1 Abducted retired Catholic bishop who mediated between cartels in Mexico is located, hospitalized, By Mark Stevenson, Associated Press, April 29, 2024, 10:28 PM
A retired Roman Catholic bishop who was famous for trying to mediate between drug cartels in Mexico was located and taken to a hospital after apparently being briefly kidnapped, the Mexican Council of Bishops said Monday.
The church leadership in Mexico said in a statement earlier that Msgr. Salvador Rangel, a bishop emeritus, disappeared on Saturday and called on his captors to release him.
But the council later said he “has been located and is in the hospital,” without specifying how he had been found or released, or providing the extent of his injuries.

2. A National Day of Prayer? James Madison would be horrified., By Kate Cohen, The Washington Post, April 30, 2024, 8:00 AM

This week, the United States will celebrate an official National Day of Prayer, as it has every year since 1952.

But we shouldn’t ignore it. We should get rid of it.
The courts have argued that these assertions of religiosity are essentially meaningless — declaring them “ceremonial” or “civic” in order to find them constitutional. Supposedly nonsectarian, they presume belief in a monotheistic God, and they lean distinctly Christian, with some “Judeo” thrown in.

Determined: that government stay out of the business of religion entirely. Amendment 1. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
It’s kind of beautiful, this radical thing, this first-in-the-world separation of church and state.
And it’s under attack. Taxing citizens to pay for Christian teachers? Yes, we have that — in state school-voucher programs that fund religious schools and in the nation’s first publicly chartered religious school.
Legislators “setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others”? Absolutely — in every abortion ban based on a conservative Christian understanding of life and in every court ruling that cites God

A law requiring the U.S. president to make an annual proclamation urging Americans to pray is still a law that involves the government in the religious lives — the human minds — of its citizens.
“It is proper to take alarm,” wrote Madison, “at the first experiment on our liberties.””
We failed to take alarm in 1952. On this year’s National Day of Prayer, I invite the citizens of our nation to join me in the fervent hope that it’s not too late.
3. Court says state health-care plans can’t exclude gender-affirming surgery, By Rachel Weiner, The Washington Post, April 29, 2024, 1:10 PM
A federal appellate court in Richmond became the first in the country to rule that state health-care plans must pay for gender-affirming surgeries, a major win for transgender rights amid a nationwide wave of anti-trans activism and legislation.
The decision came from a set of cases out of North Carolina and West Virginia, where state officials argued that their policies were based on cost concerns rather than bias. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit rejected that argument, saying the plans were discriminating against trans people in need of treatment.
Judge Roger L. Gregory, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, wrote for the majority that the restrictions were “obviously discriminatory” based on both sex and gender.
“In this case, discriminating on the basis of diagnosis is discriminating on the basis of gender identity and sex,” Gregory wrote, because “gender dysphoria is so intimately related to transgender status as to be virtually indistinguishable from it.”

4. The scandals haunting Pope Francis Scheming cardinals are sharpening their knives, By Damian Thompson, UnHeard, April 27, 2024, Opinion
The cardinals are already meeting to discuss who should be the next pope. Some of the liberal ones, who feel safe because they’re in favour with the ailing Pope Francis, can be seen comparing notes in a bar near the gates of the Vatican. The conservative cardinals are more nervous: they gather at suppers in each other’s apartments or — if they can trust the fawning waiters not to betray them — in a favourite restaurant.
Perhaps you can see the flash of a bishop’s ring as he taps a piece of gossip into WhatsApp; the Holy See employs world-class electronic spies, so everyone uses a private phone rather than the Vatican-issued ones. Even the phone-tappers are busy exchanging information, because like everybody in Rome they suspect that the painfully fragile Francis — who is often too short of breath to read out his own sermons — hasn’t got long to go.
They are just guessing, of course. The Pope is secretive about his health, and two years ago he bounced back from major surgery on his colon that was assumed to be advanced cancer. Even so, he’s 87, the oldest pope for more than a century, and a conclave can’t be too far off.

Now the Vatican is once again paralysed by scandals, but this time round, correspondents working for secular and Catholic outlets are trying to protect Francis, who faces more serious questions about his personal conduct than any pope in living memory.
For years, allegations that would torpedo the career of any secular Western leader have been concealed or played down by a Praetorian Guard of liberal journalists who, back in 2013, staked their reputations on “the Great Reformer”. As a result, even devout Catholics don’t know that the first Jesuit pope has tried to shield several repulsive sex abusers from justice, for reasons never satisfactorily explained.
Only now is the truth coming out, to the relief of Vatican staff who have to deal with a pope who bears little resemblance to the wisecracking, avuncular figure they see on television. They are — or were until recently — terrified of a boss whose autocratic rule is shaped more by his rages and simmering resentments than by any theological agenda. And they can’t conceal their satisfaction that one particularly gruesome scandal involving papal ally Fr Marko Rupnik is stripping away the facade of “the Squid Game pontificate”, as it’s nicknamed, after the South Korean Netflix series in which contestants have to win children’s games to save themselves from execution.

This month Fr Rupnik was listed in the 2024 Vatican directory as a consultant on Divine Worship, of all things. Meanwhile Bishop Daniele Libanori, the Jesuit who investigated the women’s claims and found them credible, has been removed from his position as an auxiliary bishop in the diocese of Rome.

Another toxic scandal is still unfolding in Argentina. In 2016, Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, the former Cardinal Bergoglio’s most pampered protégé, had to resign from the diocese of Orán after he was accused of financial corruption and aggressive attempts to seduce seminarians. The Pope’s response? He airlifted Zanchetta to Rome and invented a job for him:”‘assessor” of the funds managed by the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA), the Vatican treasury. Zanchetta was later convicted of assaulting seminarians, even though Rome refused to supply documents requested by the Argentinian court. He’s serving his jail sentence in a retreat house amid reports that his accusers are being harassed.
The story is coming back to haunt Francis, whose enemies — emboldened by his loosening grip on the government of the Holy See — are circulating extremely damaging documents. These suggest that the Pope is even more tangled up in the scandal than previously suspected. And there are other cases: as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis unsuccessfully attempted to keep the child molester Fr Julio Grassi out of jail, commissioning a report that branded his victims as liars.
The dark secrets of this pontificate will weigh heavily on cardinals’ minds in their pre-conclave discussions before they cast their votes in the Sistine Chapel. They will be speaking in code: no one wants to take the risk of openly trashing the reputation of a recently deceased (or retired) Supreme Pontiff. But the cardinals will be forced to talk about the increasingly poisonous divisions between liberal and conservative Catholics, which date back to the Second Vatican Council but have been made far worse under this pontificate. And they will find it hard to draw a line between Francis’s policies and his personality, since he takes such visible delight in using his powers to spring surprises on the universal Church.

Two rulings above all have traumatised the conservative Catholics for whom Francis nurtures a pathological dislike, rarely missing an opportunity to point out their “rigidity” or to mock their traditional vestments, decorated with what he calls “grandmother’s lace”.
The first is his decision, issued via motu proprio, to crush the celebration of the pre-1970 Latin Mass that Benedict had carefully reintegrated into the worship of the Church. In 2021, in a decision that he knew would cause his retired predecessor terrible pain, Francis effectively banned its celebration in ordinary parishes.

But even this controversy pales in comparison with the explosion of rage from half the world’s bishops when, just before Christmas, without warning or consultation, the Pope signed Fiducia Supplicans, a document allowing priests to bless gay couples. This time his chosen instrument was a declaration from the Church’s doctrine office, the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF), that same-sex couples or people in other “irregular” situations could receive “non-liturgical” blessings from priests. This was amazing because, as recently as 2021, the same office had condemned the notion of same-sex couples. Also, no one had ever heard of a non-liturgical blessing. It didn’t exist in canon law. Who came up with that idea?
Step forward the new Prefect of the DDF, Cardinal Victor “Tucho” Fernandez, the most eccentric of the Pope’s Argentinian protégés. It’s hard to exaggerate the weirdness of appointing Fernandez to head the DDF. He was best known for writing a book on the theology of kissing — until it was discovered that he’d also written one about the theology of orgasms, containing passages so disturbing that Tucho himself had second thoughts and apparently tried to hide all the existing copies.
How could this embarrassing lightweight come to occupy an office previously held by Benedict XVI, who as Joseph Ratzinger was arguably the greatest Catholic theologian of the 20th century? One theory is that Fernandez wasn’t Francis’s first choice, but the name of his preferred candidate, the German progressive Bishop Heiner Wilmer, was leaked and so he picked someone else. As soon as he was in office, Tucho wrote Fiducia Supplicans and slipped it onto Francis’s desk without showing it to other senior cardinals.
The fall-out was spectacular. There was already a growing rift between Catholic bishops, led by German and American progressives, who thought it was OK to bless gay couples and those who thought it made a mockery of the teachings of Christ. After Fiducia that rift seems irreparable.
On 11 January the bishops of West, East and Central Africa jointly announced that they “do not consider it appropriate for Africa to bless homosexual unions or same-sex couples”. Francis, unpredictable as ever, then said that was fine because they were Africans, thus throwing Tucho under the bus, opening himself up to accusations of racism and offending the LGBT lobby. Gay rights activists were already mortified by panicky Vatican “clarification” of January 4 stating that the blessings of same-sex couples should last a maximum of 15 seconds and were “not an endorsement of the lives they lead”.
Meanwhile the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, wounded by papal overtures to Putin, said Fiducia didn’t apply to them either. Likewise the Polish Church. Most recently the Coptic Orthodox Church has taken the drastic step of suspending theological dialogue with Rome.
“Hagan lio!” — “make a mess! — was the new pope’s message to young Catholics in 2013. What did he mean? All his words are drenched in ambiguity; perhaps it’s explained by his statement that the Church “always does what good she can, even if in the process, her shoes get soiled by the mud of the street”. But Fiducia Supplicans smells like an accidental mess, not a calculated risk. It’s something you scrape off your shoe because you weren’t looking where you were going. Had the Pope taken leave of his senses?

Perhaps it was naive of the cardinals in 2013 to expect the former Cardinal Bergoglio to clean up the corruption that had driven Benedict XVI to the state of helpless despair in which he resigned his office. But that was the main reason they elected him. He promised pest control, and it was a promise he didn’t keep.

Maybe the cardinal should have taken a closer look at two retired cardinals who were acting as his unofficial campaign managers. The American Theodore McCarrick and the Belgian Godfried Danneels were both in disgrace, having been caught trying to lie their way out of sex scandals. 

However hideous the scandals associated with this pontificate, it’s unlikely that they will influence the next conclave as much as the document signed by Francis on 18 December last year. Fiducia Supplicans changed the dynamics of the electoral college — not just because it forced Catholic bishops to address the radioactive topic of homosexuality that has torn apart the Protestant Churches, but also because it summed up the catastrophic incompetence of this pontificate.
At least three quarters of the future cardinal-electors will have been appointed by Francis. So you might think that the conclave, while recognising Fiducia as a blunder, will be looking for a pope who supports Francis’s relatively undogmatic approach to issues of human sexuality. And so it might — if he’d created enough liberal cardinals. But he hasn’t.

.To quote the same analyst, “when Fiducia Supplicans was published, the African cardinals ditched their Francis-worship overnight. The vast majority won’t vote for anyone who has backed Fiducia”. There are currently 17 African cardinal-electors; nearly all of them are in the anti-gay bloc. To these we can add at least 10 cardinals from Asia, Latin America and the West who share their views, even if they use milder rhetoric. Under current rules, a pope must be elected by a two-thirds majority of the cardinal-electors. This means that social conservatives, if they join forces with the significant number of moderates alarmed by Fiducia, can block anyone seen as progressive on homosexuality.

Cynics might say that’s because Francis, having made factional appointments early on, lost interest and appointed independent-minded men by accident. But let’s not neglect the role of social media: while the Praetorian Guard have been busy hiding things, countless websites have been making life difficult for the poisonous old toads who have been trying to fix conclaves for the best part of 2,000 years.
Melloni is probably right: as the new Supreme Pontiff shuffles on to the balcony there will be an unnerving moment while the faithful check their mobiles. But if the cardinals have done their job properly the applause will quickly resume. And if you listen carefully, you will hear another noise coming from every office in the Vatican: a sigh of relief that the Squid Game is finally over.
TCA Media Monitoring provides a snapshot from national newspapers and major Catholic press outlets of coverage regarding significant Catholic Church news and current issues with which the Catholic Church is traditionally or prominently engaged. The opinions and views expressed in the articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Catholic Association.
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