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Pope Francis: Benedict XVI was ‘leader’ in responding to sexual abuse

Pope Francis visits Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at the Mater Ecclesiae monastery in Vatican City to exchange Christmas greetings Dec. 23, 2013. / Vatican Media

St. Louis, Mo., Nov 28, 2022 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

In a recent interview Pope Francis said his predecessor Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was a leader in “taking responsibility” and responding with transparency to clerical sexual abuse — the latest defense by the Holy Father of his predecessor, who is facing criticism in his native Germany for his handling of several abuse cases as an archbishop decades ago. 

In the Nov. 22 interview published Monday by America Magazine, Pope Francis discussed a wide range of topics including the Church’s response to revelations of abuse by clergy. Francis said although “official statistics” show that clergy abuse makes up a very small percentage of all abuse cases in society, [i]f there had been only one case, it would have been monstrous.” 

Before the 2002 “Boston crisis,” abusers were simply moved from place to place as part of the institutional cover-up, he said. 

“The practice, which is still maintained in some families and institutions today, was to cover it up. The Church made the decision to not cover up [anymore]. From there progress was made in judicial processes, the creation of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors,” the pope said, as reported by America. 

“Here, a great [example] is Cardinal [Seán] O’Malley of Boston, who had the mindset to institutionalize [the protection of minors] within the Church. When honest people see how the Church is taking responsibility for this monstrosity, they understand that the Church is one thing while the abusers who are being punished by the Church are another. The leader in taking these decisions was Benedict XVI.”

During his almost eight-year pontificate, which began in 2005, Benedict XVI dismissed hundreds of abusers from the clerical state, regularly met abuse survivors, and addressed the abuse crisis in Ireland in a 2010 pastoral letter. He resigned from the papacy in 2013. 

This is not the first time Pope Francis has spoken in defense of his predecessor’s record on responding to sexual abuse. Amid an ongoing reckoning over Benedict XVI’s handling of abuse cases in Munich, where he served as archbishop from 1977 to 1982, Pope Francis called to offer his support to Benedict XVI as the pope emeritus faced criticism. 

A lengthy investigative report, compiled by a German law firm and released in January, criticized the nonagenarian retired pope’s handling of four cases during his time in charge of the southern German Archdiocese of Munich and Friesing. 

In two of the cases, the report says, clerics committed abuse while then-Archbishop Ratzinger was in office. While they were criminally sanctioned by secular courts, they continued to perform pastoral duties, and no action was taken against them under canon law. In a third case, a cleric convicted by a foreign court worked in the Munich Archdiocese, and in a fourth case, a priest already accused of abuse was moved to Munich in 1980, where he committed further acts of abuse. 

The 1,000-page report — which has drawn some criticism for its $1.53 million price tag —  covered the years 1945–2019 and identified at least 497 victims of abuse as well as 235 alleged perpetrators, including 173 priests, during the 74-year period.

For his part, Benedict issued a grave apology to victims of sexual abuse, while four of his advisers defended his actions in each of the four cases mentioned in the report in a three-page rebuttal

“I have had great responsibilities in the Catholic Church. All the greater is my pain for the abuses and the errors that occurred in those different places during the time of my mandate,” Benedict wrote.  

“Each individual case of sexual abuse is appalling and irreparable. The victims of sexual abuse have my deepest sympathy and I feel great sorrow for each individual case.”

The advisers insisted that Benedict was not “aware of sexual abuse committed or suspicion of sexual abuse committed by priests” in any of the cases mentioned in the report. 

Archbishop Georg Gänswein, Benedict’s longtime personal secretary, told EWTN in February that the pope emeritus “is being accused of something that contradicts 25 years of his work” in making the Church more transparent and effective at dealing with sexual abuse. 

After leaving the Munich Archdiocese in 1982, the future pope served as prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). In 2001, Pope John Paul II entrusted the CDF with investigating allegations of clerical abuse worldwide.

Gänswein said in February that Benedict encountered “internal resistance” at the Vatican as he sought to take decisive action against abusers but was able to overcome it with the Polish pope’s support.

“He did not only play a decisive role, he was the decisive figure, the decisive man; the one who not only suggested transparency, but also took concrete steps towards transparency. One can say, he is the ‘father of transparency,’ and thus he also managed to convince Pope John Paul II,” he said.

Sexual abuse is, Pope Francis said in the Nov. 22 interview, “a ‘new’ problem in its manifestation, but eternal in that it has always existed. In the pagan world they commonly used children for pleasure,” he said, going on to express his deep worry about the scourge of child pornography. 

“The Church takes responsibility for its own sin, and we go forward, sinners, trusting in the mercy of God. When I travel, I generally receive a delegation of victims of abuse,” he noted. 

On the topic of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, Pope Francis was asked about the apparent lack of transparency when it comes to accusations against bishops, compared with the handling of accusations against priests. The pope called for “equal transparency” going forward, adding that “if there is less transparency, it is a mistake.”

In the America interview, Pope Francis also discussed the role of bishops, why women cannot be ordained priests, racism, polarization, the Vatican-China deal, and whether he has any regrets from his time as pope.

Pope Francis explains to America Magazine why women cannot be ordained priests

Pope Francis meets a group of women at the end of his weekly general audience at the Paul VI hall in the Vatican on March 2, 2022. / Photo by VINCENZO PINTO/AFP via Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 28, 2022 / 12:30 pm (CNA).

In an interview published in America Magazine today, Pope Francis unequivocally stated that women cannot be ordained as priests but emphasized the important role they have to play in the life of the Church. 

“Many women feel pain because they cannot be ordained priests. What would you say to a woman who is already serving in the life of the Church but who still feels called to be a priest?” asked Kerry Webber, executive editor of the monthly magazine published by the Jesuits of the United States.

The Holy Father was unequivocal on the question of the ordination of women priests:

“And why can a woman not enter ordained ministry? It is because the Petrine principle has no place for that,” the pope said.

“The ministerial dimension, we can say, is that of the Petrine church. I am using a category of theologians. The Petrine principle is that of ministry,” the Holy Father said.

A theology of the ‘Marian principle’

The pope explained that there is another “theological” way in which women play a vital role in Church life.

The dignity of women, he said, reflected the spousal nature of the Church, which he called the “Marian principle.”

“The way is not only [ordained] ministry. The Church is woman. The Church is a spouse. We have not developed a theology of women that reflects this,” Pope Francis said.

“The Petrine principle is that of ministry. But there is another principle that is still more important, about which we do not speak, that is the Marian principle, which is the principle of femininity (femineidad) in the Church, of the woman in the Church, where the Church sees a mirror of herself because she is a woman and a spouse. 

“A church with only the Petrine principle would be a church that one would think is reduced to its ministerial dimension, nothing else. But the Church is more than a ministry. It is the whole people of God. The Church is woman. The Church is a spouse. Therefore, the dignity of women is mirrored in this way,” the pope said.

Pope Francis noted that a theology of the Marian principle needs to be developed further.

“This is an abbreviated explanation, but I wanted to highlight the two theological principles: the Petrine principle and the Marian principle that make up the Church. Therefore, that the woman does not enter into the ministerial life is not a deprivation. No. Your place is that which is much more important and which we have yet to develop, the catechesis about women in the way of the Marian principle,” he said.

A third way: the administrative way

Pope Francis said that in addition to the Petrine and the Marian principles, there is another function of the Body of Christ that is particularly suited to women: the “administrative way.”

“There is a third way: the administrative way. The ministerial way, the ecclesial way, let us say, Marian, and the administrative way, which is not a theological thing, it is something of normal administration. And, in this aspect, I believe we have to give more space to women,” Pope Francis said.

The Holy Father then pointed to the women he has appointed, noting that women generally do a “better” job managing things.

“Here in the Vatican, the places where we have put women are functioning better. For example, in the Council for the Economy, where there are six cardinals and six laypersons. Two years ago, I appointed five women among the six laypersons, and that was a revolution. The deputy governor of the Vatican is a woman. When a woman enters politics or manages things, generally she does better. Many economists are women, and they are renewing the economy in a constructive way,” he said.

He then shared two anecdotes about what he called the “nose” (olfato) of women, who have shown themselves to be keen judges of character in evaluating candidates for the priesthood.

“The woman is a mother and sees the mystery of the Church more clearly than we men. For this reason, the advice of a woman is very important, and the decision of a woman is better,” he said. 

Ordination of women and the Synod on Synodality

Ahead of next year’s Synod on Synodality, participants in the German Catholic Church’s Synodal Way voted to approve text calling for the ordination of women priests. The document, titled “Women in Ministries and Offices in the Church,” said: “It is not the participation of women in all Church ministries and offices that requires justification, but the exclusion of women from sacramental office.”

Then in September, a document on sexuality was narrowly blocked after failing to get support from two-thirds of the German bishops. That document called for changes to the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, bisexuality, gender identity, and masturbation. 

Pope Francis has on several occasions made public his concerns about the German Synodal Way, and his clear enunciation of the Church’s position on the ordination of women follows his Nov. 17 ad limina meeting with German bishops over their controversial synodal process.

Following that meeting, the German Bishops’ Conference president, Bishop Georg Bätzing, told journalists that there was no departure from Catholicism intended. Instead, he said, supporters of the Synodal Way wanted to remain Catholic, “but we want to be Catholic in a different way.”

In a statement released Thursday, the Vatican published concerns raised by two leading cardinals who met with the German bishops. 

The main concern is one of union with the Church, explained Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Dicastery of Bishops.

“Several authoritative critics of the current orientation of the Synodal Way in Germany speak openly of a latent schism that the proposal of your texts threatens to entrench in its present form,” he wrote.

The Synodal Way — which is not a synod — risked being not about achieving pastoral innovations but attempting a “transformation of the Church,” Ouellet warned in his statement, published in German by CNA Deutsch.

Ouellet said the Synodal Way’s suggestions “hurt the communion of the Church,” sowing “doubt and confusion among the people of God.”

Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, raised five concerns with the German bishops, including the Synodal Way’s approach to sexuality, power and structure in the Church, and the ordination of women to the priesthood.

Pope Francis says dialogue ‘slow,’ but only way forward with China

Pilgrims from China greets Pope Francis during his general weekly audience in St. Peter's Square on May 22, 2019, at the Vatican. / Photo by Alessandra Benedetti - Corbis/Corbis News

Rome Newsroom, Nov 28, 2022 / 09:30 am (CNA).

In a new interview with America Magazine, Pope Francis said the Vatican-China deal has had both failures and successes, but he “cannot find another way” to carry out diplomacy.

The pope spoke about the Vatican-China deal with America Magazine on Nov. 22, two days before the Nov. 24 installation ceremony of Bishop John Peng Weizhao, which the Vatican said “did not occur in accordance with ... what was stipulated” in the renewed provisional agreement.

A Nov. 26 statement said that “the Holy See noted with surprise and regret” that Peng had been installed as an “auxiliary bishop of Jiangxi,” a diocese that is not recognized by the Vatican.

In the America Magazine interview, published Nov. 28, Pope Francis emphasized dialogue “up to the point that is possible.”

“Dialogue is the way of the best diplomacy,” he said. “With China I have opted for the way of dialogue. It is slow, it has its failures, it has its successes, but I cannot find another way.”

He added that the Chinese people have great wisdom and deserve his respect and admiration.

“I take off my hat to them,” Francis continued. “And for this reason I try to dialogue, because it is not that we are going to conquer people. No! There are Christians there. They have to be cared for, so that they may be good Chinese and good Christians.”

Peng’s installation ceremony took place one month after the Vatican renewed its provisional deal with Beijing on the appointment of Catholic bishops for an additional two years.

The most recent appointment of a bishop in China, Archbishop Cui Qingqi, took place more than one year ago on Sept. 8, 2021.

Since the China deal entered into force in October 2018, only six bishops have been appointed, two of whom were already in talks for nomination before the deal’s signing.

Meanwhile, as many as one-third of China’s Catholic dioceses may be without a bishop.

There are 66 bishops in China, according to a report by Bishop Shen Bin of Haiman, who co-leads the Chinese Council of Bishops — a body that supports the Patriotic Association and is not recognized by the Holy See.

The Holy See divides China into 20 archdioceses, 85 dioceses, and 34 apostolic prefectures (Beijing subdivides the country into 98 dioceses).

The boundaries of the “Diocese of Jiangxi,” where Bishop Peng was installed this month, were drawn by Chinese authorities without Vatican approval.

“The Holy See hopes that similar episodes will not be repeated, remains awaiting appropriate communications on the matter from the authorities, and reaffirms its full readiness to continue the respectful dialogue concerning all matters of common interest,” the Vatican said Nov. 26.

Pope Francis: ‘Jesus did not create bishops’ conferences’

Pope Francis meets with the United States bishops at St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington, D.C., Sept. 23, 2015. / L'Osservatore Romano.

Rome Newsroom, Nov 28, 2022 / 08:01 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has emphasized the difference between bishops’ conferences and bishops in a new interview with America Magazine.

“The bishops’ conference is there to bring together the bishops, to work together, to discuss issues, to make pastoral plans. But each bishop is a pastor,” the pope said in a lengthy interview conducted at his Vatican home on Nov. 22 and published Nov. 28.

“Let us not dissolve the power of the bishop by reducing it to the power of the bishops’ conference.”

The conversation with the Jesuit publication covered a wide range of topics, including the role of bishops, racism, polarization, sexual abuse, the Vatican-China deal, and whether he has any regrets from his time as pope.

In the interview, Pope Francis was told about a 2021 America Magazine survey that found that Catholics in the United States consider the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to be the least trustworthy out of the groups listed — 20% of U.S. Catholics surveyed found the USCCB to be “very trustworthy.”

Francis was asked: “How can the U.S. Catholic bishops regain the trust of American Catholics?”

“The question is good because it speaks about the bishops,” he responded. “But I think it is misleading to speak of the relationship between Catholics and the bishops’ conference. The bishops’ conference is not the pastor; the pastor is the bishop. So one runs the risk of diminishing the authority of the bishop when you look only to the bishops’ conference.”

“Jesus did not create bishops’ conferences,” he added. “Jesus created bishops, and each bishop is pastor of his people.”

The U.S. bishops met in Baltimore for their annual fall general assembly on Nov. 14-17. Katie Yoder
The U.S. bishops met in Baltimore for their annual fall general assembly on Nov. 14-17. Katie Yoder

Pope Francis said the emphasis should be on whether a bishop has a good relationship with his people, not on administration.

He gave the example of Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas: “I do not know if he is conservative, or if he is progressive, if he is of the right or of the left, but he is a good pastor.”

In the U.S., the pope said, there are ‘some good bishops who are more on the right, some good bishops who are more on the left, but they are more bishops than ideologues; they are more pastors than ideologues. That is the key.”

“The grace of Jesus Christ is in the relationship between the bishop and his people, his diocese,” he said.

A bishops’ conference, instead, is an organization meant to “assist and unite.”

Pope Francis was also asked whether the USCCB should prioritize the fight against abortion over other issues.

To which he said: “this is a problem the bishops’ conference has to resolve within itself.”

The pope pointed out that the activity of a bishops’ conference is on the organizational level, and in history, conferences have at times gotten things wrong.

“In other words, let this be clear: A bishops’ conference has, ordinarily, to give its opinion on faith and traditions, but above all on diocesan administration and so on,” he said, again emphasizing the sacramental nature of the pastoral relationship of a bishop to his diocese and its people.

“And this cannot be delegated to the bishops’ conference,” he added. “The conference helps to organize meetings, and these are very important; but for a bishop, [being] pastor is most important.”

In the interview, Pope Francis also denounced polarization as “not Catholic,” and said the Catholic way of dealing with sin is “not puritanical” but puts saints and sinners together.

He also said in the U.S., where there is a Catholicism particular to that country, something he called “normal,” “you also have some ideological Catholic groups.”

Pope Francis arrives at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Sept. 23, 2015. CNA
Pope Francis arrives at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Sept. 23, 2015. CNA

On the topic of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, Pope Francis was asked about the apparent lack of transparency when it comes to accusations against bishops, compared with the handling of accusations against priests.

The pope called for “equal transparency” going forward, adding that “if there is less transparency, it is a mistake.”

To a question about Black Catholics, Francis said he is “aware of their suffering, that he loves them very much, and that they should resist and not walk away” from the Catholic Church.

“Racism is an intolerable sin against God,” he added. “The Church, the pastors and laypeople must continue fighting to eradicate it and for a more just world.”

Asked if he has any regrets, or if he would change anything he has done in nearly 10 years as pope, Francis said in English, as he laughed, that he would change “all! All!”

“However, I did what the Holy Spirit was telling me I had to do. And when I did not do it, I made a mistake,” he added.

On his seeming constant joyfulness, the pope said he is not “always like that,” except when he is with people.

“I would not say that I am happy because I am healthy, or because I eat well, or because I sleep well, or because I pray a great deal,” he explained. “I am happy because I feel happy, God makes me happy. I don’t have anything to blame on the Lord, not even when bad things happen to me. Nothing.”

He said the Lord has guided him through both good and difficult moments, “but there is always the assurance that one does not walk alone.”

“One has one’s faults,” he said, “also one’s sins; I go to confession every 15 days — I do not know, that is just how I am.”

Analysis: Is the Vatican’s deal with China at stake?

The installation ceremony of Bishop John Peng Weizhao in Nanchang, China, on Nov. 24, 2022. / Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association

Rome Newsroom, Nov 28, 2022 / 07:55 am (CNA).

The agreement between China and the Holy See on the appointment of bishops is not at risk — for now. The Holy See’s declaration following the installation of Bishop John Peng Weizhao as auxiliary bishop of Jiangxi is a precise signal.

For the Holy See, this is not only about the diplomatic agreement. It is about a spirit of dialogue and mutual trust between the Vatican and the Chinese authorities, which Rome feels should not be betrayed.

This spirit was betrayed by the installation of Bishop Peng as bishop of Jiangxi according to the subdivision of the dioceses of the Chinese government and following what the Holy See defines as “long and heavy pressure” from local authorities.

Some background

The message of the Holy See can only be understood with a few background facts. First, the Oct. 22 agreement between the Holy See and China concerns the appointment of bishops and puts in place a series of procedures for which bishops are chosen with the approval of the Holy See and Beijing.

The contents of the agreement are not known. Keeping it confidential comes precisely from the need, recognized by the Holy See, to fine-tune it.

It is not the first time the Holy See has made agreements with governments. A similar thing happened in 1956 with communist Hungary, for example.

This is the thesis put forward by those who support the Sino-Vatican agreement. The Dicastery for the Evangelization of Peoples’s agency Fides published on Nov. 23 an interview with Bishop Juan Arrieta, secretary of the Dicastery for Legislative Texts, supporting precisely this theory.

In any case, the agreement has been described as provisional and, therefore, to be improved. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, explained this in an interview with CNA earlier this year.

Furthermore, the Holy See had also made it clear that it was a “pastoral” agreement. In other words, the deal only concerned the appointment of bishops and not a possible resumption of diplomatic relations, a different subject to be discussed.

Some signs of relaxation

Before the renewal of the agreement, there had been signs of détente. For example, the latest negotiations between the Holy See and China took place in Tianjin from Aug. 28 to Sept. 2.

The place was symbolically important, considering it has been one of the vacant dioceses in China since 2005 without a recognized bishop. The Vatican delegation also visited the underground bishop Melchior Shi Hongzhen, 92.

In a world of symbols, with the visit the Holy See wanted to show that despite the desire to carry on a dialogue, the situation of Catholics in China had not been forgotten.

At the end of the 10th National Assembly of Chinese Catholic representatives, Archbishop Giuseppe Li Shan of Beijing was elected president of the Patriotic Association.

The association, founded in 1957, is the governmental body to which priests must be members to show goodwill and patriotism.

Even the appointment of Li Shan seemed a sign of a thaw. Li Shan was consecrated bishop in 2007 with the consent of the Holy See, according to a procedure in force before the Sino-Vatican agreement of 2018, which marked, in fact, a détente of relations outlined in the letter of Pope Benedict XVI to the Catholics of China.

A revealing report

With Li Shan, however, Bishop Shen Bin of Haimen was appointed to lead the Chinese Council of Bishops, the body not recognized by the Holy See that supports the Patriotic Association under the control of the Communist Party.

In his report on the Church in China, Shen presented the appointments of bishops in the last six years as a completely autonomous process led by the Patriotic Association.

Reading Bishop Shen’s report, we learn that there are 98 dioceses in China, which can count on 4,202 churches and another 2,238 “active sites.”

The bishop of Haimen spoke of the presence of 66 bishops, thus confirming that at least a third of the dioceses are uncovered, and added that in the last six years, 289 new priests had been ordained and 161 new nuns have completed their religious profession. In addition, there have been nearly 110,000 new baptisms.

These numbers, however, had a problem: They considered the subdivision of dioceses in China according to Beijing and not the subdivision of dioceses according to the Holy See. The Holy See divides China into 20 archdioceses, 85 dioceses, and 34 apostolic prefectures. For the Beijing government, there are only dioceses.

The position of the Holy See

The division of dioceses was not part of the agreement between the Holy See and China, which concerned only the appointment of bishops. However, for the Holy See, this is an issue as important as the appointment of bishops.

The reason is simple: neither the bishops nor the administrative division of the dioceses can be delegated to the state. They are internal questions of the Church. They are not concerned with the place’s geography — nor give new administrative boundaries of a political nature.

In the Catholic Church, the pope chooses the bishops, and the Holy See decides how to distribute the bishops. All this, of course, while respecting the state’s autonomy, too, keeping a clear separation between the two powers.

For China’s communist rulers, this is simply unacceptable. The state controls everything, even the organization and teaching of the Church.

A good example of this is the oath that Bishop Peng had to take at the installation as auxiliary bishop of Jiangxi, as reported by the site

“I swear to keep the commandments of God, fulfill the pastoral duties of the auxiliary bishop, preach the Gospel faithfully, guide the priests and faithful of the Diocese of Jiangxi, abide by the national constitution, safeguard homeland unity and social harmony, love the country and religion, and persist in the principle of independent and self-managed churches, adhere to the leadership of the Catholicism of my country in China, actively guide Catholicism to adapt to socialist society and contribute to the realization of the Chinese dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”

The story of Bishop Peng

John Peng Weizhao, 56, was ordained a priest in 1989. He was secretly ordained the bishop of Yujiang as an underground bishop on April 10, 2014. Peng was called to succeed Bishop Thomas Zeng Jingmu, who had spent 23 years in prison and died in 2016. Bishop Peng was arrested a few days after his ordination as bishop and was only released several months later, in November 2014.

Erected in 1885, the Diocese of Yujiang is located in the province of Jiangxi and is a suffragan, together with four other dioceses, of the Archdiocese of Nanchang. The Chinese government wants the five ecclesiastical provinces to be merged under the single Diocese of Shaanxi.

Thus, Peng left his post as bishop of Yujiang to “regularize himself,” agreeing to become the auxiliary bishop of Li Suguang, who has been the official, state-accredited bishop of Nanchang since 2010 — for what is called the Diocese of Jiangxi.

However, the Vatican communiqué explained that the Holy See does not recognize this diocese.

Why the Chinese move?

The reason for the move by the Chinese is unclear and somewhat surprising, given there had been several signs of détente before the agreement was renewed.

At the latest Communist Party congress, President Xi Jinping strengthened the program of “Sinicization” of religions and increased pressure on Catholics to join the Patriotic Association.

But some sources say that authorities may be reacting to the fact that the Holy See rejected a candidate for the episcopate proposed by Beijing. This detail is not officially confirmed, but it could have particular weight.

More than a year has passed since the most recent appointment of a bishop in China — Archbishop Cui Qingqi, ordained in Wuhan-Hankou on Sept. 8, 2021.

Since the agreement entered into force, only six bishops have been appointed, and for two of them, the nomination procedure was already in an advanced state before the signing of the agreement.

In short, despite the deal, there are many vacant dioceses — a sign of many challenges despite the alleged goodwill.

One of these challenges is the Communist Party’s constant pressure on priests to “register” with the Patriotic Association since 2018. On this question, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, then prefect of Propaganda Fide, gave an interview published in the Vatican’s official newspaper on Feb. 4, 2019.

Beijing has continued its attempt at forced assimilation of Catholics and the Church in China to Chinese Communist Party doctrine. Beijing has also attempted to force the Vatican to recognize its subdivision of dioceses. This move was — presumably — not part of the agreement, although it impacted the appointment of bishops.

The Holy See’s response

The public response of the Holy See clearly said the Diocese of Jiangxi “is not recognized by the Holy See” and that what happened “did not take place in accordance with the spirit of dialogue existing between the Vatican and the Chinese parties and what was stipulated in the Provisional Agreement on the appointment of bishops, on Sept. 22, 2018.”

“We are talking about the spirit of the agreement, not about the deal itself. But it is a spirit that speaks of mutual trust and dialogue, which for the Holy See was broken by Beijing with its unilateral decision.”

In the end, the Holy See wanted to reaffirm its position. As explained by a Vatican source involved in the China dossier, who asked for anonymity, “in every dialogue, we highlight the question of religious freedom, and we address, in the ways we can, the question of bishops who are prevented from carrying out their ministry.”

From this view, the Holy See does not take a public position on human rights such as religious freedom, precisely in the “spirit of dialogue” with the Communist Party that it does not want to undermine.

With the declaration, the Holy See issued a warning that Beijing has broken the trust climate, which must be restored. But, at the same time, it did not close the way to dialogue.

The Nov. 26 statement reads that “the Holy See hopes that similar episodes will not be repeated, awaits appropriate communications on the matter from the authorities, and reaffirms its full willingness to continue the respectful dialogue concerning all matters of common interest.”

For now, the Holy See’s doors remain open. The question is: until when?

New cardinal from Ghana with heart problems dies at 63

Cardinal Richard Kuuia Baawobr. / Credit: Missionaries of Africa.

Rome Newsroom, Nov 28, 2022 / 04:31 am (CNA).

Cardinal Richard Kuuia Baawobr, bishop of Wa, Ghana, died in Rome on Sunday evening at the age of 63.

The cardinal had been hospitalized for heart problems after arriving in Rome in late August and was therefore unable to attend the Vatican ceremony at which he was elevated to the College of Cardinals Aug. 27.

Baawobr died around 5:45 p.m. on Nov. 27 after being taken by ambulance to Rome’s Gemelli hospital, according to a press release from André-Léon Simonart, secretary general of the Missionaries of Africa.

The African cardinal was hospitalized at Santo Spirito hospital close to the Vatican from Aug. 26 to Oct. 15, when he was transferred to the larger Gemelli Polyclinic and University Hospital to receive more specialized care.

On Nov. 18, he was discharged from the hospital and moved into the general house of the Society of the Missionaries of Africa, commonly known as the “White Fathers” for their distinctive white cassocks, of which he was a member.

Baawobr was expected to undergo heart surgery, but according to a communication from the missionary society, as of Nov. 1, the cardinal was still waiting for doctors to decide “the modalities and the time for an intervention.”

“May Richard rest in the peace of his Lord whom he so generously served,” the White Fathers said in a press release about Baawobr’s death. “On behalf of the bereaved Society. Our prayer and our thoughts go also to his family, to his diocese, his fellow bishops, to all his friends and acquaintances.”

Baawobr was a member of the White Fathers since the early 1980s.

He served as a missionary in the Democratic Republic of Congo, France, and Tanzania, before being named bishop of Wa in Ghana in 2016.

He was also superior general of the White Fathers, the first African to hold that position, from 2010–2016.

At the end of July he had been elected head of the African bishops’ conference, the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM).

Baawobr was known in Ghana for his charity and for his care for people with mental disabilities in a country where the stigmatization of mental illness is still high.

In 2016, he launched a diocesan street ministry that brings together parish volunteers and health care professionals to provide care and medical assistance to people with mental disabilities who have been abandoned by their families.

“I think each one of us, wherever we are, we are called to serve, and that is what will make us great, not the title,” Baawobr said in an interview with ACI Africa, CNA’s Nairobi-based news partner, before traveling to Rome for the consistory.

‘Violence kills the future’: Pope Francis condemns Israeli-Palestinian conflict after 2 boys die

Pope Francis gives his weekly Angelus address on Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022. / Vatican Media

Vatican City, Nov 27, 2022 / 08:25 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has spoken out against violence in the Holy Land after one teenager died in a blast in Jerusalem and another teenager died in armed clashes in Palestine last week.

“Violence kills the future, shattering the lives of the young and weakening hopes for peace,” the pope said in an appeal at the end of his Sunday Angelus Nov. 27.

A 16-year-old Israeli boy was killed, and at least 14 people were injured, after two bombs exploded at bus stops on the outskirts of Jerusalem Nov. 23. Israeli authorities said the attacks appear to have been carried out by Palestinian militants, Reuters reported.

Late on Tuesday, Nov. 22, a 16-year-old Palestinian boy was shot dead by Israeli forces during clashes in the city of Nablus in the Israeli occupied West Bank, according to Palestinian officials.

Pope Francis said he is following with concern the “increase in violence and clashes” between Israel and Palestine, and called the twin blasts in Jerusalem “cowardly attacks.”

“Let us pray for these young men who died and for their families, especially their mothers,” Francis said. “I hope that the Israeli and Palestinian authorities will more readily take to heart the search for dialogue, building mutual trust, without which there will never be a peaceful solution in the Holy Land.”

After the Angelus, the pope also greeted participants of a Nov. 27 march to denounce sexual violence against women.

Sexual violence against women is “unfortunately a general and widespread reality everywhere and also used as a weapon of war,” he said. “Let us not tire of saying no to war, no to violence, yes to dialogue, yes to peace.”

Cardinal Sarah: ‘Religious liberty is under threat in the West, too’

Cardinal Robert Sarah / Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

Rome Newsroom, Nov 27, 2022 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Christians in the West should not take religious liberty and freedom of worship for granted, Cardinal Robert Sarah said in a recent interview with EWTN News.

“Threats against religious liberty take many forms. Countless martyrs continue to die for the faith around the world,” the 77-year-old Sarah said. “But religious liberty is under threat in the West, too.”

“It is not often an overt threat, or hatred of the faith,” he added, but an “implicit bias against Christianity.”

In the interview, which will air on EWTN’s Vaticano program at 6 p.m. ET on Sunday, Nov. 27, the Guinean cardinal pointed to the Book of Exodus, which tells of the 10 plagues, the departure of the Hebrews, and the destruction of Egypt. Those events took place, he said, “so that God’s people might have the freedom to worship him properly.”

“Religious liberty is not to be taken for granted, or compromised, or neglected.”

Cardinal Robert Sarah holds his latest book, Catechism of the Spiritual Life, during an interview with EWTN News in Rome. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Cardinal Robert Sarah holds his latest book, Catechism of the Spiritual Life, during an interview with EWTN News in Rome. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Cardinal Sarah spoke with EWTN News earlier this month about his latest book, “Catechism of the Spiritual Life,” published by EWTN Publishing in English in October.

The cardinal’s seventh book is an in-depth reflection on the Catholic Church’s seven sacraments and how to make progress in the spiritual life.

One of the book’s central themes is the importance of the Mass and the Eucharist.

“We are to assemble for the Holy Mass and to receive our Lord in the Eucharist,” Cardinal Sarah said in the hourlong interview in Rome.

He criticized what he called the wide acceptance of “draconian restrictions” on Mass attendance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We cannot forget this: The Eucharist is the source and the summit of a Christian life,” he stressed.

“Adaptation,” he continued, “is necessary at times. We’ll face more pandemics and other emergencies, and there will be debate concerning how best to address this in relation to the celebration of the Eucharist. This is good. Liberal democracy requires debate, but never can the importance of our worship of God be forgotten or neglected in the course of debate. Liberal democracy must not forget God.”

Cardinal Robert Sarah. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Cardinal Robert Sarah. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Cardinal Sarah was prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments from November 2014 to February 2021, when Pope Francis accepted his resignation.

The cardinal had submitted his resignation to the pope when he turned 75 in June 2020, as Church norms dictate.

While head of the liturgy department, Sarah was the most senior African prelate at the Vatican, where he had held important posts since 2001.

Sarah said his book places a special focus on the sacraments, prayer, and the cross.

“A Christian life,” he said, “must be built on three pillars: crux, hostia, and virgo. The cross, the host, and the Virgin Mary. These are the three pillars on which you have to build a Christian life.”

The cardinal said being prefect of the Vatican’s divine worship office really drove home for him the importance of the liturgy being a great and unique moment “to encounter God face to face and to be transformed by him as a child of God and as a true worshiper of God.”

“Liturgy,” he added, “must be beautiful, it must be sacred, and it must be silent.”

He warned against turning the Mass into a “spectacle” or just a gathering of friends, taking the focus off of worship of God.

“I will encourage that the liturgy becomes more and more sacred, more and more holy, more and more silent, because God is silent, and we encounter God in silence, in adoration,” he said. “I think that the formation of the people of God to the liturgy is very important. We can show people the beauty, to be reverent, and to keep silent in the liturgy, in which our encounter with Christ is deepened.”

Sarah also praised silent eucharistic adoration as a chance to encounter Christ in a way that can “really change our lives.”

Cardinal Robert Sarah. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Cardinal Robert Sarah. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Commenting on modern society, the cardinal said: “God has been forgotten.”

“We all live as if God doesn’t exist. Confusion reigns everywhere. Too many would reduce our lives, the very meaning of our lives, to absolute individualism and the pursuit of fleeting pleasure.”

Christians, he said, should respond by returning to the basics of the faith.

“We require a retreat from the world, withdrawal into the desert, where we can relearn the fundamentals, the basics: monotheism, the revelation of Jesus Christ, us and God, his word, our sin, our dependence and need of his mercy,” he said.

Sarah said God, through his Church and the sacraments, “guides us into an ever-deeper relationship with him. And we all have a need to reacquaint ourselves with his profound gift, which is his love.”

Faith in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, he said, is one of the Church’s fundamental beliefs, without which, “she loses the meaning of her existence.”

“The Church is not a social organization to meet the problems of migration or poverty,” he continued. “The Church has a divine purpose: to save the world.”

“If Christ does not dwell within the Church, tangibly, visibly, sacramentally, then what good news do we have to offer to the world? What is the meaning of evangelization?” he said. “When Christians forget why they are Christian, the community must fall into decline. They forget the Gospel and lose sight of their purpose.”

Cardinal Sarah said spiritual warfare is much the same as it has ever been, even if many bishops and priests have ceased to remind Catholics of its reality. Our weapon in this war, he explained, is the word of God.

There is a need “to turn to God every day, not just for consolation amid worldly adversities, but because we depend upon him entirely in the cosmic struggle. We are all at war whether we recognize it or not. It is good that all of us should become aware of that fact, and make sure every day that we fight on the side of God,” he said.

Cardinal Robert Sarah. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Cardinal Robert Sarah. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

The book, “Catechism of the Spiritual Life,” Sarah said, is meant to be a response to the “confusion of this day, outside and even inside the Church.”

“I saw a need for a representation of some reflections on our spiritual progress in our spiritual life: progress in our personal and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.”

He added that he hopes his book answers “a profound need of our time.”

“Every one of us must strive, continuously, to draw closer to Jesus Christ, to return to his Word, and to the simplicity of the faith in his self-revelation. It is the simplicity of the desert, of recognition of our dependence upon God, and encountering him and the gift of his love and his grace, by which he configured us to himself,” he said.

“That is why I decided to write ‘Catechism of the Spiritual Life.’”

Pope Francis: God is present ‘in everyday things’

Pope Francis at the Angelus Nov. 27, 2022. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Nov 27, 2022 / 07:20 am (CNA).

It is good to remember that God is present to us even in the small, everyday events of our lives, Pope Francis said on the first Sunday of Advent.

In his Angelus address Nov. 27, the pope said, “Let us bear this in mind: God is hidden in our life, he is always there — he is concealed in the commonest and most ordinary situations in our life.”

God, he continued, “does not come in extraordinary events, but in everyday things.”

“He is there, in our daily work, in a chance encounter, in the face of someone in need, even when we face days that seem grey and monotonous, it is right there that we find the Lord, who calls to us, speaks to us and inspires our actions,” he said.

Francis spoke about the season of Advent, the period of preparation for the Lord’s coming on Christmas, from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square. And he presented a question for reflection: “How can we recognize and welcome the Lord?”

It is important, he said, that we are “awake, alert, vigilant.”

The pope also quoted from a sermon of St. Augustine, who said, “I fear the Lord who passes by.”

“That is, I fear that he will pass by and I will not recognize him,” Francis explained.

He pointed out the warning Jesus gave his disciples in the day’s Gospel reading from St. Matthew: Jesus said people in the time of Noah “ate and drank ‘and they did not know until the flood came and swept them all away.’”

The people, Pope Francis said, “were absorbed in their own things and did not realize that the flood was about to come.”

“In this time of Advent, let us be shaken out of our torpor and let us awaken from our slumber,” he said. “Let’s try to ask ourselves: am I aware of what I am living, am I alert, am I awake? Do I try to recognize God is present in daily situations, or am I distracted and a little overwhelmed by things?”

“If we are unaware of his coming today, we will also be unprepared when he arrives at the end of times. Therefore, brothers and sisters, let us remain vigilant.”

Vatican says China violated terms of agreement with bishop installation

A worshiper waves the flag of China as Pope Francis leaves following the weekly general audience on June 12, 2019, at St. Peter's square in the Vatican. / Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP via Getty Images

Vatican City, Nov 26, 2022 / 05:40 am (CNA).

The Vatican said on Saturday that Chinese authorities had violated the terms stipulated in its provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops.

A statement released on Nov. 26 said that “the Holy See noted with surprise and regret” that Bishop John Peng Weizhao had been installed as an “auxiliary bishop of Jiangxi,” a diocese that is not recognized by the Vatican.

Peng’s installation ceremony in Nanchang, China “did not occur in accordance with the spirit of dialogue … and what was stipulated in the Provisional Agreement on the Appointment of Bishops, on September 22, 2018,” it said.

The Vatican statement also noted reports that “prolonged and heavy pressure from local authorities” preceded the installation.

“The Holy See hopes that similar episodes will not be repeated, remains awaiting appropriate communications on the matter from the authorities, and reaffirms its full readiness to continue the respectful dialogue concerning all matters of common interest,” it said.

The boundaries of the “Diocese of Jiangxi” were drawn by Chinese authorities without Vatican approval.

Peng, on the other hand, was legitimately appointed by Pope Francis in 2014 and secretly ordained as an underground bishop of Yujiang — something for which he was arrested by Chinese authorities and held in custody for six months, according to Asia News.

The Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association publicized on its official website that Peng’s installation ceremony occurred on Nov. 24 with “the consent of the Jiangxi Provincial Catholic Educational Affairs Committee and the approval of the Chinese Catholic bishops’ conference.”

The government-approved Catholic association said Peng swore an oath at the installation ceremony to “guide Catholicism to adapt to socialist society” and contribute to the “dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”

The installation ceremony of Bishop John Peng Weizhao in Nanchang, China on Nov. 24, 2022. Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association
The installation ceremony of Bishop John Peng Weizhao in Nanchang, China on Nov. 24, 2022. Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association

Bishop John Baptist Suguang Li of Nanching presided over the installation ceremony with about 200 people in attendance. Li serves as the vice president of the Chinese bishops’ conference, a group that has not received public recognition from the Holy See.

The installation ceremony took place one month after the Vatican renewed its deal with Beijing on the appointment of Catholic bishops for an additional two years.

The provisional agreement between the Holy See and China was first signed in September 2018 and renewed for another two years in October 2020. The terms of the deal have not been made public.

Former bishop of Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen, a vehement critic of the agreement, was convicted by a Hong Kong court and fined HK$4,000 the day following the installation. The Vatican has yet to make a statement on Zen’s conviction.