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Vatican Cardinal Angelo Becciu resigns from office and 'rights' of cardinals

CNA Staff, Sep 24, 2020 / 12:32 pm ().-  

Cardinal Angelo Becciu, who until today was prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints, has resigned from that office, and in an extremely rare move, from the rights extended to members of the College of Cardinals.

The cardinal worked previously as the number two-ranking official in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, and has been connected to an ongoing investigation of financial malfeasance at the secretariat.

A statement from the Holy See press office Thursday said: “Today, Thursday, Sept. 24, the Holy Father accepted the resignation from the office of Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and related rights of the Cardinalate, presented by His Eminence Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu.”

Becciu remains technically a cardinal, and the Vatican’s announcement did not specifically delineate what rights Becciu has resigned. In 2015, Pope Francis accepted a similar renunciation from Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who in 2013 admitted to serial sexual misconduct. O’Brien did not subsequently attend public eccleiastical events, and was ineligible to participate in a future papal conclave. The Vatican press office could not be reached for comment Thursday evening.

The cardinal himself has not yet responded to a request for comment from CNA.

The move was unexpected, and does not seem to have been long planned. Becciu had been scheduled to preside over the beatification of Ven. Carlo Acutis, which will take place in Assisi Oct. 10.

Becciu served as “sostituto,” or second-ranking official at the Secretariat of State, from 2011 to 2018, when Pope Francis named him a cardinal and moved him to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. During his tenure in that position, he was linked to a number of financial scandals, most recently the Secretariat’s investment of hundreds of millions of euros with the Italian businessman and the controversial purchase of a London building.

CNA has previously reported that a substantial part of the $200 million used to finance the Secretariat of State’s purchase of a luxury development at came through credit extended by BSI, a Swiss bank with a long track record of violating money-laundering and fraud safeguards in its dealings with sovereign wealth funds.

CNA has also reported that in 2015 Becciu seemed to have made an attempt to disguise the loans on Vatican balance sheets by cancelling them out against the value of the property purchased in the London neighborhood of Chelsea, an accounting maneuver prohibited by new financial policies approved by Pope Francis in 2014.

The alleged attempt to hide the loans off-books was detected by the Prefecture for the Economy, then led by Cardinal George Pell. Senior officials at the Prefecture for the Economy told CNA that when Pell began to demand details of the loans, especially those involving BSI, then-Archbishop Becciu called the cardinal in to the Secretariat of State for a “reprimand.”

Becciu has previously defended the London investment as “accepted practice,” despite Vatican prosecutors staging raids on the offices of several of Becciu’s closest collaborators in the Secretariat, and despite the of one of the businessmen involved.

CNA has also reported that in a complicated series of events and financial transactions around the purchase of the Istituto Dermopatico dell’Immacolata (IDI), an Italian hospital that collapsed in 2013 under 800 million euros of debt through theft and fraud.

In 2016, Becciu was instrumental in bringing to a halt Vatican financial reforms initiated by Cardinal George Pell. Although Pope Francis had given the newly created Prefecture for the Economy autonomous oversight authority over Vatican finances, Becciu interfered when the prefecture planned an external audit of all Vatican departments, to be conducted by the firm PriceWaterhouseCooper.

Unilaterally, and without permission of Pope Francis, Becciu cancelled the audit and announced in a letter to all Vatican departments that it would not take place.

When Pell challenged internally the audit’s cancellation, Becciu persuaded Pope Francis to give his decision ex post facto approval, sources inside the prefecture told CNA. The audit never took place.

In 2017, Becciu was also responsible for the dismissal of the Vatican’s first-ever auditor general, Libero Milone.

, who accused the auditor of “spying” on the finances of senior officials, including Becciu. The then-Archbishop Becciu threatened criminal prosecution of Milone if he did not agree to leave his Vatican office quietly.

Milone maintained that he was fired for being too good at his job, and because he and the reforming work of the Prefecture for the Economy were perceived as a threat to the autonomy and business practices of long-time Curial officials. He that he was dismissed on trumped-up charges after he uncovered evidence of financial misconduct under Becciu’s leadership.

Also in 2017, Becciu was involved in a complicated chain of events with the Sovereign Military Order of Malta that ended with the Grand Master of the Order being deposed, and Becciu being installed as special papal envoy charged with running the order.

At the center of that controversy were that Vatican financial authorities had siphoned off more than 30 million euros from a 120 million euro bequest held in a Swiss bank account, in order to ease liquidity problems.

In February 2017, Pope Francis Becciu as his personal delegate to oversee the “spiritual and moral” reform of the Order of Malta, with particular attention to the professed members. It is unclear if he will continue in the role.

Pope Francis created Becciu a cardinal on June 28, 2018. He was appointed prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints on Aug. 31, 2018.

 

Pope Francis blesses bell that will ring out in defence of unborn

Vatican City, Sep 23, 2020 / 10:00 am ().- Pope Francis blessed a large bell Wednesday that Polish Catholics hope will ring out in the defence of unborn life.

“May its ring awaken the consciences of legislators and all people of good will in Poland and the whole world,” Pope Francis said Sept. 23.

The Voice of the Unborn bell, commissioned by the Yes to Life foundation, is a symbolic bell to be used at Poland’s March for Life and other pro-life events. It is decorated with a cast an ultrasound image of an unborn child and a quotation from Blessed Jerzy Popiełuszko: “A child’s life begins under the mother’s heart.”

In addition, the bell features two tablets, symbolizing the Ten Commandments. On the first are the words of Jesus, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law” (Matthew 5:17), and on the second is the commandment, “You shall not kill” (Exodus 20:13).

Pope Francis was the first person to ring the symbolic bell after giving it his blessing in a courtyard in Vatican City after his .

The pope noted that the bell would “accompany events aimed at remembering the value of human life from conception to natural death.”

The bell weighs more than 2,000 pounds and is nearly four feet in diameter. It was cast from bronze Aug. 26 at the Jan Felczyński bell foundry in the southeastern city of Przemyśl, in the presence of civil and Catholic leaders, according to Polish media.

After its return from Rome to Poland, the bell will be installed at All Saints parish in Kolbuszowa, but will soon be transported again for use in Poland’s March for Life, planned to take place in October in Warsaw. 

“This bell is meant to stir consciences. The idea of ​​casting it was born at the beginning of this year, when I read the information that 42 million children in the world are killed every year as a result of abortion,” Bogdan Romaniuk, vice president of the Polish Yes to Life foundation,  the Polish Catholic weekly Niedziela. 

In Poland, the law allows abortion only in cases of rape, incest, threat to the mother’s life, or fetal abnormality. About 700 to 1,800 legal abortions take place each year.

Dr. Bogdan Chazan, the foundation’s president, said that he hoped the sound of the bell would serve as a “call to prayer” for the protection of unborn children.

Pope Francis: Subsidiarity means everyone has a role in healing society

Vatican City, Sep 23, 2020 / 06:00 am ().- Pope Francis said Wednesday that he is worried that large pharmaceutical companies are listened to more than front-line healthcare workers in pandemic recovery and that the Catholic principle of subsidiarity is the solution.

“When a project is launched that directly or indirectly touches certain social groups, these groups cannot be left out from participating … the wisdom of the humbler groups cannot be set aside. Unfortunately, this injustice happens often in those places where huge economic and geopolitical interests are concentrated,” Pope Francis Sept. 23.

“Let’s think of the grand financial assistance measures enacted by countries. The largest financial companies are listened to rather than the people or the ones who really move the economy,” the pope said in Vatican City’s San Damaso Courtyard.

“Or let’s think about the cure for the virus: the large pharmaceutical companies are listened to more than the healthcare workers employed on the front lines in hospitals or in refugee camps. This is not a good path. Everyone should be listened to, those who are at the top and those who are at the bottom, everyone.” 



Pope Francis explained that the principle of subsidiarity was necessary in these situations to ensure the best solutions. Subsidiarity is the idea, deeply rooted in Catholic tradition, that the authority closest to a local need is best suited to tackle the issue. It is opposed to all forms of collectivism and sets limits for state intervention. 

“To emerge better from a crisis, the principle of subsidiarity must be enacted, respecting the autonomy and the capacity to take initiative that everyone has, especially the least,” Pope Francis said.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that, according to the principle of subsidiarity, “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.”

The pope underscored that the wisdom and contribution of individuals, families, associations, businesses, and the Church were all needed to revitalize society. 

“The principle of subsidiarity allows everyone to assume their own role in the healing and destiny of society,” he said.

Religious freedom and freedom of expression are a critical component that allow for these voices to be heard, according to the pope.

“In some societies, many people are not free to express their own faith and their own values, their own ideas: if they express them freely, they are put in jail. Elsewhere, especially in the Western world, many people repress their own ethical or religious convictions. This is no way to emerge from the crisis, or at least to emerge from it better,” Pope Francis said.



The pope’s reflection on subsidiarity was part of his series of weekly catecheses, launched in August, on Catholic social teaching. Entitled “Healing the World,” the pope’s message at his Wednesday audiences focuses on the COVID-19 pandemic in light of Church teaching. 

In previous weeks, Francis has spoken about the importance of and . This week he noted that subsidiarity and solidarity were both needed for the good of society.

“This path of solidarity needs subsidiarity,” he stressed. “In fact, there is no true solidarity without social participation, without the contribution of intermediary bodies: families, associations, cooperatives, small businesses, and other expressions of society … This type of participation helps to prevent and to correct certain negative aspects of globalization and actions of countries, just as it is happening regarding the healing of people affected by the pandemic.”

“These contributions ‘from the bottom’ should be encouraged. How beautiful it is to see the volunteers during the crisis. The volunteers come from every part of society, volunteers who come from well-off families and those who come from poorer families. But everyone, everyone together to emerge. This is solidarity and this is the principle of subsidiarity.”

Another important component of subsidiarity, the pope explained, is that those with a higher responsibility look out for the good of those without adequate resources.

“After the great economic depression of 1929, Pope Pius XI explained how important the principle of subsidiarity was,” Pope Francis said.

“On the one hand, and above all in moments of change, when single individuals, families, small associations and local communities are not capable of achieving primary objectives, it is then right that the highest levels of society, such as the state, should intervene to provide the necessary resources to progress.”

“For example, because of the coronavirus lockdown, many people, families and economic entities found themselves and still find themselves in serious trouble. Thus, public institutions are trying to help through appropriate interventions. On the other hand, however, society’s leaders must respect and promote the intermediate or lower levels.”

At the end of his general audience, which took place on a rainy morning, the pope mentioned that he would bless a bell named “The Voice of the Unborn,” commissioned by the “Sì alla Vita” foundation.

“It will accompany the events aimed at remembering the value of human life from conception to natural death,” he said, noting a desire that its sound would awaken the consciences of legislators and all people of good will.

“During the lockdown, the spontaneous gesture of applauding, applause for doctors and nurses began as a sign of encouragement and hope. … Let’s extend this applause to every member of the social body, to each and every one, for their precious contribution, no matter how small,” Pope Francis said.

“Let’s applaud the ‘castaways,’ those whom culture defines as those to be ‘thrown out,’ this throwaway culture -- that is, let’s applaud the elderly, children, persons with disability, let’s applaud workers, all those who dedicate themselves to service. Everyone collaborating to emerge from the crisis.”

Palliative care is not enough -- Catholics must share Christ’s hope, says Vatican

Vatican City, Sep 22, 2020 / 10:00 am ().- Palliative care for the dying is important, but medical interventions are not enough; Catholics have a responsibility to be with the suffering and to communicate the hope of Christ, a new Vatican document on euthanasia said Tuesday.

While palliative care is “essential and invaluable,” it is not enough, a letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said.

“Palliative care cannot provide a fundamental answer to suffering or eradicate it from people’s lives,” the congregation said. “To claim otherwise is to generate a false hope, and cause even greater despair in the midst of suffering.”

“Medical science can understand physical pain better and can deploy the best technical resources to treat it. But terminal illness causes a profound suffering in the sick person, who seeks a level of care beyond the purely technical,” it continued.

“Palliative care in itself is not enough unless there is someone who ‘remains’ at the bedside of the sick to bear witness to their unique and unrepeatable value. Pain is existentially bearable only where there is hope.”

The CDF presented the 45-page , , at a press conference Sept. 22. It was approved by Pope Francis on June 25 and signed by CDF prefect Cardinal Luis Ladaria and secretary Archbishop Giacomo Morandi. 

The letter on a range of end-of-life issues, underlining the moral impermissability of euthanasia and assisted suicide, and recalling the obligation of Catholics to accompany the sick and dying through prayer, physical presence, and the sacraments. 

The Vatican document also pointed out what it described as cultural obstacles obscuring the intrinsic value of every human life: the notion of “dignified death” as measured by a person’s so-called “quality of life,” a false understanding of compassion, and an individualism which sees the other as a limitation or threat to one’s freedom.

So-called “compassionate” euthansia holds that it is better to die than to suffer, the CDF noted. “In reality, human compassion consists not in causing death, but in embracing the sick, in supporting them in their difficulties, in offering them affection, attention, and the means to alleviate the suffering.”

Cardinal Ladaria said Sept. 22 that “a compassion that is not accompanied by the truth, by respect for human life in all its phases of existence, is a compassion that is not just, is not right.”

Catholics need to know how to show authentic compassion and to witness to Christian hope, the CDF document argued.

“In the face of the challenge of illness and the emotional and spiritual difficulties associated with pain, one must necessarily know how to speak a word of comfort drawn from the compassion of Jesus on the Cross,” it said. “It is full of hope -- a sincere hope, like Christ’s on the Cross, capable of facing the moment of trial and the challenge of death.”

“The hope that Christ communicates to the sick and the suffering is that of his presence, of his true nearness,” the letter explained. “To contemplate the living experience of Christ’s suffering is to proclaim to men and women of today a hope that imparts meaning to the time of sickness and death. From this hope springs the love that overcomes the temptation to despair.”

The document said that Catholic priests and others should avoid any active or passive gesure which might signal approval for euthanasia and assisted suicide, including remaining in a room while the act is performed.

But to someone who is considering taking that action, the presence of a witness to truth, charity, and hope can be powerful, Ladaria said.

“The witness of Christians, the witness of Christian healthcare workers, the witness of all the Christian relatives of this person, etc. can be something very determinative” in helping a person to turn away from the decision to end his or her own life, he said.

Ladaria encouraged offering a “witness of presence” to those who were seriously ill and dying.

When a person sees no other hope than assisted suicide, “if he sees someone who clearly does not accept this solution, but is there beside him, and does not abandon him, and is next to him, maybe this can be a factor which helps him to reflect,” he said.

“I believe that in every man there is some reserve of hope,” the cardinal stated. Communicating the truth with charity, being present to someone who feels hopeless, could help them to think and reflect, it “makes this person see that there is, however, hope, there is hope. That hope never ends!”

Priestly ministry to the sick at the end of life, a symbol of the solicitude of Christ and the Church, “can and must have a decisive role,” and makes proper priestly formation vital in this area, said. It also noted that because priests cannot always be present at a bedside, physicians and healthcare workers need formation in Christian accompaniment too.

“In this essential mission it is extremely important to bear witness to and unite truth and charity with which the gaze of the Good Shepherd never ceases to accompany all of His children,” it stated.

Vatican doctrine czar: We've done everything possible to dialogue with Irish priest

Vatican City, Sep 22, 2020 / 07:00 am ().- The prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) said Tuesday that the Vatican had “done everything possible to dialogue” with an Irish priest barred from public ministry for his views on the priesthood and sexuality. 

Speaking at a press conference at the Vatican Sept. 22, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, SJ, argued that the CDF had no alternative but to take action against Fr. Tony Flannery.

“We have done everything possible to dialogue with Fr. Flannery. It was not always easy,” he said. 

Flannery, a Redemptorist priest, was barred from public ministry by the CDF in 2012 for his stances on the nature of the sacramental priesthood and human sexuality.

It was earlier this month that the CDF had asked the 73-year-old to affirm four doctrinal propositions as a condition of returning to ministry.

“Fr Flannery should not return to public ministry prior to submitting a signed statement regarding his positions on homosexuality, civil unions between persons of the same sex, and the admission of women to the priesthood,” the CDF wrote to the superior of the Redemptorists in a letter dated July 9.

Flannery wrote on his personal website: “I will not be signing this document.”

Ladaria defended his congregation’s handling of the case, telling journalists: “We have done everything possible. In some moments we have had to take some measure that never concerns a judgment on the person, because this is always reserved to our Lord, but on his teachings or on his behavior.”

“And so we have tried always to maintain all of our respect toward Fr. Flannery, but also the duty we have, according to the dispositions of the Church, to protect the faith and therefore indicate when something is not in conformity with the faith.”

In 2010, Flannery helped to found the Irish Association of Catholic Priests, a group whose constitution emphasizes “the primacy of the individual conscience” and “a redesigning of Ministry in the Church, in order to incorporate the gifts, wisdom and expertise of the entire faith community, male and female.”

The Redemptorist leadership in Ireland reportedly wrote to the order’s superior general, who in turn wrote to the CDF, asking for Flannery to be allowed to minister publicly again.

The CDF’s letter, published on Flannery’s website, asked that the priest sign a proposition that “according to the Tradition and the doctrine of the Church incorporated in the Canon Law (c. 1024), a baptized male alone receives sacred ordination validly.”

This proposition regarding the reservation of priesthood to men was supported by excerpts from St. John Paul II’s 1994 apostolic letter and Pope Francis’ 2020 apostolic exhortation .

Regarding the moral liceity of homosexual acts, Flannery was asked to submit to the proposition that “Since the homosexual practices are contrary to the natural law and do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity, they are not approved by the moral teaching of the Catholic Church.” This was supported by a quotation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The priest was also asked to assent to the proposition that “The marriage covenant, by which a man and a woman form with each other an intimate communion of life and love, has been founded and endowed with its own special laws by the Creator ( 1660). Other forms of union do not correspond to God’s plan for marriage and family. Therefore, they are not allowed by the Catholic Church.”

This proposition on marriage was supported by the Catechism of the Catholic Church and by , Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic exhortation.

Finally, Flannery was invited to submit to the proposition that “In so far as it contradicts the foundations of a genuine Christian anthropology, gender theory is not accepted by Catholic teaching,” supported by the Congregation for Catholic Education’s 2019 “Male and female he created them.”

In a response to the CDF letter published on his website Sept. 17, Flannery wrote: “From the first moment it came to me I knew that I was not going to sign it. But it has been sitting there for the last three months or so. Now it is gone, my decision has been finally made certain and clear, and there is a sense of relief and satisfaction about that.”

Speaking at a press conference on the CDF’s on euthanasia, Ladaria said: “This is a very unpleasant situation to the congregation, very unpleasant. But it is our responsibility, and it would be an error on our part if we did not bear this responsibility and left it to one side and did not give a word, when, in certain moments, sadly, many times it should be given.”

Cardinal Parolin urges UN to return to founding ideals

Vatican City, Sep 22, 2020 / 06:00 am ().- The Vatican Secretary of State asked the United Nations Monday to return to its founding ideals to protect the common good and the right to life.

“Over these 75 years, the UN has protected and served international law, promoting a world based on the rule of law and justice, rather than on weapons and might,” Cardinal Pietro Parolin said in a released Sept. 21.

“The United Nations is not perfect and it has not always lived up to its name and ideals, and it has harmed itself whenever particular interests have triumphed over the common good,” the Vatican official said.

Addressing the high-level meeting of the UN General Assembly to commemorate the 75th anniversary of its founding, Parolin underlined that the universal human rights that the UN has strived to champion “include the right to life and freedom of religion,” which he said “are essential for the much needed promotion of a world where the dignity of every human person is protected and advanced.”

For the first time in its history, the UN General Assembly is virtual this year, with world leaders delivering pre-taped remarks via video link due to the coronavirus restrictions on travel to New York. The first day of meetings ended Sept. 21 at 9 p.m. before the Vatican Secretary of State’s video message was played. But it will be presented later during the meeting.

Pope Francis is also scheduled to address the UN General Assembly this week, according to the Holy See press office. 

In his video message, Parolin said that countries have looked to the UN with the expectation that the organization would “not only affirm the ideals on which it was founded, but would labor with ever-greater resolve to make these ideals a reality in the life of every woman and man.”

“Since its recognition as an Observer State in 1964, the Holy See has supported and taken an active role within the United Nations. Successive popes have come before this General Assembly urging this noble Institution to be a ‘moral center’ where every country is at home, where the family of nations convenes and where the international community -- in a spirit of human fraternity and solidarity -- advances together with multilateral solutions to global challenges,” Parolin said.

The Holy See’s mission at the United Nations is an important part of the Holy See’s diplomatic work. It aims to communicate the Catholic Church’s centuries of experience to assist the UN in realizing peace, justice, human dignity, and humanitarian cooperation and assistance.

Recently the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations expressed his deep concern over the UN General Assembly’s inclusion of a reference to “reproductive rights” in a resolution on combating the coronavirus pandemic. 

“In particular, the Holy See rejects the interpretation that considers abortion or access to abortion, sex-selective abortion, abortion of fetuses diagnosed with health challenges, maternal surrogacy, and sterilization as dimensions of ‘reproductive health,’ or as part of universal health
coverage,” Archbishop Gabriele Caccia the UN Sept. 11.

He offered several other criticisms of the resolution, including “the exclusion of faith-based organizations from the list of those who play an important role in response to the pandemic” and the lack of consensus in adopting the resolution. 

Caccia took up his position as Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in January this year. At the time of his appointment, he the 75th anniversary of the UN’s founding.

“I look forward to helping the Holy See assist the United Nations in renewing its commitment to the pillars of its Charter, preventing the scourge of war, defending human dignity and rights, promoting integral development, and fostering respect and implementation of international law and treaties,” Caccia said.

Vatican reaffirms euthanasia is ‘intrinsically evil act,’ calls Catholics to accompany the dying

Vatican City, Sep 22, 2020 / 03:45 am ().- In a new document released Tuesday, the Vatican’s doctrinal office reaffirmed the Church’s perennial teaching on the sinfulness of euthanasia and assisted suicide, and recalled the obligation of Catholics to accompany the sick and dying through prayer, physical presence, and the sacraments.

The also addressed the pastoral care of Catholics who request euthanasia or assisted suicide, explaining that a priest and others should avoid any active or passive gesture which might signal approval for the action, including remaining until the act is performed.

 is a new document by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), published Sept. 22.

The 45-page text, approved by Pope Francis on June 25, is signed by CDF prefect Cardinal Luis Ladaria and secretary Archbishop Giacomo Morandi.

The letter presents Catholic teaching on a range of end-of-life issues, affirming the intrinsic value and dignity of every human life, especially for those who are critically sick and in the terminal stages of life.

The document’s introduction noted that “it is widely recognized that a moral and practical clarification regarding care of these persons is needed.” 

Pastoral accompaniment of those who expressly request euthanasia or assisted suicide “today presents a singular moment when a reaffirmation of the teaching of the Church is necessary,”  said.

It explained that closeness to a person who has chosen euthanasia or assisted suicide is necessary, but must always be ordered toward the person’s conversion.

The document recalled that a person who has made this decision, “whatever their subjective dispositions may be, has decided upon a gravely immoral act and willingly persists in this decision.” 

This state “involves a manifest absence of the proper disposition for the reception of the Sacraments of Penance, with absolution, and Anointing, with Viaticum.” In this situation, the congregation explained, the priest must withhold absolution.

“Here it remains possible to accompany the person whose hope may be revived and whose erroneous decision may be modified, thus opening the way to admission to the sacraments,” it continued.

It added that “to delay absolution is a medicinal act of the Church, intended not to condemn, but to lead the sinner to conversion.” 

The Church’s position in this situation “does not imply non-acceptance of the sick person,” the letter emphasized. Withholding absolution “must be accompanied by a willingness to listen and to help, together with a deeper explanation of the nature of the sacrament, in order to provide the opportunity to desire and choose the sacrament up to the last moment.” 

“The Church is careful to look deeply for adequate signs of conversion, so that the faithful can reasonably ask for the reception of the sacraments,” it said.

The purpose of the new letter, the CDF explained in the introduction, is to enlighten pastors and the Catholic faithful “regarding their questions and uncertainties about medical care, and their spiritual and pastoral obligations to the sick in the critical and terminal stages of life.” 

It said that there were particular situations today which require “a more clear and precise intervention on the part of the Church,” to reaffirm the message of the Gospel and its expression in the basic doctrinal teachings of the Magisterium, especially for the sick and dying and those who come into contact with them.

Euthanasia, the CDF letter affirmed, is “an intrinsically evil act, in every situation or circumstance” and “any formal or immediate material cooperation in such an act is a grave sin against human life.”

“Euthanasia and assisted suicide are always the wrong choice,” it said, because, as St. Pope John Paul II wrote in, “euthanasia is a grave violation of the Law of God, since it is the deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written Word of God, is transmitted by the Church’s Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.” 

There is also “no right to dispose of one’s life arbitrarily,” it continued, which is why “no health care worker can be compelled to execute a non-existent right.” 

It is also “gravely unjust to enact laws that legalize euthanasia or justify and support suicide,” the congregation stated, and “such laws strike at the foundation of the legal order: the right to life sustains all other rights, including the exercise of freedom.”

“The existence of such laws deeply wound human relations and justice, and threaten the mutual trust among human beings,” the document continued. “The legitimation of assisted suicide and euthanasia is a sign of the degradation of legal systems.”

The CDF explained that according to Church teaching, euthanasia “is an act of homicide that no end can justify and that does not tolerate any form of complicity or active or passive collaboration.”

It said: “Those who approve laws of euthanasia and assisted suicide, therefore, become accomplices of a grave sin that others will execute. They are also guilty of scandal because by such laws they contribute to the distortion of conscience, even among the faithful.”

To take one’s own life breaks one’s relationship with God and with others. “Assisted suicide aggravates the gravity of this act because it implicates another in one’s own despair,” it said.

The Christian response to these actions is to offer the help necessary for a person to shake off this despair, it emphasized, and not to indulge “in spurious condescension.”

“The commandment ‘do not kill’ ... is in fact a yes to life which God guarantees, and it ‘becomes a call to attentive love which protects and promotes the life of one’s neighbor,’” the letter said. 

“The Christian therefore knows that earthly life is not the supreme value. Ultimate happiness is in heaven. Thus the Christian will not expect physical life to continue when death is evidently near. The Christian must help the dying to break free from despair and to place their hope in God.” 

The letter affirmed that it is “a supreme act of charity” to spiritually assist the Christian at their moment of death.

“Death is a decisive moment in the human person’s encounter with God the Savior. The Church is called to accompany spiritually the faithful in the situation, offering them the 'healing resources' of prayer and the sacraments.”

Vatican’s doctrinal office critiques German theologians’ intercommunion call

Vatican City, Sep 21, 2020 / 02:00 pm ().- The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has criticized an appeal by German theologians for intercommunion between Catholics and Protestants. 

In a letter to Bishop Georg Bätzing, president of the German bishops’ conference, the CDF said that the proposal did not do justice to the Catholic understanding of the Church, the Eucharist, and Holy Orders. 

The letter, dated Sept. 18, was signed by CDF prefect Cardinal Luis Ladaria and secretary Archbishop Giacomo Morandi, and accompanied by a four-page doctrinal note. 

The letter and note, obtained by CNA, were prompted by a entitled “Together at the Lord’s Table,” issued by the Ecumenical Study Group of Protestant and Catholic Theologians (ÖAK) in September 2019.

The 57-page text advocated “reciprocal Eucharistic hospitality” between Catholics and Protestants, based on previous ecumenical agreements on the Eucharist and ministry. 

The CDF letter said: “The question of the unity of the Eucharist and the Church, in which the Eucharist presupposes and brings about unity with the communion of the Church and her faith with the pope and the bishops, is undervalued in the aforementioned document.” 

“Essential theological and indispensable insights of the Eucharistic theology of the Second Vatican Council, which are widely shared with the Orthodox tradition, have unfortunately not been adequately reflected in the text.”

The CDF said that Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Bishops, had requested a doctrinal assessment of the document in May. It noted that the German bishops had discussed the text at their plenary meeting that month in Mainz.

CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German language news partner, that the ÖAK adopted the intercommunion document under the co-chairmanship of Bätzing and the retired Lutheran Bishop Martin Hein. 

It added that Bätzing announced recently that the text’s recommendations would be put into practice at the Ecumenical Church Congress in Frankfurt in May 2021.

The ÖAK was founded in 1946 to strengthen ecumenical ties. It is independent of both the German Catholic bishops’ conference and the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), an organization representing 20 Protestant groups, but it informs both bodies about its deliberations. 

The doctrinal congregation emphasized that significant differences in understanding of the Eucharist and ministry remained between Protestants and Catholics.

“The doctrinal differences are still so important that they currently rule out reciprocal participation in the Lord’s Supper and the Eucharist,” it said.

“The document cannot therefore serve as a guide for an individual decision of conscience about approaching the Eucharist.”

The CDF added that the ÖAK text should inspire further theological discussions. But it cautioned against any steps towards intercommunion. 

“However, an opening of the Catholic Church towards Eucharistic meal fellowship with the member churches of the EKD in the current state of the theological discussion would necessarily open new rifts in ecumenical dialogue with the Orthodox Churches, not only in Germany,” it said.

Everyone is beautiful in God’s eyes, Pope Francis tells children with autism spectrum disorder

Vatican City, Sep 21, 2020 / 06:00 am ().- Pope Francis told children with autism spectrum disorder Monday that everyone is beautiful in God’s eyes. 

The pope welcomed the children from the Ambulatorium Sonnenschein in St. Pölten, Austria, to the Vatican Sept. 21. 

He said: “God created the world with a wide variety of flowers of all kinds of colors. Each flower has its own beauty, which is unique. Also, each one of us is beautiful in the eyes of God, and He loves us. This makes us feel the need to say to God: thank you!”

The children were accompanied to the audience in the Vatican’s Clementine Hall by their parents, as well as Johanna Mikl-Leitner, the governor of Lower Austria, and Bishop Alois Schwarz of St. Pölten. St. Pölten is the largest city and capital of Lower Austria, one of the country’s nine states. 

The , or Sunshine Outpatient Clinic, was established in 1995 to support children with the developmental disorder which affects communication and behavior. The center has treated more than 7,000 youngsters since its opening.

The pope told the children that saying “thank you” to God was “a beautiful prayer.”

He said: “God likes this way of praying. Then you can also add a little question. For example: Good Jesus, could you help my mother and father in their work? Could you give some comfort to grandma who is sick? Could you provide for children around the world who have no food? Or: Jesus, please help the pope to lead the Church well.” 

“If you ask in faith, the Lord will surely hear you,” he said.

Pope Francis previously met with children with autism spectrum disorder in 2014. On that occasion, he that by offering greater support “we can contribute to breaking down the isolation and, in many cases, the stigma burdening people with autism spectrum disorders, and just as often their families.”

Promising to pray for all those associated with the Ambulatorium Sonnenschein, the pope concluded: “Thank you for this beautiful initiative and for your commitment to the little ones entrusted to you. Everything that you have done for one of these little ones, you have done it to Jesus!”

Everything is unmerited grace, Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Sep 20, 2020 / 06:35 am ().- God’s grace is not something we deserve, but he gives it to us anyway, Pope Francis said Sunday during his weekly Angelus address.

God’s “action is more than just, in the sense that it goes beyond justice and manifests itself in grace,” the pope said Sept. 20. “Everything is grace. Our salvation is grace. Our holiness is grace. By giving us grace, he gives us more than we deserve.”

Speaking from a window of the apostolic palace, Pope Francis told those gathered in St. Peter’s Square that “God always pays the maximum.”

“He does not remain in half payment. He pays everything,” he stated.

In his message, the pope reflected on the day’s Gospel reading from St. Matthew, in which Jesus tells the parable of the landowner who hires laborers to work in his vineyard.

The master hires laborers at different hours, but at the end of the day, he pays each of them the same wage, upsetting those who started working first, Francis explained.

“And here,” the pope said, “we understand that Jesus is not talking about work and just wages, which is another problem, but about the Kingdom of God and the goodness of the heavenly Father who continually comes out to invite and pays the maximum to everyone.”

In the parable, the landowner tells the unhappy laborers: “Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?”

Finishing the parable, Jesus told his disciples: “Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Pope Francis explained that “whoever reasons with human logic, that is, that of merits acquired with one’s skill, is the first to find himself last.”

He pointed to the example of the Good Thief, one of the criminals crucified next to Jesus, who converted on the cross.

The Good Thief “‘stole’ heaven at the last moment of his life: this is grace, thus acts God. Even with all of us,” Francis said.

“On the other hand, those who try to think about their own merits fail; whoever humbly entrusts himself to the Father’s mercy, ultimately -- like the Good Thief -- finds himself first,” he said.

“May Mary Most Holy help us feel every day the joy and amazement of being called by God to work for him, in his field which is the world, in his vineyard which is the Church. And to have his love, the friendship of Jesus, as the only reward,” he prayed.

The pope said another lesson the parable teaches is the master’s attitude toward the call.

The landowner goes out five times to the square to call people to work for him. This image of an owner going out to look for workers for his vineyard “is touching,” he noted.

He explained that the “master represents God who calls everyone and always calls, at any time. God acts like this today too: he continues to call anyone, at any time, to invite them to work in his Kingdom.”

And Catholics are called to accept and imitate this, he emphasized. God is constantly searching for us “because he wants no one to be excluded from his design of love.”

This is what the Church must do, he said, “always going out; and when the Church is not going out, she falls ill with so many evils that we have in the Church.”

“And why these diseases in the Church? Because it is not going out. It is true that when one goes out there is the danger of an accident. But it is better a damaged Church going out, to proclaim the Gospel, than a Church sick from closure,” he added.

“God always goes out, because he is Father, because he loves. The Church must do the same: always going out.”

 

St. Januarius' blood liquifies in Naples

Rome Newsroom, Sep 19, 2020 / 05:59 am ().- The blood of early Church martyr St. Januarius liquified in Naples Saturday, repeating a miracle dating at least to the 14th century.

The blood was declared to have turned from solid to liquid at 10:02 am in the Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary Sept. 19, the feast of St. Januarius.

Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, archbishop of Naples, announced the news to a mostly empty cathedral, due to coronavirus restrictions.

“Dear friends, dear all the faithful, once again with joy and emotion I inform you that the blood of our holy martyr and patron St. Januarius has liquefied,” Sepe said.

His words were received by an applause from those present inside and outside the cathedral.

Sepe added that the blood had “completely liquefied, without any clots, which has happened in past years.”

The miracle is “a sign of God’s love, goodness, and mercy, and of the closeness, the friendship, the fraternity of our St. Januarius,” the cardinal stated, adding “Glory be to God and veneration to our saint. Amen.”

St. Januarius, or San Gennaro in Italian, is the patron saint of Naples. He was bishop of Benevento in the third century, and his bones and blood are preserved in the Naples cathedral as relics. He is believed to have been martyred during the Christian persecution of Emperor Diocletian.

The liquefaction of St. Januarius’ blood happens at least three times per year: the saint’s feast day of Sept. 19, the Saturday before the first Sunday of May, and Dec. 16, which is the anniversary of the 1631 eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

The reputed miracle has not been officially recognized by the Church, but is known and accepted locally and is considered to be a good sign for the city of Naples and its region of Campania.  

In contrast, he failure of the blood to liquefy is believed to signal war, famine, disease, or other disaster.

When the miracle occurs, the dried, red-colored mass of blood one one side of the reliquary becomes a liquid covering nearly the entire glass.

The last time the blood did not liquefy was in December 2016.

The miracle did occur while Naples was under lockdown for the coronavirus pandemic on May 2. Cardinal Sepe offered Mass via livestream and blessed the city with the relic of the liquefied blood.

“Even in this time of coronavirus, the Lord through the intercession of St. Januarius has liquified the blood!” Sepe declared.

This could be the last time Sepe offers the feast day Mass and confirms the miracle of St. Januarius. Pope Francis is expected to soon name a successor to Sepe, who is 77 years old, in what is considered a very important archdiocese for Italy.

Cardinal Sepe has been archbishop of Naples since July 2006.

In his homily at Mass Sept. 19, the archbishop condemned the “virus” of violence and those who take advantage of others through money lending or stealing funds intended for economic recovery in the pandemic’s wake.

“I think of violence, a virus that continues to be practiced with lightness and cruelty, whose roots go beyond the accumulation of social evils that favor its explosion,” he said.

“I think of the danger of interference and pollution of the common and organized underworld, which tries to grab resources for economic recovery, but also tries to hire proselytes through criminal assignments or money lending,” he continued.

The cardinal said he thinks also “of the evil sown by those who continue to chase wealth through illegal actions, profiteering, corruption, scams” and he worries about the tragic consequences for those who are unemployed or underemployed and now are in an even more precarious situation.

“After the lockdown we are realizing that nothing is the same as before,” he stated, and encouraged the community to be sober minded in considering the threats, not only of disease, to daily life in Naples.

Sepe also spoke about young people and the hope they can give, lamenting the discouragement young people face when they cannot find work.

“We all know well that [young people] are the real, great resource of Naples and the South, of our communities and our territories that need, like bread, the freshness of their ideas, their enthusiasm, their cleverness, their optimism, their smile,” he encouraged.

 

Two Vatican officials sign agreement to cooperate on fighting corruption

Vatican City, Sep 18, 2020 / 08:45 am ().- The Vatican’s prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy and auditor general signed a memorandum of understanding Friday on the fight against corruption.

According to a message from the Holy See press office Sept. 18, the agreement means the offices of the Secretariat for the Economy and the auditor general “will collaborate even more closely in identifying the risks of corruption.”

The two authorities will also work together to implement Pope Francis’ new , issued in June, which aimed at increasing oversight and accountability in the Vatican’s procedures for awarding public contracts.

The memorandum of understanding was signed by Fr. Juan Antonio Guerrero, S.J., head of the Secretariat for the Economy, and Alessandro Cassinis Righini, interim head of the Office of Auditor General.

According to Vatican News, Cassinis called the signing “a further concrete act that demonstrates the desire of the Holy See to prevent and combat the phenomenon of corruption inside and outside the Vatican City State, and that has already led to important results in the past months.”

“The fight against corruption,” Guerrero said, “in addition to representing a moral obligation and an act of justice, also allows us to fight waste in such a difficult time due to the economic consequences of the pandemic, which affects the whole world and affects the weakest in particular, as Pope Francis has repeatedly reminded.”

The Secretariat for the Economy has the task of overseeing the Vatican’s administrative and financial structures and activities. The Office of Auditor General oversees an annual financial assessment of each dicastery of the Roman Curia. The statutes of the auditor general’s office describe it as the “Vatican anti-corruption body.”

A Vatican representative at a meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Sept. 10.

Archbishop Charles Balvo, head of the Holy See delegation to the OSCE Economic and Environmental Forum, denounced “the scourge of corruption” and called for “transparency and accountability” in financial governance.

Pope Francis himself acknowledged corruption in the Vatican during an inflight press conference last year. Speaking about Vatican financial scandals, he that officials “have done things that do not seem ‘clean.’”

The June law on contracts aimed to show that Pope Francis is serious about his frequently stated commitment to internal reform.

The new regulations also focus on controlling spending, as the Vatican faces a projected in the next fiscal year, according to an internal report.

At the same time, the Holy See is facing investigations by Vatican prosecutors, who are looking into suspicious financial transactions and investments at the Vatican Secretariat of State, which could trigger increased oversight by European banking regulators.

From Sept. 29, Moneyval, the Council of Europe’s anti-money laundering watchdog, is due to conduct a two-week onsite inspection of the Holy See and Vatican City -- the first since 2012.

Carmelo Barbagallo, president of the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority, has described the inspection as “especially important.”

“Its outcome may determine how the jurisdiction [of the Vatican] is perceived by the financial community,” he said in July.

Pope Francis accepts resignation of Bishop Bevard of US Virgin Islands

Vatican City, Sep 18, 2020 / 06:30 am ().- Pope Francis accepted the resignation Friday of Bishop Herbert Bevard of the U.S. Virgin Islands after he was hospitalized and airlifted to the U.S. mainland for medical treatment.

“Regrettably, I have experienced some new and unanticipated medical conditions that unfortunately preclude my ability to continue to maintain my position in the Diocese of Saint Thomas,” Bevard wrote in a letter to the diocese Sept. 18. 

“I have loved serving the People of God; the clergy, religious, laity and the entire Virgin Islands community in the Diocese of Saint Thomas and will treasure the fond memories that we share together. It is this same love and concern for them, recognizing my own limitations, that now compel me to make this request,” he said.

Bevard, who turns 75 in February, noted that he had already submitted his resignation to Pope Francis on July 6, before following up to request an immediate resignation in light of his medical conditions “so as not to inhibit the effective ongoing pastoral leadership and care of the Diocese of Saint Thomas.”

Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington to serve as the apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Saint Thomas until Bevard’s successor is appointed. 

The Diocese of Saint Thomas in the Virgin Islands was established in 1977 and is the sole suffragan see of the Archdiocese of Washington. 

Bevard led the diocese for 12 years. The diocese is made up of 30,000 Catholics across the islands of Saint Croix, Saint John, Saint Thomas, and Water Island. 

Born in Baltimore, Bevard was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in 1972 after converting from Presbyterianism. He served in parishes in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia as a priest for 36 years before Pope Benedict XVI appointed him bishop of Saint Thomas in the Virgin Islands in 2008. 

Bevard was the fifth bishop to lead the diocese. His predecessor, Bishop George Murry, who served as bishop of Saint Thomas from 1998 until he was appointed Bishop of Youngstown in 2007,  on June 5. 

The U.S. Virgin Islands’ Governor Albert Bryan Jr. has asked for prayers for Bishop Bevard, noting his transfer to the U.S. mainland for medical treatment for a condition unrelated to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As a long-time and beloved spiritual leader in our community, Bishop Bevard has provided guidance and solace to many Virgin Islanders, and we are praying for his speedy recovery and return to the Territory,” Bryan said, according to the Freedom City Times.

Analysis: How a papal handshake became an ‘extraordinary turning point’ for LGBT activists 

Denver Newsroom, Sep 17, 2020 / 03:00 pm ().- L'Avvenire, the official newspaper of the Italian bishops’ conference, reported yesterday that Pope Francis "at the end of an audience" greeted a group of some 40 people, some of whom identify as LGBT, along with their parents.

The pope told the parents that “God loves your children as they are” and “the Church loves your children as they are because they are children of God.”

Although none of the reported words from Pope Francis are new, or doctrinally problematic, they have not been confirmed by the Holy See.

But the episode drew media attention.

The Spanish blog "l," directed by laicized Catholic priest José Manuel Vidal offered its own version of the episode, quoting anonymously one of those who met the pope: "In the painful journey that each one of us have made as LGBT believers, I confess that I would not have imagined that we would have reached this stage; to meet in audience with the Holy Father."

"These are the words of one of the representatives of the Italian association Tenda di Gionata (Jonathan’s Tent), of LGBT parents and children. About 40 of its members were received at the Vatican yesterday," Religión Digital wrote, suggesting that the group had a formal, private meeting with the pope.

The Spanish blog report of the events , generating more media buzz.

In fact, the group Tenda di Gionata was not received in a private audience, but met briefly by the pope during the massive greetings that follow his Wednesday general audiences. 

During the minute-long encounter, Mara Grassi, vice president of the association, presented Pope Francis with a Spanish translation of the booklet “Genitori Fortunati” (“Fortunate Parents”), a collection of mostly negative experiences that parents of those identifying as LGBT have had with the Catholic church. The groups also presented the pope a rainbow-colored T-shirt with the words “In love there is no fear,” a quote from 1 John 4:18.

Most of the initial coverage about the reported words of Pope Francis to Tenda di Gionata came either from L'Avvenire or the Italian socialist newspaper La Reppublica, both of which interviewed Grassi, a mother of four children, one of whom, who is 40, identifies as gay.

La Repubblica’s report included remarks from Grassi that suggest the Church’s doctrine is arbitrary or unfair.

“After I came to know that my son was homosexual, I suffered a lot because the rules of the church made me think that he was excluded from the love of God,” she said.

The was described by journalist Luciano Moia as a historic event.

Moia offered this description of the encounter: "In the Church of Pope Francis, who wants to tear down walls and build bridges of acceptance and understanding especially with the most fragile and marginalized people, this morning's meeting appeared to many parents as an extraordinary turning point, confirming that what is written in some recent ecclesial documents, from to the Final Report of the Synod of Youth, can truly be translated into pastoral practice."

Moia, the author of the book "," (Church and Homosexuality, an investigation under the light of Pope Francis' Magisterium"), is longtime editor of a monthly insert in the official Catholic newspaper of the Italian bishops' conference. He has been a proponent for the Catholic Church to change its doctrine on homosexuality as expressed by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, especially the concepts that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered,” and that they are "contrary to the natural law, and therefore, that "under no circumstances can they be approved."

The pope’s reported remarks on Wednesday were an expression of the Church’s most basic truth: That God loves all people, and that his love is not conditional. Neither those remarks, nor his brief conversation with Tenda di Gionata, suggest an endorsement of the group’s positions, a change in Catholic doctrine, or a “turning point” of some kind in the pope's pastoral ministry. Reports to the contrary may indicate more about the agenda of reporters than about the Gospel proclaimed by Pope Francis.

Analysis: China and the Vatican - What if the US recognizes Taiwan?

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 17, 2020 / 12:45 pm ().- Officials in Rome and Beijing are now confidently predicting an extension to the 2018 Vatican-China deal, despite continued persecution of Catholics in the country and little visible progress on the appointment of bishops. 

The Vatican-China agreement continues to be viewed by many as a bad deal for the Holy See. Rome appears to have little leverage in the talks, and few cards to play. While the U.S. has made clear its of the situation, there is one dramatic diplomatic maneuver from the Trump administration that could strengthen Rome’s hand, and rebalance the relationship between all three powers.

The pivot point for such a move is Taiwan. And it may be under consideration.

Sources tell CNA that some in the White House, and in foreign policy conversations, believe Trump might be considering strengthening official diplomatic relations with Taiwan before the election, a path already begun with a 2018 act of Congress and the signing of a 2019 consular agreement. Taking more steps toward full recognition and relations with Taiwan would have far-reaching global effect, and could have considerable impact on the Vatican-China deal. 

The Republic of China, as Taiwan is formally known, is the one of China’s foremost domestic and foriegn policy priorities. Seen by Beijing as a rebel province, despite never having been under Communist control, diplomatically isolating the small island democracy has been a constant priority for the mainland. 

For decades, China has pressured the United Nations and other member states to de-recognize Taiwan and recognize the People’s Republic as the “only” China. Today, only a handful of nations have diplomatic ties with Taiwan, with those few now falling away under economic pressure by China. 

The Holy See is the last remaining European country to recognize Taiwan, and working towards one unified Catholic Church in China, with the Vatican adopting Beijing’s “one China” diplomatic policy. The signs are that this may be happening.

In recent months, as the Holy See and China have negotiated an extension of the 2018 agreement, Vatican support for Taiwan has been noticeably quiet. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Holy See was the only diplomatic ally of Taiwan which did not make an appeal to allow Taiwan to participate in the World Health Organization’s assembly meetings. Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in May that the Vatican would voice its support for Taiwan through other channels.

But in July, the Hong Kong newspaper quoted a Vatican source saying that “Taiwan should not be offended if the embassy in Taipei is moved back to its original address in Beijing.” 

This week, that it had received assurances from the Vatican that the renewal of the Vatican-China deal would not have formal diplomatic repercussions for Taiwan. This is likely true, for now, but unlikely to be because of any diplomatic commitment by the Secretariat of State to Taiwan. 

The most likely reason Rome will decline to break formally with Taipei in favor of Beijing, at least for now, is that it remains one of the strongest cards it has to play in driving for a deal that might secure real freedom for the Church in China, where Xi Jinping’s campaign for the Sinicization of religion continues to impose draconian measures on Catholics. 

The Vatican’s willingness to play that card, and Xi’s willingness to offer something real in return, could change dramatically if President Trump took more steps towards full recognition of Taiwan - something at once diplomatically unthinkable, and entirely plausible.

This week, the Trump administration heralded new diplomatic progress in gaining the recognition of Israel by Arab nations. The most recent announcement, that the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain would assume full diplomatic ties with Israel, is the latest in a series of unlikely coups for U.S. diplomacy in the region, following the dramatic decision to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

When Trump announced his intention to move the U.S. embassy, many observers predicted it would provoke outrage and backlash from the Arab world, and harm prospects for peace in the region. So far, the reverse seems to have proven the case - to the surprise of many.

The administration continues to pursue aggressive trade policies with China, and has made clear its displeasure with Chinese opacity during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, China has pursued a genocidal campaign against the Uyghurs internally, while driving an aggressive foreign policy - staging increasingly bellicose claims to international waters and even sailing warships into western ports unannounced - largely without international repercussions.

But Trump has been signalling movement toward a “two Chinas” policy. In August, HHS Secretary Alex Azar met with Taiwan’s president in Taipei, the highest-ranking U.S. cabinet official to visit Taiwan since diplomatic ties were broken 1979. This week, the U.S. sent a state department official to attend a memorial service for a Taiwanese official.

If Trump continues down this path in weeks to come, and encourages other countries to follow suit, much as he did with Israel, the predictions would likely be dire. Many would forecast an immediate worsening of relations with Beijing and a slew of cyber attacks on U.S. agencies and companies. But Trump might also find willing allies in countries recently subject to intimidating and retaliatory behavior by China, like Australia and India.

From Rome’s point of view, American recognition of Taiwan would reset the playing field between the Church and Beijing.

In the first place, China would suddenly have a much greater incentive to keep the Vatican at the negotiating table. 

Thus far, Pope Francis has remained on the sidelines regarding China’s treatment of the Church on the mainland, its network of concentration camps in Xinjiang province, and its crackdown on civil liberties in Hong Kong, letting regional leaders like Cardinal Joseph Zen and Cardinal Maung Bo talk tough over the Roman silence. But faced with a concerted international campaign recognizing a free and democratic Taiwan and isolating Beijing, keeping the pope quiet could suddenly become a much more urgent goal for China.

Conversely, American recognition of Taiwan would free up Rome’s hand and bring China to the negotiating table in earnest. 

In the face of a concerted push by America to isolate Beijing, China could actually be more incentivized than ever to open formal diplomatic relations with the Holy See, and consider making actual concessions on issues like religious freedom within the country. 

While observers might assume that Xi Jinping considers Vatican relations a sideshow, if he actually considers them at all, the Vatican deal might matter for Xi’s political future.

Although his tenure in leadership is supposed to be life-long, in China Xi’s position is not considered nearly as secure as is widely assumed in the West.

The full effects of the coronavirus in China may not have been reported in official statistics, but they have been severe and deeply traumatic. The economic consequences of the pandemic for China have also been - at least by some estimates - as severe as anywhere, if not worse. Intense summer flooding, even to the point of visible strain on the Three Gorges Dam, have also taken thousands of lives and devastated essential industrial areas.

Xi’s internal crackdown on dissent and free expression, most visible in Hong Kong but actually more widespread, has not been accepted easily. And sources in China report widespread unease with Xi’s antagonist foreign policies, including his courting conflict along the Indian border while also trying to stake claims to international waters in the South China Sea. 

It is not an uncommon opinion in China - albeit one not commonly expressed - that, with a growing sense he’s overplaying his hand at home and abroad, Xi could face a more-or-less serious challenge to his position during the next meeting of the communist party’s National Congress. 

In this context, even a threatened American recognition of Taiwan could leave Xi scrambling for diplomatic victories, and reassessing the risks of provoking a Church which he considers a potentially systemic ideological threat. The Vatican’s insistently modest requests for the barest measure of progress may suddenly appear a price well worth paying for a small victory.

For the U.S., strengthening the Church’s ability to negotiate with China, and winning even the narrowest breathing space for Chinese Catholics, would likely do more to advance civil liberties in China then decades of free trade.

Such a change to the diplomatic order may appear wildly improbable. But there is a U.S. Under Secretary of State in Taipei right now for a memorial service. And Trump, who is known for doing the unexpected, holds the only cards that will decide what happens next.

In diplomacy there is always a crucial distinction between the unlikely and the impossible.