war that ended in 1992.

The next step in the process lies with the cardinals and bishops who sit on the Congregation for Saints' Causes, who will vote on whether to advise the pope to issue a decree of beatification. A miracle is not needed for beatification of a martyr, though a miracle is ordinarily needed for his or her canonization as saint.

Some scholars say it is possible Pope Francis will not adhere to convention and fast-track the canonization process without a miracle.

"I'm not naive, because I've walked through a lot of trenches, but I'm hopeful," said Holy Cross Fr. Robert S. Pelton, director of Latin American/North American Church Concerns for the Kellogg Institute for International Studies at the University of Notre Dame. Pelton also organizes an annual international conference on Archbishop Romero at the university.

"It's so long overdue," said Julian Filochowski, chairman of the Archbishop Romero Trust in London, which was launched in 2007 to raise awareness about the murdered justice advocate's life and work. "I think it will give great encouragement to the church and to those who are bread-breaking-justice-seeking Christians and Catholics around the world."

Romero's sainthood cause was opened at the Vatican in 1993, but was delayed for years as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith studied his writings, amid wider debate over whether he had been killed for his faith or for political reasons. And there has been concern that he has been used as a political symbol rather than a religious symbol in El Salvador.

The martyrdom of Romero is different than how most people traditionally see martyrs, said Michael E. Lee, associate professor of theology at Jesuit-run Fordham University.

"Many of us have notions of ancient Christian martyrs before a Roman emperor, but here is Romero, and so many others, who have given their lives for the struggle for justice and human rights, which was inspired by the Gospels' teachings," Lee told CNS. "These truly are martyrs and we need to understand martyrdom in a new light because of their example."

Pope Francis has been an outspoken admirer of Romero. He quoted him during a recent general audience at the Vatican, and when he was Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, he reportedly said he already considered Romero to be a saint.

Beatification and canonization of the murdered Salvadoran archbishop would provide the church and people of Latin America a role model for peace and social justice, said Thomas M. Kelly, professor of systematic theology at Creighton University.

"It would definitely give people who take the social justice teaching of Vatican II very seriously a model and exemplar who is now a saint in a way that we do not have and have not had before," Kelly told CNS. "It would definitely, I think, propel the agenda of Francis in many ways."

Similarities between Pope Francis and Romero include a deep concern for the poor, efforts to minimize the power of the very wealthy and use of the pulpit to advocate for the poor and victims of societal abuses, he said.

While many Salvadorans already consider Romero to be a saint, not everyone is convinced an official sanction from the church is necessary or positive, said Claudia Bernardi, professor of community arts at California College of the Arts in Oakland, Calif. She has been involved in community building through art in Perquin, El Salvador.

Bernardi said while many of the people she works with in El Salvador honor and revere Romero, they are concerned that his canonization would move him further from average people.

"We like to think that he was a good man and that he had the same opportunities to be courageous and not be courageous, and he fought for us, and we like to think that he is a man," and not an unreachable saint, she said.

Though Zynda said she understands that sentiment, she told CNS that she does not believe the spirit of Romero would allow his canonization to disconnect his existence from the people of El Salvador.

It rests with the ecclesial leaders "to not create that culture," Zynda said. "Because that's exactly what these icons of discipleship ought to be for us, someone who is not removed, but someone like Jesus with his feet on the ground, who knows God and knows humanity. So did Romero."

Friday, January 9, 2015

Report Vatican theologians declare Oscar Romero a martyr

Joshua J. McElwee
National Catholic Reporter
January 9, 2015

A Vatican commission of theologians has reportedly declared that Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated as a martyr for the Catholic faith, a pivotal step in the sainthood process for the prelate known for radically calling on the church to stand with the poor and oppressed.

News of the declaration -- reportedly made unanimously Thursday by a commission of theologians at the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of the Saints -- was first reported Friday by the Italian daily Avvenire, which is published by the country's bishops' conference.

An official at the congregation said Friday he could not speak on the matter, referring questions to the Vatican's press office. As of late morning in Rome, the press office had not confirmed the declaration.

Romero was archbishop of San Salvador during the bloody and tension-filled time leading up to his country's 1979-1992 civil war. Shot dead while celebrating Mass in 1980, the archbishop has long been considered a saint by many in Latin America, but the official Vatican process of sainthood had lingered for years.

Some had speculated that there was unease among church prelates -- including Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI -- because of Romero's embrace of liberation theology, a type of Christian theology that posits that Christ did not just seek liberation from sin but every type of oppression.

Pope Francis, the first Latin American pope, has seemingly revived Romero's cause.

One month after Francis' March 2013 election, Francis had a meeting with the official promoter of Romero's sainthood, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia. Coming out of the meeting, Paglia said the pope had told him the process to eventually canonize Romeo had been "unblocked."

Francis said the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had blocked Romero's cause for "prudential reasons," responding to a question on the papal plane back from his trip to South Korea in August.

"Now it is unblocked." Francis said then. "Right now the postulators have to move forward because there are no obstacles."

The finding from the Vatican congregation would essentially clear the way for the Salvadoran archbishop's beatification, a formal recognition by the church that he is likely in heaven and the final step before he can be declared a saint.

While recognition of beatification normally requires that a miracle be proven to have been caused by the deceased person, martyrs of the faith do not have to meet that requirement.

The finding of Romero's martyrdom by the Vatican congregation's commission of theologians will now have to be approved by the bishops and cardinals who serve as the congregation's members before coming to Francis for final approval.

While the final step of sainthood for Romero would normally require proof of a miracle caused by the late archbishop, Francis has previously dispensed that requirement several times in order to quickly approve sainthood for others.

Romero, who was appointed as the archbishop of San Salvador by Pope Paul VI in 1977, was killed in 1980 one day after he had given a sermon calling on Christian soldiers in his country to stop enforcing his government's policies of oppression and violations of human rights.

The archbishop spoke out frequently against the government of the time, a revolutionary junta that ousted the country's elected government and ruled from 1979-1982. He also wrote a letter to U.S. President Jimmy Carter a month before his murder, criticizing the president's decision to recognize the government and to send military aid.

Recognition of Romero's martyrdom -- which states that the archbishop was killed in odium fidei, Latin for "in hatred of the faith" -- could have wider consequences for other sainthood causes as well.

Francis said on the Korean papal flight that one of the questions the Vatican congregation faced was whether such hatred could be proven only against a person's belief or also against the good works the person did because of their belief.

"What I would like is a clarification about martyrdom in odium fidei, whether it can occur either for having confessed the Creed or for having done the works which Jesus commands with regard to one's neighbor," Francis said. "And this is a task for the theologians. They are studying it."

"Because after [Romero] there is Rutilio Grande, and there are others too; there are others who were killed," said Francis, referring specifically to a Salvadoran Jesuit who was killed in 1977 for helping impoverished people in the country organize.

While it is unknown if Romero's finding of martyrdom was made in reference to his belief or his works, the congregation may have cleared the way for sainthood causes for Grande and others in their recognition of the archbishop.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Cardinal Burke: 'feminized' church and altar girls caused priest shortage

Cardinal Burke's pronouncements grow stranger and stranger. The cleric who favors the cappa magna, lace and gloves while saying Mass complains that the church is too feminized and needs manly priests who are not intimidated by women who don't know their place.

David Gibson
Religion News Service
January 7, 2015

Cardinal Raymond Burke, a senior American churchman in Rome who has been one of the most outspoken critics of Pope Francis' push for reform, is roiling the waters yet again, this time arguing that the Catholic church has become too "feminized."

Burke, who was recently demoted from the Vatican's highest court to a ceremonial philanthropic post, pointed to the introduction of altar girls for why fewer men are joining the priesthood.

"Young boys don't want to do things with girls. It's just natural," Burke said in an interview published Monday. "I think that this has contributed to a loss of priestly vocations."

"It requires a certain manly discipline to serve as an altar boy in service at the side of priest, and most priests have their first deep experiences of the liturgy as altar boys," the former archbishop of St. Louis told Matthew James Christoff, who heads a Catholic men's ministry that called the New Emangelization Project.

"If we are not training young men as altar boys, giving them an experience of serving God in the liturgy, we should not be surprised that vocations have fallen dramatically," he said.

The Catholic church dropped its ban on girls assisting the priests during Mass in 1983, and today it is common to see more girls than boys helping on the altar. Only one U.S. diocese, in Lincoln, Neb., still bars altar girls, though a number of individual parishes have barred them in hopes of encouraging more boys and men to consider the all-male priesthood.

In the interview, Burke also blamed gay clergy for the church's sexual abuse crisis, saying priests "who were feminized and confused about their own sexual identity" were the ones who molested children.

Researchers have disputed that claim, and experts note that the reported rise in the number of gay men entering the priesthood since the 1980s coincided with a sharp drop-off in abuse cases.

Burke, 66, spoke to Christoff in December during a visit to La Crosse, Wis., where Burke served as bishop in the 1990s before being named archbishop of St. Louis. In 2008, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI called Burke to the Vatican to head the church's top court and made him a cardinal, a prestigious position that lent weight to his increasingly sharp and direct criticisms of Francis' agenda.

Francis effectively demoted Burke in November, shifting him from his job in the Roman Curia to a largely ceremonial post as patron of the Order of Malta, a global Catholic charitable organization based in Rome.

Vatican observers suspected the switch would actually give Burke more freedom to speak his mind, and in this latest interview, the cardinal doubled down on themes he has often struck: Liberalizing changes in both society and the church, especially "radical feminism," have gravely undermined the Catholic faith since the 1970s.

Burke said he recalled "young men telling me that they were, in a certain way, frightened by marriage because of the radicalizing and self-focused attitudes of women that were emerging at that time. These young men were concerned that entering a marriage would simply not work because of a constant and insistent demanding of rights for women."

He said that "the radical feminist movement strongly influenced the Church" as well.

The focus on women's issues, he said, plus "a complete collapse" of teaching the faith and "rampant liturgical experimentation," led the church to become "very feminized." That turned off men who "respond to rigor and precision and excellence," Burke said.

"Apart from the priest, the sanctuary has become full of women," he said. "The activities in the parish and even the liturgy have been influenced by women and have become so feminine in many places that men do not want to get involved."

Burke, a liturgical traditionalist as well as a doctrinal conservative who is renowned for wearing elaborate silk and lace vestments while celebrating Mass, also said that "men need to dress and act like men in a way that is respectful to themselves, to women and to children."

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Pope Francis favors developing world in naming new cardinals

Phillip Puella
January 4, 2015

Pope Francis on Sunday named new cardinals to the group that will choose his successor, with appointments that strengthened the Catholic Church in Asia, Africa and Latin America and further shifted its power center away from the developed world.

It was the second time the 78-year-old Francis has used the appointment of cardinals to put his stamp on the 1.2 billion-member church. The two sets of appointments increase the chances that the next pontiff will, like Francis, be a non-European.

Only one of the new electors is from the Curia, the Vatican’s central administration, which Francis has pledged to overhaul. Last month, the pope said the Curia was infected with careerism, scheming, greed and “spiritual Alzheimer’s”.

Francis’ nominees now make up a quarter of the 125 “cardinal electors” under 80 years old — easily enough to sway the election of a new pope when Francis dies or resigns.

Francis read out the names of the 20 new cardinals, 15 of them electors, to tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square for his Sunday address.

The new electors come from Italy, France, Portugal, Ethiopia, New Zealand, Vietnam, Mexico, Myanmar, Thailand, Uruguay, Spain, Panama, Cape Verde and Tonga. Nine of them come from the developing world. It was the first time cardinals from Myanmar, Tonga and Cape Verde had been appointed, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said.

Francis “does not feel chained to the tradition” that some major cities in Italy, elsewhere in Europe or in the United States, should automatically have cardinals to lead them, Lombardi said.

No new cardinals from North America were chosen because their number “is already sizeable”, Lombardi said. There are 15 cardinal electors in the United States and Canada.


“The big picture here is that he is reaching out to the margins,” said John Allen, author of numerous books about the Vatican. Allen said that “while there are some recognizable moderates, there are no recognizable conservatives.”

By elevating Archbishop Alberto Suarez Inda of Morelia, Mexico, Francis wanted to draw attention to suffering in an area that has been plagued with violence related to drug trafficking, the Vatican said.

Europe, with 57 cardinal electors, still has the largest voting bloc, but the developing world’s rose to more than 50.

The five new cardinals over 80, who will not be allowed to enter a conclave, come from Colombia, Italy, Germany, Argentina and Mozambique. They were given the title in recognition of their long service to the Church.

Francis bent a Church rule that puts a cap of 120 on the number of cardinal electors. Sunday’s appointments bring the total number of cardinals to 228, 125 of them electors and 103 of them non-electors over 80.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Fox News tries takedown of Pope Francis' upcoming climate encyclical

Joel Connelly
Seattle Post Intelligencer
January 2, 2015

Pope Francis is warming to his job as a bridge builder and teacher on the world stage, and is setting the stage for a dramatic encyclical on the threat posed by the warming of the Earth.

The Jesuit pope will soon visit Tacloban, a city in the Philippines devastated in 2012 by Super-Typhoon Haiyan. He is expected to address the United Nations General Assembly on its 70th anniversary in September. And an influential bishop recently previewed Francis’ encyclical on a trip to Britain.

“Just as humanity confronted revolutionary change in the 19th century at the time of industrialization, today we have changed the natural environment so much,” said Bishop Marcelo Sorondo, chancellor of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

“If present trends continue, the century will witness unprecedented climate change and destruction of the ecosystem with tragic consequences,” Sorondo added.

The push back against the pope, at least on climate, began on Fox News’ “Special Report” two nights before the new year.

The encyclical is in danger of “aligning (Francis) with some church enemies,” warned correspondent Doug McKelway, including “a few environmental extremists who favor widespread population control and wealth distribution.”

Mar Moreno, a climate skeptic and former aide to Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla. — who characterizes climate change science as “a hoax” — argued that there has been “no global warming” for “almost two decades.”

Of Francis, conservative Fox pundit Charles Krauthammer said on another Fox program: “I wasn’t aware he was a scientist.” The pope will, Krauthammer argued, risk his credibility if he moves off “ethics and dogma” into such fields as the warming planet.

Similar arguments were voiced nearly 50 years ago, when Pope Paul VI made his trip to New York and delivered the famous declaration: “War no more, war never again.”

Roger Ailes, the head of Fox News, is himself a Catholic. The chairman of parent News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch, is raising and educating as Catholics the daughters from his latest marriage, and had them baptized in the Jordan River. Fox pundit Sean Hannity, a self-professed devout Catholic, is an outspoken climate change skeptic.

The community of so-called climate skeptics includes such Catholic politicians (and coal advocates) as House Speaker John Boehner.

They are likely to be challenged — big time — by Pope Francis. The pope has already condemned “the cult of money” and trickle-down economics. He is apparently looking to light a fire under the world’s politicians on the warming of the Earth.

“The idea is to convene a meeting with leaders of the main religions to make all people aware of the state of our climate and the tragedy of social exclusion,” said Bishop Sorondo.

The pope himself, in an October meeting with Latin American and Asian peasants, argued that “monopolizing of farm lands, deforestation, the appropriation of water, inadequate agro-toxics are some of the evils that tear man from the land of his birth.

“Climate change, the loss of diversity and deforestation are already showing their devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness.”

Powerful words. Expect the pope to rattle more gilded cages from the Throne of Peter in the near future.

The opponents to the gospel are 'in our home'

Andrea Tornielli
Vatican Insider
January 3, 2015

The words on the 15 ‘diseases’ of the Curia, which Pope Francis spoke last 22nd December, have been broadcast in the whole world and provoked many reactions and discussions. On her blog, within the La Croix website, Isabelle de Gaulmyn, talks about the ‘spiritual reform’ requested by Pope Francis. In this regard, She recalled the harsh words by Bernard of Clairvaux on the Roman Curia of his time. Many observers have noticed, in the last months, how the biggest ‘resistance’ to Pope Francis comes not from without, but from within the Church.

It is worth quoting here one of Benedict XVI’s most forgotten statements, because they were uncomfortable and, above all, not applicable to the false cliché of the ‘fighting Pope’, only concerned with his condemnation of the relativist drifts in the world. Namely, the words he spoke in the press conference in May 2010, during the flight from Rome to Lisbon. Benedict XVI said that ‘the greatest persecution of the Church does not come from outside enemies, but is born out of the sin within the Church, so the Church has a deep need to re-learn penitence and accept purification’. At the time, the crisis of the scandal of paedophile priests was at its peak, and Benedict, who was fighting it with all his might, particularly referred to that. But there is no doubt that his ‘penitential’ Church, which sees itself as needy of forgiveness and purification, was not liked by the most popular interpreters of his pontificate.

At the same time, the words spoken by Cardinal Giovanni Benelli, few days before his death, also seem enlightening. It was the 8th October 1982, and the former Substitute for the Holy See under Paul VI, was speaking to the seminarists of the dioceses of Florence. He said, ‘who are the opponents? Let us think well, who are the biggest opponents of Jesus? They are the religious, those who most abide by God’s word… Religion was the great obstacle that Christ found on earth. It is religion, religious men, who in the end sent him to die. The opposition comes from the closest people rather than the furthest. The opposition, the resistance that the Gospel finds, is actually strongest, more deeply rooted and more enduring in our own home than it is outside’.

Benelli also described the ‘men who have settled in the Church, they have found their means of fulfilment in the Church, be they bishops, priests, baptised. They have settled and they are the biggest and most effective opponents to the newness of the Gospel, the repeated newness, that needs to repeat itself forever, it must resurface as news and must of course offend the sensibilities of those who are now seated, those who are well settled in the Church…’

The cardinal added that ‘it is people who observe, claim to observe, think that they are following God’s commandments, but in the end, they do not serve the Church, they serve themselves. They use the Church and protect their laziness, they protect interests which they might not be fully aware of, but they protect themselves, their own point of view’.

The Florentine cardinal, a diplomat and the undisputed protagonist of the Vatican scene in the 70s, concluded that ‘it is not the opponents, not the ideologies against Christianity, not those who are on the other side, they are not the great enemies. The biggest enemies are the Christians who have settled, who have built their own version of religion…’

Catholic liberals in Italy launch petition to back Pope Francis

John L. Allen, Jr.
January 3, 2015

A coalition of liberal Catholic groups in Italy have started an online petition in support of the pope after a leading Italian journalist wrote a critique of his papacy. (AP Photo)

Amid a robust Italian debate over the leadership of Pope Francis, a cross-section of liberal Catholic groups in the country has launched an online petition to show backing for the Argentinian pontiff.

Pointedly called “Stop the Attacks on Pope Francis,” the petition was launched on Christmas Day by groups including “We are Church,” “Blessed are the Peacemakers,” the Edith Stein Study Center, an Italian association of theologians, and a variety of base communities. All are generally associated with the liberal wing of the Italian Church.

The petition is also signed by the Rev. Luigi Ciotti of Turin, one of Italy’s best known anti-Mafia priests, and the Rev. Alex Zanotelli, a Combonian missionary priest and a well-known social activist.

As of Jan. 3, the petition had attracted close to 2,500 signatures, toward a goal of 50,000.

The current Italian row over Francis began when one of the country’s most renowned Catholic journalists, Vittorio Messori, published a front-page essay on Dec. 24 in Corriere della Sera stating his “perplexity” over what he sees as the pontiff’s contradictions.

Among other things, Messori faulted Francis for sometimes sending signals that the Catholic Church is no more than an “optional accessory” in the spiritual life, for reaching out to political leaders whose agenda is contrary to Church teaching, and for pursuing an uncritical dialogue with leaders of Protestant movements that are draining people away from Catholicism in Latin America.

According to the petition, which was launched the day after the essay appeared, Messori’s critique was a “true declaration of war” and expressed the leading edge of a deeply entrenched anti-Francis backlash.

“The arrival of Francis has provoked frantic reactions with the Vatican Curia, which, decimated by scandals and corruption, considers the pope a foreign body in its systems of alliances with worldly power, fueled by two perverse instruments: money and sex,” the petition asserts.

“At first the chatter about a ‘strange pope’ began quietly, but then it became steadily louder and clearer,” the petition asserts.

Among other things, the petition cites a book issued shortly before last October’s Synod of Bishops on the family, in which five cardinals — Gerhard Müller of Germany, the Vatican’s doctrinal czar; American Raymond Burke, former head of the Vatican’s supreme court; Walter Brandmüller of Germany, and Italians Carlo Caffara and Velasio De Paolis — came out against the idea of allowing divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion.

That book, according to the petition, “reinforced the front of adversaries who see in Pope Francis a danger that must be blocked at all costs.”

“We oppose these maneuvers, expressions of a conservatism that often has impeded the church from fulfilling its only true responsibility of spreading the gospel,” the petition says.

“We cannot stay silent, and with force we shout that we’re on the side of Pope Francis,” the petition says. “We want to create a crown around him of support and prayer, of affection and convinced solidarity.”

According to the petition, Francis has the support of “the church of ordinary people, of the parishes, of the sidewalks.”

In a Jan. 3 essay in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Ciotti wrote that he signed the petition even if “certain expressions are a little strong,” above all because he feels that sometimes Francis does not receive “adequate support.”

“It’s evident,” Ciotti wrote, that Francis’ style generates “bewilderment and alarm” in some quarters. Yet, he said, Francis is “giving the church back the credibility that comes above all from a complete purification of [claims to] power, and full consistency with the Word of God.”

In October, an organization called “Faithful America” launched a similar on-line petition of support for Pope Francis in the United States, in that case related to language in an interim report from the Synod of Bishops on the family regarding a welcoming attitude to gays and lesbians and those living together outside of marriage. That effort has garnered close to 35,000 supporters.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Married priest replaces cleric who fell in love with parishioner

Joanna Moorhead
The Tablet
December 15, 2014

A priest who left active ministry after admitting a relationship with a woman is being replaced by a married priest.

Parishioners at St Thomas More Catholic Church in Coventry were informed in October that their parish priest, Fr Philip Gay, had decided “after careful consideration and for personal reasons” to step down from his duties in order to consider his future.

A fortnight ago, his departure was confirmed in a statement from the Archdiocese of Birmingham that said: “It is with regret that we must now let you know of [Fr Gay’s] decision to leave the priesthood.”

According to parishioners, Fr Gay – who celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of his ordination earlier this year – left after falling in love with a female parishioner.

The archdiocese also announced that Fr Gay’s replacement would be Fr Stephen Day, a 53-year-old former Anglican priest who is set to arrive at the presbytery next week, from his current parish of St Anne’s in Nuneaton, with his wife and three children aged 10, 13 and 16.

“This really points out the contradictions in the Church’s current position on celibacy,” said Dr Michael Winter, chair of the Movement for Married Clergy. “The truth about any law is that it has to be consistent, and here we see an inconsistency.

“Ordaining married ex-Anglican priests is a supreme inconsistency, and it’s becoming more and more widespread. Marriage is an inalienable human right, and it can’t be taken away by anyone; and what’s more, in 40 years of open debate the conservative wing of the Church has failed to come up with a convincing theological argument in favour of priestly celibacy.”

“Fr Gay is a grand chap and he did a good deal of great work in our parish,” said St Thomas More parishioner Malcolm Pollard. “We were all very sorry to see him go, and we’re all going to do our best to give Fr Day as good a welcome as we can.”

Any change to the Church’s teaching on mandatory celibacy for clergy would lead to the permission to marry before ordination rather than the freedom to marry once ordained.

Altar egos: Backlash on pope begins

Peter Popham
New Zealand Herald
January 2, 2015

Pope Francis, who in his first Mass of the new year called for an end to war and slavery, has put a spring in the step of the Catholic Church since his election nearly two years ago. But now the backlash has begun.

It started, coincidentally or not, two days after a recent, devastating assault by the pontiff on the vices of the senior Vatican officials who surround him.

Addressing the Curia in the magnificent setting of the Clementina Hall, the first Latin American Pope took no prisoners. Itemising the faults of the senior prelates he was addressing, he listed "feelings of immortality, immunity or indispensability, deriving from a pathology of power" and what he called "spiritual Alzheimer's" in which Vatican bosses lose their memory of "meeting the Lord" and "depend entirely ... on their passions, their whims and manias ... becoming slaves of idols". He described how "the terrorism of gossip" can "kill the reputation of our colleagues and brothers in cold blood". Other ailments included having "a hardened heart", "a funereal face", and being "too rigid, tough and arrogant".

The reaction came two days later. In the Corriere della Sera newspaper, Vittorio Messori, Italy's best-known Catholic writer, wrote of his feelings of "perplexity" about the Pope, and the fact that "even some of the cardinals who were among his electors" were having second thoughts about him.

But the force of Messori's piece was in his claim that "il cattolico medio" - "the average Catholic" - finds the Pope's "unpredictability" disturbing. Messori contrasted the traditional tone of the Pope's morning sermons with the warm wishes he sent to Italy's most sensational campaigner for liberal causes including legalised abortion and divorce; then drew attention to his alleged claim that the Catholic Church has no monopoly on God and to his friendship with a pastor belonging to one of the Church's Protestant rivals in Latin America.

The attack was disingenuous. Despite his informal tone, Francis has in fact moved very slowly on the issues most dear to liberal Catholics, such as divorce and the role of women in the church. Where Francis has shown speed, resolution and determination is in tackling the corruption and arrogance of the Vatican establishment. And it is that, not the notional views of "the average Catholic", which explains the fierce reaction.

From the outset, Francis spurned the papal creature comforts. He chose to live in a Vatican hostel instead of the papal apartments above St Peter's Square. He prefers to travel in the sort of cars the average Catholic drives. Such choices have set a tone of elective poverty, in imitation of Christ. But they also had a practical effect: they minimised his exposure to the machinations of the Vatican bureaucracy.

The Pope, any Pope, is a monarch. But he is also a sort of hostage. Arriving in the job late in life, presented with a staggering workload, he is bound to leave many details to the lifetime bureaucrats of the Curia.

Francis has adopted a number of ploys to limit their power, drafting in foreign laymen to tackle corruption, sloth and redundancy in finance and other departments. But now the old stagers are showing their teeth. Hence the Pope's full-frontal attack. One wishes Francis well. Anyone who has had dealings with the Vatican bureaucrats has an idea of what he is up against - those hard faces and hearts, all that pride lurking below the rhetoric of humility.

Francis has moved mountains in the first two years of his papacy. His astute brokering of peace between Castro and Obama was one of 2014's diplomatic triumphs. He is on the way to radically overhauling the Church's image; can he also vanquish the big beasts of the Curia? Does he have enough years, enough friends?