1. Retired Cardinal Hits Back at Vatican Over Deal With China. 

By Associated Press, February 7, 2018, 3:45 AM

The retired archbishop of Hong Kong has slammed the Holy See’s negotiations with Beijing as a “catastrophe” that would bring suffering to millions of worshippers, as a bitter dispute inside the Roman Catholic Church over its future in China escalates in a dramatic fashion.

Cardinal Joseph Zen warned in a blog post this week that some Chinese Catholics who follow so-called underground churches are at risk of arrest even while the Catholic Church pushes for a historic breakthrough in relations with China’s ruling Communist Party.

The Vatican had no immediate comment on Zen’s latest blog post. But it said last week it was “surprising and regrettable” that some members of the church were fostering “confusion and controversy.”


2. Ex Pope Benedict Says He Is in the Last Phase of His Life. 

By Reuters, February 7, 2018, 6:03 AM

Former pope Benedict said in a letter published in an Italian newspaper on Wednesday that he is in the last phase of life and on a “pilgrimage towards home”.

Benedict, who in February 2013 became the first pope in six centuries to resign, wrote a letter to the Corriere della Sera newspaper thanking readers for their best wishes as he approaches the fifth anniversary of stepping down.

“I am moved that so many readers want to know how I spend my days in this, the last period of the life,” he wrote.

“I can only say that with the slow withering of my physical forces, interiorly, I am on a pilgrimage towards home.”


3. Pope’s Controversial China Overture Has Cold-War Precedent: Vatican’s new China policy recalls its ‘Ostpolitik’ toward Communist regimes in the 1960s and ’70s. 

By Francis X. Rocca, The Wall Street Journal, February 7, 2018, 8:00 AM

Pope Francis ’ overture to Communist China echoes the Vatican’s conciliatory approach to Soviet-bloc states during much of the Cold War, a policy some say diminished and others say preserved the Catholic Church there.

The pope’s plan to replace bishops loyal to Rome with excommunicated men chosen by Beijing, in hope of gaining China’s recognition of the pope as heading the country’s Catholic Church, has been widely described as a revival of Vatican Ostpolitik.

Defenders of that policy—whose name comes from West Germany’s campaign to normalize relations with Communist East Germany in the early 1970s—call it a realistic response that allowed the church to survive behind the Iron Curtain. They say such an approach is even more appropriate today in China, a rising economic and geopolitical power where Catholics amount to less than 1% of the population.

Following World War II, Eastern Europe was forcibly absorbed into the Soviet sphere and Communism was growing even in Italy. In 1948, Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty of Hungary was arrested, leading to his subsequent torture, show trial and years of imprisonment.

In the context of such persecution, Pope Pius XII in 1949 excommunicated all Catholics who “profess, defend or promote materialistic Communist doctrine.” He later forcefully condemned the U.S.S.R.’s 1956 invasion of Hungary to suppress a democratizing revolution there.

The Vatican’s approach shifted under the next pope, St. John XXIII, who was alarmed by the superpower confrontation that led to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and sought to reduce tensions.

Under Pope John, who died in 1963, and especially under his successor, Pope Paul VI, the Vatican largely muted its anti-Communist rhetoric and made a series of compromises with Communist regimes. It allowed those governments in effect to veto bishop appointments and it let priests take part in Communist propaganda efforts. In Czechoslovakia, the Vatican even forbade the clandestine ordination of priests in an “underground” church that operated outside the government-approved hierarchy.


4. Transition looms in African Catholic powerhouse as legend readies to go. 

By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, Crux, February 7, 2018

A transition at the top is looming in one of the world’s powerhouse Catholic nations, as Pope Francis on Tuesday appointed a new coadjutor bishop in the Archdiocese of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, effectively laying the groundwork for the eventual departure of 78-year-old Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya.

A onetime de facto head of state in Congo, Monsengwo will be a hard act to follow – a high-profile prelate and papal confidante who’s more or less incarnated the African Catholic experience for a half-century, in which Catholic leaders often end up playing explicitly political roles that would seem odd to Western sensibilities about church/state separation, because the Church is sometimes the only institution that enjoys basic social trust.

On Tuesday, Francis tapped Archbishop Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, a Capuchin and the former head of the Archdiocese of Mbandka-Bikoro, as the “coadjutor” in Kinshasa, meaning that he has automatic right of succession when Monsengwo steps down.

The 58-year old Ambongo has a background in moral theology, having studied at the prestigious Alphonsian Academy in Rome, run by the Redemptorist order. He’s a former university professor and Capuchin superior, who was originally named the bishop of Bokungu-Ikela in 2005, at the age of 44, and then took over as the Archbishop of Mbandka-Bikoro two years ago in 2016.


5. Former Vatican Bank Managers Found Liable for Mismanagement. 

By Reuters, February 6, 2018, 4:33 PM

Two former senior managers of the Vatican bank have been found liable for mismanagement and ordered to pay damages by the city state’s court, the bank said in a statement on Tuesday.

The ruling was the result of civil legal action launched by the bank in 2014, the year after the election of Pope Francis, who has prioritized cleaning up Vatican finances and breaking with the bank’s murky past.

The spiritual home of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics has been praised for making progress in financial regulation, but urged to deal more aggressively with people suspected of crimes like money laundering and step up prosecutions.


6. Ambassador Brownback: ‘Religious freedom is the most important foreign relations topic today’. 

By Courtney Grogan, Catholic News Agency, February 6, 2018, 3:46 PM

In his first public appearance as US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback spoke to Muslim, Jewish, and Christians leaders gathered to discuss their shared commitment to promoting peace and protecting religious minorities in the Muslim world.

“I think religious freedom is the most important foreign relations topic today,” Brownback told the delegates at the Alliance of Virtue for the Common Good Conference in Washington, DC.

“The world needs reconciliation. It needs it between the Abrahamic faiths,” the ambassador  said.

The three-day event is hosted by the Middle East-based Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, and will culminate in the signing of a declaration on religious freedom the morning of Feb. 7.


7. Vatican official praises China for witness to Catholic social teaching. 

By Catholic News Agency, February 6, 2018, 12:45 PM

The chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences has said that China is exercising global moral leadership in the principles of Catholic social teaching and defense of human dignity.

Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, an Argentinian, is chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. In an interview with Vatican Insider, he recently said that “at this moment, those who best realize the social doctrine of the Church are the Chinese.”

Sorondo told Vatican Insider that he had recently visited China, where he says he found that “they [the Chinese] seek the common good, subordinate things to the general good.”

“I found an extraordinary China; what people do not know is that the central Chinese principle is ‘work, work, work.’ …As Paul said: ‘he who does not work, who does not eat.’ You do not have shantytowns, you do not have drugs, young people do not have drugs. There is a positive national consciousness, they want to show that they have changed, they already accept private property,” he said of his trip.

The bishop said that the People’s Republic of China has “defended the dignity of the human person,” and, in the area of climate change, is “assuming a moral leadership that others have abandoned.”


8. Vatican court condemns ex-Vatican bank officials for ‘mismanagement’. 

By John L. Allen Jr., Crux, February 6, 2018

In a potentially important step in the Vatican’s ongoing press for financial reform under Pope Francis, two former officials of the Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR), the so-called “Vatican bank,” have been convicted by a court of the Vatican City State of financial mismanagement of investments reportedly involving almost $60 million in damages.

The verdict was confirmed late Tuesday in a brief statement from the IOR, released at 8:30 p.m. Rome time. Although that statement did not name the officials, it’s been widely reported in the Italian media, including by Avvenire, the official newspaper of the Italian bishops’ conference, that they are Paolo Cipriani, a former director of the bank, and Massimo Tulli, Cipriani’s former deputy.


9. Cardinal Zen accuses Vatican of “caging” loyal Catholics in China. 

By Charles Collins, Crux, February 6, 2018

Cardinal Joseph Zen has accused the Vatican Secretary of State, Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, of misrepresenting Pope emeritus Benedict XVI in the latest chapter of an ongoing conflict on the best way to deal with the communist government in China.

Last week, Zen, the 86-year-old retired Bishop of Hong Kong, wrote an open letter on Facebook criticizing a request by a Vatican diplomat visiting China that two bishops belonging to the underground Church loyal to the pope step down in favor of two bishops belonging to the state-sanctioned Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA).

Two days after Zen’s comments, Parolin told the Italian newspaper La Stampa that although it was legitimate to have different views on how to approach China, “no personal point of view can be considered as an exclusive interpreter of what is good for Chinese Catholics.”

Parolin then explained the Vatican’s engagement with China, saying “the Holy See has always maintained a pastoral approach, trying to overcome the contrasts and making itself available for a respectful and constructive dialogue with the civil authorities.”

The cardinal also responded to an unnamed Vatican official telling Reuters, Chinese Catholics will be “like caged birds, but the birdcage will be bigger.”

“The question is not the size of the birdcage, but who are inside the birdcage? The faithful of the underground communities are not inside the birdcage. Now it is you who force them into the cage, and have to ‘unite’ inside the birdcage? Of course, in the birdcage some are slaves, but some are willing to be in the cage to be minions of the swagger,” Zen said.