Pope stresses “fundamental” importance of women in Church

Pope Francis emphasised the “fundamental” importance of women in the Roman Catholic Church on Wednesday, saying they were the first witnesses of Christ and have a special role in spreading the faith.

By Naomi O’Leary
The pontiff’s decision a week ago to include women in a traditional foot-washing ritual drew ire from traditionalists, who see the custom as a re-enactment of Jesus washing the feet of his apostles and said it should therefore be limited to men.

Pope Francis gestures as he speaks during a weekly general audience in Saint Peter's Basilica, at the VaticanFrancis, elected last month as the first non-European pope in 1,300 years, said women had always had a special mission in the Church as “first witnesses” of Christ’s resurrection, and because they pass belief onto their children and grandchildren.

“In the Church, and in the journey of faith, women have had and still have a special role in opening doors to the Lord,” Francis told thousands of pilgrims at his weekly audience in S. Peter’s Square.

He said that in the Bible, women were not recorded as witnesses to Christ’s resurrection because of the Jewish Law of the time that did not consider women or children to be reliable witnesses.

“In the Gospels, however, women have a primary, fundamental role … The evangelists simply narrate what happened: the women were the first witnesses. This tells us that God does not choose according to human criteria.”

See the pope’s full address here: (HERE).

It was the second time Francis had spoken of women’s role as witnesses to the resurrection of Christ, a subject of bedrock importance to the Catholic faith.

His Easter Vigil address on Saturday reached out to women and urged believers not to fear change.

REFORM

“This is very encouraging,” said Marinella Perroni, a theologian and leading member of the Association of Italian Women Theologians, which promotes female experts on religion and their visibility in the Church.

“Pope Francis is taking up, with a stronger emphasis, the teaching of previous popes about the role of women in the foundation of faith and the resurrection of Jesus,” Perroni told Reuters.

“The fact that the Pope acknowledges that the progressive removal of female figures from the tradition of the resurrection…is due to human judgments, distant from those of God…introduces a decidedly new element compared to the previous papacy.”

Supporters of liberal reform of the Church have called on the institution to give a greater voice to women and recognise their importance to the largest religious denomination in the world.

Some groups call for women to be ordained as priests, which the Vatican says is wrong as Jesus Christ willingly chose only men as his apostles. Advocates of a female priesthood reject this position, saying Jesus was merely conforming to the customs of his times.

The election of Francis, an Argentinean, last month came in the wake of another break with tradition when predecessor Pope Benedict became one of the few pontiffs in history to resign.

His 76-year old successor has set a new tone for the papacy, earning a reputation for simplicity by shunning some ornate items of traditional dress, using informal language in his addresses, and so far choosing to live in a simple residence rather than the regal papal apartments.

Sources inside the Vatican have said Francis could reform the Vatican’s bureaucracy and restructure or even close down the Vatican’s bank following a series of scandals at the heart of the Holy See that damaged the Church’s reputation.

Complete Article HERE!

Pope to review Vatican bureaucracy, scandal-ridden bank

Pope Francis, who has said he wants the Catholic Church to be a model of austerity and honesty, could restructure or even close the Vatican’s scandal-ridden bank as part of a broad review of its troubled bureaucracy, Vatican sources say.

By Philip Pullella
Francis, who inherited a Church mired in scandals over priests’ sexual abuse of children and the leak of confidential documents alleging corruption and infighting in the Vatican’s central administration, is mulling his options as he sets the tone for a reformed and humbler Holy See.

vaticanOne of the tests of his papacy will be what he does about the bank which has regularly damaged the Vatican’s image over three decades and faces growing calls for reform.

Last year a European anti-money laundering body found that the bank – formally called the Institute for Works of Religion and known by the Italian acronym IOR – had failed to meet some of its standards on fighting financial crimes.

“Certainly if the pope wants to, he can close the IOR,” said a senior Vatican official, a prelate who had years of experience of directly dealing with the bank. The future of the IOR was one of main issues Francis would have to confront now that the whirlwind of his surprise election was slowing, he said.

Any significant reforms of the IOR would not come for some time and would probably be made after changes at the Secretariat of State, the central Church department which was at the center of a “Vatileaks” scandal that rocked the Holy See last year.

These changes would include the replacement of its head, Cardinal Tarciscio Bertone, who is number two in the Vatican hierarchy and has widely been blamed for failing to prevent the many mishaps and infighting in Church government during the eight-year pontificate of Pope Benedict.

“It will take time (to change the bank),” said another Vatican official who is not a prelate. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity.

The second official believed it was more likely that the bank, which manages money for the Vatican, international Catholic religious institutions and orders of priests and nuns, would undergo “serious restructuring” rather than being closed.

“But I would not exclude anything, including closing it down the line. Francis is doing surprising things every day,” he said.

Both officials said the new pope might, as a first step, set up a committee to advise him on possible changes to the Vatican’s financial structure.

The first sign of change would be a new secretary of state. “It’s not a question of if but when Bertone leaves,” the senior prelate said. “It remains to be seen who the pope chooses as new secretary of state.”

CRISIS IN THE CURIA

The basic failings of the Curia, as the Vatican’s central administration is known, were aired, sometimes passionately, at closed-door meetings of cardinals before they retired into the conclave that elected Francis on March 13.

“The Curia did not come out smelling like a rose from those meetings,” the senior prelate said, adding that many cardinals had demanded explanations of the scandals and information on how the bank is run and whether it should exist at all.

“The IOR is not an essential part of the ministry of the Holy Father as a successor of St. Peter,” Cardinal John Onaiyekan of Nigeria told an Italian television station before the election of Francis. “The IOR is not fundamental, it is not sacramental, it is not part of (Church) dogma.”

Anger at the Italian prelates who mostly run the Curia was one of the reasons that the cardinals chose the first non-European pope for 1,300 years at the conclave and quashed the chances of one of the frontrunners, Milan Archbishop Angelo Scola.

The next secretary of state, the senior source said, would have to instill a new style of “collaboration and service” among offices of the Curia, whose image was badly stained by the “Vatileaks” scandal.

Before he resigned, Benedict left a secret report for Francis on the scandal, in which sensitive documents alleging corruption and conflict over the bank’s administration were stolen from the pope’s desk and leaked by his butler.

The butler, Paolo Gabriele, was arrested and sentenced by a Vatican court to 18 months in prison last year but Benedict pardoned him and he was freed just before Christmas.

Bertone has been directly linked to the IOR’s recent troubles. He was the chief promoter of Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, an Italian who headed the bank until last May when its board unceremoniously ousted him.

Gotti Tedeschi said at the time he was fired because he wanted the bank to be more transparent but board members said it was because he had neglected basic management responsibilities and alienated staff.

In 2010, when Gotti Tedeschi was still at the helm of the bank, Rome magistrates investigating money laundering froze 23 million euros ($33 million) the IOR held in an Italian bank.

The Vatican said the bank was merely transferring funds between its own accounts in Italy and Germany. The money was released in June 2011 but the investigation is continuing.

In February, the Vatican named a German lawyer, Ernst von Freyberg as new IOR president. But the appointment, made two weeks before Pope Benedict resigned, was clouded by Freyberg’s past business links to a military shipbuilder.

At the time of appointment, the Vatican said Freyberg would contribute to the IOR’s modernization and transparency in its attempts to meet international standards.

BAD IMAGE

“The Vatican Bank or IOR, is not unique. They are not the worst (bank), but certainly there are very serious problems that need to be addressed,” said E.J. Fagan, advocacy coordinator at Global Financial Integrity, an organization that seeks to curtail illicit money transfers.

“Pope Francis has very clearly stated that he wants to fight poverty. Money laundering of illicit financial flows is a major driver of global poverty and the Vatican should set a clear example,” he told Reuters.

The Vatican has been trying to shed its image as a suspect financial center since 1982 when Roberto Calvi, an Italian known as “God’s Banker” because of his links to the Holy See, was found hanged under London’s Blackfriars Bridge.

Moneyval, a monitoring committee of the 47-nation Council of Europe, said last July that the Vatican had failed to meet all its standards on fighting illicit cash flows, tax evasion and other financial crimes.

A report by Moneyval gave the Vatican an overall pass grade but failing grades on 7 of 16 “key and core” aspects of its financial dealings. It found major failings in the running of the bank, while acknowledging that the IOR was making changes to meet transparency requirements.

Five months before the Moneyval report, JP Morgan Chase closed the IOR’s account with the Milan branch of the U.S. banking giant because of concerns about insufficient transparency.

Italian media have reported that the bank, which currently answers to a commission of cardinals and enjoys great autonomy, could be placed under the control of another Vatican department, increasing the oversight called for in the Moneyval report.

Famiglia Cristiana, Italy’s leading Catholic weekly, called for the IOR funds to be administered by an independent “ethical bank” external to the Vatican.

“Total transparency would assure the faithful, who are continuing to offer generously, that the money they give to the Church, after the part used to guarantee the good running of the Church itself, would be destined primarily for the world’s poor,” the highly influential magazine said.

John Allen, author of several books on the Vatican and correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, said there was talk among cardinals at the pre-conclave meetings “that the Vatican does not need its own bank, and getting rid of it would eliminate a perennial source of speculation and conspiracy theories”.

Much of the estimated $7 billion managed by the bank, which was set up in 1942, belongs not to the Vatican but to religious orders and dioceses, who use it to transfer funds around the world.

Another option for the bank’s future would be to scale it down so it manages only funds needed to keep the Vatican running, drastically reducing the number of outside accounts and making it less vulnerable to possible abuse.

“We could just say to the Jesuits, the Dominicans, the Franciscans: ‘Sirs, you will have to take your business elsewhere’,” the senior prelate said.

However, part of bank’s profits have helped the Holy See balance its budget in the past, making up for deficits running into tens of millions of dollars.

This means that if the bank were to be phased out or closed, other sources of income would have to be found to fill the gap, the senior prelate said.

The Holy See would probably be careful, however, before relinquishing too much financial autonomy to outsiders so as to maintain its flexibility in emergency situations.

For example, before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the bank was able to move money to countries in the former Soviet bloc to keep Catholic Churches alive there in the face of communist repression.

Complete Article HERE!

Pope Francis – experienced manager set for reform

Francis of Assisi began his saintly career following what he said was God’s command: “Rebuild my Church.” The new pope who took his name heard the same message from the cardinals who elected him.

By Tom Heneghan

The 13th-century Francis toured the Italian countryside repairing dilapidated chapels before realising his mission was to change the whole Roman Catholic Church.

pope francisWhat the first Jesuit pope has is management experience in his native Argentina as head of the Jesuit province and chairman of the national bishops conference. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he dealt with everything from poverty to national politics.

“He’s been at the top of the organisation, but he’s not been tamed by that,” says Rev James Hanvey, a Jesuit theologian. “In management speak, he’s held to the core values. He wants us all to refocus on the core values.”

Bergoglio’s record shows he has strong convictions and is not afraid to take unpopular decisions. Jose Maria Poirier, editor of the lay Catholic monthly Criterio in Buenos Aires, said Church staff there described him as an “attentive, human and considerate” boss who is also demanding, has little patience for bureaucracy, and appoints talented assistants.

His predecessor Benedict’s failure in this regard was partly to blame for the infighting that crippled the Curia bureaucracy and came to light in leaked Vatican documents last year.

SHAKEUP IN THE CURIA

The first hint Francis gave of plans to change the Curia came three days after his election when he reappointed its top bureaucrats temporarily rather than permanently, as Benedict did after being elected in 2005.

With his humble style, the pope has begun deflating the imperial side of the Vatican, which resembles a Renaissance monarchy with an absolute sovereign, a coterie of close advisers and Curia departments that answer to the pope but often don’t talk to each other.

Francis’s references to himself simply as the bishop of Rome – the position from which his papal authority flows – hints at a willingness to involve the hierarchy around the globe in running the world’s largest church.

Hanvey said a first step would be to call heads of national bishops conferences around the world to meet regularly in Rome as advisers. This was proposed by the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), but Popes John Paul and Benedict used it so rarely that some bishops complained they were being “treated like altar boys” rather than senior colleagues.

The Curia needs regular cabinet meetings, more international staffers to overcome its domination by Italian clerics and a full work day rather than schedules that end in early afternoon, U.S. theologian George Weigel said.

It has only two women in senior posts, another aspect of the Curia critics say needs to be changed.

One overlooked fact is that the Curia, with just over 2,000 employees, is actually understaffed. “They’re overwhelmed,” said one senior figure from another religion in contact with the Curia, who asked not to be named.

WAITING FOR OTHER SIGNALS

The opaque operations at the Vatican bank, known as the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR), were widely discussed among cardinals ahead of the conclave. Francis has criticised globalisation and unfettered capitalism in the past, so he may take a critical look at the bank, but he has not indicated his plans.

The book “His Holiness,” which published the leaked Vatican documents last year, detailed alleged corruption, inflated prices for work in the Vatican and clashes over the management at the bank.

The Council of Europe and the Bank of Italy have criticised it for lax anti-money-laundering controls and oversight, two areas where the Vatican says it is improving.

Critics also say the Church has not compensated victims of sexual abuse enough or held bishops sufficiently responsible for covering up cases. Francis would quickly tarnish his compassionate image if he did not go beyond the apologies and meetings with victims that Benedict pioneered.

Reputed to be a theological conservative, Francis has criticised Argentina’s government for legalising same-sex marriage, opposes abortion and women priests and defends the celibacy rule for male clergy. But he has also upbraided priests who refused to baptise babies of unmarried mothers. He has admitted to being “dazzled” by a young lady while in the seminary and said he helps priests who struggle with their vow of celibacy.

All this suggests a softer edge to some of his positions. “Benedict was clearly labelled” as a doctrinaire conservative, said Italian theologian Massimo Faggioli. “It will be easier for (Francis) to say things without the audience having a ready response.”

Complete Article HERE!

How an 11-Year-Old Girl Made the Catholic Archdiocese Bend

Did Pope Francis ensure Bucks County’s Caroline Pla can play football?

By Larry Mendite

By now you have probably heard that Pla will play. Pla, as in Caroline Pla from Bucks County; play, as in play football. The only question that remains: How did an 11-year-old girl make the unbendable Archdiocese of Philadelphia bend?

Before we get to the answer to that question, I should remind you that Caroline Pla is great at football, a monster on defense. So you won’t be surprised that it was someone from an opposing team in the Doylestown CYO league who complained. A quick check of the rule book found that no girls were allowed.

carolineplaThis infuriated Pla’s family, and they set up a petition on Change.org. Last check it had over 108,000 signatures. The petition led to national media attention, with coverage on CNN and Good Morning America and an appearance on Ellen DeGeneres’ show; Ellen praised Caroline and pledged support.

Caroline also wrote an email to the head of the Philadelphia Archdiocese pleading her case. Archbishop Chaput chastised her for going to the media. “I’m perplexed that you would contact me last, after publicizing your situation in both the national and regional media … that kind of approach has no effect on my decision making.” I guess the Archbishop is not an Ellen fan.

It does seem curious, after two decades of scandal in the Catholic Church, and an uncovered cover-up in Philadelphia, that any official with the Archdiocese would suggest a child not be a tattletale.

The Archbishop put together a panel of advisors to study the Pla case, and the rule that bans her from playing in the Catholic Youth Organization football league. An insider told Daily News columnist Ronnie Polaneczky that the advisors overwhelmingly wanted CYO football to be boys only. When someone on the panel mentioned that other youth football leagues, including Pop Warner, allow girls, there was group indignation. The insider told Polaneczky, “It was like, ‘We’re the Catholic Church. We don’t give in to pressure from society!’”

From the Archbishop’s email and the panel’s recommendation, it seemed Pla would never play CYO football again. But then a miracle happened. The Archbishop ignored the panel’s recommendation and ruled that Caroline and other girls could play.

I don’t think it was just a coincidence that the ruling came just after the church installed a new Pope, a Vatican outsider, a media-friendly reformer, who has already hinted at elevating the role of women in the Church.

Pope Francis certainly wasn’t involved in the Pla case, but it is easy to see how his election could have inspired Chaput’s apparent change of heart. Had a Vatican hardliner been selected by the Cardinals, the Archbishop likely would have taken a harder line himself. The new Pope of the People would want Caroline to play.

Francis will be the preeminent figure in the reformation of the Catholic Church. But don’t forget the girl in Bucks County who just wanted to play football. She symbolizes greater changes to come.

Complete Article HERE!