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Jesuit superior general: Satan is real, and wants us to reject God

Vatican City, Dec 6, 2019 / 12:12 pm (CNA).- The superior general of the Jesuit order told reporters Tuesday that the devil is real, after making headlines in August by stating that Satan is a symbol, not a person.

Satan “is the one who stands between God's plan and his work of salvation accomplished in Christ, because he has made this irreversible and free decision, and he wants to drag others to reject the merciful God, who prefers to give his life to save instead of to condemn,” Fr. Arturo Sosa, SJ, said in a Dec. 2 meeting with journalists, according to a report from Vida Nueva.

Sosa added that “the power of the devil...obviously still exists as a force that tries to ruin our efforts.”

Sosa’s comments came amid remarks he offered on the six Jesuits and two employees killed in November 1989 by Salvadoran soldiers at the University of Central America in San Salvador.

On Aug 21, Sosa told an Italian magazine that the devil “exists as the personification of evil in different structures, but not in persons, because is not a person, is a way of acting evil. He is not a person like a human person. It is a way of evil to be present in human life.”

“Good and evil are in a permanent war in the human conscience and we have ways to point them out. We recognize God as good, fully good. Symbols are part of reality, and the devil exists as a symbolic reality, not as a personal reality,” he added in August.

The Catechism of the Catholic teaches that “Satan was at first a good angel, made by God: ‘The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing.’”

Angels, the Catechism says, are “spiritual, non-corporeal beings.”

Sosa, 71, was elected the Jesuits’ superior general in 2016. A Venezuelan, he has a pontifical licentiate in philosophy and a doctorate in political science. He served as a Jesuit provincial superior in Venezuela from 1996 to 2004, and in 2014 began an administrative role at the general curia of the Jesuits in Rome.

Sosa has offered controversial comments about Satan in the past. In 2017, he told El Mundo that “we have formed symbolic figures such as the Devil to express evil.”

After his 2017 remark generated controversy, a spokesman for Sosa told the Catholic Herald that “like all Catholics, Father Sosa professes and teaches what the Church professes and teaches. He does not hold a set of beliefs separate from what is contained in the doctrine of the Catholic Church.”

 

Pope Francis on sharing the Christian message in 'reality'

Vatican City, Dec 6, 2019 / 07:58 am (CNA).- Pope Francis spoke Friday about how the Gospel message must be based in concrete reality, through which Christ himself communicates to the world.

“Listening is letting ourselves be struck by reality,” the pope said at the Vatican Dec. 6, in an address to staff of the Jesuit Italian-language magazine Aggiornamenti Sociali.

“What is the response of a Christian?” he said: “Having a dialogue with that reality starting from the values ​​of the Gospel, from the things that Jesus taught us, without imposing them dogmatically, but with dialogue and discernment.”

Francis pointed to what he characterized as a return to populist ideology in Europe, similar to those ideologies which led to the Second World War.

Why is this happening? he asked. “Because you do not listen to reality as it is. There is a projection of what I want to be done, what I want to think about...”

“It is a complex which makes us replace God the creator,” he stated, adding that people want to put filters on reality, or to shape it into what they want it to be.

“But reality is another thing. Reality is sovereign,” he argued. “I have to dialogue with reality.”

Pope Francis gave his remarks on reality and evangelization “spontaneously,” during the meeting with magazine staff. He would have his prepared speech distributed to be read “academically,” he said.

He encouraged listening “with an open mind and heart, without prejudice” as “the first step” to evangelization.

The pope also told the magazine staff to “never cover up reality” but to tell it as it is and then try to make sense of it through interpretation in dialogue with God in prayer.

“You must understand it. And then dialogue with the Gospel, with the Christian message; prayer, discernment, and so make small paths to move forward,” he urged.

Today, he underlined, there is no “highway” to evangelization, but only “humble paths.”

Francis also encouraged people to not to be afraid of making mistakes, knowing that if they fall, it is an opportunity to thank God, rise again, and continue.

“But one who does not move for fear of falling or slipping or making mistakes, never, will never be fruitful in life,” he said. “Go forward, bravely.”

On the topic of criticism, Pope Francis said if it is good it provides an opportunity for growth, whereas criticism that comes from a “bad heart,” on the other hand, may make you “dance” with fury.

But he encouraged Catholics to “always keep inner freedom.” He noted that only the person “who prays, who puts himself before God, who carries the Gospel” can keep his or her inner freedom.

 

Pope Francis: Don't forget the real meaning of Christmas

Vatican City, Dec 5, 2019 / 10:40 am (CNA).- Ahead of the Vatican Christmas tree lighting Dec. 5, Pope Francis expressed hope that the nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square will serve as a reminder of what Christmas is truly about.

A nativity scene “is a genuine way of communicating the Gospel, in a world that sometimes seems to be afraid of remembering what Christmas really is, and blots out the Christian signs to only keep those of a banal, commercial imagination,” Pope Francis told an Italian delegation at the Vatican for the Christmas tree lighting ceremony Dec. 5.

This year’s Vatican Christmas tree comes from the northern Italian region of Vicenza, which was greatly damaged by storms in October 2018. The red spruce in St. Peter’s Square is a little over 85 feet tall.

The Christmas tree lighting ceremony also revealed a life-size nativity scene carved out of wood with tree trunks from Vicenza placed in the background in memory of the storm.

“The wooden trunks, coming from the areas hit by the storms, which form the backdrop to the landscape, underline the precariousness in which the Holy Family was found on that night in Bethlehem,” Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis met with delegations from the Italian diocese of Trento, Padua and Vittorio Venetoin at the Vatican’s apostolic palace Dec. 5 before the Christmas tree and nativity scene were presented.

“Today's meeting offers me the opportunity to renew my encouragement to your people, who last year suffered a devastating natural disaster, with the demolition of entire wooded areas,” Pope Francis told the delegation.

“I was pleased to learn that, replacing the plants removed, 40 fir trees will be replanted to replenish the woods severely damaged by the storm of 2018,” he said.

The Vatican Christmas tree is illuminated by energy-saving Christmas lights from the German multinational OSRAM, to reduce the environmental impact of the display.

Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello and Bishop Fernando Vérgez Alzaga chaired the Vatican Christmas lighting ceremony. The nativity scene and Christmas tree will remain on display in St. Peter’s Square until January 12, 2020, the feast of Christ’s Baptism.

Pope Francis began Advent with a trip to the Italian town of Greccio, where St. Francis of Assisi created the first nativity scene in 1223. In Greccio, Pope Francis signed the apostolic letter, Admirabile signum, on the meaning and importance of nativity scenes.

“All those present experienced a new and indescribable joy in the presence of the Christmas scene. The priest then solemnly celebrated the Eucharist over the manger, showing the bond between the Incarnation of the Son of God and the Eucharist,” Pope Francis wrote in the letter describing the St. Francis’ first nativity.

“As we contemplate the Christmas story, we are invited to set out on a spiritual journey, drawn by the humility of the God who became man in order to encounter every man and woman. We come to realize that so great is his love for us that he became one of us, so that we in turn might become one with him,” Pope Francis said.

Vatican committee asks UN for World Day of Human Fraternity

Vatican City, Dec 5, 2019 / 10:00 am (CNA).- Members of a Vatican special committee met with the Secretary General of the United Nations on December 4 to deliver a petition on human fraternity co-authored by Pope Francis and the Sunni Islamic Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed Al-Tayeb. 

The committee was formed in August, under the auspicies of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. The message from the two religious leaders requested that Feb. 4 be declared the “World Day of Human Fraternity,” and asked the United Nations, along with the Holy See and the Al-Azhar Mosque, to create a “World Summit On Human Fraternity.” The Al-Azhar Mosque is located in Cairo, Egypt, and the Grand Imam of that mosque is considered to be one of the highest positions in Sunni Islam. 

According to a statement released by the Pontifical Council on Dec. 5, Dr. Antonio Guterres, the secretary general of the United Nations, “expressed his appreciation and availability for the initiative,” and said that he believed it was important to work “at the service of all humanity.”

Guterres appointed Dr. Adama Dieng, who is presently the United Nations Secretary General’s  Special Adviser for Hate Speech and the Prevention of Genoicde, to work along with a Vatican special committee on the proposed summit and World Day of Human Fraternity. 

The Holy See’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue formed the committee in late August to work towards the goals for advancing world peace and coexistence laid out in the Document on Human Fraternity. That document was released on Feb. 4, when Pope Francis made an apostolic journey to the United Arab Emirates. 

The committee, which is led by Cardinal Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot, contains members belonging to Christian, Muslim, and Jewish faiths. Ayuso Guixot also heads the Pontifical Council. 

Ayuso Giuxot, in an interview with Vatican News Aug. 26, called the creation of the committee a “significant act” with a “noble” objective, and stated that he believes “fear is the number one enemy of interreligious dialogue.”

“The Catholic Church recalls the value of its own identity, of the courage of otherness and the sincerity of intentions,” he said. “It is not a matter of making a ‘melting pot’ in which all religions are considered equal, but that all believers, those who seek God and all people of good will without a religious affiliation, have equal dignity.”

“I think the Abu Dhabi declaration is a global appeal to the ‘civilization of love’ which contrasts with those who want a clash of civilizations!” the archbishop said.

About three weeks after the superior committee was formed, the Catholic and Muslim members met in the Holy See on Sept. 11 to pray for the victims of the 9/11 attacks in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, as well as for the victims of every act of terrorism. 

According to the Holy See Press Office, the committee chose to meet Sept. 11 as “a sign of the will to build life and fraternity where others sowed death and destruction.”

'The key is not to fight, but just to bear witness': How to preach Advent

Washington D.C., Dec 5, 2019 / 08:35 am (CNA).- The season of Advent, and the entire cycle of the liturgical year, is vital to remaining rooted in the true mission of the Church, Archbishop Joseph Augustine Di Noia, O.P., adjunct secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, told CNA. 

Di Noia spoke to CNA Dec. 4 about his newly-released book, “Grace in Season: The Riches of the Gospel in Seventy Sermons” which was published Nov. 15 by Cluny Media. 

"The theme of the book is that the preacher should realize that the liturgical year is a unit that is repeated every single year, and it starts with Advent and finishes with Pentecost,” said Di Noia. The book, a collection of Di Noia's own sermons, is organized by the liturgical seasons. 

The combined readings--the prayers, the preface, and everything said at Mass-- form “a story that you fit into. The liturgy is the key, the entree to it,” he said. By repeating this liturgy in the liturgical year, “we become like Him,” said Di Noia. “That’s the unspoken premise of the book.” 

The liturgical year, he said, is support for the faith similar to a sacramental, and is the “fundamental pattern of Christian spirituality” that is configured to Christ. Preachers, he said, should look to the lectionary and the Sunday readings first and foremost when deciding what they will preach to their homilies. 

“And each season,” he said, “has a particular grace. So Advent is the grace to realize the complete gratuity of grace.”

In the middle of a secularized holiday season, the archbishop said it was important to remain rooted in the true meaning of the time. In the present culture, where the true meaning of Advent as a season of somber preparation is largely discarded, Di Noia said that the best approach to respecting the liturgical season is by hunkering down and living a Christian life in spite of everything. 

“We can’t change the culture,” said Di Noia. “You just have to maintain [a devotion to Advent]. It’s an effort and it requires a certain amount of discipline to concentrate on Advent.” 

"People say, 'Let's put Christ back into Christmas.' I say 'who took him out?' Who could take him out?"

Reflecting on the Advent practice of looking towards the second coming of Christ, Di Noia said that it is key to remember why exactly it was that Christ came to earth. 

"Christ did not come for the resolution to [societal] problems,” said Di Noia. “He came to confront the sin in the human heart, directly. He didn't try to do something superficially.”

Had Christ been born as the son of someone prominent, such as an emperor, that would have undermined his purpose and  “would have confirmed us in our belief that we can deal with sin [...] and that there are human ways we can dissolve it.” 

“In the end, without the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ, sin is intractable. It cannot be cured," he said. 

In his current role at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican department charged with guarding Church discipline in faith and morals, Di Noia is not ordinarily permitted to speak publicly on the nature of his work. But, he told CNA, his day job has not stopped him living out the Dominican charism of teaching and preaching.

The collection of sermons, said Di Noia, “is a way of evangelizing” which was suggested to him by a fellow Dominican friar in Rome.  

The majority of the 70 homilies picked for the book date from after his consecration as a bishop in 2009. Prior to this time, he said he did not typically write down sermons, and instead preferred to form a general idea and preach spontaneously from there. Once he began writing down sermons, he realized he could better craft his preaching and include quotes from the Church Fathers. 

“I’m preaching all the time,” he said, noting that he frequently lectures as well. His work in the CDF he categorized as “pastoral,” while noting the tragic reality that the CDF is now mostly known for dealing with cases of sexual abuse by clerics.

Di Noia is acutely aware of how the abuse crisis has shaken the Church and the faithful, and in particular how it has changed the wider perception of the Church and of Catholics in society. For struggling Catholics, Di Noia offered a reflection on how Christ himself was treated leading up to his crucifixion.

“The profound significance of what the Church experiences in the world is that the suffering is the power of Christ,” he said. Di Noia pointed to a passage from the Gospel of John, where it states “He came to his own and his own received him not.” 

"So that, in other words, the expectation that the message is not going to be palatable is the default position," he said with a laugh. 

“The key is not to fight, but just to bear witness. It’s very difficult,” he said. 

Pope Francis tells Jesuits he is shocked by anti-immigration narratives in Europe

Vatican City, Dec 5, 2019 / 05:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis decried the mistreatment of migrants and said that he is shocked by anti-immigration narratives within Europe during a conversation with Jesuits in Thailand published Thursday.

“I must admit that I am shocked by some of the narratives I hear in Europe about borders. Populism is gaining strength,” Pope Francis said in Thailand according to the Jesuit-run journal La Civilita Cattolica transcript published online Dec. 5.

“The Mediterranean has been turned into a cemetery. The notorious cruelty of some detention centers in Libya touches my heart … In other parts there are walls that even separate children from parents,” the pope is reported to have said in a meeting on Nov. 22.

The pope said that migration issues are compounded by a “defensive mindset” that creates a state of fear and makes people believe that “you can only defend yourself by strengthening borders.”

As a result, refugees are treated as “waste material” rather than human beings, he said.

“The phenomenon of refugees has always existed, but today it is better known because of social differences, hunger, political tensions and especially war. For these reasons, migratory movements are intensifying. What is the answer the world gives? The policy of waste. Refugees are waste material,” Pope Francis said.

Francis said that “Herod comes to mind” when he thinks of immigrant children separated from their parents. “Yet for drugs, there’s no wall to keep them out,” he added.

“The Christian tradition has a rich evangelical experience in dealing with the problem of refugees. We also remember the importance of welcoming the foreigner as the Old Testament teaches us,” Pope Francis said.

The pope commended the efforts of religious sisters who work to help victims of human trafficking and prostitution.

Pope Francis met with 48 Jesuits from Southeast Asia in Bangkok’s Shrine of Blessed Nicolas Bunkerd Kitbamrung during his apostolic trip to Thailand and Japan Nov. 19-26.

During papal trips Pope Francis often stops to meet with Jesuits in the region. In the 30-minute meeting in Thailand, the Jesuit priests and seminarians asked the pope about refugees, the environment, prudence, and divorced and remarried Catholics.

The pope encouraged the Jesuits to follow a "little path" of prayer, contemplation of reality, discernment, and action with commitment and courage.

Pope Francis recalled in the meeting a recent encounter with a French missionary who has served in Thailand for 40 years:

“He came to me with about 20 of his parishioners whom he himself had baptized. He also baptized the children of those he had previously baptized: people get married young there, and he was the first evangelizer in that area."

“I dream of a young Church, very close to the people, fresh," Pope Francis said.

Release of new curial constitution delayed again

Vatican City, Dec 4, 2019 / 09:30 am (CNA).- The publication date of the new constitution governing the Roman Curia has been delayed again as Pope Francis' council of cardinals continues to evaluate suggestions to the draft that was given to bishops' conferences in May.

The now six-member advisory council met at the Vatican Dec. 2-4.

According to a brief Vatican press release Dec. 4, the group of cardinals had continued to receive suggestions on the text of the new apostolic constitution, provisionally titled Praedicate evangelium, until a few days before the start of the latest round of meetings.

The council of cardinals will continue its “reading and evaluation” of the draft at its next meeting, which will take place in February 2020, the Holy See press office stated.

Praedicate evangelium will replace Pastor bonus, the current apostolic constitution on the Roman Curia promulgated by Pope John Paul II on June 28, 1988, and subsequently modified by both popes Benedict and Francis.

The new document is expected to place renewed emphasis on evangelization as the structural priority of the Church’s mission, with some predicting the merger of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization into a single larger department.

In June, the secretary of the council, Bishop Marcello Semeraro, said there was a possibility Pope Francis would see a final draft of the document in September, but in September cardinals were still working on incorporating the suggestions submitted by bishops’ conferences and others during the summer.

The new constitution has been the advisory group’s key reform project since its establishment in 2013, one month after Pope Francis’ election.

According to the press release, this week’s meetings focused on two aspects of the draft text: the relationship between the Roman Curia and bishops’ conferences, and the presence of lay men and women in decision-making roles in curial and other Church offices.

The “theological-pastoral bases of these aspects” was also studied.

The Council of Cardinal Advisors is often referred to informally as the “C9,” although there have been only six members for nearly the past year.

The current members - Cardinals Pietro Parolin, Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, Reinhard Marx, Sean O'Malley, Giuseppe Bertello, and Oswald Gracias - were all present for the latest gathering, the group’s 32nd round of meetings.

Pope Francis also attended sessions, when not in other audiences and appointments. Bishop Marcello Semeraro, the secretary of the council, was also present at the meetings this week.

Besides discussing the curial constitution, the council heard a report from Cardinal Michael Czerny on October’s Synod of Bishops on the Amazon and some considerations from Cardinal O'Malley on the work of the post-synodal apostolic exhortation.

They also heard from Cardinal Marx on the Church in Germany’s “synodal path” and the topics on which it will focus.

Pray that bishops, priests will manifest Christ's love, Pope Francis urges

Vatican City, Dec 4, 2019 / 06:17 am (CNA).- Bishops and priests have a duty to guard and protect the Catholics entrusted to their care; and they need the faithful’s prayers for this task, Pope Francis said at the general audience Wednesday.

“Let us ask the Lord to renew in us love for the Church and for the deposit of the faith that it preserves, and to make us all co-responsible in the custody of the flock, supporting the pastors in prayer so that they manifest the firmness and tenderness of the Divine Shepherd,” he said Dec. 4.

He emphasized that “bishops must be very close to their people to guard them, to defend them; not detached from the people.”

Reflecting on the Acts of the Apostles, he explained that in chapter 20 Paul is saying farewell at the end of his apostolic ministry in Ephesus, giving a sort of “spiritual testament” to those who will lead the community after his departure and who will probably never see him again.

Pope Francis recommended everyone read chapter 20 of the Acts of the Apostles to learn how to say goodbye, calling it one of the “most beautiful” passages in Acts.

In this passage, Paul also exhorts the leaders of the community. “And what does he say to them?” the pope said. “‘Watch over yourself and the whole flock.’ This is the work of the shepherd: waking, watching over himself and the flock.”

“The priests must watch, the bishops, the pope must watch,” he continued. “Keep vigil to guard the flock, and also to watch over oneself, examine one's conscience and see how this duty to watch is carried out.”

He quoted Acts 20:28, which says, “Watch over yourselves and over the whole flock, in the midst of which the Holy Spirit has constituted you as guardians to be shepherds of the Church of God, which was acquired with the blood of his own Son.”

The pope again recommended that people “not forget today to take a Bible and read the 20th chapter, verses 17 onward, of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. It is a jewel and good for everyone.”

Pope Francis also spoke against belief in magic, fortune telling, or tarot cards.

“Even today in the big cities, practicing Christians do these things,” he said. “Please: magic is not Christian!”

“These things that are done to guess the future or guess many things or change life situations are not Christian. The grace of Christ brings you everything: pray and entrust yourself to the Lord,” he urged.

 

Buffalo's Bishop Richard Malone resigns after year of scandal

Vatican City, Dec 4, 2019 / 04:01 am (CNA).- Pope Francis Wednesday accepted the resignation of Buffalo’s embattled Bishop Richard Malone. The Diocese of Buffalo will be administered by Albany’s Bishop Edward Scharfenberger until a permanent replacement for Malone is appointed.

A Dec. 4 communique from the United States' apostolic nunciature said Malone asked Pope Francis for an "early retirement" during last month's ad limina visit, after being made aware of the results of an apostolic visitation to the Diocese of Buffalo, which concluded at the end of October.

In his own statement Dec. 4, Malone said the results of the apostolic visitation were a factor in his decision to resign, but he is doing so "freely and voluntarily."

"I have concluded after much prayer and discernment that the spiritual welfare of the people of the Diocese of Buffalo will be better served by a new bishop who perhaps is better able to bring about the reconciliation, healing and renewal that is so needed," he said.

"It is my honest assessment that I have accomplished as much as I am able to, and that there remain divisions and wounds that I am unable to bind and heal."

The resignation comes after more than a year of scandal surrounding Malone.

In November 2018, a former Buffalo chancery employee leaked confidential diocesan documents related to the handling of claims of clerical sexual abuse. The documents were widely reported to suggest Malone had covered-up some claims of sexual abuse, an allegation the bishop denied.

Six months later, in April 2019, Malone apologized for his handling of some cases in the diocese, and said he would work to restore trust. The bishop particularly apologized for his 2015 support of Fr. Art Smith, a priest who had faced repeated allegations of abuse and misconduct with minors.

“Lessons have been learned,” Malone said in April.

“I personally need to repent and reform, and it is my hope that this diocese can rebuild itself and learn and even grow from the sins of the past. I ask you to pray for me, pray for the Church, and pray for all those who suffered and suffer as a result of abuse as we go forward together to address the worldwide problem of child sexual abuse,” the bishop added.

In August 2019, a RICO lawsuit was filed against the diocese and the bishop, alleging that the response of the diocese was comparable to an organized crime syndicate.

Recordings of private conversations released in early September appeared to show that Malone believed sexual harassment accusations made against a diocesan priest months before the bishop removed the priest from ministry.

The contents of recordings of conversations between Malone and Fr. Ryszard Biernat, his secretary and diocesan vice chancellor, were reported in early September by WKBW in Buffalo.

In the conversations, Malone seemed to acknowledge the legitimacy of accusations of harassment and a violation of the seal of confession made against a diocesan priest, Fr. Jeffrey Nowak, by a seminarian, months before the diocese removed Nowak from active ministry.

In an Aug. 2 conversation, Malone can be heard saying, “We are in a true crisis situation. True crisis. And everyone in the office is convinced this could be the end for me as bishop.”

The bishop is also heard to say that if the media reported on the Nowak situation, “it could force me to resign.”

On Oct. 3, the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, DC, announced that Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn had been asked to lead an apostolic visitation – and canonical inspection – of the Buffalo diocese on behalf of the Congregation for Bishops in Rome.

That review concluded at the end of October, with DiMarzio having made three trips to Buffalo, and interviewing more than 80 people before submitting his report to Rome.

Malone visited Pope Francis last month, afterward telling Buffalo Catholics that “in a few words spoken privately to me, it was clear that the pope understands the difficulties and distress we here in Buffalo, and I personally, have been experiencing.”

“He was very understanding and kind.”

“I ask for your prayers and patience while the path forward is discerned. In the meantime, be assured that I am wholly committed to fostering the healing of victim survivors, rebuilding trust, and with our clergy and other Church ministers, renewing faith and carrying on the essential ministries that serve the needs of Catholics and of the larger Western New York community,” Malone said in a Nov. 18 video.

Rumors that Malone would resign surfaced last month, after the bishop’ ad limina visit to the pope, required every five years. A diocesan spokesperson said those rumors were false.

When reports emerged again this week that Malone would resign, diocesan personnel did not deny them.

The details of DiMarzio’s apostolic visitation have not been released. The visitation did not take place under Pope Francis’ recently promulgated norms for investigating bishops accused of negligence or sexual abuse. The Vatican has not suggested that Malone has been formally accused of any particular canonical crime.

In 2014, Pope Francis issued a document, formally called a rescript, noting that in “particular circumstances,” the pope “may consider it necessary to ask a bishop to present the resignation of his pastoral office, after letting him know the motives for such a request and after listening attentively to his justifications, in fraternal dialogue.”

The document did not establish a new policy, but clarified the freedom of the pope to request the resignation of a bishop. It is not clear whether Francis requested Malone’s resignation.

Malone is not the first U.S. bishop to resign amid crisis in recent years. In 2018, mired in scandal surrounding Theodore McCarrick, Cardinal Donald Wuerl asked the pope to accept his 2015 letter of resignation from the Archdiocese of Washington. Francis did so in October 2018, but Wuerl continued to lead the archdiocese until his successor was named in April.

Archbishop John Nienstedt of Minneapolis, along with Bishop Lee Piche, his auxiliary, resigned from office in June 2015, amid reports of systemic negligence, and after criminal charges were filed against the archdiocese for its mishandling of clerical sexual abuse allegations.

Bishop Robert Finn resigned from leading the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in April 2015. Finn had been convicted in 2012 of a misdemeanor, namely the failure to report suspected child abuse. The bishop was sentenced to two years’ probation for that crime.

Malone, 73, began leading the Buffalo diocese in 2012. He was ordained a priest of Boston in 1972, and became an auxiliary bishop in that diocese in 2000, two years before a national sexual abuse scandal emerged in the United States, centered on the Archdiocese of Boston and the leadership of Cardinal Bernard Law. Malone was Maine’s bishop from 2004 until 2012.

 

This story was updated at 4:33 am MST.

Pope Francis: Disabled people are not in humanity's minor 'leagues'

Vatican City, Dec 3, 2019 / 10:03 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said Tuesday that disabled people make important contributions to humanity, and called discrimination against them a sin. The pope added that disabled people are not members of humanity's minor “leagues.”

“We are called to recognize in every person with a disability, even with complex and serious disabilities, a unique contribution to the common good through their original life story,” he said Dec. 3.

“Recognize the dignity of each one, knowing that it does not depend on the functionality of the five senses.”

Pope Francis sent his message on the 2019 World Day of People with Disabilities, the theme of which is “the future is accessible.”

The Gospel teaches the dignity of every person, the pope said, adding that everyone must work to fight a culture which considers some people to be part of “Serie A” and others “Serie B,” a reference to the major and minor Italian soccer leagues.

“A culture that considers some lives to be ‘League A’ and others ‘League B’” based on their physical or mental abilities is “a social sin!” he added.

Francis noted that unfortunately, in some countries, people with disabilities are not treated with equal dignity, “as brothers and sisters in humanity.”

“Have the courage to give voice to those who are discriminated against due to their disability,” he said.

Inclusive laws and protections against discrimination are important, but they are not enough if not accompanied by a change of mentality, he said, “if we do not overcome a widespread culture that continues to produce inequalities, preventing active participation in ordinary life for people with disabilities.”

Pope Francis asked everyone, on this World Day of People with Disabilities, to renew their faith, a faith which sees “in every brother and sister the presence of Christ himself, who considers every gesture of love for one of the least of his brothers to be made for him.”

“On this occasion, I would like to recall that today the promotion of participation rights has a central role to combat discrimination and promote a culture of encounter and quality life,” he said.

He explained that a lot of progress has been made in the medical and welfare fields, but even today there is a culture of waste, and a feeling for many that they exist “without belonging and without participating.”

“All this calls [us] not only to protect the rights of people with disabilities and their families,” he said, “but urges us to make the world more human by removing all that prevents them from full citizenship, the obstacles of prejudice, and by promoting the accessibility of places and quality of life, which takes into account all the dimensions of the human.”

 

 

Becciu again denies involvement in IDI hospital purchase

Vatican City, Dec 2, 2019 / 07:30 pm (CNA).- In a letter to a veteran Italian journalist, Cardinal Angelo Becciu wrote Monday that he was not involved in the purchase of a bankrupt Italian hospital, and that reports to the contrary are unreliable.

“The statement of Prof. Antonio Maria Leozappa, president of the Luigi Maria Monti Foundation, published by you on November 28, reconstructs with exact precision the story of the IDI and, by confirming what was previously said by Card. Parolin, exonerates me completely from any involvement, contrary to what you have asserted,” Becciu wrote in a Dec. 2 letter to journalist Sandro Magister.

The “statement” to which Becciu referred was a letter from the president of a legal partnership between the Vatican’s Secretariat of State and the Congregation of the Sons of the Immaculate Conception, an Italian religious order that once owned Rome’s IDI hospital. The hospital was purchased from the religious order by that partnership in 2015, with funds borrowed from the Vatican’s central bank, in violation of European regulatory agreements.

Becciu has been frequently reported to have helped arrange the loan, and to have helped facilitate a controversial request for a grant from the U.S.-based Papal Foundation to repay it.

In fact, Magister reported Nov. 28 that “when these events occurred, it was common knowledge at the Vatican that Becciu played a leading role in the matter.”

Nevertheless, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin told CNA Nov. 20 that, contrary to media reports, it was he who had arranged the loan and grant request, and not Becciu, who was his subordinate from 2014 to 2018.

“To an outside observer it is not clear how much is true or put on in this role play between the cardinal secretary of state in office and the one who from 2013 to 2018 was his ‘substitute,’” Magister wrote of that admission.

Leozappa’s Nov. 28 letter did not offer detail about how the controversial loan was actually arranged, or supply a list of Vatican figures involved in the process. Instead, it explained some details about the accounting vehicles by which borrowed money funded the 2015 purchase of the hospital, and confirmed the transfer of funds between the Secretariat of State and the foundation. Becciu was not mentioned in the letter.

Becciu’s letter did not offer details about how the cardinal understood Leozappa’s statement to “exonerate” him. Nor did the cardinal indicate how he confirmed that Leozappa explained with  “exact precision” a process in which he says he was not involved.

The cardinal’s letter did, however, address another Vatican scandal to which Becciu has been connected: the Secretariat of State’s investment in a London luxury apartment development.

“The accusation that I did not take into consideration the contrary opinion of Cardinal Pell on the operation of the development of the London apartment is baseless, for the simple reason that the then-Prefect of the SPE [Secretariat for the Economy] was never consulted on the matter, since it was not within his competence to control the accounts of the Secretariat of State. To do that he would have needed the authorization of the pope, something that was never granted to him.”

Becciu was responding to a report that Cardinal George Pell had in 2015 raised questions about a loan obtained by the Secretariat of State to fund its invest in the London property development. Multiple senior sources at the Vatican’s Prefecture for the Economy had told CNA those questions led to a disagreement between Pell and Becciu, an allegation which Becciu’s letter did not directly deny.

In the same letter, Becciu told Magister that he disputed some aspects of CNA’s reporting on that matter, and said CNA had admitted to him that some of its sources were unreliable. CNA has not stated that its sources are unreliable.

The cardinal also sought to distance himself from Msgr. Mauro Carlino, his former secretary, who was suspended after an October raid ordered by Vatican prosecutors.

“To say that I more than others are entered into the eye of a media storm for the fact that Msgr. Carlino was my personal secretary is a simplistic explanation and inconsistent,” Becciu told Magister.

Becciu has been under close media scrutiny for months, as reports from several media outlets have reported on his connections to two emerging financial scandals at the Vatican. The cardinal has consistently denied his involvement in illicit or inappropriate financial activities.

Although the London property development involves multiple holding companies and ambigious funding sources, Becciu has defended the London property deal as “accepted practice.” Parolin characterized it as “opaque,” and Pope Francis said of the transaction this month that unnamed Vatican administrators have “done things that do not seem clean.” The investment remains the subject of a major Vatican investigation.

 

 

Pope: Catholic entrepreneurs must live out Church’s social teaching

Vatican City, Dec 2, 2019 / 10:59 am (CNA).- Catholic business owners have both a grave responsibility and an opportunity to promote the Church’s social teaching in a difficult atmosphere, Pope Francis told young entrepreneurs Monday.

“I am well aware that it is not easy, in everyday life, to reconcile the needs of the faith and the social teaching of the Church with the needs and constraints imposed by the laws of the market and of globalization,” he said in the Vatican’s apostolic palace Dec. 2.

“But,” he continued, “I believe that the evangelical values that you want to implement in directing your companies, as well as in the many relationships you have in your activities, are the occasion of a genuine and irreplaceable Christian witness.”

Pope Francis met with the delegation of French business leaders during a pilgrimage they are making to Rome. “It is a joy for me to encounter this desire that is in you to follow the teachings of the Gospel,” he said.

Expressing hope that their pilgrimage may illuminate their future discernment, he noted that “it has never been easy to be a Christian and have serious responsibilities.”

The pope noted some of the challenges that come with working in the business world, or with owning a business, such as the decisions which impact the survival of one’s company and the support of employees and their families with the payment of a just wage.

“I am thinking of working conditions, wages, job offers and their stability, as well as environmental protection. How can we live these conflicts in serenity and hope, while the Christian entrepreneur is sometimes led to silence his own convictions and ideals?” he asked.

The Second Vatican Council’s Gaudium et spes gives a criterion for discernment, Francis said.

“With regard to the laity engaged in temporal realities, it is said: ‘It is up to their already properly formed conscience to inscribe the divine law in the life of the earthly city,’” he stated, also speaking about the priest’s role of giving “light and spiritual strength.”

Catholics do not expect their pastors to have concrete answers, but they should “assume their responsibility, in the light of Christian wisdom and paying respectful attention to the teaching of the Magisterium.”

Pope Francis also quoted the Second Vatican Council’s dogmatic constitution, Lumen gentium, which says it is the role of lay people in their service of Christ to participate “with their competence in the profane disciplines and with their activity, intrinsically elevated by the grace of Christ,” to “effectively carry out their work, so that the created goods [...] may be advanced [...] for the benefit of all men without exception, and be more conveniently distributed among them and, according to their nature, lead to universal progress in human and Christian freedom.”

Striving to keep away from those parts of the world which are contrary to God and his will, and trying to transform the world in Christ can sometimes lead to martyrdom, as it did for Saints Peter and Paul, he said.

He explained that the Gospel message sometimes seems “weak” in comparison to worldly power and money, and it is not a utopia. It requires the strength of the Holy Spirit “and the support of the faith of brave missionary disciples” to put into practice.

The laity “have an essential role to play,” he said. “You can take action to concretely change things and, little by little, educate the world of work in a new style.”

 

Pope Francis names Mexican-born bishop coadjutor of San Bernardino

Vatican City, Dec 2, 2019 / 05:06 am (CNA).- Pope Francis Monday named Bishop Alberto Rojas, an auxiliary bishop of Chicago, to be coadjutor of the Diocese of San Bernardino, California, and serve alongside Bishop Gerald Barnes until Barnes’ retirement.

As coadjutor, Rojas will assist Bishop Gerald Barnes in the administration of the San Bernardino diocese and succeed him as bishop upon his retirement or death.

Rojas, who was born in Mexico, has been an auxiliary bishop of Chicago since 2011, serving under both Cardinals Francis George and Blase Cupich.

The Diocese of San Bernardino was erected in 1978 and covers nearly 28,000 square miles. In 2017, the diocese had an estimated 1.7 million Catholics -- 38% of the population -- and 151 diocesan priests.

San Bernardino has one of the highest concentrations of Hispanics in California. According to the 2010 census, the county was 39.2% Hispanic.  

Barnes, who has led the Diocese of San Bernardino for 23 years, announced in August his intention to retire in June 2020 at the age of 75.

Diocesan bishops are required by canon law to submit their resignation to the pope upon reaching age 75. It is then the decision of the pope to accept the resignation at his discretion.

Barnes announced the appointment of a coadjutor in a statement on the diocesan website Aug. 7, stating that “the next 12 months will be a year unlike any other in recent memory in our Diocese. It will be a time of ending, of new beginnings and, for me, a time of transition.”

The longest-serving bishop of a U.S. diocese, according to the San Bernardino Sun, Barnes was first appointed auxiliary bishop of San Bernardino in 1992. In 1995, he was made ordinary bishop.

Bishop Alberto Rojas, 54, was born in El Zapote de la Labor, Mexico.

He studied for the priesthood at Santa Maria de Guadalupe seminary in Aguascalientes, Mexico and at Mundelein Seminary in Illinois, before being ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1997.

Rojas was named an auxiliary bishop of Chicago by Benedict XVI and ordained bishop in August 2011.

As a bishop, he has been the archbishop’s delegate for the archdiocesan Hispanic-American council, liaison to Hispanic Catholics, a member of the U.S. bishops’ conference’s Hispanic Affairs Committee, and a regional liaison for the National V Encuentro of Hispanic and Latino Ministry.

Rojas was also a member of the seminary formation faculty at Mundelein Seminary from 2002-2010.

Bishop Barnes will give a press conference on Rojas’ nomination and on “episcopal transition” at 10:00 am PST. It can be viewed through a livestream found on the diocesan website.

 

Advent advice from Pope Francis: Choose prayer and charity over consumerism 

Vatican City, Dec 1, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- This Advent, choose prayer and charity over consumerism, Pope Francis said Sunday in his first Mass of the liturgical year.

“Resist the dazzling lights of consumption, which will shine everywhere this month, and believe that prayer and charity are not lost time, but the greatest treasures,” Pope Francis said in his Advent homily Dec. 1.

“This is the drama of today: houses full of things, but empty of children,” he said in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Pope Francis celebrated an Advent Mass with Congolese immigrants, in which he warned against the selfish attitudes in a society where “consumerism reigns.”

“Consumerism is a virus that affects the faith at its root because it makes you believe that life depends only on what you have, and so you forget about God,” he warned. “The meaning of life is not to accumulate.”

“When you live for things, things are never enough, greed grows and others become obstacles in the race and so you end up feeling threatened and, always dissatisfied and angry …  ‘I want more, I want more, I want more,’” he said. “One has many goods, but no good is done.”

Pope Francis celebrated the Mass at St. Peter’s  Altar of the Chair to mark the 25th anniversary of the foundation of the Congolese Catholic Chaplaincy of Rome. The inculturated Mass included traditional Congolese music and the Zaire Use of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite.

“Dear brothers and sisters, you have come from afar. You left your homes, you left loved ones and dear things. Once here, you have found acceptance along with difficulties and unexpected events. But for God you are always welcome. For Him we are never strangers,” the pope said.

“Today we pray for peace, seriously threatened in the east of the country, especially in the territories of Beni and Minembwe, where conflicts are raging, fed also by the complicit silence of many. Conflicts fueled by those who get rich selling weapons,” he said.

Pope Francis remarked that the word Advent means “coming.”

“The Lord comes,” he said. “Here is the root of our hope: the assurance that the consolation of God reaches us among the tribulations of the world, a consolation that is not made of words, but of presence, of His presence that comes among us.”

Pope's letter on nativity scenes shares the story behind a beloved Christmas tradition

Greccio, Italy, Dec 1, 2019 / 08:45 am (CNA).- Pope Francis issued an apostolic letter Dec. 1 on the meaning and importance of nativity scenes, calling for this “wonderful sign” to be more widely displayed in family homes and public places throughout the world.

“The enchanting image of the Christmas crèche, so dear to the Christian people, never ceases to arouse amazement and wonder. The depiction of Jesus’ birth is itself a simple and joyful proclamation of the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God,” Pope Francis wrote in Admirabile signum, meaning “A wonderful sign” in Latin. 

“With this letter, I wish to encourage the beautiful family tradition of preparing the nativity scene in the days before Christmas, but also the custom of setting it up in the workplace, in schools, hospitals, prisons and town squares,” he said.

Pope Francis traveled to the Italian town of Greccio -- where St. Francis of Assisi created the first nativity scene in 1223 -- where the pope signed the letter on the first day of Advent.

“In front of the crib we discover how important it is for our life, so often frenetic, to find moments of silence and prayer. The silence to behold the beauty of the face of the baby Jesus, the Son of God, born in a lowly stable,” Pope Francis said in Greccio Dec. 1.

The letter details the story behind St. Francis’ first nativity scene, or crèche. The saint asked a friend 15 days before Christmas to help him prepare “to bring to life” the memory of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem.

“When St. Francis arrived, he found a manger full of hay, an ox and a donkey. All those present experienced a new and indescribable joy in the presence of the Christmas scene. The priest then solemnly celebrated the Eucharist over the manger, showing the bond between the Incarnation of the Son of God and the Eucharist. At Greccio there were no statues; the nativity scene was enacted and experienced by all who were present,” the letter explains.

The first biographer of St. Francis, Thomas of Celano, wrote that someone present at the Mass had a vision of the baby Jesus himself lying in the manger.

“In a particular way, from the time of its Franciscan origins, the nativity scene has invited us to ‘feel’ and ‘touch’ the poverty that God’s Son took upon himself in the Incarnation. Implicitly, it summons us to follow him along the path of humility, poverty and self-denial that leads from the manger of Bethlehem to the cross,” Pope Francis wrote.

The apostolic letter contains a meditation on the meaning and symbolism of different elements found in a nativity scene, including St. Augustine’s reflection on the significance of Jesus, the bread of life, being laid in a manger where animals feed: “Laid in a manger, he became our food.”

“Setting up the Christmas crèche in our homes helps us to relive the history of what took place in Bethlehem,” Pope Francis wrote.

“When, at Christmas, we place the statue of the Infant Jesus in the manger, the nativity scene suddenly comes alive. God appears as a child, for us to take into our arms. Beneath weakness and frailty, he conceals his power that creates and transforms all things,” he said.

Pope Francis encouraged parents to share this nativity tradition with their children, and said that one’s childhood memories of the joy and wonder of the nativity help one to recall the “precious gift” of faith passed down within families.

The pope also gave his approval for children and adults who love to add to the nativity scene other figures that have no apparent connection with the Gospel accounts, as is a common practice in Italy and parts of Latin America.

“From the shepherd to the blacksmith, from the baker to the musicians, from the women carrying jugs of water to the children at play: all this speaks of the everyday holiness, the joy of doing ordinary things in an extraordinary way, born whenever Jesus shares his divine life with us,” he said.

On Dec. 5, the Vatican nativity scene will be revealed and the Christmas tree in St. Peter’s Square will be illuminated.

“As we contemplate the Christmas story, we are invited to set out on a spiritual journey, drawn by the humility of the God who became man in order to encounter every man and woman. We come to realize that so great is his love for us that he became one of us, so that we in turn might become one with him,” Pope Francis said.