1. Vatican takes over Peru-based movement on eve of pope’s trip.

By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, January 10, 2018, 3:45 PM

The Vatican on Wednesday took over a Peru-based Catholic movement whose founder was accused of sexually, physically and psychologically abusing his members, just days before Pope Francis starts a trip to Chile and Peru where the church’s sexual abuse scandal is expected to play out.

A Vatican statement said the congregation for religious orders had issued a decree naming a commissioner to take over the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae, a conservative movement that has some 20,000 members and chapters throughout South America and the U.S.

Francis is expected to contend with the abuse scandal in his home continent for the first time during the Jan. 15-21 trip, with protests planned and recent revelations in Chile about the growing scandal there.

The decision marked the latest — and most extreme — action to date by the Vatican, since it first ordered an investigation into the society 2015. After that, the Vatican named a delegate, American Cardinal Joseph Tobin, to accompany Sodalitium as it reformed and then sanctioned Figari last year.

The decree to place the society under a Vatican-appointed commissioner signaled that the Holy See believed the Sodalitium was incapable of reforming itself despite a series of measures its new leadership has taken to try to make amends with victims, acknowledge past abuses and reform its internal methods and governance.


2. Speaker Paul Ryan will headline March for Life.

By Christine Rousselle, Catholic News Agency, January 10, 2018, 12:52 PM

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) will address the upcoming March for Life, organizers announced on Wednesday. This is the first time Ryan has spoken at the March for Life in person since he was elected speaker in 2015.

The 45th annual March for Life will take place on January 19th in Washington, D.C., and is the country’s largest pro-life protest. The event is held each year near the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States.


3. Pope Francis appoints administrator for scandal-plagued lay movement.

By Crux, January 10, 2018

Pope Francis has appointed a Colombian bishop to take over the Peru-based Sodalitium Christianae Vitae.

The SCV, which includes consecrated laywomen as well as priests, is governed by a group of celibate laymen known as “sodalits.” Founded in 1971 and approved by the Vatican in 1997, the group has around 20,000 members mostly in Latin America, but also in the United States and Italy.

The founder, Luis Fernando Figari, has been accused of psychological and sexual abuse.

The pontiff appointed Colombian Bishop Noel Antonio Londoño Buitrago as the “commissioner” of the SCV, but Cardinal Joseph William Tobin, the Archbishop of Newark, will continue in his role as papal delegate for the organization, especially concerning economic matters.


4. Pope Francis to Face Protests in Chile Over Bishop Appointment.

By Dave Sherwood, Reuters, January 10, 2018, 1:14 PM

Chileans protesting Pope Francis’s 2015 appointment of a Roman Catholic bishop accused of protecting an alleged pedophile threaten to cast a shadow over the pontiff’s visit to South America next week.

Parishioners in Osorno, a small city 800 kilometers (497 miles) south of the Chilean capital, say Vatican representatives denied their requests to meet with Francis. They plan to protest every day of the Pope’s Jan. 15 – 18 stay in Chile.

Pope Francis, who hails from neighboring Argentina and once briefly lived in Chile, has defended Osorno Bishop Juan Barros and says allegations that he covered up abuses by one of Chile’s most notorious sexual predators were unfounded.


5. Czech government backs taxation of church restitution.

By Associated Press, January 10, 2018

The new Czech minority government led by populist billionaire Andrej Babis has agreed with a proposal to tax the compensation that the country’s churches receive for property seized by the former Communist regime.

The government announced its decision Wednesday, when it also faces a confidence vote in Parliament.

The proposal came from the Communist Party, a vocal opponent of the compensation plan.

Under the plan, the nation’s churches, including the Catholic and Protestant churches, would get back some of their old property held by the state and they would also get $2.8 billion over 30 years.

Babis says the compensation is too generous and needs correction.

Redemptorist Father Stanislav Přibyl, the secretary general of the Czech bishops’ conference, said the restitution was “not a gift.”

“It is a partial reimbursement for the property confiscated by the Communists which had been intended to support the livelihood of priests and religious in the then Czechoslovakia,” he wrote on the bishops’ website.


6. Chinese bishop released from detention after more than seven months.

By Catholic News Service, January 10, 2018

Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin of Wenzhou has been released by Chinese authorities after being detained for more than seven months, reported ucanews.com.

The bishop, who has not joined government-approved associations for Church officials, was released Jan. 3 and was expected to return to Wenzhou, one of China’s biggest Christian cities, in late January.

A source who wanted to be unnamed told ucanews.com that after Shao was taken away in May, officials from Wenzhou City Bureau of Ethnic and Religious Affairs tried to force him to sign an agreement. The agreement requested the bishop to support the State Administration for Religious Affairs and the self-election and self-ordination of bishops.

After a lot of pressure, Shao signed the agreement but added a remark that he did not agree with the terms, the source said.

The reason for the detention is still a mystery, but it is believed that a new director of Wenzhou Provincial Administration for Religious Affairs wanted to resolve “problems” concerning Shao, by getting him to join the State Administration for Religious Affairs, ucanews.com reported.


7. Francis’ Fifth: A Synod, Humanae Vitae Milestone and More Decentralized Church: The 81-year-old Pope will mark the fifth year of his pontificate March 13.

By Edward Pentin, National Catholic Register, January 10, 2018

Events already locked in the calendar make clear that another busy year awaits Pope Francis, one in which he is expected to press on in pursuing his vision for the Church as he approaches the fifth anniversary of his pontificate.

One of the most significant papal engagements will be the 15th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, on the theme “The Young, Faith and Vocational Discernment,” to be held in October.

The Vatican last year sent out a 25-page preparatory document to all the dioceses in the world, which included a questionnaire to allow young people to share their opinions on social issues ahead of the October synod.

The Register has learned the Vatican has been overwhelmed with tens of thousands of responses, and as well as posing a processing challenge for the synod secretariat, critics have said the preparatory document “is heavy on sociology and psychology and light on Scripture and Tradition.” Others are concerned the synod will be pushed in a harmful direction, largely because it will fail to address the most serious problems facing young people today. But still others see the synod as a very positive way for the Church to accompany young people in their human and spiritual growth so that they can make the world a better place.

A further possible flashpoint for heated debate this year will be the 50th anniversary of Pope Blessed Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae (The Regulation of Birth), which reaffirmed the Church’s ban on artificial contraception. There are concerns that moves are underway to use this anniversary to reassess the encyclical and implement a “new moral paradigm,” as some have tried to do in their interpretation of Amoris Laetitia.  

Papal Trips

So far, only one overseas papal visit has been confirmed for this year: to Peru and Chile, Jan. 15-22. The apostolic voyage will be significant for its emphasis on the environment and the welfare of indigenous people. The Holy Father will meet indigenous communities from the Amazon in Lima Jan. 19 — a timely visit ahead of the 2019 Pan-Amazonian Synod of Bishops.

The Holy Father is expected to visit Ireland in the summer, at some point during the World Meeting of Families in Dublin that takes place Aug. 21-26.

Other possible visits this year could be to Romania and India, postponed from 2017. 

Also possible is a trip to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, to mark 100 years since their independence. The visit, which the Vatican says is still in its planning stage, would be timely, as concerns grow about Russian aggression against the Baltic states.

Papal Appointments

Papal appointments will be something to look out for this year, with expected changes in leadership within the Roman Curia as well as dioceses worldwide. Included among those could be Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington D.C., who is two years beyond retirement age, although insiders say the Pope is likely to keep him on for at least another year.

Others who will have just reached or will reach the retirement age of 75 this year and could be replaced include Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, the Argentinian prefect of the Congregation for Oriental Churches; Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education; Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences; and Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. The French cardinal has worsening symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, which has affected him for some years and prevented him from joining the Pope on his recent visit to Burma and Bangladesh.

As of Jan. 1, the number of cardinal-electors under the age of 80 is precisely 120 — the suggested limit set by Blessed Paul VI. But by mid-June, that number will have fallen to 114, giving Pope Francis the possibility of holding a small consistory in the fall to create six new red hats. That would take the number of his personal choices of cardinal-electors to 55, almost half the number eligible to vote in a conclave.

Decentralization Drive

Meanwhile, the push toward decentralizing the Church away from the Vatican and into the hands of local bishops is expected to continue, in line with the Pope’s vision laid out in his 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel).

Other areas where such an approach potentially could come under consideration in the upcoming months include ordaining some married men and intercommunion for Protestant spouses.