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Vatican denies there’s an investigation of former official


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican spokesman denied a German newspaper report that Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, retired Vatican secretary of state, was under criminal investigation for misappropriating funds from the so-called Vatican bank.

“No investigation of a criminal nature is being conducted by the Vatican magistrate involving Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone,” said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, in a statement issued late May 20.

The German newspaper Bild had published a report the day before claiming an investigation had been launched into a 15-million-euro (about $20.5 million) loss resulting from an arrangement with Lux Vide, an Italian producer of television programs and films, mostly of a religious nature.

At the time the arrangement was made, Cardinal Bertone was president of the cardinals’ commission overseeing the Institute for the Works of Religion, commonly called the Vatican bank. In mid-January, Pope Francis replaced Cardinal Bertone and another three of the five cardinals on the commission.

Speaking to several Italian media outlets May 20, Cardinal Bertone denied the Bild report and said the agreement the institute made with Lux Vide “was discussed and approved” by the bank’s commission of cardinals and its board of supervisors Dec. 4.

When Rene Brulhart, director of the Vatican Financial Intelligence Authority, presented his office’s report for 2013 to the press May 19, a Bild reporter asked whether an investigation had been launched into Cardinal Bertone’s role in the affair. Brulhart refused to “confirm or deny” the existence of an investigation and insisted he would answer no questions about specific financial transactions in the Vatican.



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Destroying creation is destroying a gift of God, pope says


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Polluting or destroying the environment is like telling God one does not like what he created and proclaimed to be good, Pope Francis said.

The Bible says that after every stage of creation, God was pleased with what he had made, the pope said May 21 at his weekly general audience. “To destroy creation is to say to God, ‘I don’t like it.’”

Splinters of ice peel off from one of the sides of the Perito Moreno glacier during the Southern Hemisphere’s winter months in early July near El Calafate, Argentina. Polluting or destroying the environment is like telling God one does not like what he created and proclaimed to be good, Pope Francis said at his May 21 general audience. (CNS file)

On the other hand, he said, safeguarding creation is safeguarding a gift of God. “This must be our attitude toward creation: safeguarding it. If not, if we destroy creation, creation will destroy us. Don’t forget that.”

Continuing a series of audience talks about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, Pope Francis said the gift of knowledge helps people see creation with God’s eyes, recognizing its beauty and seeing it as a sign of God’s love for men and women, who are the crown of his creation.

“Creation is not a property that we can dominate at our pleasure nor does it belong to only a few,” he said. “Creation is a gift, a marvelous gift God has given us to care for and use for the benefit of all with great respect and gratitude.”

The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit — wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord — are not simply human virtues or talents, the pope said. And knowledge is not just the human capacity “to understand the reality that surrounds us and discover the laws that regulate nature and the universe.”

Rather, he said, the gift of knowledge helps people understand, “through creation, the greatness of the love of God and his profound relationship with every creature.”

The gift of knowledge helps people recognize that all things that are beautiful, both things found in nature and things that are the result of human ingenuity, speak of God, he said. “The Spirit leads us to praise the Lord from the depths of our heart and to recognize, in all that we have and all that we are, a invaluable gift of God and a sign of his infinite love for us.”

At the end of the audience, Pope Francis led the recitation of the Hail Mary as a prayer for the victims of flooding in Bosnia-Herzegovina and in Serbia. He asked the international community to assist the two Balkan nations, where more than three dozen people died and tens of thousands were left homeless in late May.

Pope Francis also told the estimated 50,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s Square that May 24 is the feast of Our Lady Help of Christians, a Marian feast particularly dear to Catholics in mainland China. He asked people to pray that “Catholics in China may continue to believe, to hope and to love and, in every circumstance, to be a leaven of harmonious coexistence among their fellow citizens.”

The text of the pope’s audience remarks in English is available online at www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/audiences/2014/documents/papa-francesco_20140521_udienza-generale_en.html

The text of the pope’s audience remarks in Spanish is available online at www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/audiences/2014/documents/papa-francesco_20140521_udienza-generale_sp.html


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Pope says his Holy Land trip this weekend will be ‘strictly religious’


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Asking prayers for his May 24-26 trip to the Holy Land, Pope Francis said his visit to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories would be “strictly religious.”

At the end of his weekly general audience May 21, Pope Francis told an estimated 50,000 people in St. Peter’s Square that he was about to make the trip.

A Palestinian youth hangs a flag next to posters depicting Pope Francis outside a souvenir shop in Bethlehem, West Bank, May 19. Pope Francis will visit Jordan, the Palestinian territories and Israel during his May 24-26 Holy Land trip, his first as pope to the region. (CNS photo/Mussa Qawasma, Reuters)

The first reason for going, he said, “is to meet my brother, Bartholomew,” the Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople, to mark the 50th anniversary of the meeting between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople. The meeting launched a new era of ecumenical cooperation and dialogue.

“Peter and Andrew will meet once again, and this is very beautiful,” the pope said. Pope Francis is considered the successor of the apostle Peter and Patriarch Bartholomew the successor of his brother, the apostle Andrew.

The pope said the second reason for his trip is “to pray for peace in that land that suffers so much.”

He asked the people in the square to pray for the success of the trip.

Pope Francis is scheduled to leave the Vatican early May 24 and fly to Amman, Jordan, for a full day of meetings, a public Mass and an encounter with refugees and people with disabilities.

The next morning he is to fly to Bethlehem for a meeting with Palestinian leaders, a Mass and a meeting at a Palestinian refugee camp. The evening of May 25, he plans to go to Jerusalem to meet Patriarch Bartholomew.

The last day of the trip, May 26, the pope will meet with Muslim, Jewish and Israeli authorities in Jerusalem, pray at the Western Wall and visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, then meet again with Patriarch Bartholomew and with Catholic groups.


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Jesuit superior intends to resign in 2016


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Father Adolfo Nicolas, superior general of the Jesuits, announced his intention to resign in late 2016 after he turns 80.

“Reflecting on the coming years, I have reached the personal conviction that I should take the needed steps toward submitting my resignation to a general congregation,” Father Nicolas said in a letter dated May 20 and sent to Jesuits around the world.

Father Adolfo Nicolas, superior general of the Society of Jesus, greeted Pope Francis when he arrived to celebrate Mass at the Church of the Gesu in Rome Jan. 3. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Father Nicolas, who was elected in 2008, said he already has discussed the idea with Pope Francis, a Jesuit, with officials at the Jesuit headquarters and with Jesuit provincials around the world.

“The result of the consultation is favorable toward the convening of a general congregation,” he said.

Like the pope, the superior general of the Jesuits is elected for life, although the Jesuit constitutions include provisions for the superior general to resign. Father Nicolas succeeded Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, who resigned at the age of 79. At the time, Father Kolvenbach said, “the Society of Jesus has the right to be governed and animated by a Jesuit in full possession of his physical and spiritual talents and not by a companion whose energies continue to diminish because of age.”

When delegates to the general congregation accepted his resignation, Father Kolvenbach thanked them “for so graciously firing me.”

Five days later, the delegates elected Father Nicolas, a Spaniard who had been serving as moderator of the Jesuit Conference of East Asia and Oceania. At the time, Father Nicolas told reporters it was unlikely any Jesuit leader again would feel an absolute obligation to serve until death.

The Society of Jesus, the largest religious order of men in the Catholic Church, includes about 17,000 priests and brothers.


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Believers in dialogue seek truth and challenge one another, Vatican says


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — When Catholics engage in interreligious dialogue, their aim is not to convert their dialogue partners, but they should not exclude that possibility, say new Vatican guidelines on interreligious dialogue.

The document also cautions Catholics against joining in common prayer with followers of other religions, because of important differences in their understanding of God.

“In encounters with people of other religions and indeed all human beings, Christians must always make Jesus Christ better known, recognized and loved,” say the guidelines published by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

“Dialogue in Truth and Charity: Pastoral Orientations for Interreligious Dialogue” was published May 19 in conjunction with the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the council’s establishment by Pope Paul VI.

“Interreligious dialogue, in itself, does not aim at conversion. Nevertheless, it does not exclude that it might be an occasion of conversion,” the document says.

For a true dialogue to occur, it says, both the Christian and his or her dialogue partner must know and practice their own faith. “With an attitude of respect and friendship,” it says, they share with each other their religion’s teachings and challenge one another to grow deeper in faithfulness and in understanding the truth about God.

“Experience has shown that for the individual firmly rooted in his or her own religion,” the guidelines say, “dialogue can offer a unique occasion to deepen one’s own religious beliefs, thereby facilitating growth and maturity.”

Quoting Pope Benedict XVI’s address to the council’s 2008 plenary, the guidelines say the church “encourages Christian partners in dialogue with the followers of other religions to propose, but not impose, faith in Christ who is the way, the truth and the life.”

Catholics engaged in dialogue must be “guided by faith, animated by charity and oriented toward the common good through mutual respect, knowledge and trust,” the document says.

The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue included in the guidelines strong cautions about dialogue partners praying together.

“Often in the context of interreligious relationships, there comes a desire to pray together for a particular need of the society,” the guidelines say. “It is important, however, to understand that being able to pray in common requires a shared understanding of who God is. Since religions differ in their understanding of God, ‘interreligious prayer,’ meaning the joining together in common prayer by followers of various religions, is to be avoided.”

On some occasions, the document says, it would be appropriate for believers of different religions to pray in each other’s presence, but it should be clear to all that participants are not praying together.

The document also includes a discussion of “proselytism” and evangelization and how they relate to interreligious dialogue.

“Proselytism in the biblical sense of bringing people to conversion is good,” it says, but in many circles today it is used to refer to efforts to convert another using coercion, psychological pressure, threats, fraud or enticements. “At the table of dialogue, this kind of negative proselytism must be recognized for what it is: an affront to conscience and a transgression of natural law.”

In fact, the document says, promoting respect for freedom of conscience, human dignity and the right of all people to follow a religion, to change religious affiliation or to not believe is something followers of different religions can and should be doing together.

Catholics and members of other religions, it says, must work together “to ensure that governments honor their obligation to protect the rights of individuals as well as communities to choose, profess and practice their religious beliefs privately and publicly,” as long as public order and the rights of others are respected.

Again quoting Pope Benedict, the document says, “Dialogue in truth entails that all believers view dialogue ‘not only as a means of enhancing mutual understanding, but also a way of serving society at large’ by ‘bearing witness to those moral truths which they hold in common with all men and women of goodwill.’”

Catholics, it says, are motivated to engage in dialogue with others because of their belief that all people are brothers and sisters created by God; because God sent Jesus into the world to reconcile humanity to himself; and because the Holy Spirit is at work in the world and in the hearts of men and women, “even beyond her (the church’s) visible boundaries.”

Catholics believe that Jesus and his church are necessary for salvation, the document says, although exactly how that occurs in all situations may not be immediately apparent. “Whoever is saved by God is without doubt linked to, and in relationship with, the church, although at times not in an outwardly apparent manner,” it says.

“A person who does not appreciate the positive elements in other religions, as monuments for the human search for God, is clearly an inappropriate interlocutor for interreligious dialogue,” the guidelines say.

The obstacles to true dialogue listed by the document include: a lack of enthusiasm for witnessing to Christ, which is essential for a Christian; a temptation to think all religions are equally valid; syncretism, or a blending of elements from different religions; ignoring real differences, which in effect downplays the importance of a religion’s teaching; a weak faith or knowledge of one’s own faith; insufficient knowledge or misunderstanding of the beliefs of the dialogue partner; a lack of appreciation for the positive elements in the other’s religion; and using dialogue for personal, political or economic gain.


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Pope Francis recommends resolving church tensions with discussion, prayer


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — In the church, as in any other situation, “problems cannot be resolved by pretending they don’t exist,” Pope Francis said.

“Confronting one another, discussing and praying — that is how conflicts in the church are resolved,” the pope said May 18 before praying the “Regina Coeli” with visitors gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

A child waves a flag as Pope Francis leads his Sunday Angelus in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican May 18. (CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters)

The pope focused his remarks on the day’s first reading, Acts 6:1-7, which describes how the early Christian community, as it grew to include people from different groups, began to experience internal tensions, and how those tensions were resolved at a meeting of the disciples.

Facing the problem, discussing solutions and praying about the tensions, he said, the disciples found harmony and an end to a situation in which there was “discontent, complaints, accusations of favoritism and inequality.”

“Gossip, envy and jealousy never can bring agreement, harmony and peace,” the pope said. “No gossip, no envy, no jealousy, you understand?” he asked the crowd.

After praying the “Regina Coeli,” Pope Francis asked people to join him praying a Hail Mary for the victims of recent flooding in Serbia and in Bosnia-Herzegovina.


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Pope establishes panel to hear appeals of clerical offenders


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican indicated Pope Francis was establishing a commission under the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to examine the appeals of priests punished for sexual abuse of minors and other very serious crimes.

In a brief note May 19, the Vatican press office announced the pope had nominated Argentine Archbishop Jose Luis Mollaghan of Rosario to be a member of the congregation “in the commission being established to examine the appeals of clergy for ‘delicta graviora,’” the Vatican term for sexual abuse of minors and serious sins against the sacraments.

The Vatican did not provide further details about the commission, when it would be established or what the extent of its mandate would be. It did not mention what Archbishop Mollaghan’s position on the commission would be.

In indicating that the archbishop has headed the Archdiocese of Rosario “until now,” the announcement signaled that being part of the commission would be a full-time job in Rome.

AICA, the Argentine Catholic news agency, reported May 19 that Archbishop Emil Paul Tscherrig, Vatican nuncio to Argentina, announced Archbishop Mollaghan’s appointment and said he would serve as apostolic administrator of Rosario until a new archbishop is named.

Archbishop Mollaghan, 68, holds a doctorate in canon law from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He was named an auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires in 1993, one year after the current pope became an auxiliary bishop in the city. The two worked together until Archbishop Mollaghan was named bishop of San Miguel in 2000.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, Vatican representative to U.N. agencies in Geneva, told a committee there May 6 that, between 2004 and 2013, the Holy See dismissed 848 priests from the priesthood as a result of sex abuse allegations found to be true. In another 2,572 cases, mainly involving priests of an advanced age, the men were ordered to have no contact with children and were ordered to retreat to a life of prayer and penance.


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Pope has a cold, postpones meetings to rest


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Because he has a bit of a cold and wants to rest up for his May 24-26 trip to the Holy Land, Pope Francis has postponed several scheduled appointments.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, told reporters May 16 that Pope Francis had celebrated his morning Mass that day with guests invited to the Domus Sanctae Marthae where he lives. Vatican Radio’s coverage of the morning Mass includes several clips of Pope Francis’ homily, delivered in a slightly hoarse voice.

Because he was not feeling well and his agenda included meetings that easily could be postponed, the pope decided to “consolidate his rest” and take the remainder of the day off, Father Lombardi said.

Already May 15, Father Lombardi had announced that the pope decided to postpone a planned May 18 pastoral visit to Rome’s parish and Shrine of Our Lady of Divine Love to rest up for his visit to Jordan, Palestine and Israel later in May.

However, the pope kept a packed schedule of meetings with ambassadors and with Mexican bishops making their “ad limina” visits May 15.

When the pope was 21, the upper half of his right lung was removed after cysts caused a severe lung infection. He has said the episode never caused him further health problems.


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Morning homily: Being Christian means belonging to the church, going to Mass


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Being a Christian means belonging to the church, remembering with others all God’s saving actions and celebrating the covenant between God and his people by participating in Mass, Pope Francis said.

“A Christian without the church is a pure idea, it is not real,” the pope said May 15 during his early morning Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where he lives. “It would be like something made in a laboratory, something artificial, something that could not give life.”

Commenting on the day’s first reading, Acts 13:13-25, in which St. Paul explains that the newly formed Christian community traces its history to the people of Israel, the pope said the idea of one Christian alone, without connection to a community and its history, makes no sense.

Understanding who Jesus was requires recognizing that he, too, was born into the people of Israel and kept alive the memory of what God had done for his people.

“Jesus Christ did not fall from heaven like a hero who comes to save us,” the pope said, according to a report by Vatican Radio. “No, Jesus Christ had a history.”

As a follower of Jesus, a Christian must be mindful of the community’s history, which is the history of all God has done in order to save humanity, the pope said. At the same time, a Christian must remember the blessings God has provided in one’s own life.

Christians share God’s promise of salvation, and the church is the community in which they move toward the ultimate fulfillment of that promise, the pope said. It also is the community in which one celebrates God’s covenant with his people in the Mass; therefore, a Christian must be “a eucharistic woman, a eucharistic man.”

Pope Francis encouraged those at his Mass to pray each day for “the grace of memory,” “the grace of hope” and “the grace of renewing each day the covenant to which the Lord has called us.”


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Allow Holy Spirit to lead, pope says, don’t try to block it


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Christians must recognize that they do not lead or guide the church, but that the Holy Spirit does and the Holy Spirit can be unpredictable, Pope Francis said.

“If, for example, an expedition of Martians arrived tomorrow,” and one said he wanted to be baptized, “What would happen?” the pope asked May 12 during his early morning Mass at the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

Explaining that he really was talking about Martians, something unimaginable, he said he meant beings that are “green, with long noses and big ears, like in children’s drawings.”

According to Vatican Radio, Pope Francis said that if the Holy Spirit prompted the most unusual being to seek baptism, who would we be to hinder that person?

The pope focused his homily on the day’s first reading, Acts 11:1-18, which tells of the Apostles’ discussion, and consternation, over the Holy Spirit descending on a group of Gentiles at a time when the rest of the community of believers came from the Jewish tradition.

From the very beginnings of Christianity, the pope said, church leaders and members have been tempted at times to block the Holy Spirit’s path or try to control it.

“When the Lord shows us the way, who are we to say, ‘No, Lord, it is not prudent. No, let’s do it this way,’” he said. “Who are we to close doors?”

Many parishes, Pope Francis said, have ushers to open the church doors and welcome people in, “but there has never been a ministry for those who close the doors. Never.”

“The Holy Spirit is the living presence of God in the church,” he said. Jesus sent the Spirit after his ascent into heaven to guide the church and lead it forward into uncharted territory.

The Spirit “makes unthinkable, unimaginable choices,” the pope said. “And we Christians must ask the Lord for the grace of docility to the Holy Spirit” in order to follow the Spirit’s lead.


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