Sunday, November 29, 2015

Seeking peace and mercy, Pope Francis opens the Holy Door of Bangui

Catholic News Agency
November 29, 2015

“Bangui is today the spiritual capital of the world,” Pope Francis said as he opened the Holy Door of Bangui’s cathedral on Sunday--the first time a Pope has opened a Holy Door outside Rome.

Pope Francis proclaimed: “We all pray for peace, mercy, reconciliation, pardon, love. Throughout the Central African Republic and in all the nations of the world which suffer war, let us pray for peace. And together we all pray for love and peace. We pray together.”

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Pope Francis urges the church to leave doors open

Catholic Say
November 19, 2015

Addressing the thousands of pilgrims gathered during his weekly general audience at St. Peter’s square, Pope Francis centered his speech on the upcoming Year of Mercy, urging the Church not only to keep its doors open, but to go out to those who may not have the strength to enter.

“If the door of God’s mercy is always open”, we must leave the doors of our institutions open so that “we can go out carrying God’s mercy”.He said.

This great door is that of God’s mercy, which welcomes our repentance and offers us the grace of forgiveness; a door which is opened generously but whose threshold must be crossed with courage.He continued.

The Pope dedicated his catechesis to the symbol of the Holy Door, which he described as the “great door of God’s mercy” – will be opened on December 8 at St Peter’s Basilica to mark the official start of the Jubilee of Mercy.

The recent family synod was an occasion to encourage the Church and all Catholics to meet God at this open door and to open their own doors to others – “to go out with the Lord” to encounter his children who are journeying, who are perhaps uncertain, perhaps lost, “in these difficult times”, he said.

“We must not surrender to the idea that we must apply this way of thinking to every aspect of our lives”, the Pope added. How many people no longer trust…to knock on the door of our Christian heart, at the doors of our Churches….

Despite security fears after the Paris attacks, Pope Francis says the doors of Catholic churches around the world must remain open.

“Please, no armored doors in the Church, everything open,” he said

“There are places in the world where doors should not be locked with a key. There are still some but there are also many where armored doors have become the norm.”

While the Pope’s comments do not explicitly refer to the Paris attacks, AFP has reported that security measures have been stepped up in Italy where 700 extra troops have been deployed in Rome. AFP also confirmed that the city’s airspace will be closed during the upcoming Catholic Jubilee Year, so as to check any attack on Rome.

“We are all sinners. May we take advantage of this moment and cross the threshold of this mercy of God, who never tires of forgiving.” The Pope added.

Meyers' letter regulating communion perceived as 'non-issue'

Peter Feuerherd
National Catholic Reporter
November 23, 2015

If the ideal Catholic parish is, as Pope Francis describes it, a field hospital for the wounded, Archbishop John Myers of Newark, N.J., thinks it should include some triage.

In a Sept. 22 letter to pastors, the archbishop reviewed who is welcome to Communion in the four counties in northeast New Jersey that comprise the archdiocese.

"The Church will continue to cherish and welcome her members and invite them to participate in her life to the degree that their personal situation permits them honestly to do so," Myers said in the document, titled "Principles to Aid in Preserving and Protecting the Catholic Faith in the Midst of an Increasingly Secular Culture."

The statement said that Catholics "must be in a marriage regarded as valid by the Church to receive the sacraments." It added, "any Catholic who publicly rejects Church teaching or discipline, either by public statement or by joining or supporting organizations which do so, are not to receive the sacraments. They are asked to be honest to themselves and to the Church community."

Myers' statement engendered some scathing comment in The Star-Ledger, the largest local daily, including a letter writer who wondered whether the archbishop himself should be welcomed to Communion as long as he plans on retiring to a house with recently added $500,000 renovations when he hands over the reins to co-adjutor Bishop Bernard Hebda, an event expected next summer. Newark priests contacted by NCR indicated, however, the letter has had little pastoral impact.

"Most people aren't aware he sent it out," said Fr. Warren Hall, associate pastor at Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Hoboken and St. Lawrence Church in Weehawken. Hall was removed this year by the diocese from his campus ministry position at Seton Hall University after he posted a statement on social media favorable to gay rights.

"I don't think the average person in the pew has been affected by it," said Hall, who thought the timing of Myers' letter, coming soon before the papal visit to the United States and the Synod of Bishops on the family, worked against the goal of reaching out to alienated Catholics who might be giving the church a second look.

"We are all sinners," said Hall, summarizing what he said was Francis' emphasis. "We are all on the road to living as Jesus wanted us to. But all of us fall short."

Msgr. William Reilly, pastor of Most Holy Name Parish in Garfield, said the letter had little impact on his mostly Spanish-speaking community.

"To me it was a non-issue,he said, noting that Myers was repeating what had previously been stated in documents from the U.S. bishops.

When it comes to who can receive Communion, and who can't, his parishioners generally are respectful of church regulations, said Reilly. "I don't delve into people's consciences," the pastor said. He says much of his work involves preparing couples to regularize long-term relationships in the church, either by those who were married civilly or are cohabiting.

James Goodness, spokesman for the archdiocese, said the document was misinterpreted by a hostile local media. Myers, he said, is on board with the pope's emphasis on evangelization. The archbishop has been publicly supportive of the pope's effort to streamline the annulment process and reach out to women who have had abortions, for example.

The timing was coincidental with the papal visit. Any suggestion to the contrary, said Goodness, "is bull."

"The statement was a set of principles that priests should be looking at and keeping in mind as they walk with people in varying circumstances," said Goodness. He added the statement came in response to pastors asking the archbishop for guidance "to find out how we can walk with people within the confines of church teaching."

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Five indicted in leak of confidential Vatican documents

Elisabetta Polovedo
New York Times
November 21, 2015

Vatican prosecutors on Saturday formally indicted five people in connection with the theft of confidential documents used to write two tell-all books describing purported mismanagement in the Roman Catholic Church’s bureaucracy.

The five defendants were charged with “illegally procuring and successively revealing information and documents concerning the fundamental interests of the Holy See and the state,” the Vatican said in a statement issued Saturday.

Msgr. Lucio Ángel Vallejo Balda, and Francesca Chaouqui, a laywoman, were part of a commission set up by Pope Francis to examine the Vatican’s financial holdings and affairs. They were also charged with criminal conspiracy, as was Monsignor Vallejo Balda’s assistant, Nicola Maio.

The authors of the two books — Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi — are accused of “demanding and exercising pressures, above all on Vallejo Balda, to obtain confidential documents and information, that in part they used to draft two books,” according to the statement. The books, Mr. Nuzzi’s “Merchants in the Temple” and Mr. Fittipaldi’s “Avarice,” were published this month.

Disclosing confidential documents has been considered a crime in the Vatican since July 2013, after a similar episode involving the personal butler of Pope Benedict XVI, Paolo Gabriele, who transferred a cache of Vatican letters to Mr. Nuzzi. Mr. Gabriele was imprisoned, tried and in October 2012 sentenced to 18 months in prison, only to be pardoned by Benedict two months later. Mr. Nuzzi used the papers to write the 2012 best-seller “Sua Santità,” or “His Holiness,” which detailed infighting and power struggles at the Vatican.

Those revelations are considered to have had an impact on Benedict’s decision to resign.

If that scandal, which the media called “VatiLeaks,” caught the Vatican unprepared, in the case of the fresh disclosures, officials acted quickly. Monsignor Vallejo Balda and Ms. Chaouqui were arrested a few days before the books were published. He remains detained, and she was released after cooperating with investigators.

The trial is to begin on Tuesday, and the defendants could face up to eight years in prison if convicted.

Both Mr. Fittipaldi and Mr. Nuzzi say that they have not committed any crimes, but have only done what any investigative journalist would do: uncover and expose corruption and mismanagement in places of power.

They also point out that the documents they divulged were hardly closely held state secrets, the “fundamental interests of the Holy See,” as the Vatican contends in the indictment.

Reached by telephone on Saturday afternoon, Mr. Fittipaldi said he was “incredulous” that the Vatican was putting him on trial. “I didn’t reveal anything that put the life of the pope at risk,” he said. “Instead, the documents recount the financial scandals of the curia, crazy investments, greed. It seems strange that they would investigate the teller of those misdeeds rather than those who carried them out.”

Putting journalists on trial is a chilling message from the Vatican, the writers said. “They want to show that they are a state with laws that have to be respected even if we don’t like them,” even if they are undemocratic, Mr. Fittipaldi said. “They want to make an example of this. It’s going to be more difficult for scandals of this type to emerge in the future,” because those who might want to expose corruption and mismanagement will be more wary.

Mr. Nuzzi remained defiant. “I am proud to have published information that was not supposed to get out, as any journalist would have done,” he said. “I didn’t reveal state secrets” involving internal military or security or intelligence issues, “but instances of dishonesty and abuse, and I will continue to do so.”

Questions of conflicting laws are likely to arise if the court convicts the two journalists and then asks for their extradition from Italy to begin serving their sentences, Mr. Fittipaldi said. Italy has laws protecting freedom of the press, even if the Vatican does not. Both men said they were not certain that they would attend the hearings.

Mr. Nuzzi also complained that with the trial date three days away, he would not have enough time to prepare his defense. “I haven’t had access to the charges or investigative acts, I haven’t spoken to my Vatican court-appointed lawyer, and I am still not sure what I’m being accused of,” he said. In light of the pope’s increasing appeals to the faithful to be more merciful in the holy year that begins on Dec. 8, “this trial would appear like a contradiction,” he said.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Pope Francis: ‘If you’re unstable, see a doctor – don’t become a priest’

Dan MacGuill
The Journal (Ireland)
November 20, 2015

POPE FRANCIS TODAY described some Catholic priests as so scary and neurotic he keeps well away from them.

In comments at a conference on training for the priesthood, the 78-year-old pontiff revealed he is instinctively suspicious of overly pious candidates.

"I will tell you sincerely, I’m scared of rigid priests. I keep away from them. They bite!"

His remarks drew laughs from the audience, but Francis was making the serious point that some people drawn to a clerical career are fundamentally unstable, and that this inevitably creates problems for the church if they are not weeded out.

"If you are sick, if you are neurotic, go and see a doctor, spiritual or physical. The doctor will give you pills. But, please, don’t let the faithful pay for neurotic priests."

As well as assessing the spiritual state of candidates, seminaries should also seek to judge their physical and psychological condition, the Pope argued.

"There are often young men who are psychologically unstable without knowing it, and who look for strong structures to support them."

"For some it is the police or the army but for others it is the clergy. "

"When a youngster is too rigid, too fundamentalist, I don’t feel confident [about him]. Behind it there is something he himself does not understand. Keep your eyes open!”

Improved selection and training of priests is a priority for the Church in the wake of the huge clerical sex abuse scandals which highlighted how easy it was for totally unsuitable candidates to be ordained.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Lutherans, Catholics should seek pardon for past persecutions, Pope says

Philip Puller
November 15, 2015

Pope Francis, in a visit to Rome's Lutheran church on Sunday, said both sides, Catholics and Lutherans, should seek forgiveness for past persecutions.

"There were terrible times between us. Just think of the persecutions, among we who have the same baptism. Think of all the people who were burned alive," he said in improvised comments at the end of a joint prayer service.

"We have to ask each other forgiveness for this, for the scandal of division," he said.

The Lutheran Church was born of the rebellion by Martin Luther, who nailed his 95 theses criticising the Vatican to the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517.

Rome condemned Luther as a heretic because the Vatican feared his teaching undermined the doctrine of the Catholic Church and the authority of the pope.

The Reformation that followed split the western Church and sparked wars between Protestants and Catholics, leaving divisions that live on five centuries later.

Theological dialogue between Roman Catholic and Lutherans began in the late 1960s after the Second Vatican Council. But Catholics and Lutherans are still officially not allowed to take communion at each other's services.

The pope took questions from the congregation, including one from a Lutheran woman married to an Italian man who told him of her pain in not being able to take communion together in each other's churches.

Saying "life is bigger than explanations and interpretations," he suggested that individuals should not be obsessed with complex theological debate and decide according to their conscience.

"It is a question that each person must answer for themselves," he said, suggesting that his own authority was below that of God's in such personal matters.

"There is one baptism, one faith, one Lord, so talk to the Lord and move forward. I dare not, I cannot, say more," he said.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Catholicism can and must change, Francis forcefully tells Italian church gathering

Joshua. J. McElwee
National Catholic Reporter
November 10, 2015

Pope Francis has strongly outlined anew a comprehensive vision for the future of the Catholic church, forcefully telling an emblematic meeting of the entire Italian church community here that our times require a deeply merciful Catholicism that is unafraid of change.

In a 49-minute speech to a decennial national conference of the Italian church -- which is bringing together some 2,200 people from 220 dioceses to this historic renaissance city for five days -- Francis said Catholics must realize: "We are not living an era of change but a change of era."

"Before the problems of the church it is not useful to search for solutions in conservatism or fundamentalism, in the restoration of obsolete conduct and forms that no longer have the capacity of being significant culturally," the pontiff said at one point during his remarks.

"Christian doctrine is not a closed system incapable of generating questions, doubts, interrogatives -- but is alive, knows being unsettled, enlivened," said the pope. "It has a face that is not rigid, it has a body that moves and grows, it has a soft flesh: it is called Jesus Christ."

"The reform of the church then, and the church is semper reformanda ... does not end in the umpteenth plan to change structures," he continued. "It means instead grafting yourself to and rooting yourself in Christ, leaving yourself to be guided by the Spirit -- so that all will be possible with genius and creativity."

Francis was speaking Tuesday on the second day of the Italian church meeting, being held in Florence through Friday. He flew from Rome in a helicopter for a daylong trip that also saw him visit the nearby town of Prato.

The gathering is the fifth such meeting of the Italian church, which bring together bishops and laypeople from across the country to help set the goals and agenda for the work of the national church for the next decade.

The pope's comments were remarkable in their breadth, emphasis, and forceful nature of delivery. As the pontiff spoke in Florence's artistically renowned cathedral, he was interrupted about a dozen times for applause.

Francis was speaking Tuesday to the theme of the Italian gathering, "A new humanism in Jesus Christ." He started his remarks Tuesday with a meditation on the face of Jesus, which is represented in the iconic dome of the Florence Cathedral in a renaissance image of the final judgment.

"Looking at his face, what do we see?" the pontiff asked those in the church of Jesus' face. "Before all, the face of a God who is emptied, a God who has assumed the condition of servant, humble and obedient until death."

"The face of Jesus is similar to that of so many of our humiliated brothers, made slaves, emptied," he said. "God had assumed their face. And that face looks to us."

"If we do not lower ourselves we will not see his face," said Francis. "We will not see anything of his fullness if we do not accept that God has emptied God's self."

"Therefore we will not understand anything of Christian humanism and our words will be beautiful ... but will not be words of faith," he continued. "They will be words that resonate with emptiness."

Outlining three aspects of Christian humanism, Francis asked the Italians to adopt an outlook of humility, disinterest in personal praise or power, and of living a life of the beatitudes.

The pope also said there were two specific temptations he wanted to warn the national church against, tying modern day struggles to two ancient heresies of the church: Pelagianism and Gnosticism.

Speaking to Pelagianism, which holds that humans can achieve salvation on their own without divine help, the pontiff said that in the modern day it "brings us to have trust in structures, in organizations, in perfect plans, however abstract."

"Often it brings us to assume a style of control, of hardness, of normalcy," said Francis. "The norm gives to the Pelagian the security of feeling superior, of having a precise orientation. In this is found its force, not in the lightness of the breath of the Spirit."

"The Italian church should let itself be carried by [the Spirit's] powerful breath and for this, sometimes, be settled," the pope said, after his words that the church is always in reform.

"Assume always the Spirit of the great explorers, that on the sea were passionate for navigation in open waters and were not frightened by borders and of storms," the pontiff told the Italians. "May it be a free church and open to the challenges of the present, never in defense for fear of losing something."

Speaking to Gnosticism, which widely held that people should shun the material world in favor of the spiritual realm, Francis identified such thinking today with that which "brings us to trust in logical and clear reasoning ... which however loses the tenderness of the flesh of the brother."

"The difference between Christian transcendence and any form of gnostic spiritualism remains in the mystery of the incarnation," said the pontiff. "Not putting it in practice, not guiding the Word to reality, means building on sand, remaining in pure idea ... which does not give fruit, which make sterile [God's] dynamism."

Francis then asked the Italians, "people and pastors together," to turn to the image of Jesus in Florence's Cathedral and imagine what he might say to them as a sign of how they should go forward in their national work.

Quoting twice from Matthew's Gospel, the pontiff said they could imagine Jesus saying either: "I was thirsty and you gave me drink," or "I was thirsty and you did not give me anything to drink."

"May the beatitudes and the words that we have just read on the universal judgment help us to live the Christian life to the level of sainthood," the pope exhorted. "They are few words, simple, but practical. May the Lord give us the grace to understand this, his message!"

Explaining the beatitudes earlier in the speech, Francis said that in those eight blessings recounted by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount "the Lord shows us the way."

"Following it, we human beings can come to more authentic and divine happiness," said the pope. "Jesus speaks of the happiness that we feel only when we are poor in spirit."

"On the part of the most humble of our people there is much of this beatitude," said the pontiff. "It is that of who knows the richness of solidarity, of sharing even the little that you have; the richness of the daily sacrifice of work, sometimes hard and poorly paid, but carried out for love towards dear persons."

"If the church does not assume the sentiments of Jesus, it is disoriented, it loses its sense," said Francis. "The beatitudes, in the end, are the mirror in which we see ourselves, that which permits us to know if we are walking on the right path: it is a mirror that does not lie."

Speaking later directly to the prelates in the Cathedral, Francis said bluntly: "To the bishops, I ask you to be pastors. May this be your glory. It will be the people, your flock, that sustain you."

The pontiff said he asked "that nothing and no-one takes away the joy of being sustained by your people."

"As pastors may you not be preachers of complex doctrine, but pronouncers of Christ, dead and resurrected for us," he said. "Aim for the essential, the kerygma."

Francis also spoke about church teaching on the preferential option for the poor -- which holds that Catholics must consider the impact all choices will have on the poorest -- forcefully declaring: "The Lord poured out his blood not for some, not for the few or the many, but for all!"

The pope also spoke at length about the role of dialogue in society, saying it is not simply a negotiation but searching for the good of all people.

Ending the speech, Francis said: "You can say today we are not living an era of change but a change of era."

"The situations that we live today therefore bring new challenges that for us sometimes are difficult to understand," said the pontiff. "This, our time, requires living problems as challenges and not obstacles: the Lord is active in the work of the world.

"You, therefore, go forth to the streets and go to the crossroads: all who you find, call out to them, no one is excluded," he exhorted. "Wherever you are, never build walls or borders, but meeting squares and field hospitals."

"I would like an Italian church that is unsettled, always closer to the abandoned, the forgotten, the imperfect," said Francis. "I desire a happy church with face of a mother, who understands, accompanies, caresses."

"Dream of this church, believe in it, innovate it with freedom," exhorted the pope.

The national gathering of the Italian church began Monday afternoon with an outdoor walking procession from four of Florence's basilica churches to its central Cathedral, famously known for its colorful marble facade and ancient baptistery.

The thousands of participants will be breaking into 20 separate working groups throughout the week, with sections of four groups each focused on one of five themes: A church that goes forth; that announces; that dwells with; that educates; and that transfigures.

Turin Archbishop Cesare Nosiglia, president of the preparatory commission for the conference, opened the event Monday evening by saying: "We are not here to prepare pastoral plans, nor to exchange information, or to attend scholarly conferences or a refresher course." "The purpose of our Florentine appointment is to take stock of our journey of fidelity to the renewal promoted by the Council and open new avenues to the proclamation of the Gospel," said Nosiglia. Dozens of cultural events are taking place in Florence around the conference, including a special exhibition at the city's Accademia Gallery on the life of St. Francis of Assisi that was organized especially for the pope with the saint's name. The exhibition, which is being housed at the same museum that exhibits Michelangelo's famous marble statue of David, gathers a number of striking early depictions of the saint as well as some of his personal effects. Among them are the horn said to be given to the saint by Egyptian Sultan al-Kamil when Francis is recounted to have made an extraordinary pilgrimage of peace to the Middle East during the fifth Crusade.

Secret 'Catacombs Pact' emerges after 50 years and Francis gives it new life

David Gibson
Religion News Service
November 13, 2015

On the evening of Nov. 16, 1965, quietly alerted to the event by word-of-mouth, some 40 Roman Catholic bishops made their way to celebrate Mass in an ancient, underground basilica in the Catacombs of Domitilla on the outskirts of the Eternal City. Both the place, and the timing, of the liturgy had a profound resonance: The church marked the spot where tradition said two Roman soldiers were executed for converting to Christianity. And beneath the feet of the bishops, and extending through more than 10 miles of tunnels, were the tombs of more than 100,000 Christians from the earliest centuries of the church.

In addition, the Mass was celebrated shortly before the end of the Second Vatican Council, the historic gathering of all the world’s bishops that over three years set the church on the path of reform and an unprecedented engagement with the modern world — launching dialogue with other Christians and other religions, endorsing religious freedom and moving the Mass from Latin to the vernacular, among other things.

But another concern among many of the 2,200 churchmen at Vatican II was to truly make Catholicism a “church of the poor,” as Pope John XXIII put it shortly before convening the council. The bishops who gathered for Mass at the catacombs that November evening were devoted to seeing that commitment become a reality.

So as the liturgy concluded in the dim light of the vaulted fourth-century chamber, each of the prelates came up to the altar and affixed his name to a brief but passionate manifesto that pledged them all to “try to live according to the ordinary manner of our people in all that concerns housing, food, means of transport, and related matters.”

The signatories vowed to renounce personal possessions, fancy vestments and “names and titles that express prominence and power,” and they said they would make advocating for the poor and powerless the focus of their ministry.

In all this, they said, “we will seek collaborators in ministry so that we can be animators according to the Spirit rather than dominators according to the world; we will try to make ourselves as humanly present and welcoming as possible; and we will show ourselves to be open to all, no matter what their beliefs.”

The document would become known as the Pact of the Catacombs, and the signers hoped it would mark a turning point in church history.

Instead, the Pact of the Catacombs disappeared, for all intents and purposes.

It is barely mentioned the extensive histories of Vatican II, and while copies of the text are in circulation, no one knows what happened to the original document. In addition, the exact number and names of the original signers is in dispute, though it is believed that only one still survives: Luigi Bettazzi, nearly 92 years old now, bishop emeritus of the Italian diocese of Ivrea.

With its Dan Brown setting and murky evidence, the pact seemed fated to become another Vatican mystery — an urban legend to those who had heard rumors about it, or at best a curious footnote to church history rather than a new chapter.

Yet in the last few years, as the 50th anniversary of both the Catacombs Pact and Vatican II approached, this remarkable episode has finally begun to emerge from the shadows.

That’s thanks in part to a circle of theologians and historians, especially in Germany, who began talking and writing more publicly about the pact — an effort that will take a major step forward later this month when the Pontifical Urban University, overlooking the Vatican, hosts a daylong seminar on the document’s legacy.

But perhaps nothing has revived and legitimated the Pact of the Catacombs as much as the surprise election, in March 2013, of Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio — Pope Francis.

While never citing the Catacombs Pact specifically, Francis has evoked its language and principles, telling journalists within days of his election that he wished for a “poor church, for the poor,” and from the start shunning the finery and perks of his office, preferring to live in the Vatican guesthouse rather than the apostolic palace. He stressed that all bishops should also live simply and humbly, and the pontiff has continually exhorted pastors to “have the smell of the sheep,” staying close to those most in need and being welcoming and inclusive at every turn.

“His program is to a high degree what the Catacomb Pact was,” Cardinal Walter Kasper, a retired German theologian who is close to the pope, said in an interview earlier this year at his apartment next to the Vatican.

The Pact of the Catacombs “was forgotten,” said Kasper, who mentioned the document in his recent book on the thought and theology of Francis. “But now he (Francis) brings it back.”

For a while there was even talk in Rome that Francis would travel to the Domitilla Catacombs to mark the anniversary. While that’s apparently not in the cards, “the Catacomb Pact is everywhere now in discussion,” as Kasper put it.

“With Pope Francis, you cannot ignore the Catacomb Pact,” agreed Massimo Faggioli, a professor of church history at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. “It’s a key to understanding him, so it’s no mystery that it has come back to us today.”

But why did the Pact of the Catacombs disappear in the first place?

In reality it didn’t, at least for the church in Latin America.

The chief presider at the catacombs Mass 50 years ago was a Belgian bishop, Charles-Marie Himmer, and a number of other progressive Europeans took part as well. But the bulk of the celebrants were Latin American prelates, such as the famous Brazilian archbishop and champion of the poor, Dom Helder Camara, who kept the spirit of the Catacombs Pact alive — as best they could.

The problem was that the social upheavals of 1968, plus the drama of the Cold War against communism and the rise of liberation theology — which stressed the gospel’s priority on the poor, but was seen as too close too Marxism by its conservative foes — made a document such as the Catacombs Pact radioactive.

“It had the odor of communism,” said Brother Uwe Heisterhoff, a member of the Society of the Divine Word, the missionary community that is in charge of the Domitilla Catacombs.

Even in Latin America the pact wasn’t publicized too widely, lest it poison other efforts to promote justice for the poor. Heisterhoff noted that he worked with the indigenous peoples of Bolivia for 15 years but only learned about the Catacombs Pact when he came to Rome to oversee the Domitilla Catacombs four years ago.

“This stuff was a bit dangerous until Francis came along,” said Faggioli.

Indeed, some reports say that up to 500 bishops, mainly Latin Americans, eventually added their names to the pact, and one of them, Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, was gunned down by military-backed assassins for speaking out against human rights abuses and on behalf of the poor — in the view of many, for preaching the message of the Catacombs Pact.

Francis, too, seems to have imbibed the spirit of the Catacombs Pact, though there’s no evidence he ever signed it.

As a Jesuit priest and then bishop in Argentina during the turbulent decades of the 1970s and ’80s, Francis became increasingly devoted to the cause of the poor, as did much of the Latin American church. It was no great surprise, then, that this year he pushed ahead with the beatification of Romero, which had been stalled for decades; just last week Francis used remarkably sharp language to denounce those who had “slandered” Romero’s reputation.

Francis was also familiar with the case of his fellow Argentine churchman Bishop Enrique Angelelli, an outspoken advocate for the poor who was killed in 1976 in what appeared to be a traffic accident but which was later shown to be an assassination by the military dictatorship that ruled the country at the time.

Angelelli was also a signer of the Catacombs Pact, and Francis last April approved a process that could lead to sainthood for the slain bishop.

For many in the U.S., on the other hand, the catacombs have chiefly been deployed as a symbol of persecution, and often by conservative apologists who argue that secularizing trends are heralding a return to the days when Christians huddled in the tunnels for fear of the Romans.

Heisterhoff smiles at that notion. “Here in the catacombs, it was not a place to hide,” he explained. “It was a place to pray, not so much a refuge.”

That’s a point Francis himself has made — the Roman authorities knew where the catacombs, and the Christians, were. It was no secret hideaway. The catacombs even grew as a place to bury the dead after the empire legalized Christianity in 313, as believers came to honor and pray for them in the hope of the resurrection.

What the catacombs really represented, Heisterhoff said, was “a church without power,” a church that featured what Francis has praised as a “convincing witness” — a radical vision of simplicity and service that the pope says is needed for today’s church.

So has the Pact of the Catacombs — and the true message of the catacombs themselves — re-emerged for good?

Much may depend on how long Francis, who turns 79 in December, remains pope and can promote his vision of a “church for the poor.”

Moreover, the economic message at the heart of the Catacombs Pact is just as controversial today as it was when it was signed 50 years ago. Capitalism may have won the Cold War over communism, but income inequality and economic injustice remain, or are worse than before.

“We cannot absolutize our Western system,” Kasper said in explaining the theme of the Catacombs Pact. “It’s a system that creates so much poverty, that’s not just. The resources of the world belong to everyone. To all mankind. That is what it is saying.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Why the new Vatican leaks scandal is different

Alexander Stille
The New Yorker
November 6, 2015

It has been an unusually turbulent week in Rome. The Vatican’s gendarmes arrested two members of Pope Francis’s economic-reform committee—Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda, a powerful monsignor, and Francesca Immacolata Chaouqui, whose background is in public relations—for allegedly leaking documents to two Italian journalists. The news suggested a new round in the scandal known as Vatileaks, which began when Paolo Gabriele, the butler to Pope Benedict XVI, leaked portions of the Pope’s correspondence in 2012. Indeed, Gianluigi Nuzzi, who wrote a book, “Sua Santità,” based principally on the leaks of the former butler, is, along with Emiliano Fittipaldi, of the weekly L’Espresso, one of two journalists involved in this case, too. Both have new books out this week: Nuzzi’s is called “Via Crucis” (published in English with the title “Merchants in the Temple”) and Fittipaldi’s is “Avarizia” (“Greed”). But the two Vatileaks scandals may be more different than similar.

The original Vatileaks affair created the impression of a Pope who had lost control of his own government—whose own correspondence could be stolen from under his nose and published as the Vatican stood by helplessly. It contributed, one suspects, to Pope Benedict XVI’s almost unprecedented decision, in 2013, to resign. By contrast, the highly unusual decision this week to arrest the pair of alleged leakers, just days before the journalists they had supplied were about to publish their books, was the expression of a much more proactive Vatican. The Holy See is determined to show that it was not taking this matter lying down. And the content of the cases is different, too. The first Vatileaks case portrayed an elderly Benedict XVI seemingly unaware of the power struggles and institutionalized corruption around him, while the two new books show Pope Francis vigorously pushing the Vatican bureaucracy to clean house.

Monsignor Vallejo Balda, who was taken into custody this week, is a Spanish member of the conservative religious order Opus Dei, and was the No. 2 man at the Vatican’s Prefecture for Economic Affairs. Vallejo Balda had been a key figure in the eight-person commission that Francis created, soon after becoming Pope, to straighten out the Vatican’s finances, known as the Commissione di Studio sulle Attività Economiche e Amministrative, or COSEA. Francesca Immacolata Chaouqui, who was arrested with him, had also worked on COSEA, although she had always seemed like an odd fit with Francis’s powerful transition committee. The daughter of an Egyptian father and an Italian mother, Chiaoqui had little experience in finance or management, and displayed a very un-Vatican penchant for posting pictures and videos of herself in rather daring poses online. While she was serving on the COSEA commission, she organized a V.I.P. reception on the terrace of a Vatican building so that well-connected Italians and high-level prelates could drink champagne and eat hors d’oeuvres while watching a canonization mass for John Paul II and John XXIII, while hundreds of thousands of the faithful waited patiently in St. Peter’s Square. This was not an image of the church of the poor that Pope Francis has advocated. She was sacked and became persona non grata at the Vatican. The reputation of Monsignor Vallejo Balda, who had apparently recommended Chaouqui, suffered as a result. And when Francis set up a new team to run the economic affairs of the Vatican, Vallejo Balda was reportedly disappointed and angry not to be a part of it. “It’s not a secret that he hoped to be made auditor general of the Vatican,” Chaouqui said in an interview after she was released from custody, published yesterday in La Repubblica. “When he was not nominated, he began to make war, and probably this pushed him to hand over papers to the journalists. But I had nothing to do with the leaking of the documents.” Vatican authorities said she was coöperating with the investigation. Monsignor Vallejo Balda remains in a jail cell in the Vatican. Under Vatican City law, the crime of releasing confidential documents is potentially punishable by four to eight years.

Fittipaldi’s book, “Greed,” offers a somewhat different picture of the principal leaker. At the beginning of the book, he depicts a Vatican monsignor, a member of the COSEA commission, expressing indignation at corruption within the Vatican and the need to let the Pope know. While enjoying a fine meal at a restaurant in Rome, the unnamed monsignor tells Fittipaldi: “You must write a book. You must write also for Pope Francis. He must know. He must know that the Bambin Gesù hospital, created to collect money for sick children, paid for some of the work on the apartment of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone”—the Secretary of State under Pope Benedict XVI. “He must know that the Vatican owns houses in Rome that are worth four billion euros. In those houses are not refugees, as the Pope might want, but V.I.P.s and people with connections paying ridiculously low rents.” At the end of a long monologue, the monsignor tells the journalist that he hopes he has brought a car, because he has a trunk full of documents.

The Vatican press office responded to the books with severe, disapproving language: “Publications of this nature do not help in any way to establish clarity and truth but, rather, generate confusion and partial and tendentious conclusions. One must absolutely avoid the misunderstanding of thinking that’s a way to help the Pope’s mission.” (Bertone also said, in an interview with the Corriere della Sera, that he had “never authorized or suggested” that the Foundation of the Bambin Gesù hospital “make any payment” for work done on his apartment.) The heart of the response has been to attack the messengers as a couple of scoop-seeking journalists and out-of-favor Vatican appointees. But it’s not as simple as that.

Nuzzi’s first book, “Vaticano, Spa.” (“Vatican, Inc.”), was also the product of a major document dump, and it revealed extremely important information about massive malfeasance at the Istituto per le Opere di Religione—the Vatican Bank. The documents, passed on by a monsignor who worked at a high level in Vatican finances and wanted them made public after his death, revealed that the bank was routinely used by powerful Italian politicians and businessmen to hide bribe money or simply evade taxes. These revelations played a role in forcing the Vatican to clean up the bank, close many of its suspect accounts, and begin to meet international standards of bank transparency. The noble purpose of Nuzzi’s book based on the butler’s leaks is less evident—although it does provide juicy tidbits of behind-the-scenes Vatican intrigue. One can argue, however, that it forced a day of reckoning for a papacy that had become paralyzed by infighting and gone seriously adrift. It made “transparency” a part of a new Vatican catechism.

Although the Vatican has made it known that Pope Francis is “deeply saddened” by the alleged leaks, it is far from clear that this latest scandal hurts the Pope. As the Vatican points out, there is nothing in the two books that the Pope didn’t already know; in fact, the books are based largely on the internal audits and reports that the Pope himself commissioned.

Both books reveal, for example, that most of the charitable contributions (known as “Peter’s Pence”) made to the Pope are used to pay the cost of maintaining the Roman curia; millions are wasted each year on the princely lifestyle of the cardinals and the below-market or rent-free arrangements of the thousands of apartments owned by the Holy See in and around Rome. Nuzzi tells the story of a powerful monsignor who, dissatisfied with his already generously sized apartment, takes advantage of the prolonged illness of an elderly priest who lives next door by ordering workmen to knock down a wall between the two apartments, adding an extra room to his own at his neighbor’s expense. One audit commissioned by COSEA revealed hundreds of people misappropriating the Vatican’s tax-free status to resell cheap gasoline and cigarettes at great profit. An audit of the Vatican museums and pharmacy showed serious discrepancies—amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars—between what appeared on the books and what was actually in storehouses, suggesting either systematic theft or fraud.

But in this story, Francis is resolutely determined to get to the bottom of things. Along with the documents, Nuzzi was given tape recordings (made illegally) of some of the COSEA meetings. At one, Francis thunders against “the lack of transparency” and repeats seven times that the Church “will not pay” when presented with inflated bills that have not followed new payment protocols:

Clarity! That’s what done in the most humble companies, and we have to do it, too.… Before any purchase or construction job, we have to request at least three different estimates…. Let me give you an example, the library. The estimate said a hundred, and then two hundred was paid. What happened?… [Some say] we have to pay for it. No, we don’t…. We don’t pay! This is important me. Discipline, please!

There are also troubling stories, in the Nuzzi book, of clear attempts to sabotage Francis’s reform efforts. In what was allegedly a carefully staged burglary, carried out at night, papers were removed from the locked files in COSEA’s offices. Some were sent back to members of Francis’s team, in what could appear to be an effort at intimidation.

In the last chapter, Nuzzi sounds a rather pessimistic note. “Of all the reforms contemplated during the first year of his pontificate, very few managed to get off the ground,” he writes. “This unfortunately meant one thing: [Francis’s] plan to drive out the merchants from the temple was still unfulfilled some three years after his election.”

This might be overstating things a bit. Francis did remove some of the most egregious figures in the Roman curia and has put into place some procedures and controls that already seem to have made a positive difference. Some of the power struggles that Nuzzi writes about—between Francis’s new Secretary for the Economy and his Secretary of State over the control of certain Vatican assets—are the kind of normal jurisdictional battles that afflict any organization undergoing change, and not necessary symptoms of corruption or sabotage.

Still, I suspect that the net result of the new leaks case will be to somewhat strengthen Francis’s position, and to give new impetus to his efforts at reform, which appeared weakened after the bruising theological battles at the recent Synod on the Family. The coalition that elected him has become divided over social issues, but cleaning house was perhaps the principal mandate of Francis’ papacy, and the current scandal may remind everyone of that—including the Pope.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Pope Francis 'prepared to battle' on Vatican reform senior cardinal says

David Gibson
Religion News Service
November 5, 2015

Despite intense opposition from some conservatives and new revelations of financial scandals in the Vatican, Pope Francis is at peace with the reformist course he has set for the Catholic church, according to a cardinal who is a leading adviser to the pontiff.

Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga also said that the latest reports of excessive spending and political maneuvering by officials of the Roman Curia only confirm the need to press ahead with an overhaul of the papal bureaucracy.

"You know, everybody that is trying to make good will have opposition," Rodriguez said Nov. 3 after a conference at Fordham University on Francis' environmental agenda. "The books of the Bible said, especially the Book of Wisdom, 'If you want to follow the Lord, prepare to the battle.' And the pope is prepared."

"It's a revolution going on [in the Vatican]. But a revolution of love, and hope," said Rodriguez, who heads the council of nine cardinals that Francis set up after his 2013 election to advise him. "And that’s the way it is going."

As Francis' point man on overhauling the papal bureaucracy, Rodriguez has a major role in ensuring that the pontiff’s larger reform projects succeed, and he and the rest of the Council of Cardinals are set to meet with Francis on curial reform early next month.

They'll have a lot to talk about.

The Vatican was rocked this week by news that Vatican authorities had arrested two people -- a Spanish monsignor who works in the Curia and an Italian lay woman who used to advise the pope on financial reform -- and charged them with leaking confidential documents to journalists about financial misdeeds at the Holy See.

Two books based on those leaks and other reporting are coming out this month and have created a media sensation -- and evoked the sense of crisis that was characteristic of the final stretch of the papacy of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, whose retirement paved the way for the election of Francis.

On Wednesday, a Vatican spokesman said that the revelations in the books are in fact based on information that Francis himself requested in the early months of his pontificate as he sought to tackle corruption.

The Rev. Federico Lombardi rejected the notion of "a permanent reign of confusion" in the Vatican and said that under Francis the reforms are ongoing. Francis "knows the situation, he knows what needs to be done, and how to proceed," Lombardi said.

"That bad news might not be a source of joy is so obvious that it doesn’t deserve an official statement," he added. "But that does not mean the pope is discouraged; he moves ahead serenely."

Rodriguez -- who said he had not yet read the two books -- also said in an interview in New York that Francis will not be swayed or discouraged and will continue to clean house in Rome.

"Oh. yes. Because he is a man of prayer, he is a man of God. So he is never disappointed by these things," the cardinal said. "He's not even afraid. He knows what he is doing. He's not just acting without reflection, without praying over steps he is taking."

Rodriguez pointed as well to the opposition and maneuverings that went on during the three-week summit, or synod, of international bishops at the Vatican last month. Conservatives sought to thwart discussions of new approaches to modern families, including gays and divorced and remarried Catholics.

At one point, Rodriguez recalled, he thought the pope "was going to be very sad" when it was revealed that 13 conservative cardinals at the synod had secretly sent him a letter -- which Rodriguez said they had apparently been working on among themselves since August -- complaining about the synod process and warning Francis against making changes in church policies.

But Rodriguez said that Francis instead answered the cardinals openly, telling them not to indulge in "conspiracy theories" and assuring them that all would be open and honest. After intense debates, Rodriguez said, the synod ended well and the letter-writers, he said, "felt embarrassed for what they did because it was useless, not necessary."

"The church cannot go backwards because the Holy Spirit does not have a reverse, like cars," the cardinal said. "He leads us always ahead. After this, many things have to change in the mentality and in the practice of pastors" when it comes to the divorced and remarried, for example, and others who feel outside the church's embrace.

Rodriguez said that one speech by Francis to the 270 churchmen at the synod was key, a talk in which the pope made it clear that the hierarchy needs to be more open to debate and collegial in governing:

"It means, 'Well, fellows, this is the way the church has to go, and let's go.' And it was very well-received, that speech. And it was necessary," Rodriguez said.

As for growing calls by some Catholic conservatives, especially in the U.S., for a "battle" or a "civil war" to halt any reforms to Catholic practices and approaches on sex and marriage, Rodriguez said they had no reason to be concerned. The synod was focused on pastoral policies, not doctrinal changes, he said. And the critics should have faith:

"I say it's necessary to be open to the Holy Spirit because the church is guided by the Holy Spirit, not by the attitudes of men, or women, or pastors of the church," he said. "If they" -- the pope’s critics – "feel that they are the defenders, remember that the pope was elected by the majority (of cardinals in the 2013 conclave) and if we believe, the Holy Spirit is guiding him.

"And so, it's a matter of faith," he added. "It means maybe you are fighting against the Spirit."

Rodriguez was in New York as part of a U.S. tour on the pope's recent encyclical, Laudato Si'. The tour began Monday at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and continued with an appearance at Notre Dame University in Indiana.

Another senior Vatican official the pope relies on to promote his environmental message, Cardinal Peter Turkson, was also in the U.S. this week making several appearances to rally support for battling global warming, ahead of the upcoming international climate change conference in Paris that Francis believes is crucial to beginning to change the dynamic on environmental stewardship.

Some of the most intense resistance to the pope's encyclical has come from the U.S., and from Catholic conservatives here.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Indian Christian elite condemn 'sinister discrimination'

Sean Smith
The Tablet
November 2, 2015

Christian leaders in India have strongly condemned growing intolerance in the country towards non Hindus and “sinister attempts” to abolish positive discrimination policies that reserved jobs and services for those from lower castes.

“[We] as Christians in unequivocal terms denounce the growing intolerance in the country,” the statement signed by influential educators, clergy, a former police chief and the archbishop of Gujarat.

“We also denounce the sinister attempts to do away with reservation policy and ultimately the attempt to undermine the Constitution of India; we denounce the planned move to utilise religion for politico-economic benefits; we denounce the well orchestrated efforts to use government machinery to achieve ones evil ends; we denounce all the efforts to divide the nation into fiefdom of some elements.”

“We denounce all the attempts to erode scientific temper and scholarship by meddling with the education system of the country,” the letter said.

“We are in a special way concerned at how the Indigenous Adivasi People in our country are being coerced to leave their traditional nature-based religious beliefs and practices and are subjected to so-called ‘ghar vapsi’ by some hindutva elements thus ushering in disharmony within their communities. Under this pretext, they are being alienated from their natural habitat and resources.”

The ruling right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has denied that it has any intention of abolishing the reservation policy of the country, which since 1950 has seeked to address the rampant discrimination there is in the country. But a number of senior politicians have called for positive discrimination to end.

The statement was signed by the Principal of St. Xavier's College, in Kolkata, Fr. Felix Raj, along with a former police chief of Karnataka Francis Colaso, Archbishop Thomas Macwan of Gandhinagar, Gujarat, and writer and Christian activist John Dayal.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Vallejo and Chaouqui: the odd couple and old power intrigues

Luis Angel Vallejo Balda and Francesca Immacolata Chaouqui: the Pope had previously tried to clip the wings of this ambitious and unscrupulous duo

Vatican Insider
November 3, 2015

After what was a very intense month for the life of the Church and the Synod of bishops, albeit marked by negative moments such as the false news about the Pope’s supposed illness, the Vatileaks scandal exploded once again. Or rather one final last-ditch effort in the old Vatileaks scandal. It exploded again with the scandalous arrests of Spanish monsignor, Luis Angel Vallejo Balda, Secretary of the Vatican audit office and PR woman Francesca Immacolata Chaouqui. The two have been accused of leaking the content of letters on the Vatican’s finances, which they swore to keep secret, content which is to appear in two books that are soon to be published. They are also accused of providing recordings of Francis’ conversations with his collaborators. But behind these accusations is a story that began one sultry July two years ago.

The two individuals responsible for leaking the documents, claim they acted in order “to help the Pope”, to “win the war” against cliques that opposed change and transparency. But Francis can’t have been overjoyed by their generous help, given that he gave his personal approval for the arrests of this odd couple, whose involvement in the whole affair did not surprise many in the Vatican.

In July 2013, Vallejo managed to get Chaouqui appointed to the commission that was to handle the most confidential of documents on Vatican finances. The two have very close ties: he presented himself as “the Pope’s treasurer”, she as “the Pope’s commissioner”. The incarnation of a new course, made of transparency and many friendships with people who matter in the economic, media and political spheres. Now, the Vatican Gendarmerie is keeping a close eye on the 54-year-old Spanish monsignor with links to the Opus Dei, who aspired to become the Holy See’s key figure in the economic sphere, who is being held in a cell in the Vatican. He holds his head in his hands and is concerned about his elderly mother with whom he – an only son – lived up until three days ago in Rome. Meanwhile, 33-year-old, Francesca Immacolata, from San Sosti in Italy’s Calabria region, a young and ambitious woman capable of opening the doors of the Vatican to international consulting firms and VIP acquaintances, was held in a Salesian nuns’ residence in the Vatican for one night before being released.

Investigators say the two provided all the material for “Avarizia” and “Via Crucis”, two books written by Emiliano Fittipaldi and Gianluigi Nuzzi respectively. The two authors also say they are convinced that the publication of these texts “will help the Pope”. A Pope who by now has to deal with these kinds of “helpers” on a daily basis.

There are two dates that point to the origin of this last ditch effort linked to the old Vatileaks scandal. Even back then, in a series of anonymous newspaper interviews, Francesca Chaouqui backed the “poison pen letter writers”, corroborating the importance of the letters leaked by the former Pope’s butler.

The first is 18 July 2013. Francis published a motu proprio for the establishment of the commission on economic and administrative problems of the Holy See (COSEA): Vallejo was appointed secretary and to the surprise of the team in charge of screening accounts and management problems in Vatican offices and dicasteries, Chaouqui was also nominated thanks to her friend, the monsignor. Her appointment was immediately seen as too convenient: the young woman wrote a series of insolent tweets against Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and former minister Tremonti (she would later deny having written hem, claiming hackers had got into her account, only to then delete them after they had been online for months). She made no attempt to keep her links with gossip website Dagospia a secret and made completely unfounded conjectures about Benedict XVI allegedly having “leukaemia”. In an interview published on the online version of Italian news magazine L’Espresso, she announced she had access to “confidential” Vatican “papers” and that she was a good friend of Nuzzi’s. But controversies soon died down and due to the nature of her role, Chaouqui was able to freely come and go from Saint Martha’s House.

The second date is 3 March 2014. On this day, having established the Secretariat for the Economy and nominated Australian cardinal George Pell as the new Prefect, Francis announced the name of the dicastery’s number two man. Instead of appointing Vallejo Balda, as Pell had requested and believed to be certain, right up until the last moment, the Pope surprised everyone by choosing Alfred Xuereb. This came as a big blow to the Vallejo-Chaouqui duo. The Spanish prelate was convinced the position was in the bag. He had even imprudently confirmed it on a Spanish radio programme. No appointments for “commissioner” Francesca Immacolata either: while five COSEA members took up their positions in a new Vatican body, the Council for the Economy, she was left empty-handed. From this moment on, the PR woman and her tunic-clad talent scout felt they were “at war” and identified Pell as their great enemy. The friction between the Secretariat for the Economy, the Secretariat of State and the other dicasteries of the Holy See was no figment of the imagination. Francis himself intervened on a number of occasions to cut back certain powers and clearly outline duties. But for this odd couple “at war”, this was not enough.

In April last year, during the ceremony for the canonization of Popes John and John Paul, Vallejo and Chaouqui committed yet another faux pas that bothered the Pope in no small measure. They organised a buffet with a view for highly select group of 150 VIPs on the terrace of the Prefecture for Economic Affairs, unbeknownst to Vallejo’s direct superior.

The documents Fittipaldi and Nuzzi used to write their books – documents about the management of the Bambino Gesù Children’s Hospital in Rome, the expenses of Bertone’s apartment, some strange IOR accounts and Vatican house rents – are backed up by recordings that were apparently obtained during COSEA meetings the Pope was present at. The gendarmes led by Domenico Giani had been investigating the document leak for some time. This time, they were convinced they had solved the case before the contents reached the bookstores.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Vatican arrests two advisors over alleged links to leaked documents

Anthony Faiola
Washington Post
November 2, 2015

The arrest of two Vatican insiders on suspicion of leaking damaging internal documents signaled the return Monday of an unwelcome guest at the Holy See’s ancient gates: scandal.

Lucio Ángel Vallejo Balda, a 54-year-old senior Vatican bureaucrat, and Francesca Chaouqui, a 33-year-old Italian public relations maven known in some circles as “the pope’s lobbyist,” were taken into custody over the weekend.

The arrests came as the Vatican, which denounced their actions as a “grave betrayal” of Pope Francis’s trust, braced for the release of two potentially explosive books this week based on leaks that the Holy See appeared to link to the two suspects.

The books — which reportedly contain fresh revelations about corruption and mismanagement in the Vatican and about challenges to Francis’s push for internal reform — include one by Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi. Nuzzi’s 2012 book on a “Vatileaks” scandal rocked the papacy of Benedict XVI by detailing behind-the-scenes power struggles revealed in documents stolen by Pope Benedict’s butler. Nuzzi’s new book, according to his Italian publisher, is like a “crime novel” and even quotes from recordings of Francis chastising his “top brass.”

At a time when the pontiff is grappling with deep divisions among his hierarchy over the direction of his papacy, the surprise weekend detentions could further expose the internal rifts between his ideological allies and factions that oppose his efforts to reform the church. It could also signal a new phase for a Vatican that has generally basked in the glow of good press under Francis and may now need to revert to damage-control mode again.

On Monday, the publishers of both books said they would stick to their Thursday release dates despite the Vatican’s suggestion that it may pursue legal action.

“We haven’t snatched anything from anyone,” said Lorenzo Fazio, editorial director of Chiarelettere, Nuzzi’s Italian publisher. “This is the third book by Nuzzi on the Vatican, and he’s always based his work on incontrovertible documents. Now he’s talking about power and the Curia, sharing truths that cannot do anything but good for the need to reform expressed in many ways by Pope Francis.” The Roman Curia is the bureaucratic arm of the papacy.

The arrests also cast a light on the little-known office of the Vatican’s gendarmes, a sort of mini papal police force that conducted the months-long criminal investigation of the leaks and hauled both suspects in for questioning before arresting them. The gendarmerie corps has general autonomy and does not need papal approval to make arrests, although high-profile detentions and investigations often have high-level Vatican oversight.

Francis, according to a Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, was briefed on the arrests before they were carried out. Asked whether the pope would intervene in the cases, Lombardi said only that Francis “respects the competence of Vatican institutions.”

Both Vallejo and Chaouqui had been tapped for Francis’s reform commission, which aimed to overhaul the Curia. The Curia has faced charges of corruption, inefficiency and petty rivalries in the past.

Vallejo, a Spanish monsignor and the second-in-command of a Vatican economic affairs office, was still being detained. Chaouqui was released after pledging to fully cooperate with the investigation, the Vatican said.

Vallejo belongs to a religious group tied to Opus Dei, a conservative Catholic organization. On Monday, Opus Dei’s Rome branch expressed “surprise and pain” over his arrest. “If the accusation is proven true, it will be particularly hurtful because of the damage done to the Church,” it said in a statement.

Vallejo was handpicked by Francis to help guide his bid to reform the Curia. Vallejo then helped choose Chaouqui for the reform commission, which wrapped up its business last year. Chaouqui drew criticism from some Vatican insiders after she posted racy photos of herself on Facebook and sent critical tweets, including one describing Tarcisio Bertone, the former Vatican secretary of state who was pushed aside by Francis, as “corrupt.”

In an interview with the Italian magazine L’Espresso in 2013, she was quoted as saying that she had access “to highly confidential documents” and mentioned a friendship with Nuzzi. In an interview with the Boston Globe last year, she said enemies of the pope were responsible for the criticisms against her.

“Unfortunately for the peace of mind of those enemies, we’re still here and the reform is still happening,” she said.

Both suspects face potential charges under a 2013 law passed after the Vatileaks scandal that made it illegal to disclose confidential Holy See documents and information. In announcing the extraordinary arrests, the Vatican seemed to foreshadow the release of any potentially damaging information and suggested that it may pursue legal action against the publishers and the authors.

“Publications of this kind do not contribute in any way to establish clarity and truth, but rather to create confusion and partial and tendentious interpretations,” the Vatican said in a statement. “We must absolutely avoid the mistake of thinking that this is a way to help the mission of the Pope.”

Nuzzi’s new book, “Merchants in the Temple,” draws on documents, interviews and recordings of Francis speaking in closed-door meetings, according to Chiarelettere, his publisher.

The pope is quoted as dressing down top financial officials, saying “costs are out of control,” and demanding transparency after finding “unofficial budgets” that detailed funds allegedly misused by Vatican officials, according to the publisher. The book also looks at alleged attempts to sabotage Francis’s reforms, describes the apparently lavish lifestyles of some cardinals and claims to document the misuse of money collected in church offerings.

“If we don’t know how to safeguard our money, which can be seen, how can we safeguard the souls of the faithful, which cannot be seen?” Francis is quoted as saying at a meeting of his hierarchy, according to Chiarelettere. The book also purports to unveil the full explanation behind Benedict’s surprising decision to retire in 2013.

The second book, “Avarice: Documents Revealing Wealth, Scandals and Secrets of Francis’ Church” by Italian journalist Emiliano Fittipaldi of L’Espresso — the magazine whose Vatican leaks included a draft of a papal encyclical on the environment in June, deals with financial and other scandals inside the Vatican.

In an interview Monday, Fittipaldi said that the two suspects were not his sources.

“I wish that [the arrested individuals] will prove to the gendarmes that they did not commit those crimes, of which I have no awareness except for what I read [in the Vatican] press release,” he said.

In a related probe, Italian media reported last week that Vatican forensic experts were investigating alleged tampering of the computer used by the church’s top auditor, Libero Milone, who was appointed a few months ago.