1. What the Peter’s Pence furore tells us about Vatican financial reform.

By Christopher Altieri, The Catholic Herald (UK), December 145, 2019

A piece by veteran Vatican beat journalist Francis X Rocca ran on the front page of the Wall Street Journal late last week, reporting that only a small fraction of the Holy See’s annual Peter’s Pence collection — roughly 10 per cent — goes directly to papal charities, while roughly two thirds of the collection goes to the operating budget of the Holy See, with as much as a quarter available for investment (money that could, in theory, eventually go to the poor or generate returns that do).

Two observations are in order.

First, if insiders, professional Catholics and Vatican watchers were not bowled over by the split the WSJ reported, reaction around the world was of some surprise and not a little outrage. To judge by the social media reaction, the people to whom Peter’s Pence solicitation materials have been targeted were surprised, not least because of the way the Vatican and national bishops’ conferences have pitched the collection.

Second, the hard numbers the WSJ reported, and the hasty explainers, together make it difficult to maintain the narrative that, when it comes to finances, Francis is a great reformer. While it is true that financial reform has been a central issue of Francis’s pontificate, and also true that he complained early and specifically about the use of Peter’s Pence, it is apparent that serious structural problems persist despite his efforts, and that Peter’s Pence is still plugging budget holes.

There’s nothing wrong with using Peter’s Pence to run the Vatican, mind. The current climate among the faithful in the worldwide Church, however, is one of suspicion regarding the prudence with which the Vatican manages its assets. Peter’s Pence donations are reportedly down. There is also the persistent and general opacity of Vatican finances. The reaction of the faithful to the sense the Holy See, with the help of their own local bishops, has solicited their support under pretences less than perfectly transparent, may be for them to continue to vote with their wallets.

The worldwide faithful may yet be quite willing to give generously in support of the Holy See’s upkeep and operation. The Holy See, for its part, might consider plainly asking the faithful to contribute to that cause.


2. Why Greta, not Boris, may be the right way to assess Francis’s political impact.

By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, Crux, December 15, 2019

This week, the result of that process was this: Perhaps we can’t judge the impact of Pope Francis on politics by the usual measures, because, befitting his Argentinian populist outlook, he’s more interested in horizontal rather than vertical change.

First for the apparently unrelated events: Boris Johnson and Greta Thunberg.

The UK is merely the latest case in which Francis’s vision of political and social life, which he’s championed now for more than six years, just didn’t appear to have much traction with an electorate. After all, Francis won the Charlemagne Prize in 2016 for his advocacy of deeper European unification, but in the UK this week, voters delivered a huge mandate to Johnson to take the country out of the EU as soon as possible.

If the test of a pope’s ability to drive history is his influence on leaders and national policy, it’s not clear how Francis would rate.

At the same time the Vatican was practicing strategic silence about the political earthquake in the UK, however, it was also gushing about the teenage Thunberg being named Time magazine’s Person of the Year.

Last August, the Vatican published a book called The Emergence of Popular Movements: Rerum Novarum of Our Time, a reference to the 1891 social encyclical of Pope Leo XIII that launched modern Catholic social teaching. Clearly, the idea was to lift up popular movements as the most important embodiment of the Church’s social agenda in our time, with Francis calling them “a lever for profound social transformation” in his preface.

If the right way to assess someone’s success or failure is to measure them against their own objectives, therefore, perhaps it’s not the Tory victory but the global acclaim for a 16-year-old non-Catholic teen which, ironically, provides the best data point for Francis from the past week.


3. Pope Francis: Advent is a time of conversion.

By Courtney Mares, Catholic News Agency, December 15, 2019, 5:30 AM

As Pope Francis blessed children’s nativity scene figurines Sunday, the pope said that the Advent season is a time of conversion to make space in one’s heart for Christ to come and fill it with joy.

“Advent, a time of grace, tells us that it is not enough to believe in God: it is necessary to purify our faith every day,” Pope Francis said in his Angelus address Dec. 15.

“It is a matter of preparing to welcome — not a fairy-tale character — but the God who calls us, involves us, and before whom a choice is imposed,” he said in St. Peter’s Square.

Italian children gathered in St. Peter’s Square before the Angelus prayer, shouted and cheered as they awaited the papal blessing of their Nativity scene figurines of the infant Jesus, called “Bambinelli” in Italian.


4. In latest sign of stress on bishops, Nebraska prelate takes leave of absence.

By Elise Harris, Crux, December 14, 2019

After what has been a tumultuous and at times painful 18 months for Catholic shepherds in the United States, Bishop James Conley of Lincoln issued a moving letter Friday saying he will take a temporary leave of absence to deal with mental health struggles.

The announcement was immediately met with an outpouring of support, with many taking to social media to offer words of comfort and assure Conley of their prayers.

In the Dec. 13 letter, the 64-year-old Conley said that for the foreseeable future, he will be on a medical leave of absence, “effective immediately.”

Conley wrote that he has been medically diagnosed with depression, anxiety, chronic insomnia and “debilitating” tinnitus, a constant ringing of the ears.

A convert to Catholicism, Conley is the most recent bishop in the United States whose personal health maladies have caught the public’s eye after more than a year of intense scrutiny, shame and struggle for the Catholic hierarchy in the United States.

In March Cardinal Daniel Di Nardo, the former president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), suffered a mild stroke while leading a “healing and purification” liturgy in Houston, and for months was confined to a wheelchair while he underwent treatment and recovery.


5. Top Vatican official says celibacy, homosexuality not cause of abuse crisis.

By Inés San Martín, Crux, December 14, 2019

This means that on the rare occasions Spanish Father Jordi Bertomeu speaks, his words have weight. He did so at length this week in a 2,800-word essay published by the Spanish magazine Palabra, where he discusses the role the hot button topics of celibacy, the Church’s ban on the ordination of women, and homosexuality have on the abuse of children.

In short, none: He argues being celibate, being a man or being gay does not make a person a sexual abuser.

Last year, the Spaniard was tapped by Pope Francis to head to Chile with Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, another member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), to try to understand the situation regarding clerical sexual abuse in the country. The result was a document thousands of pages long that led to the resignation of the entire episcopate; to date, the pontiff has accepted eight.

When it comes to celibacy, Bertomeu wrote that there is “no evidence” that it causes any “deviant sexual addiction,” nor has it ever been considered a relevant parameter to identify abuse: “Rather, most abusers are married men,” he said.

He debunks this theory with the data offered by other Christian and non-Christian churches. Bertomeu quotes the Unity Church of Australia, that has 240,000 members, no hierarchy and a “democratically married male and female clergy.” In recent months it made headlines due to its 2,500 cases of child abuse.


6. Mississippi vows further appeal after loss on abortion ban.

By Jeff Amy, The Associated Press, December 13, 2019, 7:55 PM

Mississippi’s outgoing governor vowed Saturday to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold Mississippi’s ban on abortion at 15 weeks.

“We will sustain our efforts to fight for America’s unborn children,” Republican Phil Bryant wrote on Twitter. “Mississippi will continue this mission to the United States Supreme Court.”

The call came a day after a federal appeals court ruled the ban was unconstitutional. But supporters of the Mississippi ban, and those like it passed in other states, have been aiming for the Supreme Court all along. They hope that new conservative justices will spur the high court to take up abortion challenges and overturn its 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion rights nationwide.


7. Cries of abuse in Catholic Church start to be heard in Japan.

By Yuri Kageyama, The Associated Press, December 13, 2019, 10:35 PM

The two are among a handful of people who have gone public as survivors of Catholic clergy sexual abuse in Japan, where values of conformity and harmony have resulted in a strong code of silence.

But as in other parts of the world, from Pennsylvania to Chile, Takenaka and Suzuki are starting to feel less alone as other victims have come forward despite the ostracism they and their family members often face for speaking out.

Their public denunciation is all the more remarkable, given Catholics make up less than 0.5% of Japan’s population. To date, the global abuse scandal has concentrated on heavily Catholic countries, such as Ireland, the U.S. and now, many countries in Latin America.


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