1. Pope Francis Backs Down in Clash Over Nigerian Bishop: Priests of the diocese had rejected a leader from a different ethnic group. 

By Francis X. Rocca, The Wall Street Journal, February 20, 2018, Pg. A10

Pope Francis removed an unpopular Nigerian bishop after five years of protests by local priests, in an extraordinary reversal that showed the limits of the pope’s power over his own hierarchy and the continuing challenge of ethnic divisions in Africa, the church’s fastest-growing region.

The Vatican announced Monday that the pope had accepted the resignation of Bishop Peter Ebere Okpaleke of the diocese of Ahiara, who had been appointed by Pope Benedict XVI in December 2012, but who had been prevented by local clergy from taking up his role there.

The Ahiara priests’ main complaint was that Bishop Okpaleke doesn’t belong to the locally dominant Mbaise ethnic group, but to another group, the Igbo.

Last June, Pope Francis issued an extraordinary ultimatum to the Ahiara priests, warning that he would suspend them within 30 days if they didn’t write to him to pledge “total obedience.”

According to a Vatican statement, many priests wrote to the pope expressing “obedience and fidelity,” but some “pointed out their psychological difficulty in collaborating with the bishop after years of conflict.”

“Taking into account their repentance,” the pope decided not to punish them, the statement said.


2. Pope Francis Names New Sex Abuse Panel Amid Criticism: Announcement follows pope’s controversial comments on Chile case. 

By Francis X. Rocca, The Wall Street Journal, February 20, 2018, Pg. A10

Pope Francis renewed his advisory panel on child protection, after a two-month lapse, amid growing criticism of his record on clerical sex abuse.

The announcement on Saturday came the same day that a Vatican investigator was scheduled to begin interviewing witnesses in the case of a Chilean bishop accused of covering up abuse.

The case has raised questions among advocates for sex-abuse victims and others about Pope Francis’ sensitivity and credibility on the issue.

The head of the panel will remain Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, in a role he has held since it was established in 2014. Seven of the original members will be joined by nine new appointments.

The new panel includes victims of clerical sex abuse, according to the Vatican, but those people have chosen not to identify themselves publicly. The previous panel included two self-identified sex abuse victims, both of whom resigned before the end of their term, expressing frustration over what they said was the Vatican’s lack of action against clerical sex abuse.

The panel will continue working to establish a separate advisory body composed of clerical sex abuse victims from around the world, the Vatican said.


3. Expert says Vatican’s proposed deal with China is “limp”. 

By John Allen and Claire Giangravé, Crux, February 20, 2018

For seventy years, the Vatican and China have had no formal diplomatic relations, Catholicism remains illegal in the country, and the twelve million Catholics living there have been forced to profess their faith clandestinely. Recently, credible rumors of a deal with China have been resurfacing.

According to Vatican officials, the accord would hand the Chinese government a considerable degree of control over the nomination of bishops, a thorny issue in the relationship between the two states. It would seem that the upcoming deal would allow the Chinese government to choose the bishops, which the pope would then have a chance to veto.

According to Father Bernardo Cervellera, director of the agency Asia News of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, the deal with China would be damaging in a unique way compared to previous agreements with other countries.

Unlike Vietnam, where the pope makes an initial selection that is then reviewed by the government, the deal with China would be the other way around, resulting in a “special case” which, according to Cervellera, has no justification.

“This makes the Sino-Vatican deal ‘limp,’” according to the priest and journalist, and opens the door to the possibility for the Chinese government to select “malleable, controllable” bishops who will in turn work in the interest of the state and not of the Church.

“When there are ever more bishops chosen by the government, and when they execute the policies of the government […], because they’re under control, to create an independent church, it effectively becomes a problem that’s almost schismatic,” Cervellera said.


4. Did the pope blink in Nigeria, or is it a typically Catholic mess? 

By John L. Allen Jr. and Ines San Martin, Crux, February 20, 2018

On Monday, a Nigerian bishop for whom Pope Francis rolled out one of the most dramatic displays of papal authority in recent memory resigned, essentially ending a standoff that had lasted for more than five years, and without the pope’s man in charge.

The situation raises a fundamental question: Is this a situation in which the legendarily stubborn Francis actually blinked, meaning, accepted that even threatening to suspend the priests of an entire diocese was not enough to enforce his will?

Or, is this a gracious gesture by a bishop who was no longer interested in the rights and wrongs of the situation, but only in healing a hopelessly divided church? Or, perhaps, a pope committed to mercy putting that virtue in action?

The statement from the congregation indicated that Francis, despite having threatened suspension for priests refusing to accept the bishop, has now decided not to pursue sanctions.

At one level, it is difficult not to see that as, basically, capitulation. What’s the point of issuing threats for non-compliance if, when that non-compliance occurs on a large scale, you’re simply going to back down?

As a sobering note for those feeling elated today in Ahiara, however, a letter from the Vatican congregation to Nigerian Cardinal John Onaiyekan of Abuja, the national capital, who for a time was the apostolic administrator of Ahiara, indicates that Francis “does not intend to provide normal governance to Ahiara, and reserves the right to evaluate its spiritual and ecclesial progress before he makes another decision.”

In other words, there’s no guarantee at the end of it all that the rebels are going to like the final result any better than they did what turned out to be the interim one.

However, there are other ways of looking at the situation, less in terms of winners and losers, and more in terms of what the Gospel might counsel in a situation of conflict.

Francis is, after all, the “Pope of Mercy,” the pope who called an entire special jubilee year devoted to the theme of mercy, whose passion for the sacrament of reconciliation is palpable, and whose episcopal motto is miserando atque eligendo … “choosing through the eyes of mercy.”

From that point of view, the pope was simply choosing to exercise mercy, deciding that healing and reconciliation, ultimately, was more important than getting his own way.

Likewise, one could argue that Okpaleke himself took the high ground, realizing that the standard under Church law for the removal of a pastor isn’t personal guilt or innocence for some offense – in fact, no one has ever formally accused Okpaleke of doing anything wrong, save for the accident of being born into the wrong group – but rather when that person’s ministry has become “harmful or at least ineffective.”

In that sense, it’s possible to interpret the situation as Okpaleke, with the consent of Francis, simply realizing that the only way for the diocese to move forward was for him to step aside, which would mean, effectively, that he decided to take a hit for the team.

It’s quite possible, of course, the situation is actually all of these things: A pope exercising mercy, a bishop exercising humility and self-sacrifice, and still, one side clearly getting what it wanted while the other didn’t.

In other words, it could just be a complicated mess, with elements of grace and nobility bound up with humiliation, loss of face, and power politics. One’s tempted to say, “Welcome to the Catholic Church!”


5. Good luck explaining your abortion vote high-fives to your constituents, senators. 

By Ashley McGuire, Ashley McGuire is a senior fellow with The Catholic Association, and the author of Sex Scandal: The Drive to Abolish Male and Female, USA Today, February 19, 2018, 9:36 AM

When I think of high fives, I usually think of things that are good. Like acing a test. Or winning a race. Or getting an award. Not dismembering late-term babies.

That’s just me. But apparently that’s not Minority Leader Chuck Schemer, D-N.Y., or Senator Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D. In a clip memorialized for eternity, C-SPAN captured the two with their hands locked in an extended high five after Heitkamp cast her vote against a proposed bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks of gestation. 

When abortion is eventually abolished, people will look back at moments such as those and marvel that not only did our nation tolerate such barbarism, but that some lawmakers actually viewed keeping it legal as a moment for jubilation on the floor of the Senate chamber. But for now, it’s just another moment that points us straight to the Democrats’ extremism on one of the most divisive issues of our day.

Kentucky Republican Majority Leader McConnell was wise to hold a vote on the bill despite its dim prospects of success. Nearly every Democrat in the Senate voted against something that an overwhelming majority of Americans, including millennial women such as myself, want. And now, almost every single vulnerable Democrat heading into the 2018 midterms is on record opposing commonsense protections against brutality and violence for babies that can live outside the womb and feel pain.


6. Quiet progress of pope’s anti-abuse commission a hard sell. 

By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, Crux, February 18, 2018

Failure is a celebrity, success a nobody.

That is to say, it’s considered news when war breaks out, planes fall from the sky, systems break down and leaders stumble. When peace holds, the plane lands safely, the checks arrive on time, and leaders quietly do their jobs, nobody seems to notice.

Perhaps that insight helps explain why the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, the body established by Pope Francis in 2014 to advise him on policies to combat sexual abuse, has long struggled to tell its story to the world – against the backdrop of spectacular failures and noisy controversy on the Church’s anti-sex abuse front, steady lower-level success doesn’t quite cut through the noise.

Naturally, the commission has had some stumbles and setbacks.

Still there’s a strong argument to be made that over the almost four years of its existence, the commission has quietly had a substantive impact on making the Catholic Church a safer place for children in many parts of the world.

For one thing, commission members have crisscrossed the planet delivering training seminars on abuse prevention, detection and response for Church leaders, including in regions of the world that were once resistant to accepting the whole idea that child abuse was actually a serious risk in the Catholic Church. As time has gone on, the number and range of those invitations has continued to grow, suggesting a growing awareness and receptivity to the commission’s leadership.

Further, there are also indications that the commission’s example is having a leavening effect on local churches around the world.

The appointments made Saturday reflect, and arguably augment, that track record.

Nine new members were unveiled, including Teresa Kettelkam, a former Illinois state police colonel and head of the U.S. Bishops’ Child Protection Office from 2005 to 2011, who was working for the commission in Rome but has now returned to the United States. She’s widely recognized as a leading reform voice in child protection issues, and thus will remain part of the commission’s mix.

Monsignor Robert Oliver, another American and a former aide to Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, who was confirmed as president of the commission, remains a full member as well as the director of its office.

In other words, the appointments were a broad thumbs-up from the pope for the work of the commission, while also broadening its global scope and range with members from Ethiopia, India, Tonga and Brazil, as well as Australia, the U.K. and the States.

Perhaps the quiet progress being logged by the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, and the continuity Francis apparently has ensured for that progress, may not be enough to crack the headlines in quite the same way, at least for now.

If history does eventually judge the Church’s efforts at recovery a success, however, the events of Saturday may go down as one those quiet moments in which the tectonic plates shifted once more in the right direction.


7. Vatican investigator meets with Chile abuse victim in NYC. 

By Associated Press, February 17, 2018

A key victim in the Chilean sex abuse scandal said he felt his story was finally heard after an hours-long meeting with a Vatican sex-crimes investigator on Saturday, the same day Pope Francis revived his lapsed sex abuse advisory commission amid criticism of how he is handling the scandal.

The meeting at a Manhattan church between Archbishop Charles Scicluna and whistleblower Juan Carlos Cruz was “intense, detailed and eye-opening,” Cruz said to the reporters outside the Church of the Holy Name of Jesus. Scicluna didn’t speak to reporters after the meeting that lasted more than three hours.


8. Pope revives lapsed sex abuse commission amid skepticism. 

By Associated Press, February 17, 2018

Pope Francis revived his lapsed sex abuse advisory commission by naming new members Saturday, after coming under fire for his overall handling of the scandal and his support for a Chilean bishop accused by victims of witnessing and ignoring their abuse.

The announcement of the new members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors came on the same day that a Vatican investigator will take the testimony in New York of one of the main whistleblowers in the Chilean cover-up scandal.

The initial three-year mandate of commission members had lapsed two months ago, on Dec. 17. Francis named nine new members Saturday and kept seven from the initial group. A Vatican statement said survivors of abuse are included, but didn’t identify them to protect their privacy.

None of the most outspoken lay advocates for victims from the original group returned, but a statement stressed that the commission’s work would be imbued throughout with the experience of victims. Commission members are to open their April plenary by meeting with victims privately, and discussions are continuing to create an “international survivor advisory panel” to advise the commission and make sure the voices of victims are heard in all its deliberations, the statement said.


9. Pope Francis practices the fine educational art of repetition. 

By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, Crux, February 17, 2018

Any good teacher knows that education is one part creativity, and then lots of parts repetition. You present a creative idea once, and it’s fresh and original. After that, you repeat it over and over, getting your students to think about it, take it apart and put it back together again, until it becomes basically muscle memory.

The papacy is, in a sense, the biggest teaching gig in the world, and so it’s no surprise that popes too tend to roll out creative big ideas at the beginning, and then keep repeating them over and over until they become part of Catholic muscle memory.

Many signs suggest that as Pope Francis nears the five-year mark of his reign next month, we’ve entered the repetitive phase of his lesson plan. We got a reminder of the point on Thursday, when the pontiff traveled across Rome to the Basilica of St. John Lateran, which once served as the seat of the papacy, to meet with priests and deacons from the Diocese of Rome.

Instead of a sort of “greatest hits” collection of all the pontiff’s main themes, what emerged was a strong focus on one core idea – the importance of dialogue, which has been a central feature of the pope’s message from the beginning. His insistence on dialogue with those who don’t share Catholic convictions has been reflected, for instance, in his exchanges with veteran Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari, an avowed non-believer and frequent critic of Catholic positions on sensitive public policy questions.

None of that, of course, will be unfamiliar to anyone who’s heard Francis before. The very fact that he’s made it so familiar, however, probably indicates how determined he is to make sure it sticks.


10. Late Pope Paul VI to Be Made Saint This Year, Pope Francis Says. 

By Reuters, February 17, 2018, 9:24 AM

The late Pope Paul VI, who led the Roman Catholic Church in the 1960s and 1970s during one of its most turbulent modern periods and enshrined its opposition to contraception, will be made a saint this year, Pope Francis has decided.

Francis made the announcement on Thursday at a private meeting with Rome priests. The Vatican issued the transcript of the conversation on Saturday.

Paul is perhaps best known for his controversial encyclical Humane Vitae (On Human Life), which enshrined the Church’s ban on artificial birth control in 1968.


11. Former US Ambassador Glendon Resigns From Vatican Bank Board. 

By Associated Press, February 16, 2018, 4:54 PM

The former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, Mary Ann Glendon, has resigned from the board of the Vatican bank in the latest vote of no-confidence in the bank’s efforts to turn itself around.

But her departure follows the still unexplained firing of the bank’s respected deputy manager, Giulio Mattietti. Vatican officials have been unusually mum about the mysterious dismissal, as well as reports of internal dissatisfaction with the remaining bank management.


12. Mary Ann Glendon resigns from Vatican Bank oversight board. 

By Catholic News Agency, February 16, 2018, 3:40 PM

Prominent American professor Mary Ann Glendon has resigned from the Board of Superintendence which oversees the Institute of Religious Works, the so-called Vatican Bank.

Since his election as Bishop of Rome in 2013, Pope Francis has sought to reform the Vatican’s bank and other financial aspects of the Holy See. The process has not been easy. There have been various debates about jurisdiction, oversight, and auditing; establishment of new laws and guidelines; and changes in key personnel and leadership.


13. Development, or Corruption? 

By Gerhard Cardinal Müller, Gerhard Ludwig Cardinal Müller is former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith., First Things, February 20, 2018

Can there be “paradigm shifts” in the interpretation of the deposit of faith?

In commenting on Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, some interpreters advance positions contrary to the constant teaching of the Catholic Church, by effectively denying that adultery is always a grave objective sin or by making the Church’s entire sacramental economy exclusively dependent on people’s subjective dispositions. They seek to justify their claims by insisting that through the ages there has been a development of doctrine under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, a fact that the Church has always admitted. To substantiate their claims, they usually appeal to the writings of John Henry Cardinal Newman, and in particular to his famous Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (1845). Newman’s arguments are indeed worth considering. They will help us understand the sort of development that is possible in the matters touched upon by Amoris Laetitia.

As far as the substance of the articles of faith is concerned, it is impossible to add or subtract anything. In the Church’s efforts to combat heresies and to come to a deeper understanding of revealed truths, there can, however, be an increase in the articles of faith. The filioque, for example—that is, the definition of faith that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son—does not add anything to the Trinitarian faith. This formulation merely gives a clearer expression of a truth that is already known, namely that the Spirit is not the second Son of God. Development of doctrine in this sense refers to the process by which the Church, in her consciousness of the faith, comes to an ever deeper conceptual and intellectual understanding of God’s self-revelation.

At this point we come to the principal question that Newman sought to answer in his famous Essay. Since revelation is the personal and dialogical self-communication of God in the medium of the historical existence of Christ and his Church, we need criteria in order to tell the difference between a real development of doctrine and what Newman calls a corruption. Development means a growth in the understanding of spiritual and theological realities, guided by the Holy Spirit (cf. Dei Verbum, n. 8). This growth does not occur from any kind of natural necessity, and it has nothing to do with the liberal belief in progress. In fact, as happens also in one’s personal spiritual life, it is possible to regress.

The criteria that Newman unfolds are useful, then, to disclose how we should read Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. The first two criteria are “preservation of type” and “continuity of principles.” They are meant precisely to ensure the stability of the faith’s foundational structure. These principles and types prevent us from speaking of a “paradigm shift” regarding the form of the Church’s being and of her presence in the world. Now chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia has been the object of contradictory interpretations. When in this context some speak of a paradigm shift, this seems to be a relapse into a modernist and subjectivist way of interpreting the Catholic faith. It was in 1962 that Thomas Kuhn introduced his controversial and at the same time influential idea of “paradigm shifts” into the debate internal to the philosophy of science, where the expression received a precise, technical meaning.

Those who seek to accommodate the gospel message to the mentality of this world, invoking the authority of Cardinal Newman in their efforts, should consider what he says about the Church’s continuity of type. According to Newman, the true Church can be identified by the unchanging way in which the world has perceived her through the centuries, even amidst many developments. As Newman says, in the world’s eyes the Church is “a religious communion claiming a divine commission, and holding all other religious bodies around it heretical or infidel; it is a well-organized, well-disciplined body.” This communion “is spread over the known world; it may be weak or insignificant locally, but it is strong on the whole from its continuity,” and it is “a natural enemy to governments external to itself; it is intolerant and engrossing, and tends to a new modelling of society; it breaks laws, it divides families. It is a gross superstition; it is charged with the foulest crimes; it is despised by the intellect of the day.” Newman concludes: “And there is but one communion such. Place this description before Pliny or Julian; place it before Frederick the Second or Guizot. . . . Each knows at once, without asking a question, who is meant by it.” Where would Newman find such a communion today?